Random Aquinas Memories from T A Burke, '63

My Aquinas College High School education started when I was born, since I was baptized Thomas Aquinas.

I heard about Aquinas, its traditions, and faculty members from family and relatives. My dad – Bernie ‘29, brother George ’61, cousin P J Connor ‘60, cousin John (Jack) Ryan ’56, Uncle George ’38, Uncle Bill Connor ’33, my cousin’s husband Ernie Bryant ’47, and even my confirmation sponsor Bob McNamara ’32, all graduated from Aquinas. In my freshman year, my sister Karen Anne started dating Joe Zang ’59, and married him in 1962. Over the past 54 years together, they have created a family of 10 children, 23 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren.

I first set foot on the Aquinas Campus in mid-August, 1959. I began my student life as a Varsity Football Manager. I shared this honor with another freshman, Tom Nye, and a sophomore and senior. We were the grunts, doing whatever was necessary to keep the athletes properly equipped and well hydrated.

I vividly remember Coach Mamajek wanted the team to have tea after their twice-a-day pre-season practices. It was fun to make two 20-gallon batches of tea each day, then adding a pound of sugar. We served it out of a 25- gallon crock I found in the boiler room of the old red building. So for two weeks or so I brewed 40 gallons of tea a day. I used a pillowcase as a tea bag. Every day, I bought a 25-pound block of ice from City Ice down Mt. Vernon Avenue at Nielson, to add to the tea in the ceramic crock. I think I made over 520 gallons of tea. The football players guzzled it all down.

Being a football manager, I could study the personalities of different football players. I was there when they celebrated the wins and suffered the wounds of defeat. The team was mostly seniors and juniors, with a sophomore or two. One had to admire their camaraderie. Sometimes in the locker room and showers, Johnny Rhodes began singing, then John Cherubini joined in, and the rest of the team added their voices to the song. Poison Ivy was a popular song at the time and a team favorite. It was surreal. People only did this in the movies, or so I thought. It was not a fluke-- they also sang on the team bus, and while traveling to our out-of- town games against Steubenville Central Catholic, Lakewood St. Edward, and Bellaire St. John.

The guys had fun, but were tough football players, and played hard. I witnessed players get concussions and still play. Suck it up said Coach Mamajek. After the game, some were still confused. In my senior year, one of my classmates suffered a concussion nearly every game. Sometimes he did not know where he was until long after the game. He was a great player who was fearless and loyal to a fault. Thinking about this now, I wonder how the concussions affected those students’ lives in later years? 

Going on road trips were logistical nightmares for the football managers. We had to pack and load all the team equipment into the charter bus. Then we off-loaded the equipment at the stadium, and got it ready for the players. I think the players only carried their football shoes. Gathering up all the equipment after the game and repacking it in the buses was a hassle. Nothing could be left behind. The team bus did not move until we finished, and everyone wanted to leave immediately. After we got back to Aquinas, in the wee hours of the morning, we had to unload and lock up the equipment.

In the afternoon that same day, we football managers returned to sort out the equipment. Football jerseys and game pants were readied to be sent to the laundry. Shoulder pads and helmets had to be checked for problems. Wet parkas were laid out to air dry. All had to be ready for practice on Monday. Aquinas went on three road trips during the 1959 football season. One was to Steubenville Central Catholic on the Ohio River, a second to Lakewood St. Edward on the shores of Lake Erie. The other trip was to Bellaire St. John, near the Ohio River.

I remember the Lakewood trip was my first visit to the Cleveland area. With the Lake Erie breezes blowing over the stadium, it was below freezing. Rocky Eramo’s16 mm camera froze up - literally. He and I spent maybe 30 minutes warming up the camera so he could continue making the game film. Rocky, class of 1958, filmed all the Aquinas football games for years. In 1959, he was one of the reserve football team’s coaches. Later, he made a career of recording and filming events like weddings and reunions. A skilled amateur radio operator, Rocky served as a reserve police officer on the Columbus Police Department for many years. He led the Police Reserves as Commander when he retired.

We used Rocky’s short wave portable radios when the football team travelled to the Bellaire St. John and Lakewood St. Edward games. As big as a backpack, the short wave radios had long antennas making them look like something used by a combat platoon. We used them so the team bus could keep in touch with the bus carrying the Aquinas fans. Neither the team nor the fan bus had a bathroom so frequent stops were necessary. In the days before Interstate 70, we travelled to Bellaire via US Route 40 (The National Road). I think we took Ohio Route 3 north to Cleveland. I do not remember the route we took to Steubenville.

