Froebel, Roosevelt grads anticipate annual picnic
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent August 2, 2014 10:52PM
State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, left, and Froebel Park caretaker Roy Thomas discuss preparations for the 30th Annual Froebel Roosevelt Nostalgia Park Aug. 9. | Michael Gonzalez~for Sun-Times Media
IF YOU GO
The 30th Annual Froebel Roosevelt Nostalgia Picnic will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Froebel Park, 15th Avenue and Madison Street, Gary. The Oldies But Goodies Dance will begin at 9 p.m. at the Genesis Convention Center. For more information on activities, call (219) 887-2046.
Updated: September 4, 2014 6:03AM
GARY — Hundreds of Froebel High School and Roosevelt High School alumni are expected to pour into Froebel Park on Saturday for the 30th Annual Froebel Roosevelt Nostalgia Picnic.
Vendors will sell their wares, and families will begin grilling by 7 a.m. Later that night, many of them will occupy the Genesis Convention Center for an Oldies But Goldies Dance, said coordinator and state Rep. Vernon Smith, a graduate of the Froebel Class of 1962.
School allegiance has always been strong among Gary residents, but that loyalty flares up even more during the get-together, Smith said.
“It was something that became part of the culture between African-Americans here in Gary,” Smith said. “That intensity is just in us. There’s a lot jiving. We keep it going.”
Part of that intensity is born of a troubled history, especially for Froebel, one of only two high schools in the city that admitted black students, the other being Roosevelt. In late September 1945, 1,000 Froebel students went on strike, protesting racial integration policies at the high school.
The strike drew dignitaries and even crooner Frank Sinatra to Gary to call for peace and reconciliation. A plaque on the former school site, now the 12-acre Froebel Park, remembers the incident.
“The white world thought we were inferior,” Smith said. “We have a great sense of pride. We’ll even have T-shirts that say, ‘The Spirit Lives.’ ”
The turnouts for the picnic and dance have changed over the years, with graduates’ deaths and inability to make it to the event. The picnic once drew crowds of more than 1,000 people, but they now draw about 600, Smith said.
The events have been effective fundraisers. Proceeds have gone to maintaining the park, which costs about $350 just to mow, and a monument paid for by the Class of ’62.
The picnic and dance also have raised enough for two $10,000 college scholarships for Gary students, with plans to launch a third scholarship, Smith said.