Taft HS foundation inducts 48 into hall of fame; ceremony nets $20,000 for the school


The $20,000 recently raised by the Taft High School Foundation is expected to go toward regular maintenance of gym floors, locker room improvements and the start of a fundraising effort to help bring a new baseball field to the school.

The funds were raised at a Sept. 18 banquet in which 48 people, including former teachers and students, were inducted into the William Howard Taft Hall of Fame. The 340 attendees were asked to participate in a fundraising game called “Taftopoly.”

“We had a lot of people buying Baltic Avenue for $60, and we had a lot of big donors,” foundation president Richard Winge said.

Prior to the banquet, the 3-year-old foundation had raised $75,000, and those funds have gone toward purchasing two pianos, refurbishing the black box theater and football locker room, and refinishing the gym floors. “Taft didn’t do that in 25 years,” Winge said of the gym.

The foundation is planning to have the track and basketball locker rooms refurbished and to provide funds for an annual refinishing of the gym floors.

In addition, about $100,000 will be needed for a professional-looking baseball field, Winge said. “We want dugouts and a fence around it so when players hit a homer it really is a home run and nobody can go onto to the field without a permit and tear it up,” he said.

The baseball field project is separate from a proposed $3.5 million artificial playing surface with spectator stands at the school. The school system reportedly is looking at funding the proposal.

Winge said that the foundation’s activities are intended to generate positive publicity about the school and thus broaden the range of supporters of the school. “We’re trying to make a splash in the community so that the neighborhood comes around,” he said.

In 2014, the foundation helped create a second hall of fame for the school. The Taft Alumni Association has sponsored an alumni hall of fame since 1989, and it has 54 inductees, with more than 100 former teachers and administrators listed in the association’s “Book of Honor.”

The newer hall of fame is designed to include dozens of inductees each year, Winge said. There are a lot of worthy candidates who have gone unrecognized given that the Taft has had an estimated 40,000 graduates and several thousands of teachers since it opened in 1939, he said.

At the banquet, 2016 inductee Betty Genzlinger was presented with the William Howard Taft Lifetime Achievement Award. Betty and her husband Dean Genzlinger had nine children graduate from Taft, and she was a longtime member of the Ebinger School and Taft parent teacher associations and served several years on the Taft High School Local School Council.

Genzlinger, a former school teacher, attended several meetings of the Chicago Board of Education to express her ideas about how to improve public education. “Betty was dedicated to the success of the PTA, and she took strong public stands on the issues and matters of the Chicago public school system,” her hall of fame biography states.

Also at the ceremony, Taft principal Mark Grishaber inducted former Taft technology coordinator Jeff Komada, who was killed this year in a traffic accident after he stopped to help another motorist.

Grishaber said that Komada, who worked at Taft for 30 years, “loved Taft” and that Komada enjoyed talking about his family, which attended the ceremony. “We always shared daughter stories,” Grishaber said.

In several instances at the induction ceremony, the children of former teachers who had died talked about their parent.

Students knew one inductee, John Swider, as “Mr. Clean” because he wore a white shirt and white pants to work. His children said that their father was runner-up in a 1957 contest to play the mascot for a cleaning product of the same name. Swider, a Taft graduate, played football there and later returned as a gym teacher, coaching football and swimming.

Inductee Edith Strandberg, who was an English teacher, was remembered for a letter which she had sent Winge’s parents encouraging them to help their son improve his vocabulary. Winge said that his father gave him a financial incentive to learn new words but that he had no idea that Strandberg had contacted his father about the matter until he found the letter decades later.

The following former staff members also were inducted: Norman Bakall, John Blacharski, John Brow, Beverly Conrad, Carol Fink, Wally Freedman, Joseph Giambrone, Donald Giannetti, Robert Goldberg, Rita Hansen, Wally Lynch, Dan Lyons, Ed Mitchell, Sam Ozaki, Errol Pearlman, Raffe Simonian, James Smilgoff, Irv Stein, Dr. Art Tarvardian and Julio Tiritilli.

Also at the ceremony, graduate inductee Tom Day was recognized for being the founder of Bugles Across America. It is a volunteer organization which provides buglers to pay “Taps” at the funeral of deceased U.S. military veterans.

The following alumni also were inducted: Gordon Lund, Brian Arnspiger, Gordon Arnspiger, Joseph Bartel, Ronald Barth, Gary Blohm, Rich Bolinder, Mike Costanzo, Stuart Dunn, Jack Dustin, William Eckholm, Steve Ek, Debbie Ewanic Allen, Phyllis Holmen, Barbara Knudsen Newlin, Ken Kortas, Margaret Kosinski LaCerra, Mary Kay Kretch Haben, Dean Krone, Jack Lichtenberger, Donna Miller, Greg Schumacher and Robert Zaun

Also inducted into the hall of fame were the following Taft teams: 1957, 1958 and 1968 Chicago Public League baseball champions, 1960 and 1972 Chicago Public League football champions, and the 1986 and 2006 Chicago Public League girls’ softball champions.

Also honored at the ceremony was 2015 inductee James Stamm, who died on Aug. 30. Stamm, a former music teacher at Taft, performed at the foundation’s first fund-raiser.

Nominations for the 2017 hall of fame, which includes alumni, retired staff members and sports teams, can be made at www.votetaft.org.