NORMAL — Fifty years ago, a copper box was stuffed with mementos, welded shut and stashed behind the cornerstone of what was then the new University High School in Normal.

John Wroan, a 1945 U High graduate, was the contractor who helped seal the box behind the bricks and mortar. He also was present last week when the box was reopened.

“It was like returning home,” said 88-year-old Wroan of Bloomington.

Wroan and other alumni, faculty and community supporters were invited to mingle in the U High library Tuesday night to reminisce and examine the relics on display.

The contents of the box looked like they hadn’t aged a day.

There was a class schedule with a still-shiny staple at the corner and glossy campaign buttons for 1964 presidential candidates Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater. For the less politically inclined one button declared “I love the Beatles.”

There was also a letter addressed to the graduating class of 2064. It remained unopened.

“The students are very excited to be a part of this history,” said head librarian Gretchen Zaitzeff. “Seeing things like the election pins give them a glimpse of how things have changed, but still stay the same."

The items will be put on display at the Dr. Jo Ann Rayfield Archives at Illinois State University. The unopened letter and other to-be-determined items will be resealed into the box and tucked away again until 2064.

The event Tuesday also honored active alumni for their contributions to the ISU laboratory school.

Clyde Coombs, a 1963 graduate, was an honored guest. At a young age, Coombs moved into the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School in Normal. While attending U High, he was involved in the track, football and swim teams.

He voiced his appreciation for the U High faculty who helped keep his life on track.

“U High helped turn me around and I’m a better citizen because of it,” said Coombs. “When I acted out, it kicked me in the pants and thumped me in the chest and said, ‘You don’t do that at U High.’”

In 2011, Coombs established the Clyde B. Coombs Endowment Fund, which provides financial assistance for students participating in extracurricular and athletic activities. He recently made a seven-figure estate gift to the fund, hoping to increase the number of possibilities for future Pioneers.

“You are the inspiration, my friend,” ISU President Larry Dietz said to Coombs.

Alumni donations have also funded many construction projects in the school, including a fitness room, auditorium, library, landscaping and music storage room. After a significant gift from John Wroan in 2010, the technology center was upgraded and renamed the Wroan Technology Center.

“When you get older, you’ll find something that changes your life,” said Wroan. “U High is very important to me and it changed my life.”


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