On occasion, a handful of gray-haired men meet for lunch at the Fishwife restaurant on North Lombard Street.
They talk fish, sports, ailments, grandchildren and their beloved Catholic faith. And they reminisce about North Catholic High School, which they helped establish and where they sent their children.
Tony and Phil Kaiel, brothers, ran the neighborhood grocery store their father, a Lebanese immigrant, had founded in 1923. They had not been able to attend a Catholic high school and so when the chance arose for their children in the late 1950s, they jumped.
Like many North Catholic parents, they worked long hours raising funds and donated heavily themselves. They chaperoned dances and chauffered teens to sports and other activities. They did it gladly.
“It was a beautiful thing,” says Phil, 87. “It was our life.”
Tony, 90, recalls that many parents wanted a better option than was possible at the North Portland public high schools of the time.
Through most of North Catholic’s 12-year run, there was a Kaiel enrolled, including the first year and the last.
Marv Honl, 84, sent five children through North Catholic and recalls it fondly. “Everybody got along,” Honl says, finishing off a plate of shrimp. “Nobody was looking down on anybody else. Nobody cared if your daddy was a banker or a field worker. It didn’t matter.”
Of high importance for these men was instruction in faith for their children.
Sports allowed the North Catholic parental spirit to shine. For away football games, parents would chip in for a bus and ride together, sharing food, drink and laughter. Backyard barbecues were frequent and moms took pride in keeping sports and cheerleader uniforms clean and trim.
As their lunch winds down, the men say North Catholic was a school that neighbors liked, even if they had no children attending. Home football games drew many people with no ties to the school except proximity and pride.
All three went and watched the effort to put out the fire on July 14, 1970. They recall a sad group of bystanders. The sadness turned to anger when the decision came that the building would not be reconstructed.
Scores of parents still think of North Catholic when they drive down Lombard Street. Many imagine what it would have been like to see their grandchildren at the school. Earl Waldram, a 93-year-old retired electrician, sent five of his nine children there. He wired many of the rooms and felt a personal connection with the place.
Corine Carlson, 84, saw her daughter graduate, but her son completed only a year before the fire and ended up attending Jefferson. Carlson worked for 17 years at Teeny’s Department Store on Lombard, where students came for shoes, socks and sporting goods. She admired the North Catholic spirit that carried over when youths walked off campus.
Geri Jodoin, 79, recalls North Catholic as if it were yesterday. Two sons and a daughter attended and valued co-education. Her sons were football stars and the daughter was about to be a cheerleader when the school closed.
Mary Schiffbauer, 89, says the school was a gem because it was close by and co-education appealed to her daughters. With a house walking distance away, two Schiffbauer children had graduated — one in the first class, in 1962 — and two were enrolled when the fire hit.
Schiffbauer, whose husband sold auto parts and worked nights at a service station to make ends meet, says, “The parents were really gung-ho about the school.”