I Learned and I Taught at a Place That I Love
By Martha (Menge) Cox ‘60 GPUS
Alumna, Lower School Teacher, Faculty Emeritus – 1967-1997
I’ve been given the opportunity to reminisce about the time I spent at Grosse Pointe University School as a student and at University Liggett School as a teacher. I had a close affiliation with GPUS and ULS for 47 years. I’ve written this from a very personal point of view. I hope I haven’t given too much detail or in some cases not enough.
In the last half of the six grade my twin sister Glady and I enrolled in Grosse Pointe Country Day School which was located on Grosse Pointe Blvd. near South High School and Christ Church. My class of 1960 was part of the first group of students who attended Grosse Pointe University School as seventh graders in September 1954. When the school opened, the kitchen wasn’t operational and the dining room wasn’t ready for use. As a result, faculty, staff and students were provided with box lunches. On a scale of 1 to 10 they were close to a 10.
In the fall of ’54 there was a talent show. Several faculty members, I believe Coach McCann was one of them, performed a song and dance routine. I don’t recall the lyrics, but I do remember that they referred to the students as guppies. Henceforth, Grosse Pointe University School was usually called GPUS. Glady also remembers Sam Shreeman and Blanche Blashill dancing a very lively jitterbug to everyone’s delight!
There was no middle school in 1954. Sixth grade was in the lower school. Seventh and eighth grades were part of the Upper School. The girls and boys had classes together but were in separate homerooms. The boys had men for their homeroom teachers and the girls had women. The seniors had separate senior rooms where they could gather. Smoking was allowed until the Surgeon General’s report was released concerning the dangers of smoking. Consequently, smoking was no longer allowed in the senior rooms after June of 1959. I believe some smokers on the faculty formed their own support group to help them quit.
Extracurricular classes included sewing, typing, mechanical drawing, architectural drawing and drivers training. As well as a very successful athletic program, GPUS and ULS has always had an outstanding drama department. When I was a student, the department was led by Ellie Munger. Every senior class gave a play in the spring. Ours was Teahouse of the August Moon. If I remember correctly, our props included a pink golf cart and a live goat!
The faculty was outstanding. So many of my teachers had such a positive influence on my social and academic growth. Muriel Brock arrived in 1956 when I was a ninth grader. I regard her as my most influential teacher. She continues to this day to be a valued friend, advisor and golf buddy. Two other teachers that stand out are Clare Lockhart, who taught me how to write, and Jody Perkins, who taught me how to think critically. With such warm, caring teachers it was a wonderful place to get my education. I was well prepared to take on the challenges of college.
I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1964 with a degree in education. I taught in California for a year and then Washington D.C. for two. The first year in Washington I lived with my GPUS classmate and close friend Sally Lewis Bassler along with three of her friends from Smith College. After leaving D.C., I spent the summer taking classes in Ann Arbor toward my masters degree. In September I left for a 3 1/2 month self-guided tour of Europe. When I returned in December 1967, Mary Thorn hired me to teach third grade. Thirty years later I retired, having taught third, fourth and fifth grades. I enjoyed teaching all three grades, each for different reasons.
All grades in the Lower School had one or two field trips. However, the fifth grade in connection with a yearlong study of American history, exceeded that number. When I first started teaching fifth grade, the classes took a one day field trip to Washington, D.C. We took a very early flight there and arrived home late at night. It was exhausting but extremely well planned by parents. We saw the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives and the Senate, all in session. We saw most of the historical monuments, as well as the White House, the Smithsonian, Arlington National Cemetery and many other sites. When the D.C. trip was no longer part of the fifth-grade curriculum, it was replaced by Detroit Days. Detroit Days was a series of field trips held in the spring that introduced students to Detroit. Parents were hugely helpful in planning and chaperoning these trips. We toured major auto plants and Greektown. We rode on the people mover, visited courtrooms, the mayor’s office, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Zoo, the Historical Museum, Greenfield Village and many more places of interest. In addition to Detroit Days, as part of our study of the fur trade, the teachers arranged a trip in the fall to Metropolitan Beach Parkway where, dressed as voyageurs, the students rode in replicas of voyageur canoes. When studying the Civil War, we followed the route of the Underground Railroad. In 1982, Margie Fitz Simmons, a ULS parent and co-teacher in my classroom, taught social studies. During the spring of 1983, Margie introduced and taught the class a unit called the Oregon Trail. It was a study of the westward movement. The trail was depicted on a large map posted in the room. The students belonged to one of three wagon trains, each led by a wagonmaster. The wagonmaster had an extremely challenging and oftentimes frustrating job because he or she had to keep members of their team on task. Students made presentations, cooked pioneer food to share with their classmates, and brought to their rooms many other projects which were displayed in the classrooms and hall. All of these projects earned points which moved the wagon trains farther west along the trail. Members of the wagon trains learned that forces of nature, sickness, or just plain bad luck could interfere or stop the pioneers’ progress in their efforts to reach the west coast before winter. The field trips were taken and the units of study were taught in an effort to make history come alive for our students.
