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Submitted photos St. Joseph’s Commercial School graduating students sport classic 1950s-style sweaters including Margaret Piano (front row, far right). The Peru school was created early in the 20th century to train students to serve businesses in the parish, but it grew and so did the graduates’ reputation of capability.
The former St. Joseph’s School building, located on the site of today’s one-story elementary school at Fifth and Schuyler streets, housed St. Joseph’s Commercial School on the top floor. The commercial school closed 60 years ago this summer, and all graduates of the business school have a reunion Wednesday in Peru.
The 60th reunion of the St. Joseph’s Commercial School’s class of 1954 — the last class from the two-year business school in Peru — will be Wednesday, July 30 at Waterstreet Pub & Eatery, Peru.
This year, the class is asking all former students from the commercial school to join them.
If planning to attend, call Margaret Piano at (815) 223-8660 or Nancy Tesch at (815) 223-1595.
The group will meet at 4 p.m. on the patio and dine at 5 p.m.
In the mid-1900s, La Salle-Peru-Oglesby businesses looking for a secretary ready to work with minimal training needed would look no further than St. Joseph’s Commercial School, Peru.
But 60 years ago this week, the NewsTribune opinion page carried an editorial, “A Tri-City Asset Goes.” That’s because 1954 was the year St. Joseph’s Parish decided to close the two-year business school that had produced a steady stream of 16- and 17-year-old graduates who were trained to thrive in business offices.
Now, the final graduating class, the class of ’54 is preparing for its 60th reunion. They’ll meet Wednesday at Waterstreet Pub in Peru, and are not limiting the reunion invitees to classmates.
Fewer and fewer of the class members are around or able to attend the reunion.
“That’s why we’re inviting all former students to attend,” said Margaret (Jaskolski) Piano, who fondly recalls her time at the school, the lessons she learned and even the dances the girls at the school would host for St. Bede Academy boys.
Catholic two-year school Piano recalls many good times and holds fond memories of Sister M. Adeline Mazure, O.S.F., who was the St. Joseph’s Commercial School’s teacher/principal, and taught everything from business and religion to music and Latin.
“When Mother Adeline, who died in 1987, announced her retirement in 1954, no one could be found to replace her,” Piano wrote in a press release about this year’s reunion.
Indeed, the NewsTribune noted in 1954, the closing of the school had much to do with the crowding of the three-story St. Joseph’s elementary school building that had housed the commercial school on the top floor and the “inability of the Franciscan Sisters of Joliet to man the school as efficiently as it had been in the past. This decision (to close) was wise but unfortunate. It would have done no one any good to lower the standards of the graduates.”
Solid reputation Piano remains proud of how prepared she and her 27 St. Joseph’s class members were for the world of work after just two years of “high school.”
She said graduates included the eventual president and chief executive of Henry Bank. Another, she said, was director of the largest welfare district in Los Angeles County, another directed an American Red Cross chapter.
There occasionally were some boys at the school, but most of the graduates were girls who went on to work for insurance companies, hospitals and phone companies.
“We were ready to work,” she said, adding she was hired by the Aplington & Kaufman law firm as a legal secretary in 1954. “We were trained and ready.”
The school was created early in the 20th century to train students to serve businesses in the parish, but it grew and so did the graduates’ reputation of capability.
Their skills also were valuable no matter where they lived, Piano says.
When she was 18, she got married, and the Army transferred her husband (and the family) to the East.
“He was stationed in upstate New York, and I had a job in three days,” she said. It took her awhile to catch on to helping with collections law and settlements after being at a firm that handled mostly wills and estates, but catch on she did.
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