During the three road trips, seeing the Ohio countryside was an eye-opener for some students who had never left Columbus. There were no Interstate Highways. We travelled over roads originally pioneer trails. The hills of eastern Ohio appeared to be mountains compared to the hills on Cooke Road. Cows were really in fields.

Aquinas was a member of the Columbus City League. We joined it shortly after Aquinas was opened. We were the only Catholic high school in the League. We fielded two football teams - the Varsity and the Junior Varsity, also known as the Reserves. The Reserves were sophomores hoping to eventually play Varsity ball. It was indeed the farm club for the Varsity. Occasionally, a talented sophomore moved to the Varsity during the season. This player usually played in the backfield or had great speed.

The Reserves (JV) was our introduction to the nasty world of high school football. Grade school football was a gentle and civilized game by comparison. The name calling, trash talking, and physical beatings during games were new facets of the sport to many of us. Our face mask had a single piece of plastic across the front of the helmet. It provided very little protection. In pileups, players from the opposing team still got their hands thru to gouge you in the eyes or pull your nose. Body blows occurred often as players fought for control of the ball in pileups. Being punched in the face occurred even with a face mask in place. The City League high school games were especially rough physical games.

In October, 1960, I played guard on the Reserves when we played Linden McKinley’s Reserves. During the game Linden fumbled the ball. A scramble for possession ensued. I thought Linden recovered the football and promptly tackled the ball carrier. Great tackle, but the wrong move. Aquinas had recovered and I tackled our own player. Before I could get up from the ground, I heard my dad’s voice. He had run onto the field, and was yelling at me for the being a dummy for tackling my own teammate. He was right. I felt stupid. I played without my glasses, so objects generally were pretty fuzzy and blurry. In fact, without my glasses I could not tell if a person was a male or female unless they were two feet from me. Discouraged, I did not even try out for the Varsity team the next year. However, I did earn my Aquinas sports letter for reserve football.

In late October, 1960, after reserve football practice, a group of us went down to the Statehouse to see and hear John F. Kennedy speak. He was a candidate for President, and very popular at Aquinas. We arrived to see a crowd of 50,000 persons packing the Statehouse square and overflowing on to the streets. Sardines could not have been packed closer. We found a spot by climbing up and onto the west veranda of the Statehouse near the WW1 Soldier Bronze. It afforded us an unobstructed view of the raised speaker’s platform that stood maybe 50 feet from the west entrance to the Statehouse. Hoping to see JFK close up, I went to the west entrance. Going inside, I found a spot at the bottom of the stairs from the Rotunda. A few people were already there.

Kennedy arrived and proceeded down the stairs from the Rotunda. As he came by me, I shook JFK’s hand and then kind of passed it on to the Religious Brother standing next to me. The crowd quickly closed in behind JFK. I followed with the crowd. It was then that someone pushed me 3 or 4 times in the back. Getting angry, I threw back my elbows into someone’s chest. Hearing a rush of air coming from his lungs, I turned and looked behind, and saw a black-haired man with very large press credentials on his chest. Gasping for air, he asked me to get him out onto the speaker’s platform. I said sure, and parted the crowd in front of me as only a young football player could do – by force. We went right out onto the speaker’s platform, bypassing security. The man thanked me. It was then I realized JFK was only feet away and I did not belong there. Before leaving the platform, I turned to my classmates and waved. They knew it was me. I was wearing my Aquinas jacket. Returning to my classmates was a lot easier with security clearing the way. My classmates believed me when I told them I shook JFK’s hand. After all, they saw me on the speaker’s platform with him. That night on the late TV news, I saw the black-haired man I had assaulted. He was Pierre Salinger, JFK’s Press Secretary.

My brother George was an outstanding basketball player. He won the City Recreation Department’s city-wide free throw competition. He also was on the City League’s all- city teams several times. Later, he was a walk-on to the freshman team at Notre Dame. I shared none of his skills, just the opposite. I had trouble dribbling a basketball. I often wondered if “Klutz” was my real middle name when it came to sports.

