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School spirit spans a century

Alumni celebrate North Central’s 100 years

School pride stretching back decades was on display Saturday as North Central High School in Spokane celebrated its 100th anniversary and graduates young and old wandered the hallways in their red and black.

“It was a great school because there was so much tradition, there was so much honor,” said Lea Wright Noble, a 1967 graduate who married her middle-school sweetheart. She started dating Dave Noble, a 1966 NCHS graduate, when she was in eighth grade and he was in ninth.

“My son wanted to go to school here and he was born in Texas,” Wright Noble said. “It was really fun, just great memories.”

Hundreds of graduates and their families returned for an open house Saturday at a school some had never attended; the first, storied old building was demolished in 1981. They reminisced about performances of the Doll Shop, a dance production created by legendary teacher Elsa Pinkham. They perused the names of North Central graduates who lost their lives in wars. And they flipped through scrapbooks and memorabilia in the school’s basement cafeteria. Included was an old Red Feathers pep squad outfit, the canvas sleeves trimmed with red felt.

Wright Noble and her friend Gail Burkhart, also a 1967 graduate, marveled at the beauty of the spacious auditorium, lined with rows of red seats. They said that in their school, pep rallies couldn’t be held during winters with heavy snowfall because administrators were concerned the roof would collapse with all the cheering and shaking.

“We’d walk down the hallways and plaster would fall off the walls,” Wright Noble said, laughing.

Lowry Bennett also remembers the declining state of the old school, the place where he met his wife, returned to teach classes and eventually became a principal. The 1948 graduate started teaching there in 1953 and said one of those first years, a fire broke out on the fourth floor. Someone ran for the hose in the hallway and found it full of holes.

“Here we have these things hanging on the wall, and when you turned it on, nothing happened,” said Bennett, 78.

Still, when the former football star heard he’d been accepted for a teaching position at his alma mater, he couldn’t think of any better possibility. Bennett, a third-generation Spokane resident, said his father had attended North Central, and so had many family members.

“This would be the epitome of success for me,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t believe I had an opportunity like that.”

The school had provided another opportunity years earlier, when his senior prom came around. That first date with classmate Dorothy Allen turned into a marriage that has lasted 58 years, producing three sons and eight grandchildren.

Their first meeting, Dorothy Bennett recalls, was a matter of logistics.

“Students were seated alphabetically,” she said. “I was an A and he was a B.”

The couple now live in Bellevue, Wash., and attended the centennial with fellow 1948 graduate Dave McNelis, of Sagle, Idaho.

Dorothy Bennett’s strongest memories of North Central are of Pinkham, the physical education teacher and director of the every-other-year Doll Shop dance production. She remembers being new to the school and sewing the wrong type of outfit for her physical education class. Her checkered outfit was supposed to be one piece, not two.

“She said, ‘You’re new – I’ll let you wear it,’ ” Dorothy Bennett said. “You were expected to do what was the proper way to do things.”

After Pinkham retired in 1959, Dorothy Bennett said, she would eat at the same restaurant every Friday for lunch.

“Students would swarm in there to visit her,” she said. “She was really a great teacher. She was an inspiration to a lot of people. You learned a lot from her, not just on subject matter.”

Contact Alison Boggs at (208) 765-7132 or