Sunday, January 15, 2012

Howe High School Sweethearts

Susie Westlake entered Thomas Carr Howe High School in 1948. She "lockered" with her best friend Ann Althauser and joined many clubs. Because Susie was on the honor roll, she was allowed to serve as an office messenger for Mrs. Loew, the Dean of Girls.

One day as she finished her lunch in the school cafeteria during her sophomore year, she eyed a boy sitting near the tray rack. His name was Rodney "Duff" Thompson. He also took note of her. Soon he began riding his bike by her home at 234 Ohmer Avenue. He had to go slightly out of his way to do this as he lived at 5010 Orion Avenue on the other side of Emerson.

They went on their first date together by attending a movie downtown at the Circle Theater. The teens both dressed up, but Susie decided that one date was enough for now. She went back to hanging out with her friends. With money saved from babysitting, Susie bought a record player and invited her girlfriends over to dance in her small Ohmer Avenue cottage.

Duff Thompson reappeared in her life in 1950 during her junior year. He was a member of Zeta Phi, a men's social club and she belonged to the Best of the West, a women's social club. He started attending joint meetings between the two clubs and he asked Susie out on a date again. By this time, he no longer had to ride a bike as he drove his father's 1947 Chevy. The car had a Dynatone Muffler on it and Susie reports that she could hear him before he was ever near the house. They started hanging out together quite a lot, usually with other friends. Since Duff and others had a car they cruised both Al Green's and Jones Drive-In Restaurants. They also played golf at Rustic Gardens, a local east side miniature golf course. One night several Howe students, including Susie and Duff, ventured out to the infamous House of Blue Lights along Fall Creek Boulevard. They had heard that Skiles Test, the wealthy man who lived there, kept his deceased wife in a glass coffin in the living room. They parked the car and noticed the twinkling blue lights. As they began to sneak up the hill to peek into the home, a caretaker of the house started to charge them. Thinking he had a gun, the group ran back to the car with extraordinary speed. In Duff's haste to "save" the group, he backed his car into a tree and then peeled off towards Irvington.

Susie continued to make the honor roll at Howe and because her father was a realtor, they moved away from their Ohmer Avenue home for two years, but the new house was still in the Howe district. In June of 1951, Duff graduated from Howe and Susie escorted him to the prom. Duff began to work for his father's ice and coal company while Susie finished her senior year of high school and graduated in 1952.

After high school, both Duff and Susie had jobs. Duff worked on the assembly line at RCA and at Grapho Products in Lawrence as a degreaser. In March of 1953, Duff presented Susie with an engagement ring and set the wedding date of May 22, 1953. By this point, her parents had moved into 234 South Butler Avenue near her former Ohmer Avenue home. The young couple decided that they would be married in the lovely newer home.

At 7:30PM, the ceremony began. Susie wore a white "shantung" dress and Duff wore a tailor made blue suit. Only a few relatives attended. The warm weather necessitated opening the windows of the house, but it also poured rain. Since both of them had to be back at work on the following Monday, the young couple celebrated their honeymoon in Cincinnati, where they stayed at the Netherland Plaza Hotel. Susie fondly recalls going to Coney Island and eating a delicious Italian meal at Capronis. They spent $60.99 for the entire weekend.

Within in the next year, the couple saw many changes including the birth of the first of their three children and Duff's enlistment into the U.S. army. The couple lived in several houses in the Irvington area and Sue is still active with many organizations including the Irvington Mother's Club.

In top photo, Rodney and Sue Westlake Thompson proudly pose inside the Westlake family home on the evening of their wedding on May 22, 1953. The bottom photo shows the Westlake house at 234 South Butler Avenue in 1953. Both images are courtesy of Sue Westlake Thompson. The stories for this post came from notes that Sue Thompson has taken regarding her life in and around the Irvington area.

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