Learning the Social Graces at Aquinas

“Oh Hell! There goes our profits”. These were my thoughts when Fr. James G. Crombie O.P., President of Aquinas, told me that I had to dump 30 gallons of cider down the drain. I had stored the cider in the furnace room under the old red building. I had bought it two weeks earlier for the Junior class’ Halloween Dance. It was a great buy at 40 cents a gallon plus 10 cents for the glass jug. I bought it at a cider press near Granville, Ohio. At the orchard they pressed their own apples and let the customer fill the glass jugs. It was fresh when I bought it, but I made the mistake of putting it down in the furnace room. Voila – it became hard cider. Fr. Crombie would not let me sell a drop. However, I did refill the glass jugs when I went back to the orchard a few days before the dance. We sold every drop either by the drink or by the gallon, making a healthy profit. (Two weeks later a jug of it, in my parent’s basement fridge blew off its cap. It was hard cider all right!)  

As Class President, I was in charge of the Halloween dance. I thought we needed pumpkins, so I took Bob Bower, Tom Kusan, John Tonti, Frank Weirick, and Ray Highfield with me to eastern Pickaway County where I bought a TON of pumpkins. We hand picked the whole ton and loaded them onto a pickup Tonti had driven and put some in my Dad’s 1961 Pontiac Catalina. It cost $20 for the ton, plus we had fun. I let Bob Bower drive the Catalina on the way home. Unfortunately, westbound on State Route 22, I saw an orange pumpkin fly thru the air. Whoops! Someone had lobbed it out of the Catalina. I saw an eastbound car slow down when the pumpkin hit its grill. The eastbound car turned around and was in pursuit. Its’ grill was covered in orange pumpkin rind. I had Tonti pull over, stop, and hailed the pursuing vehicle. The Driver was angry. I told him no harm was intended, and we would pay for the damages. It cost the Class treasury $40 for his car grill. Our Moderator was skeptical about our story behind the expense, but accepted it. We still made money from selling the pumpkins at the dance. We used the smaller ones for table decorations, not aerial bombs. The Class treasury still benefitted.

 Aquinas was an all-male high school. The twenty-five friar (priests) teachers and one layman coach made up the all-male Faculty. Only the two cafeteria cooks were female. It was not a finishing school, but school events helped us acquire the social graces. Each class had a Moderator to oversee its’ activities. Each class controlled its’ own treasury, and paid expenses out of it. During my sophomore and junior years, while I was President of the Class, coming up with ways to improve our class finances was always on my mind. Dances were our primary sources, but they also served other purposes. 

In the late 1950’s, many of us had begun to learn how to dance in grade school. While we were at Aquinas, parish CYCs (Catholic Youth Councils) often had dances, or “sock hops”. However, generally, no one took a date to these dances. Dates were mandatory for an Aquinas dance. It was a given. Here your date met your Dominican teachers. It was a definite social occasion with a chance to show just how refined you were. You could practice your etiquette, and your deportment was beyond reproach. Foul language was not permitted. Making a good impression on your date was very important.

Having dances at Aquinas posed many problems. Our chapel and cafeteria were in a 1906 building with walls painted in institutional green. The cafeteria on the first floor had long Formica lunch tables with metal chairs. The steep stairway to the chapel on the second floor often unbalanced people, especially those with high heels. The chapel itself was one huge room with very high ceilings. In the southern end was a raised stage with an altar as its focal point. Immediately inside the chapel to the right was a staircase to the 2nd floor of the Priest’s residence. Brother Luke Barnes, O. P., lived in a very small room under this stairway. His entry was a door in the west wall, on the landing, just before you entered the chapel. 

It took unbelievable imagination, creativity, patience, and vision to make the chapel and cafeteria the setting for dances like the Holly Hop, Mardi Gras, and Halloween Dance. Other high schools used their gyms, but Aquinas had a wood gym floor so we used the chapel and cafeteria.

