Remember When: Memories will make Meyers’ legacy continue

i Aug 1st 2016

By Tom Mooney, Times Leader

Meyers High School has been a truly rare institution in the community.

How many schools have graduated a Nobel laureate, a supermodel, an iconic army infantry officer, an Emmy Award winner and a “Sports Illustrated” cover athlete?

It is certainly no wonder that parents, students and other devotees of the long-time South Wilkes-Barre institution are saddened by the Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s plan to abandon Meyers.

Under that plan, borne of realization that the district’s three old high schools are deteriorating, Meyers would cease to exist. Its students would merge with those of Coughlin High School in a new building on Coughlin’s downtown site. Demolition of Coughlin is already under way. GAR High School would remain and be rehabbed.

Meyers, on Carey Avenue, was built in the economic boom years of the late 1920s to serve the growing population of the southern end of the city. GAR had just recently opened to serve the same function in the Heights section. Downtown, Coughlin had been in operation for decades already. With the opening of Meyers in 1930, the city had three big high schools within walking distance for students.

That pattern even survived state-mandated consolidation in the 1960s. The Wilkes-Barre district took in students from Plains Township, Laflin, Bear Creek Township and Wilkes-Barre Township. The smaller towns’ high schools closed, and all their students were folded into a new entity known as Wilkes-Barre Area.

The names of the three old high schools – Coughlin, GAR and Meyers – remained, though. With a few border adjustments, each of them just served a larger area than before.

Any school that stays in business eight or nine decades will develop its own image and folklore. Meyers is no exception.

Still remembered is a 1940 student strike and march that forced the reinstatement of a popular teacher who’d been dropped. Then there was the frightening day in 1947 when 47 students and teachers fell suddenly ill with food poisoning. The severe floods of 1936 and 1972 caused extensive damage, but the school rebounded.

Much of the history is happy, though. The ongoing sports rivalry with GAR is certainly one of the oldest in Pennsylvania between schools that have kept their original names down through the decades. Meyers has crowned more state wrestling champions than any other high school in Northeastern Pennsylvania, including three in 1978 alone.

The excellence reaches beyond sports. Meyers has won national debate and chess championships.

Meyers is justifiably proud of its famous graduates. While many of its people have served in uniform, the D-Day exploits of graduate Harry Welsh thrilled viewers of the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers” in 2001.

Beginning in the 1940s, Jessica Wilcox (under the name Candy Jones) became one of the most visible faces in America and is sometimes called the first “supermodel.”

In 1969 graduate William P. Ross captured an Emmy award for his art design for the TV show “Mission Impossible.” Stamp collectors don’t often make news, but in 1970 Irwin Weinberg bought the world’s rarest stamp at auction for $280,000. Dr. Edward Lewis became a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work in genetics.

People all over Northeastern Pennsylvania thrilled to the appearance of former Meyers football player Raghib “Rocket” Ismail on the cover of “Sports Illustrated.”

Is Meyers High School’s story near its end? Major changes to the district’s plan do seem unlikely.

But one thing is more than likely. Buildings can vanish: memories can’t.