At Aquinas, I was the scorekeeper for the freshman basketball team for 4 years. The freshman team played teams from the Columbus Public junior high schools. In my sophomore and junior years, I was the scorekeeper for both the Junior Varsity (Reserves) and Varsity teams. Some weeks I scored 5 games a week, and travelled to three different schools. I saw every junior and senior high school in Columbus. Among the City League schools, only Aquinas had a scorekeeper who was a student. I was that student. The other school’s scorekeepers were all teachers.

In my junior year, near the end of season, the North High scorekeeper, Mr. Richards, gave me an envelope. In it was a check for $15. He told me “the City League paid scorekeepers for their services, and students were no exception”. They paid $10 for a Varsity game and $5 for a Reserve (JV) game. Shock and anger were my initial reactions. Feeling cheated, I held onto the check because it was made out to me. When Fr. Edward Louis Martin O.P., asked me for it later, I told him what Mr. Richards had said. He answered that “Richards should have minded his own business”. Fr. Martin did not deny that it was City League policy to pay scorekeepers, and that I was entitled to the money. Fr. Martin simply said nothing and offered me no explanation. From then onward, he gave me the cold shoulder, or ignored me as best he could until I graduated the following year. Richards later told me Aquinas paid visiting City League scorekeepers.

Morally and legally it was theft, and the money should have been given to me. As the Aquinas Athletic Director, neither Fr. Francis Clement McKenna O.P., nor Fr. Edward Louis Martin O.P., ever told me that I was involuntarily funding them or the Aquinas Athletic Program. Arguing that I was not entitled to the money, because I was a student, is a fallacious argument. It was modern day slavery. It hurt even more when I found out that at our Aquinas home games, the visiting scorekeepers were paid. All I ever got was two years of free tickets to football games, which saved me a mere $10. That the priests would cheat me, and steal money that was rightfully mine was mindboggling. I did feel like a fool who naively trusted these representatives of God. Deeply embarrassed, I never mentioned it to anyone until after I graduated. In those days, priests were always right and no one challenged them.

As the Aquinas home scorekeeper, I called in the final score and the names of the high point players to the Dispatch sports desk. Both the Dispatch and Ohio State Journal published the information. Unfortunately, when my brother George played his highest scoring game, the name of the high point player listed in the newspaper was “Tom Burke”. George was extremely angry. The Dispatch paid me $1.25 per game.

I also was paid to be the official Catholic Youth Council (CYC) scorekeeper for one season. The CYC Inter-Parish high school basketball games were held downtown in the Salesian Center (now the Bosco Center) at State & 6th streets. It was 10 continuous games one day each week for 8 weeks. The CYC paid me and the official timer $2 per game.

In my senior year, Fr. Martin told me my services were no longer needed as the scorekeeper for the junior varsity (Reserves) and varsity basketball teams. Yep! He sacked me. He said I could still score the freshman games if I did it for free. But my scorekeeping of a varsity game had one last act.

In 1963, I went to the Coliseum, at the State Fairgrounds, to watch Aquinas play in the District Basketball Tournament. Fr. Martin approached me just as I was about to enter, and asked me to be the official Aquinas scorekeeper for the Aquinas game. I hesitated, and then he pulled out a $20 bill and gave it to me. Twenty dollars was the Tournament-mandated compensation for team scorekeepers. I joined the Official Tournament scorekeeper (Mr. Richards) and the official scorekeeper for the other team. I told Mr. Richards that Fr. Martin paid me $20 to be the Aquinas scorekeeper. He quipped, “It’s about time”. I had the satisfaction of scoring the last game for my classmates whom I first saw enter the basketball court as freshmen.

In my sophomore and junior years, I was Class President. Coming into office, I found unpaid bills and no money in the class treasury. I thought up a fund raiser. Our class sponsored an all-school Euchre tournament with cash prizes. The entry fee was $2 per team. It would be played during the lunch periods, with judges watching to prevent cheating. Students would follow the winner’s progress by checking a chart posted daily in the cafeteria. Yes, Minichiello gave me permission to hang it up. The winning team took home $50. and the runner-up team got $25. Even teams getting to the semi-finals received some cash. It was a great success. My class paid its bills and still had a very healthy treasury leading us to sponsor the Mardi Gras Dance just before Lent in 1961. In my junior year, the Halloween dance was also a financial success.