Favorite classes of my fifth grade students were gym, library, computer science, and music. Grace Fenton instilled such a love of music in them that many preferred music over recess! Every classroom in the Lower School gave plays several times a year in the auditorium, which is where the science lab is now located. Parent attendance was always high. My fifth grade classes cast, directed and wrote their own plays, including commercials. The benefit of the plays were many. Writing the scripts, designing scenery, and performing in front of their parents, teachers and peers helped students learn to work together and make decisions. They also developed poise when speaking or performing in front of an audience. Even the school’s pet rabbit hopping across the stage didn’t distract the performers.
There was significant parent volunteerism when I first began teaching at ULS. When I taught fifth grade, several parents introduced an after-school Great Books program. Children were assigned books to read. They would then meet in small groups, each led by a parent to discuss the books. It was a rigorous program for both the parents and students. Helen Wu, an accomplished pianist and parent of Roger ’82 and David ’83, arranged several musical programs for the Lower School. There was a brass ensemble from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra who played and talked about their music. Helen and Leanne Clark, also a parent and pianist, performed Carnival of the Animals for the lower school. On two other occasions Helen performed with vocalists: once with a parent Mildred Avedisian and another time with Nancy VonOeyen, a music teacher in the upper school. Helen’s significant effort and commitment to music education gave students a strong appreciation for and love of music. Parents were always willing to help. Mothers and sometimes fathers willingly helped with field trips, class parties and other activities. There was and I’m confident there continues to be respectful, friendly relationships between faculty, parents and students. On a final note, mornings in the Lower School began with a pledge of allegiance to the flag. The day ended with a handshake and eye contact between the teacher and each student in the classroom.
When I look back, I recognize how much the school has changed over the years. The GPUS Carnival was a highly successful fundraiser and community event. Parent, faculty and student participation was huge! Because the success of the carnival was so dependent on the weather and for other reasons unknown to me, the decision was made to end the event. After GPUS merged with Liggett, ULS continued to hold the Antiques Show as a major fundraiser. I believe it ended because the vendors had a conflict.
There are several major construction changes that have occurred since 1954. In 1967 the McCann ice rink had not yet been built. Ice-skating was still offered but the rink was outside. The GPUS and ULS upper school library music and art rooms were located off the corridor where the entrance to the middle school is. The current library, named after John L. Booth, is located in an area that used to be a hall with classrooms on each side. At the end of the hallway was a large room referred to as the study hall. On their off-periods all students except seniors were expected to report there to work on their school assignments. Music and art classes for the entire school are now held in the Arts Wing. The music and arts programs have improved dramatically since I was a student at GPUS. Other major changes have occurred since I retired; one is the sale of the Briarwood campus and the relocation of the Middle School to the Cook Road campus; and the others are the stunning field house and the new athletic fields across Cook Road.
I retired in 1997. My mother was ill and I wanted to spend more time with her. I also wanted to spend more time with my husband Bill. It was not an easy decision as I loved teaching at ULS. Bill died in 2012. Since then I’ve been busy with travel, maintaining my home and garden and occasionally playing golf with Muriel Brock and Denise Deane. I continue to encounter my ULS family in many ways. Every year except for 2020, I’ve been invited by a mutual friend of Chuck and Jenny Wright’s to attend a Tigers game. It’s always been a fun evening. Sometimes when I’m walking, I’ll visit with former students JB Gordon, Amy Gordon-Gallister and most recently Alan Taber. Other times I see and talk to teachers and former parents, including Peggy and Pete Dettlinger, Mary Kaplan, Cynthia Ford and Gordon and Mary Rock. Often while I’m walking with Linda Brown I meet a lot of present day parents and students. Everyone knows Linda!
Many of my classmates live out-of-state, so I don’t see them often. Glady and I drove to Connecticut in July of 2019 to visit Sally Lewis Bassler and her husband John. That was a wonderful re-connection. I frequently have dinner with Suzy Tilley Lincoln. She’s a loyal and giving friend who saw me through some very difficult times when Bill was sick. I communicate with Gay Bacon Finch in California through Facebook and Instagram. Sharon Sanders Bing lives in Australia. We keep in touch through email. I always look forward to seeing many of my classmates during our reunions. Unfortunately, we’ve had to postpone our 60th in 2020 because of COVID.
I feel tremendous appreciation for the many classmates, teachers, students and parents that I’ve come to know through my affiliation with GPUS and ULS. It’s been a great ride!