50 Years of Naperville North High School By Grace Muckerheide and Reyah Doshi

In the past 50 years, tens of thousands of students have walked through the halls of Naperville North, each one experiencing it in their own way. There have been changes big and small, as well as some consistencies throughout the last half century in the school’s history. We talked to retired and current North teachers and alumni to better understand how North has changed over time, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the school.

“I don’t think I have a favorite memory, it was all good. It was fun. I loved my teachers,” Lori Gerhardt, a member of the first graduating class at North in 1977, said.

Gerhardt holds a special place in Naperville North history— she is responsible for the iconic Huskie mascot.

"My sophomore or junior year, they wanted to create a mascot, so they did a contest with the students and they asked the students to submit names,” Gerhardt said. “My English teacher and I were throwing around a lot of ideas. Huskies was one of them that I wrote down, and then they made an announcement on the intercom that they had decided on a name and they said ‘thank you’ to me for choosing that name.”

The “huskie” mascot is one thing that has stayed constant throughout the years, and it serves as a symbol of the various sports teams that make up a big part of North. Paul Ryan, an NNHS teacher from 1975 to 2009, also served as a football and baseball coach in the infancy of North’s sports programs.

“The very first years, we weren’t very good because we didn’t have seniors in my first year as a varsity coach in baseball,” Ryan said. “I remember it was difficult in whatever sport we were doing. We were trying to fight our way in, just to be recognized.”

Girls’ athletics at NNHS in those times were constantly evolving, especially with the introduction of Title IX, a piece of federal legislation that protects from sex-based discrimination, in 1972.

“Title IX was coming into effect, and seeing that blossom was a nice experience. It was nice to see where women were able to be as competitive as they are now,” Ryan said.

In the earlier days of North, sports games were instrumental in bringing the NNHS community together, according to Laurie Ryan, a teacher from 1979 to 2014 and the spouse of Paul Ryan. The two met through working at NNHS and went on to have three children who graduated from North.

“There weren’t as many student activities, and therefore, when it came to a Friday night, everybody went to the football games. Everybody went to the basketball games,” Laurie Ryan said.

She also reminisced about the connection between the staff, especially during the first years of their hiring at the school.

“After a football game, a bunch of faculty would go out for pizza or something like that,” Laurie Ryan said. “I don’t know how much of that is still happening, because everyone’s wound up into getting everything done. Teachers are so busy all the time.”

It’s not just the staff--the culture of the whole school, and education offered at North, has changed in the last few decades. Gerhardt described the environment in the early years as “looser” than it is now.

“In our study halls nobody studied. It was in the cafeteria and we would play games on the tables, basically. So we would just sit and play games during our lunch hour and our study halls and then get back to classes,” Gerhardt said.

Although there are always noteworthy things happening at North, the nature of class pranks used to be a lot more chaotic, likely as a result of a more lax environment. Mary Roesler, a student from 1976-1980 and a math teacher at North since 1989, described some of her favorite memories of these pranks.

“Someone released birds in the small cafeteria, one kid drove a motorcycle through the hallway,” Roesler said.

The biggest change in culture, though, has been the academic climate. North’s academic rigor is one of its most defining characteristics today, but former students and teachers recall a time when there was far less pressure on the performance of students, especially in comparison to one another.

“I think District 203 has always had good academics, they’ve really pushed their kids a lot. I don’t think that at the time it was pushed to the point that you read about now. There’s a lot more pressure on kids now,” Gerhardt said.

The amount of pressure also has to do with the courses that are available for students to take. With a higher capacity to “achieve,” there is more of a push to do so.

“A big thing was that at the beginning there were no AP classes offered, and there was no weighted GPA. So that was a big change. I think just because we were a smaller community at the time, that just changed as we grew. We added AP courses over time,” Roesler said.

Over time, the academic obligation for each student grew. Laurie Ryan remembers this beginning to happen during her career at North.

“The push from parents was intense, the pressure was there. I think that started turning in the late 90s. That’s where it really, really got pushed that way. I feel fortunate that our two daughters, who graduated around 2000, didn’t have to experience it that much. That pressure was ramping up at the time, but it wasn’t as bad as it is now. I don’t know how students now survive,” Laurie Ryan said.

The trend has been an increase in pressure, but it has also been a shift away from the trades programs that used to be popular at North, courses like woodworking and mechanics, especially as “success” has taken on a different meaning over time.

“A lot of people did trades. That was a part of the curriculum,” Gerhardt said of North’s early years.