Because I rode with my dad, I arrived nearly an hour before school started. This led to my serving at the 8:05 students’ Mass in the chapel of the Priests’ house. It was open to all students but not many attended. One hindrance may have been getting to it. A student first entered the priests’ house at 557 Mt. Vernon Ave., then proceeding through the hall to the chapel door. It was a small chapel, designed so that all the priests could gather to say the Holy Office. The vesting room was a small room off the chapel. The vestments of the day were laid out by Brother Luke Barnes O.P. He also cared for the 5 other priests’ house altars that the priests used to say their daily Masses in the 2nd floor corridor. The celebrant of the student Mass was usually a young priest. The Dominican Rite Mass was said instead of the Latin Rite Mass. The only differences were the beginning prayers. Fr. James Gerald Crombie O.P., and Fr. John R. Smith O.P., attended daily. Fr. Rudy Vollmer O.P.,would sit in the confessional waiting for the occasional penitent. Even with a short homily, the student Mass never lasted more than 25 minutes. One time, Fr. Thomas Norbert McPaul O.P., did it in 15 minutes. After Mass, I would have a free milk and donut in the cafeteria before class as a reward.

Comparing the priests’ names in different yearbooks shows why students were often confused over their teachers’ names. Some listed the priest beginning with his baptismal name. Other times his religious name was used first. Fr. Michael Jordan Minichiello O.P., is an example of his baptismal name being followed by his religious name, Jordan. However, he signed his name J.M. Minichiello O.P. John Edward Keefer O.P.,was difficult to find after he left Aquinas because we looked for Edward J Keefer O.P. (Eddie J). He was in plain sight as John E. Keefer O.P. In a religious community, the religious name the person takes is used to the exclusion of their baptismal name. The priests always referred to Fr. Edward Louis Martin as Louie. I never knew his baptismal name until I read his obit. However, some rosters of the Aquinas faculty members used the baptismal name, religious name and surname, in that order.

Although I was the MC for some pep rallies and assemblies, doing those events petrified me. I am not a rah-rah type of person, but I do appreciate those with athletic talents. I love history--what else can I say. After giving over 550 speeches in my lifetime, I still get nervous --no matter how prepared I am. Be it an audience of 4 or 400, the jitters are there at the beginning, but fade away 2 – 3 minutes after I begin the presentation. Maybe Fr. Christopher P. Grimley’s O.P., speech class did teach me something.

Founded in 1905 as St. Patrick College, the name changed to Aquinas College in 1911. It retained this name until just before WW2 when it became Aquinas High School. Fr. John R. Smith O.P., told me that it was changed to Aquinas College High School in the mid 1940s. Why? He said to make it sound more like an eastern prep school. From 1911 until it closed in 1965, the corporate name was “The Aquinas Literary Society”. To the students, it was always just “Aquinas”. Recent Aquinian obituaries refer to it as “St. Thomas Aquinas High School”. It was NEVER called this. Historically, in all the United States, there has been only one Aquinas College High School. My dad’s 1929 diploma stated “Aquinas College”. In 1963, mine stated “Aquinas College High School”.

When I applied to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles for the vanity license plate “ AQUINAS “, I had to explain to the clerk it was not a dirty or obscene word. The clerk had never heard of the philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas. I proved it was a proper name when I showed him my driver’s license. He then approved the application, but I did not have a check with me to pay for it. This was in the Bricker Building at the Ohio State Fair, so he put the application under the counter until I could return with a check. I walked back to the Ohio Historical Center where I worked in the State Archives and got a check.

Returning to the Bricker Building, the clerk was gone, having being replaced by a young woman. Happily, I knew Bessie Redd from the State Auditor’s office. In fact, she had typed up hundreds of my letters when she was a secretary in the Land Office. Having typed my full name on all my letters, she got a good laugh when I told her about the previous clerk questioning me about AQUINAS being a dirty or obscene word. It was surprising what you could buy at the Ohio State Fair during your lunch hour.

In the Class of 1963, my cousins Mike Ryan and Frank Weirick were classmates with me. However, each of us was in different Class Sections (A–B–C). We each experienced Aquinas in different ways. Aquinas College High School, Columbus, Ohio, was a place of learning and adventure to me. Experiences and memories that have lasted a lifetime began there while I was student. Some of these were good, others bad, thus preparing me for adulthood. My extracurricular activities enhanced my perspective of the school. When did I study? Well that’s another story.


Thomas Aquinas Burke
Aquinas College High School
Class of 1963
Columbus Ohio
4 September 2016