Veteran PHS shop teachers loud in support of bond referendum

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Veterans PHS shop teachers Tom South, left, Dale Schumacher, center, and Richard Saemisch are unanimous in support of the proposed $6.5 million construction project at PHS.

Three veteran shop teachers from Perry High School are lending their voices in support of the school-bond referendum that district voters will decide on in a Tuesday, Feb. 5 special election.

The three retired teachers — Tom South, Dale Schumacher and Richard Saemisch — still call Perry home and take a lively interest in the welfare of Perry and the Industrial Technology Department at PHS.

All three support the proposed $6.5 million expansion and remodeling project that would double the size of the PHS Industrial Tech Department and add a wrestling/multipurpose room on the north side of the 18th Street campus. Industrial-tech classes include automotive technology, welding, metalworking, woodworking and small engine repair, with a building-trades curriculum in development.

Tom South, the senior staffer at 91 years old, started teaching automotive classes at PHS in 1957, “back when all the good cars were on the road,” he said. In 1960 Perry built itself a new high school — in use today as the Perry Middle School — but the high school students continued to take their shop classes at the old high school, which had become the junior high school.

South was the school district’s sole shop teacher until 1965, when the new industrial-arts facilities at PHS were built, the same one that are still in use today.

“I was all by myself,” South said. Along with the high school’s new industrial-tech department came the need for a larger teaching staff, and Dale Schumacher began teaching at PHS in 1965.

“I hired Dale,” South said. “In fact, I had Dale in Knoxville in school, and I knew he was a good man. He’d just finished his degree over at Iowa State, and I called him and told him I had a job for him.”

The high school’s new shop facilities and the hiring of Schumacher were matched by a third notable event at in 1965, when PHS became a charter member of the newly formed VICA organization– the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America.

South retired from teaching in 1989 after 32 years at PHS, but he has kept up since then with the changes in Perry and in the industrial-tech world, and he strongly supports the proposed $6.5 million additions to be voted on Feb. 5.

“If they’re going to keep up with the rest of the world, then I think they need it,” South said. “They also need to hire a third man to help out, and they need to get DMACC involved, too. We don’t want to be teaching something DMACC’s teaching and have duplication when we could do something else.”

South picked a winner in Schumacher, who stuck with Perry High School for 43 years, retiring in 2007 after leading the PHS industrial-tech students to state and national VICA championships every year. VICA changed its name in 1999 to SkillsUSA-VICA and again in 2004 simply to SkillsUSA.

Schumacher said the PHS facilities built in 1965 were “very adequate and well equipped,” and he and South developed there the award-winning programs that filled the trophy case in the PHS commons.

“That is an impressive accomplishment,” Schumacher said, “but times have changed. Technology has changed dramatically. Additional equipment was needed and added, but the classes tend to be larger now, so the department has outgrown what was a very good facility.”

Tight quarters pose safety risks, he said, and Schumacher today urges school district voters to approve the Feb. 5 school-bond referendum for reasons of space, safety and student skills.

“There are some serious safety concerns because equipment is crowded tight, and students are working in some very crowded conditions,” he said. “We owe them more than can be provided with the present facility.”

Joining South and Schumacher in 1967 was Richard Saemisch, who taught industrial arts at PHS until 1979 and then went on to small-business success at Perry Paint and Glass.

“I was proud to be in that department,” Saemisch said. While a PHS instructor, he served as president of the Iowa Industrial Arts Association and was co-chair of the International Convention in Des Moines.

“There is an emphasis today on skills,” he said, “and I am in favor of the plans before us to enhance the athletic needs as well as the industrial arts. I have heard how crowded the shop areas are, and this is a safety issue that needs to be addressed.”

These three teachers, who helped PHS become a standout in state and national SkillsUSA contests and equipped two genrations of students with market-ready job skills, are unanimous in their opinion that the Perry schools — and Perry students — are overdue for this $6.5 million investment.

“Let’s have some Perry school pride,” Schumacher said, “and provide them with facilities that we can be proud of and where they can continue to challenge our students and continue the Perry tradition in the Industrial Technology area. Please vote Yes in the bond referendum on Feb. 5.”

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