'Class to the last': Arlington High School's last leader, John Rowe, dies

  • John Rowe, Arlington High School's final principal

    John Rowe, Arlington High School's final principal

  • John Rowe, Arlington High School's final principal

    John Rowe, Arlington High School's final principal

  • John Rowe, Arlington High School's final principal

    John Rowe, Arlington High School's final principal Courtesy of District 214

Updated 3/16/2019 4:53 PM

"Class to the last."

That was the motto of Arlington High School during its last year, 1983-84.


The words, which hung on a banner at the school, expressed the school's commitment to hold classes right up to the last day and its promise to go out with class.

But the phrase could also have served as the epitaph of the school's last principal, John Rowe, who died Thursday night at the age of 92 in Bella Vista, Arkansas, where he had retired.

When the last bell had sounded at the high school 35 years ago, Rowe chose to close the curtain on his career. But he remained a Cardinal to the end.

His son, Tom Rowe, said that even last week his father told him he thought of Arlington High every day.

"It was everything to him. It was what he devoted 34 years to. It was just ingrained in him. He was Arlington. You talk about the 'class to the last' type of program that they had there in 1984. He embodied that 'class to the last' as an individual, as a professional, as a principal, as a mentor, as a teacher, as just a wonderful compassionate person to all the students who would come to him crying during that 1984 year."

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John Rowe attended the 30th reunion of the 1984 class.

"He loved to give little speeches and talks," he son. "He, of course, did that at that particular reunion."

Rowe's relationship with Northwest Suburban High School District 214 began in 1956 when he began teaching math at Arlington. A year later, he moved to the new Prospect High School, where he spent five years. In 1962, he moved back to Arlington as assistant principal and moved his family from Evanston to Arlington Heights. He took over as principal in 1980.

The controversial decision to close was appealed unsuccessfully to the state Supreme Court.

"My dad, of course, felt it was not the right decision and was saddened by it," Tom Rowe said. "He wanted Arlington to stay open. But he did respect the decision that ultimately came down."

He chose to make the 1983-84 year a celebration of the school that featured ice cream socials and special recognitions for its athletes.

"These special events were meant to celebrate the wonderful heritage and history of Arlington High School," he said. "And that's what he wanted it to be -- a celebration of the school, not a mourning of its closing."


Rowe's feelings Can be seen on a District 214 Facebook video, "Arlington Speaks," as he recites a poem lamenting what has been lost. It ends, "And as the final bell rings, all who have filled my rooms and halls, all of them, students, teachers, administrators, secretaries, boosters, alumni, all, all are dismissed. Still, the red is my blood, the white is my body. I am Arlington."

Rowe's love was reciprocated. On his 91st birthday, he was greeted by hundreds of wishes on Facebook.

"It just kind of reinforces the impact he had on all the students and faculty at Arlington throughout all his years," Tom Rowe said.

Rowe spent his retirement pursuing woodworking projects in his little basement shop, playing golf and enjoying his grandchildren.

Survivors include his wife, Ruth; daughter Cathy Casey (Joe) of Bixby, Oklahoma; son Thomas Rowe (Jan) of Deerfield; and sister, Geraldine Barthholf (James) of Monroe, Wisconsin. Services will be March 23 in Arkansas.

Contributions in his memory can be made to The Cardinal Fund at www.214foundation.org/cardinal-fund or by check to the 214 Education Foundation, 2121 S. Goebbert Road, Arlington Heights, IL 60005.

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