September 22, 2006

A special bond: Joys, memories to highlight Bishop Chartrand High School reunion

By John Shaughnessy

As soon as he saw the police car, Robert Kitchin started to worry—especially when the ram in the front passenger seat next to Kitchin raised its head and looked in the direction of the police car.

Kitchin wondered how he was going to explain to the police officer that the live ram—named Rambunctious—was a high school mascot, and he was giving it a ride to a football game.

Kitchin noticed that the officer returned the ram’s look, did a double-take and drove away, apparently deciding not to ask any questions.

In a peculiar way, that moment typifies the brief history of Bishop Chartrand High School in Indianapolis from 1962 through 1969. Before it was merged into Roncalli High School, Chartrand was a place where there was rarely a dull moment. It was also a place where the stories of supporting Catholic education through faith, family and unusual fundraisers—including selling toothbrushes and even holding a circus—were common.

The stories, the joy and the memories of those years will undoubtedly be recalled when the 1966, ’67, ’68 and ‘69 graduates of Chartrand—the school’s only four graduating classes—will hold a reunion on Oct. 7 at Roncalli. The reunion will start with a Mass at 5:30 p.m. and include a dinner at 8 p.m.

“It was sort of a small school,” recalls Kitchin, the only principal Chartrand had. “We were trying to give them what the Lord intended—basically just charity for others. What we couldn’t give them, we made up with care and devotion to them. They were good kids. You’d tell them what needed to be done and they’d do it. There were a number of parents interested in the place, too.”

Kitchin put an unusual question to some of those parents when he wanted to find a mascot to represent the school’s nickname, the Rams.

“I said, ‘Do you know where I can get a sheep ram with big ram horns?’ ” Kitchin recalls. “One guy said he would go to the stockyards. He came back with one. Boy, was he filthy. I cleaned him up and put a big dog harness on him. We put him out where he could graze. We had to teach him to butt. When he was real good at that, we took him to Beech Grove for a football game. Everyone left, so I put him in the front seat of the car and started to drive to Beech Grove.”

That’s when Kitchin saw the police car and cringed. Still, it all turned out for the best, which is also how many of the school’s graduates remember Chartrand.

“Because Chartrand only existed for four graduating years, I have always had to explain to people where I went to school,” says Donna Guy Woodman, a 1966 graduate. “They usually say, ‘Don’t you mean Chatard?’ I have to explain that we opened our little building in 1962 in the name of Bishop Joseph Chartrand, not Chatard.”

Most of Chartrand’s trophies and memorabilia were cast aside when the school merged into Roncalli, but one major tradition continues in a slightly altered form—the school’s fight song.

“A few words in the song have been changed and the catch phrase of ‘Chartrand Rams’ has been replaced by ‘Roncalli Rebels,’ ” Woodman says. “We Chartrand graduates still sing the original words softly when we hear it played at ball games. We are proud of what Roncalli has become in the 40 years since our foundation blocks of the building were set.

“You can ask any of these graduates from those four graduating years, and they will agree that we shared a special bond and friendship that is difficult to explain.”

Bob Tully saw that special bond as one of the original teachers and coaches at Chartrand. He has also seen that spirit evolve and grow as a teacher and a coach at Roncalli ever since it opened.

“Those Chartrand years were some great experiences,” Tully says. “They made me fall in love with the south side. Everything about it was great. Super kids supported by super families. It hasn’t changed since.”

Bernie Weimer remembers the positive atmosphere that pervaded the school.

“We were all young, fresh out of school, and we wanted to do good,” says Weimer, one of Chartrand’s original teachers and its band director. “Kitch had a vision of how to get things done and get the funds to make things go. I walked in there, and Kitch said we needed a band. When we had our first meeting, 35 kids showed up and 25 played guitar. We had to start from scratch and order all the equipment. The philosophy was, ‘This is going to happen and this is what will come.’ ”

That philosophy led to the creation of a football field from the dirt that was dug to make the school’s basement. That philosophy also influenced the unusual fundraisers the school had.

“Selling toothbrushes is very memorable with all my classmates,” Woodman says. “I’m sure someone had to have donated them. They gave us a dozen. My parents said, ‘You’re not going around door to door selling toothbrushes!’ They bought them all.”

Kitchin still hasn’t forgotten the circus fundraiser—no matter how hard he tries.

“That was a dreadful experience,” he recalls. “I knew a little girl whose family traveled with the circus. She called up and asked if we could have the circus at our school. The circus wasn’t too good and they left a mess, too.”

Yet, people still remember it as one of the special memories that made Chartrand distinctive, just like having a live ram for a mascot.

“Rambunctious loved to crack people,” Kitchin recalls. “He tried to give one of the referees a shot. He died finally, but he ate a lot of archdiocesan shrubbery while we had him.”

At 84, Kitchin laughs at the memories. He also looks forward to the reunion.

“I remember an awful lot of the kids,” he says. “I’ll just be glad to see how they’re doing. They’re fine kids, and they’ve done well. We did our best for them. It was fun.”

(For more information about the reunion, contact Donna Guy Woodman at 317-787-4770.)


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