WILDWOOD – When doors opened Sept. 1 at Wildwood High School, nearly 400 students found themselves walking on shiny floors, through well-maintained and freshly painted hallways and using facilities and rooms that have seen a century's worth of experiences. 

"This building has such character," Superintendent J. Kenyon Kummings said about the high school that opened in 1916.

"There is such pride among our alumni for our school; we just want to continue to make sure our students have all the great opportunities that they should."

Kummings and high school Principal Philip Schaffer are among the school staff who will be hosting a Centennial Gala in October. That is when alumni, the school community and community at large will "celebrate the past and imagine the future" of the high school building. The building has housed elementary, middle and high school students over the years. It currently houses middle and high school pupils.

On Oct. 14, Wildwood will host Pleasantville in a football game: During half-time, alumni from each of the decades since the building opened will be recognized.

Building tours will take place from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Oct. 15 and a gala is planned for 6 p.m. that day at the Grand Hotel, Cape May. The reunion for classes 50 years and older is Oct. 16.

Keeping Building's Ambiance

"We've seen the building change with the times to meet students' needs," noted Dennis Anderson, a former high school principal, and superintendent. "We've changed the program over the years, but have tried to keep the ambiance of this building.

"It's 100 years old, but you won't find another building that's in this good of shape, all shiny and clean," Anderson said with pride. "It is part of the attitude and mindset that comes with the building and the culture here. It has a history that we want to recognize and talk about."

Signs of the building's history are all over: the main entrance has a large stone engraving noting 1916 when the doors opened, separate "Girls" and "Boys" entrances mark each side.

The Blue Ribbon seal the school earned in 2013 from the U.S. Department of Education representing "educational excellence" greets visitors in the main lobby and is displayed throughout the building. Trophies denoting various athletic achievements are also visible.

"Since the 1980s when I started in education, through 2014 when I left, the students didn't really change," Anderson said. "They are still great kids, respectful; they want to be held accountable, they want to learn, and they want to be challenged."

The pride shared by Anderson, Kummings, and Schaffer are part of the legacy passed down through the school administration, according to the men.

"There is so much to be proud of," Kummings said of the staff which he credits with making many program changes that resulted in the Blue Ribbon designation and a program that aims to prepare students for life after they graduate.

"It's fun to walk through the building with alumni who remember a certain room from their time here," Schaffer said. "Now, their children or grandchildren are attending the same school."

13 Years in the Building

One such alumni who Kummings described as "one of the biggest school advocates" is Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr., who spent all 13 of his pre-college years in the high school building.

He remembered that the first floor housed the gym, auditorium, and rooms for home economics, woodworking shop, mechanical drawing, band, and art.

The cafeteria also was on the first floor. The second floor housed the principal's and superintendent's offices along with the library and grades pre-first through eighth. The third floor housed ninth through 12th grades.

"If you were on the third floor for classes, you couldn't be on the second floor," Troiano recalled. "If you went to class on the second floor, you couldn't go up to the third floor."

Troiano, who graduated in 1969 in one of the larger classes, 97 students, was the second generation of his family to attend Wildwood High School. His mother graduated in 1948 and his father in 1946.

Troiano's three children also graduated from the school, and his grandchildren are in grades pre-first through seventh.

"I had some of the same teachers that my parents had," Troiano said, "and my father left a legacy behind that the teachers said, 'Oh no, not another Troiano.' I paid for my father's sins." His children, on the other hand, had few teachers who taught their father.

Troiano recalled having "some of the greatest teachers" during his Wildwood days. He cited the English literature instructor who "taught me to appreciate English literature as a history of mankind," and the French teacher who recognized how hard he worked for good grades. There was also the basketball coach he still addressed as "Mister" years later as an adult.

"The teachers were really dedicated and would not accept less than our best," he said. "That was the theme of educators I had. We all had lots of pride in who we were." Troiano also served on the district's board of education for about a dozen years.

"If someone offered me $100 million to trade my school memories, I wouldn't take it," he said. "They were the best years."

Alumni Return to Teach

Two other graduates who fondly recalled their years at the school are Ivan Perez, a middle and high school English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor, and Frank Caterini, who was a history teacher and eventually became the special programs coordinator in the 1970s.

In his 16th year of teaching in Wildwood, Perez never thought he'd be returning to his alma mater as a teacher.

"I thought I'd be in New York City or Los Angeles in the film business, but the closest I ever got was getting coffee for people in New York," he said. "I came home, and the rest is history. I was hired as the ESL teacher and am glad it (his career) turned out the way it did."

Perez recalled he was a "good student" when he graced the halls of Wildwood High School, academically and athletically.

"When I came back as a teacher, it was pretty neat working with some of my former teachers," he said. "As a teacher, helping students learn English and American traditions is very interesting and I enjoy it. Whether they are from Asia or South America or wherever the students are from, it's neat to learn their culture and to teach them about ours."

