Renee Albright looks up and, for a moment, a puzzled look crosses her face. “You look really familiar,” she says to a dark-haired man accompanied by his wife and young daughter.
Suddenly, the two recognize each other. He was one of her former students, and she was one of his favorite teachers.
“It's so good to see you!” Albright said to Tarek Zawahri, as the two gave each other a big hug.
It was one of many poignant moments that brightened Saturday afternoon at South Side High School as the school celebrated 100 years of educating Fort Wayne's young people.
The school marked its centennial Saturday with an open house that brought about 70 alumni back to roam the halls of their alma mater, browse historical and contemporary displays and gather in the school's auditorium for a formal program.
They heard about current school programs and the accomplishments of athletes. The ceremony also honored dozens of graduates who returned to South Side to teach.
A high point was the presentation of a proclamation from Mayor Tom Henry noting the school's achievements. It was delivered by Karl Bandemer, deputy mayor and a South Side alum.
The ceremony closed with the singing of the school's theme song, “The Halls of Ivy,” and its alma mater.
In brief interviews with The Journal Gazette, former South Side students recalled the influence South Side had on their lives.
Phil Davis of Fort Wayne, a 1975 graduate, went on to DePauw University in Greencastle, where, he said, he was competing with students from many prestigious high schools.
His South Side education stood him in good stead.
“I remember the outstanding teachers and how dedicated and competent they were,” said Davis, who now runs an independent real estate brokerage in Fort Wayne. “I was extremely well prepared.”
Kathy Miller, salutatorian of the class of 1971, was staffing a school store booth selling commemorative plates, school histories and green-and-white Archers apparel. She agreed that teachers “expected a lot of you,” but the academics were “wonderful.”
She recalled the day Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby visited South Side and performed after the school day ended.
“Now, this was before Title IX,” said Miller, referring to the federal law that opened participation in many sports to women.
Several people said they'd grown up on the south side of Fort Wayne, returned to teach at the high school and had their children attend there. The school made an impact across generations, said Blair Phillips, on the centennial's planning committee.
“You know, a hundred years. You tell me – there's not many high schools in the state that are open 100 years,” he said.
Kirby Volz, class of 1976, was master of ceremonies for the afternoon's program.
“To me, South Side is an absolute anchor to the south side of town,” he said. “It's a wonderful place to live and a wonderful place to work.”
Albright, who has taught U.S. history and several social science classes, said the celebration was especially sweet because for a time, the school's continuance was not assured.
But people rallied and showed they'd “fight for this school,” and South Side marched on, she said. “People know they're loved and cared for here.”
And students go on to have productive lives.
Zawahri, his wife, Sonal Sheth Zawahri, and their daughter Nadia, 8, drove to Fort Wayne from Fishers for the celebration.
He is an administrator with the Warren Township Schools on the east side of Indianapolis. After graduating from South Side in 1989, he went on to teach and serve as an athletic director.
He studied social sciences in college.
“You,” he told Albright, “were my inspiration.”