The Class of 1961 put on the first Holly Hop. The entire cafeteria and chapel were covered with evergreens and fake (flocking) snow. It was truly a winter wonderland that transformed these drab rooms into a place of wonder, especially to those of us who knew what was underneath. Our dates were totally impressed, and this made us proud. One year for the Mardi Gras dance, we filled a real parachute bought from North American Aviation with 500 balloons, which were released from the ceiling at the end of the dance. We waded in balloons for 20 minutes breaking them all. 

Our dances had live bands. Some were fantastic, others average. The Rhodes Brothers sang at a few of them. Later, the Rhodes Brothers played clubs nationally and released a few record albums. 

All Aquinas dances were not held at the high school. The Aquinas Ring Dance for the Class of 1963 was held at the Seneca Hotel at Grant and E. Broad, in its Ballroom. The Junior and Senior Promenade (Prom) was held at Valley Dale Ballroom with the Chuck Shelby orchestra playing. Aquinas students wore only Black Tuxedos because a priest had said “you should not wear white until after Memorial Day”. How is that for refinement!

After his Senior Prom, my brother George did the usual crazy things. He and many of his classmates met at the White Castle, at 5th Ave. and Cleveland, just before the dawn was breaking. Ah! Eating Sliders after a hard night partying must have hit the spot.

 The following Monday, I was with George when he stopped at Moe Glassman’s to return his Black Tuxedo rental. Because he was driving, George had me take in the Tux. I gave it to a clerk who looked it over. During this inspection, I noticed a very clear, dirty, large, truck tread mark. I told the clerk I knew nothing about it when he asked me. As I was leaving the clerk said “I hope he was not in this when it was run over”. With a smile on his face, George peeled out of the parking space. 

Yes, the Prom was a big event. Both classes shared the expenses for the building rental and the band. Our class used a Polynesian theme for our Prom. Of course, we went to the Kahiki Supper Club afterwards, which really impressed our dates. The Prom programs were printed by the Empire Press on S. Greenwood Ave. in Franklinton. Larry Stiles was the proprietor who printed many Aquinas programs, invitations, and tickets beginning in 1925.

Aquinas students lived all over the city. Our dates for the dances came from every Catholic high school in Columbus except St. Charles. St. Joseph Academy was almost our sister school, so many dates came from there. The Dominican Sisters at St. Mary of the Springs Academy appeared not to like us, and favored the St. Charles boys. Still, some of us found some young ladies from St. Mary of the Springs who were willing to come to Aquinas as our dates. Both Academies had absolutely charming, gorgeous, and witty young ladies.

Fr. Michael Jordan Minichiello O. P., was the only Aquinas priest to have daily contact with every student. He was the Director of the Cafeteria. Daily, he guided the students to proper etiquette and deportment by maintaining strict order in his cafeteria. He permitted no cutting in line, or leaving trash on the lunch tables. Pulling pranks and having food fights caused “Mini-No-Neck” to look side-to-side for the instigators. (He really did not have a neck.) Once he found the culprits, he was a rocket of anger. Unfortunately, he knew every student’s name. 

Social graces are skills used to interact politely in social situations. At Aquinas we learned these well. 


P.S. After reading a draft of this story, my brother George sent me this note.
 “For the Holly Hop, all of our evergreens were “liberated” from a number of local establishments selling Christmas trees. Tom Benadum, who just knew we were going to be apprehended and end up in jail, provided the key transportation, his father’s pick-up truck. And to this day he remembers every detail of our “Operation Tree Liberation.” Fr. McPaul didn’t outwardly question our story that all were donated, but I think he suspected the truth.

Jim Dittoe was absolutely furious that he was charged an extra $5 or $10 when he returned his tux because it had a small mark on it, while I paid nothing for my tux which had not only tire tracks all over it, but also grass stains and alcohol stains everywhere.”

Thomas Aquinas Burke
Aquinas College High School
Class of 1963
Columbus Ohio 
27 August 2016