Forest View alumni reminisce at long-closed school's open house

Their high school doesn't exist anymore but that's a mere technicality for alumni of Forest View High School who gathered Saturday to share memories of greasers and hippies, Nixon and Reagan, and Tater Tots.

The open house at what's now Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights celebrated an era stretching from 1962 through 1986.

"Just to come back to Forest View - it feels like home again," Lake Zurich resident Kathy Frizane Montonera said.

A junior when Forest View closed in 1986, Montonera befriended another alumni, Jan Piccolo of Schaumburg, who attended the school in its first two years.

"We got to choose the school colors and set the traditions ... I still have my Forest View pennant," Piccolo said.

"Me, too!" Montonera said. In the waning days of the school, "we all put yellow ribbons in the trees," she added. "I never got to graduate from there, but I always felt like a Falcon."

Montonera was on the hunt for one special teacher, Jerry Swanson, the award-winning choral director at the school from 1971 to 1986.

"I was a shy little redheaded kid ... choir opened me up," she recalled.

Montonera got her reunion with Swanson, who was sampling a retro treat - the cafeteria's famed Tater Tots.

Before "Glee" was a thing, Swanson made choir popular, getting kids to enjoy belting out Handel along with pop hits by the Carpenters and producing the latest Broadways musicals like "Hello Dolly!" and "Fiddler on the Roof."

"I told the girls to get the guys," he said, explaining his success in recruiting.

Gathered in the cafeteria, alumni described a jukebox with a sound track ranging from Led Zeppelin to Abba, the relief when registering for the draft ended in 1973 and how to annoy lunch ladies by flipping butter pats onto the ceiling.

A steady stream of former students greeted Erna Bringe, a business education teacher from 1966 to 1986.

"I cared about them," Bringe of Inverness said when asked her secret, adding she'd gossip with students about boyfriends and dances to relax them before dictation tests.

Bringe started out teaching shorthand and typing, evolving from manual to electric typewriters, and finally instructing students how to operate the first Apple computers.

She also recalled numerous fashion trends.

At the height of flower power, "there was one dress code, 'wear shoes,'" Bringe said. "One of the kids cut the soles off his shoes and wore the tops."

Former student Cathy Pitzaferro of Des Plaines described the "E" building, where "greasers" with leather jackets hung out. "You didn't want to go by E building," she said.

Bringe helped organize multiple proms with classic 1970s touches.

"The boys had pastel tuxes and the girls wore pastel dresses to match." Presiding over the couples, "I felt like Eve Arden in 'Grease,'" Bringe said.

The open house was hosted by Northwest Suburban High School District 214, which is reaching out to alumni.

  Former Forest View High School yearbook photo editor Denise Roberts, a 1975 graduate, finds a picture of herself during an open house Saturday. Marni Pyke/
  Former Forest View High School choir member Mary Gallucci of Schaumburg catches up with Choral Director Jerry Swanson at an open house Saturday. Marni Pyke/
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