September 2, 1997
An item the other day in the "Mirrors" column of this newspaper told about Morrow Service Co.'s contract in 1967 to fill the gaping hole left by demolition of the old high school building for construction of the new PHS academic building. That excavation was about where the present school auditorium now stands, or perhaps 50 feet west of the backyard of our old family home at 501 Eighth street. What a flood of memories all that brings back. It isn't just the hole in the ground that I remember. It is the gentleman whose office formerly occupied a corner of the basement of that old three-story brick building, the one that was torn down to make way for the new structure.
Anyone who attended school here in the 1930s could tell you about Mr. Letellier, the custodian whose domain encompassed the high school, its attached auditorium and the crackerbox gymnasium located beneath it. There were classrooms galore, administrative offices and the manual training shop appended to the backside of the auditorium/gymnasium. Professor Leopold Radgowsky led the Perry high school band and orchestra through their drills in the auditorium, and the musicians left a pretty sizable pile of scrap paper to be picked up when they put their instruments away. The basketball team, coached by Hump Daniels, and the wrestling squad, coached by John Divine, also managed to leave reminders of daily workouts in the gym when their seasons were in progress. In the manual training shop, Gully Walters showed students how to use power woodworking tools to turn out everything from bread boards to complete bedroom sets, and sawdust covered the premises. Mr. Letellier took care of all of those facilities with the help of his wife, Rosa, and some of their children. It was a family project. They swept the floors, dusted the furniture, emptied waste baskets, cleaned the blackboards, washed the windows and kept all the mechanical equipment in good working order. Perhaps the biggest challenge was the old steam boiler that shared part of Mr. Letellier's office space in the basement. It was a fearsome looking and sounding contraption but it provided all the heat for the entire building, and I cannot remember that it ever failed to function.
The Beers family home had a spacious backyard that ended at the alley separating our property from the high school building. The school basement, where Mr. Letellier had his own private little space, was on the east side of the building, close to our alley, with an outside entrance which one entered by descending a flight of iron steps in an air space perhaps 20 feet deep. Stepping onto those noisy metal steps was slightly forbidding because of the rattling sound our footsteps made, and going all the way down to the door of Mr. Letellier's office seemed even more daunting. It was like a trip to Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory, if your imagination was keen enough. On favorable evenings, in the hours after school was out, my sisters and I frequently ventured into the dark depths of the old school, just to visit our friend, the custodian. He always welcomed us unless he was still doing housekeeping chores. Even then, he would invite us to tag along as he went from room to room on his rounds. He also was there on Saturdays, when all of us had more time for visiting.
Not many folks knew his first name, which was Prosper. I can't remember ever hearing adults or youngsters calling him anything but "Mr. Letellier," and that was a mark of respect, not something we did to avoid using his rightful name, even if we knew what it was. His invariable attire was bib overalls. He was slightly stout with a large frame, and he moved in a slow, even gait. His voice was modulated and his mood always seemed to be cheerful. He kept a jar of pickles on his desk and anyone who wanted one of those crispy, juicy morsels was invited to help him/herself, right out of the bottle.
Early in World War II, two of Mr. Letellier's sons were killed in the crash of a Navy plane after they had been home on holiday leave. It was a terrible blow to the family and the entire community shared their grief because the Letelliers were friends to everyone. Not long after, Mr. Letellier chose to retire and his multiple responsibilities were delegated to someone else. In the 1960s, the old high school building was torn down to clear the campus after the new academic building was erected. That was the last visible evidence of the basement office where Mr. Letellier and his family toiled for so long, but the memories associated with all of them still persist. Today, Sharon Grether, a granddaughter, is the only family member living in Perry. Her mother was Fannie Letellier, the daughter of Prosper and Rosa, and I for one am happy that she is here to represent them.