That, too, changed with the academic-centric lens that became prevalent at North and in education generally.

“Early to mid 90s, they started phasing out things like woodshop and auto mechanics. We used to have a great trades program at North. There was that push towards everyone having to go to a four year college, and the trades started losing ground,” Laurie Ryan said.

Students took various paths through their high school career with more flexibility and less credits required for graduation. Although many students now work during the school year, these jobs are typically after school so that students can still take a full load of classes.

“We had more students that would graduate junior year and go out and work, or more kids that would do a co-op program where they were at school half of the day and working with a business for the other half. Now that there are more credits required, kids don’t do that as much,” Roesler said.

There was also far less student diversity at North during the early years, which is a result of Naperville’s primarily white history as a city.

“When I was a student here, I’m trying to think if there was even one black student in the building. There was a little bit of diversity, but not much,” Roesler said.

According to the SOCDS census conducted by the Department of Policy Development and Research, the percentages of racial minority populations in Naperville doubled between 1980 and 1990. This change resulted in an increase of diversity within Naperville North.

Another huge change from 50 years ago: when North first opened its doors in 1970, it was not for all grade levels. The first students to walk the halls of our school were the Naperville students of the class of ‘74. For the first two years of its establishment, only freshmen attended North. After their first year they left to attend either Naperville Central or Naperville Community High School until they graduated.

When Lori Gerhardt first attended NNHS as a freshman in 1973, she was a part of the first class of students that would spend all four years at North.

“When I was a sophomore it was just sophomores and freshmen, when I was junior it was juniors, sophomores, and freshmen, and so my class was the first senior class graduating. We kind of felt like we owned the school,” Gerhardt said.

In 1975, when Waubonsie Valley High School was established, students who would graduate from different high schools no longer had to attend Naperville North as freshmen. They finally had enough room for students to spend all four years at one high school. NNHS became completely independent, made up entirely of Huskies.

As the school ages, a unique pattern is occurring-- former students of NNHS are returning to the building as teachers. Having seen the community grow as both a teacher and a student, these select people, one of them being Roesler, have gotten a one-of-a-kind perspective of the school.

“It was weird to be a student here and then become a staff member. The first few years it was hard to call teachers by their first names,” Roesler laughed. “After a few years, I could call them by their first names without being totally embarrassed.”

Mark Rowzee, a current physics teacher and former student from 1985-1989, returned to teach in the building in 2005. Rowzee has witnessed the school grow and evolve throughout his time in the building.

“When I went to school here it was a good place to be and I still think it’s a good place to be for students around now.”

While on the surface it appears that North is nothing like it was 50 years ago, these returning students know the similarities between the decades better than anyone else.

“We had the same slang, like, for the U-Hall, we called it the U-Hall.” Roesler remembered.

Both Roesler and Rowzee have taught at NNHS for over 15 years and easily recognize the commonalities across the different generations of NNHS students. They have had the opportunity to experience both sides of the school.

“It was fun to work in the building where I knew a lot of the teachers. I think they liked to see me back in the building. They were all good teachers and that’s why I wanted to be a teacher, and that’s why I wanted to come back,” Roesler said.

While changes in culture can still be somewhat subtle, changes and refinements to the building’s physical features are more obvious. When the campus first opened its doors, it lacked a lot of the necessities that we enjoy around the building now, thanks to renovations that have taken place in the last half century.

In the original plan for the school drawn up before 1970, the school looked almost unrecognizable compared to how it appears now. The U-hall was the most pronounced modern feature, but the athletic area of the school lacked distinguishable features such as, the contest gym, pool, wrestling balcony and gyms three and four in the field house.
By 2000, the school had all of its most notable modern features. This includes all four gyms in the field house, the North Performing Arts Center (NPAC), and its first version of a swimming pool.
In this blueprint from 2009, the overall layout of the school is the same as it was in 2000, but with noticeable upgrades. This includes more student parking and the newly renovated pool.
By 2018, the major renovations that make the school recognizable to students today had been completed, the most extensive being the main office renovation was completed in 2017.

Although there have been plenty of changes throughout the years, thousands of students and staff members have all called themselves Huskies as they have passed through the school’s halls. With 50 years under its belt, NNHS continues to make new history every day.

Elissa Eaton and Peter Harrison contributed to this story. Historic photos obtained from 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1979 Naperville North and Arrowhead yearbooks and early construction, 2000, 2009 and 2018 renovation blueprints.