Caterini graduated in 1959 and returned four years later as a history teacher until 1978, when he was named to manage some activities, including the increasing load of state requirements, grants, testing and remedial programs.

"It was a good experience all around, as a student and as an employee," Caterini recalled, crediting that experience to the "tone set by the principal and superintendent.

"The building," he said "is really solid, built at the time when they built things very well. It does take a lot of maintenance, but it still looks good. I remember when they sealed and insulated the building. I was distressed at the time, but it turned out to be a good thing. The northwest wall took a horrible beating because of the wind, and even those classrooms would be cold. After they covered the brick, it really improved things."

Doesn't Show Its Age

"The building doesn't show its age," according to Arthur Motz, who was the superintendent when the building was sealed. "The building has had continued success because the students are really protective of it. The staff at all levels make significant contributions to keep the building as best as they can. We never had much serious vandalism; we were very lucky."

Motz was a teacher for nine years before becoming high school principal for one year and then superintendent for 26 years.

When he arrived in 1966, the gym, administrative offices, and library had just opened. "I picked up from there and tried to maintain and improve the building where technology advanced."

Despite funding issues, Motz said the auditorium was air-conditioned, and new lighting and roofs installed during his tenure.

"I don't ever recall our school being closed because of building-related issues," he noted. "I have mixed feelings about a 100-year-old building, but it still works."

Preparing Students for Life

Demographically, the district has changed to reflect the communities it serves. With "high levels of poverty" in the district, Kummings said many of today's parents are "busy trying to cover the basic needs of their families. It's up to the teachers mostly to identify areas for improvement. We have a caring and committed faculty who want to move the needle forward for students and make sure we offer the programs they need to succeed."

Schaffer pointed out that the high school program includes a broad range of academic, athletic and extra-curricular activities. New courses this year are robotics, journalism, debate and public speaking, and law and justice.

Psychology and Sociology were extended from half-year courses to full-year because of student interest. Extra-curricular activities such as football, band, choir, and piano are offered as students' interests and involvement sway.

High school technology teacher, Aaron Segin, wants to be sure students are ready for the workforce or college by exposing them to word processing programs, Web 2.0 (easy-to-use, user-generated content) and other related activities. A graduate of Ocean City High School, he's in his fifth year as a teacher at Wildwood High School.

"One of our challenges is that technology is advancing so rapidly, it's hard to keep up with it," Segin said. "The kids are almost smarter than me with it sometimes. I love it when they want to show me something new."

Being close in age to the students also gives Segin a chance to talk with the students "more as a big brother" about various issues they may have.

"Technology has also brought forward some issues we didn't have before, like cyberbullying," he said. "It wasn't so long ago that I was their age, so I can have a different kind of conversation with them."

"Wildwood kids get one chance - through education - to be prepared for the next steps in life," the superintendent stressed. "Our staff gets that and is very committed to making sure it's the best we can do."

Memories of Pranks, Similarities, Differences

One alumni, Joe Cianciarulo, 91, remembers how well prepared he was upon graduation when he joined the Navy in his senior year during World War II. "I had enough college prep classes, so I graduated in 1943, but got my diploma in 1944 after a year in the Navy," he recalled.

He attended college in California and then designed and built equipment for airlines in Florida, before retiring in 1985.

"There were eight students in my graduating class," Cianciarulo said. "I remember when the girls started wearing pants to school. The boys wore dresses as a joke."

The oldest living alumni may be his aunt, Marie "Madelyn" Calloway, 98, and a graduate from 1936. Now living in Florida, she recalled classmates Jane Yearicks, who went on to be her roommate at Glassboro State Teacher's College, and Earl Calloway, who became her husband.

While some of her memories reflect activities that take place today, other memories reflect differences. For example, she was a cheerleader in her junior and senior high school years and played on the girls’ basketball team. She also played piano in the school orchestra.  When her husband Earl was in school, he played the saxophone and clarinet in the orchestra, as well as in the marching band.  Earl was on the school track team. 

Calloway recalled school dances in the gym, where the school orchestra provided the music. 

Proms were also held in the gym, and she remembers her father drove her to and from school. The separate boys and girls entranceways that still grace the building "were always there."

Calloway became an elementary school teacher, retiring from Margaret Mace in North Wildwood in 1984 and Earl was a local real estate broker, who died in 1992. Their sons graduated from Wildwood High School, as well as some of their grandchildren.

Her family has donated her yearbook, as well as other Wildwood High School memorabilia, to the Wildwood Historical Society, where it is on display for all to enjoy, according to her son, Ross. 

Contact for Gala Event

Anyone wanting to attend the gala event at the Grand Hotel on Oct. 15 should contact Jennifer Loper at Wildwood High School.

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.