Source: NMHS Newsletter, August 1989

Graduates Distinguish Old Bippus High School by Dell Ford

Bippus High School graduated its last class in 1958.  Because it served the tiny community of some 300 in the northwestern corner of Huntington County, the high school classes from the opening in 1898 to that final year just over three decades ago were small, maybe even infinitesimal by today’s big city standards.

In the 60 years that there was a Bippus High, 530 young men and women were awarded the diploma that characteristically concluded the carefree days of youth and heralded the era of adulthood.  That 530 averages to something more than eight per year, a figure which doesn’t begin to compare with the hundreds now being graduated from Fort Wayne high schools.

But big things do come in small packages, and Bippus can be proud of the education it made available to its sons and daughters.  The reason can be summed up in one word: success.

Although there is no longer a high school in Bippus (the building that served as its final home, Warren Township Grade School, built in 1916, was sold at auction in March 1969 for $3,050), the old grads still gather to reminisce as old grads will at an occasional reunion.

The medical doctor from Wabash who had started out in business education, turned to math and much later concluded his ultimate desire was the practice of medicine, accepted the Herculean task of tracking down the graduates who  had scattered over the years.  Illness interrupted but did not end his research.  What he finally came up with is a tribute to his dedication to thoroughness.  “In my profession,” he explained,” you have to be thorough, you have to be perfect.  And I did my darnedest to include everyone and everything.”

He didn’t miss a trick.  He wrote to many of the graduates, sent mimeographed forms to others, asking for information about members of their particular classes.  He produced one large, manila envelope stuffed with “personal responses” of those to whom he had written.  A line on one of these responses notes: “Sorry.  I’ve done nothing spectacular, although I understand our school does have a record to be proud of.”

Still another envelope, bearing the fruits of Dr. Steffen’s hours of labor of love was labeled “classmates.”

This envelope too held replies from Bippus graduates.  A woman, providing information on her class of 1936, wrote (with what must have been a great deal of pleasure and a feeling of good fun), “None are on relief, no one is considered a ‘hippie,’ and, of course, as was the usual case, we are all just a good bunch of kids!”

In the third envelope, labeled “statistics,” the Wabash physician had provided the number of bachelor degrees held by the 530 graduates, 55; master degrees, 25; doctoral degrees, 11.  He noted that five were registered nurses and that total number of years in college by those who took their secondary training in Bippus High was an astounding 472.  In addition, as of 1968, 811 years had been contributed to teaching professions.

Fifteen Recognized in Their Field

The most interesting file was one called “distinguished.”  It contained papers, numbered 1 through 15, background material on 15 men and women whom Dr. Steffen personally considered the most distinguished graduates from 1898 to 1958.

The person whom Dr. Steffen selected number one distinguished rating was Newell R. Ziegler who died in 1964.  It was Dr. Ziegler’s research as a staff member of the University of Minnesota that contributed invaluably to open heart surgery.  Steffen noted his good friend’s work with vitamin K to stop and start the blood clotting potential quickly and at will, “both required in open heart surgery and heart transplant, possibly advanced those procedures by years.”

Number two was Lloyd H. Ziegler, Newell’s brother, who died in 1954.  He was the medical director of the Milwaukee Sanitarium in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and founding member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Television sports announcer, Chris Schenkel, was number three, and fourth was Paul E. Stanley, professor in the School of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Sciences at Purdue University.  Wilbur Brookover, professor of sociology and education at Michigan State University was five.

6---Dr. Arlo L. Schilling, president of North Central College, Napierville, Illinois.

7---Paul M. Birk, who designed the high explosive warhead for the Lacrosse guided missile, did the preliminary designs for the five patents in the field of aircraft armament.

8---Dr. John Young, associate superintendent, Fort Wayne Community Schools.

9---Paul Breitmeier, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Indiana University and retired employee of Union Carbide Corporation where he was involved with industrial engineering.

10---Col. Sherman L. Kiser, U.S.A. Ret., commander of American port activities in England during World War II and author of three books, including Americanism in Action.

11---Herbert G. Lahr, teacher for 42 years.

12---Hattie (Schilling) Bonham, teacher for 34 years.

13---Paul Lahr, teacher for 33 years.

14---Richard W. Shepherd, principal of South Whitley High School

15---George Bunce who in 1968 had given 23 years to the profession.

Steffen pointed with pride to non-college trained Bippus graduates and noted that the “array of distinguished bankers, business executives, merchants and farmers is endless.”  Those are the successes.  Some kind of record for a town and school the size of Bippus.  What is the key to this wonder?  Steffen considered carefully and arrived at a logical conclusion.

During the first half of the 20th century, he said, the Bippus community was relatively isolated due to several factors: communications were limited, large cities were located beyond reach and influence, and the inhabitants who were predominantly German, adhered closely to native characteristics.  One of the  predominant characteristics was a dedication to success “ by private initiative, hard work and frugality.  To them failure was a disgrace; success was mandatory.  They did very little wishful thinking, were ever ready to pay the price for success.  Education was held in high esteem.  Their emblem of success being possession, they labored diligently to secure real estate, personal property, bank accounts, education---anything of value, tangible or intangible.

Although he did not place himself on the list of distinguished graduates, Steffen truly belongs in their midst.  Any man who can quit work on a Ph.D. one year away from completion of that work and give up 12 years of seniority in teaching to begin anew on a M.D. degree at the age of 38 and wind up with 27 years in the medical profession---any man with that sort of perserverance and dedication is distinguished.

[This article, offered by Lola Sanger, as taken from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Sunday, May 4, 1969.]