For years I’ve had a memory–really, more of an image–that made no sense to me. I remember going to a meeting with my best friend in the spring of 1970 before we graduated from eighth grade. Older girls, all strangers to me, were in charge. Some wore jackets with a club name stitched on the back. I can’t remember the name.
When I started my freshman year at Von Steuben High School in the fall of that year, there was no invitation to join a club, no girls in jackets to be seen, no traces of the club at all. They had gone the way of beehive hairdos, and in the excitement of new friends and experiences, I forgot all about clubs.
Recently, I’ve been wondering if there ever was a meeting. Did I imagine it or remember someone else’s story and make it my own? Maybe I’ve seen Grease too many times.
Fortunately, as a result of my blog and facebook I have access to people who attended Von before I did. Ferne Slotky Berman, Merle Citrin Monroe and Andy Zaslavsky Weitzberg–all Von alums–offered to meet for coffee and initate me into the world of social athletic clubs or S.A.C.’s. We had such a good time I found myself wishing I was older–the opposite of what I usually wish every morning–so I could have been friends with them in high school.
In the mid-1960s, Von, Roosevelt and Mather, three of the then Jewish high schools, had their own clubs.
The women recalled the Sigs (class of ’64), ELs (’64), Jesters (’65), and Kanalons (’66) as the girls clubs of their day. Boys were Epsilons or Anacondas.
Someone mentioned Sovereigns, but I can’t remember if it was a boys or girls club. And as if it weren’t already confusing enough, occasionally clubs overlapped schools. A Von girl might be a Mather Sweetheart or Roosevelt Lamedola. A Von boy might be a Roosevelt Top Hat.
Clubs weren’t organized or supervised by adults. They had no religious affiliation, but were mostly Jewish because the schools were “98 percent” Jewish.
The jackets they wore came from Ned Singer’s Sports on Lawrence, the same place we bought our required gym suits. The less said about the gym suits, the better.
In the early 1960s, members openly wore their jewelry, sweatshirts and jackets to school. Club photographs were published in the Von yearbook. But in 1965 Von administrators changed their policy and sent home kids wearing club identification.
Most clubs had junior members in the elementary schools. Members of the junior clubs were 7th and 8th graders, but back in the ’50s, Peterson Elementary School had a third-grade girls club, the Els. There was also a sixth-grade girls club, the Loafers, that served as a feeder club for the Jesters.
The clubs held meetings, voted for officers, collected dues and organized fundraisers, sleepovers, volleyball tournaments, mixers and dances. If you’re picturing a high school gym decorated with streamers, think again. When the Jesters held their group Sweet 16 celebration, it was downtown at the Blackstone Hotel. They invited their parents as well as dates.
What impressed me the most about these clubs are the enduring friendships. Many members are friends to this day and they gather for reunions. In fact, the ELs are celebrating a group 65th birthday next year.
Famous Local Club Member
Folk singer Steve Goodman would have graduated from Roosevelt High School if his parents hadn’t moved to the suburbs. But while he was still living in Albany Park, Goodman was a Jr. Centurion. In his book, Steve Goodman: Facing the Music, (Amazon affiliate link) biographer Clay Eals quotes Goodman’s elementary school classmate Scott Berman on the evolution of the clubs:
“The clubs were an outgrowth of the tough-guy old days on the West Side, where each of the ethnic groups was fighting with each other. When the Jews moved to Albany Park and looked around and saw they were all Jews anyway, they said to themselves, ‘We don’t have anybody to fight with, so we’re not really a gang, more of a club.”
Eals lists some clubs active at Roosevelt in Goodman’s time: Anacondas, Funny Fellows, Originals, Jovens, Epsilons, Top Hats, Aristocrats, Cabegos, Vampires, Condors, and Torpedos.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Between the graduation of the Class of 1965 and the start of my freshman year in 1970, girl clubs apparently vanished. The boys clubs, however, survived a little longer. Until 1971 there were boys at Peterson Elementary School wearing Epsilon jackets, and if I remember correctly, they were blue with gold lettering.
After learning about the clubs, I decided I actually did attend the meeting I remember attending back in the spring of 1970. I imagine it wasn’t an established club, but rather a group of girls trying to revive the tradition and start a new club. They got the jackets, rounded up some prospects and fizzled out before the school year started. But I really don’t know whether I almost was invited to join a club, and in any case, I can’t imagine my class wearing anything but faded, torn blue jeans.
Acknowledgements: For an outsider, the clubs and their history are incredibly complicated, so sorry for anything I may have gotten wrong. Many thanks to Ferne, Merle and Andy for sharing memories of your high school years.
All photographs courtesy of Merle Citrin Monroe.
Source: Steve Goodman: Facing the Music, by Clay Eals. All Steve Goodman will want to check out the book’s website to see a sample chapter, for details about the book’s second printing, and much more. A CD is included with the book!