A big, heavy piece of North Central High School’s history made its way back home after more than 30 years.
It’s a bronze tablet the size of a fireplace screen commemorating nine North Central alumni who died serving in World War I. The tablet measures 3-by-4 feet and it weighs about 150 pounds.
North Central Assistant Principal Steve Fisk said the school is just ecstatic to have the tablet back.
“We don’t know where it’s been,” Fisk said. “We assume it was sold at an auction before the old school building was torn down in 1980.”
It was Alan Hanson, president of the North Central Alumni Association, who connected with the tablet.
North Central alumni Jim Crouch told Hanson he’d seen the tablet in the basement belonging to yet another North Central alumnus, Linus Nelson.
“I have to admit I didn’t quite listen the first time he told me,” Hanson said. “He said the guy would sell it to us for what he paid for it.”
Hanson didn’t remember seeing the tablet at North Central and some time passed before Crouch brought it up again. This time Hanson did pay attention and the alumni association decided to donate $700 to buy the tablet back.
By then the tablet was in antique dealer Dan Overhauser’s warehouse.
“I got it from Linus Nelson,” Overhauser said. “I know it was in his basement and he needed to get rid of it because he sold his house. That’s all I know.”
A reporter’s attempts to find Nelson were unsuccessful.
Overhauser said he’s happy the tablet is back where it belongs and somewhat surprised no one had sold it for scrap metal.
“I guess we are pretty lucky that it survived,” Overhauser said.
Hanson said the current North Central building lacks a sense of history; the alumni association is on a mission to bring back North Central-related artifacts and put them on display.
“We are trying to help with that,” Hanson said.
When the tablet was returned, Gonzaga University work-study student Katherine Hoot went to work looking through old yearbooks and school newspapers trying to learn about the men mentioned on the tablet.
“We know the tablet hung on a piece of white marble in the east hall of the old high school,” Hoot said.
The tablet was designed by J. Frank Copeland in Philadelphia and cast in Detroit.
School clubs, families of the men memorialized on the tablet and community members raised the $1,500 cost of the tablet. It was dedicated in February 1922.
According to Hoot’s research, 615 North Central students enlisted during World War I.
A 15-by-32-foot banner was produced in 1918 by the War Chroniclers, a service club at North Central, commemorating all 615 alumni, but that banner is missing.
“We have pictures of it from back then, but we have no idea where it is,” Hoot said. “We would love to have it back if someone has it.” The banner features North Central’s flag with a picture of the old building, mounted on a blue background, surrounded by embroidered stars that may have the names of those from NC who served in World War I.
“We know they redid the banner in 1919 and we are not completely sure what it looks like,” Hoot said.
During her research, Hoot found detailed information about the nine men listed on the tablet including where and how they served and where they died.
She also found two North Central alumni – Ronald Dye and Ortel R. Willey – who served and died at the war but were not named on the tablet.
“We don’t know why they weren’t mentioned on the tablet,” Hoot said. “Maybe the committee who put the tablet together didn’t know about them?”
The biographies of the nine men mentioned on the tablet, compiled by Hoot, will be displayed in some fashion next to the tablet.
Fisk said he’s determined to find a wall in the new building strong enough to hold the tablet so it can once again be on display.
“We are reclaiming a piece of our past and this is a reminder of how precious history is,” Fisk said. “We would love to know more about where the tablet has been. And we’d love to find the banner.”