“DOWN THE UP STAIRCASE”
Even teachers aren’t impervious to the rules. Remember Beck’s “up” and “down” staircases? There were stairs you went up and stairs you went down. One day in between classes, Marsh Morris was hurrying down to the office and went down the “up” staircase. Of course, his boss -- the principal, Mr. Johnson – caught him at the bottom and admonished: “Marsh, do remember you came down the “up” stairs!”
“What I remember about Beck, really,” said Marsh, “was the unity amongst the students in the three areas of the school: the academic, the music and the athletic. You seemed to support each other. You supported the athletes, and the athletes supported the music, and the academics did too. Now Ted Collins, he was a big guy. Ted was a powerhouse on the football team, but he was also a powerhouse in the choir. In a sense, it was almost an unwritten law. If you were on the football team or basketball or whatever and you had any kind of voice, you were in the choir too.
“In September, Mr. Chapman came around and went from class to class to determine if the students sang bass or tenor or soprano or whatever. As a teacher, you had to have a seating plan as to where the students sat in the singing auditorium, but you never had to worry about anyone being missing, because everyone seemed to enjoy it.
“I can remember going on the bus with the football team, and they’d break into some kind of a song, and then these kids would sing it in parts! It was wonderful. There were some outstanding athletes then, such as Ross Buckle and Gerry Witherden. The singing didn’t happen all the time, but the trip I particularly remember was when Sarnia was in the league. We had to go to Sarnia. It was a long bus ride, and everyone was singing. It was just marvelous!”
When Beck’s principal, Cliff Johnson, hired Marsh in September of 1948, Beck was Marsh’s first school. Marsh was from Toronto but didn’t really want to teach where he grew up. With an aunt and uncle living on Dufferin Street in London and the guarantee of a place to stay within walking distance of the school, his choice was easy.
“As a young teacher at my first high school, there was certainly an outstanding staff to go into. I think I joined the staff with Sue Gray or maybe Bonnie Bell. There was such an experienced, supportive staff: Bill Adamson, Fred Langford, Dennis Groat, Harvey Stewart, Bill Shales, Carl Chapman, Terry Ferris and Katie Dolan in the library. They were all outstanding people and teachers and very supportive of a young person. I appreciated that.
“Dennis Groat had a speech problem, wasn’t a strong person and had to use a microphone. The students never took advantage of him. I thought: ‘Gee, that’s really quite remarkable.’
“There was a lot of support for each other. Students supporting students, staff supporting students, students supporting staff. Of course, those singing auditoriums, singing in five parts: tenor, bass, soprano, high soprano, and alto.
“So much mutual support! When the Beck Senior
Football team had to play Kitchener-Waterloo in Kitchener for a
semi-final football game going into WOSSA, Mr. Johnson talked about how
to make it possible for the students to go. He finally said: ‘If the
students came early in the morning, for instance at 8 rather than 9 and
wouldn’t have a lunch hour and would eat on the bus, no school time
would be lost. We could get them out around 1 o’clock and then take some
buses up to Kitchener for the football game.’
“I remember the cafeteria very well. That was new when I arrived. Mr. Blake, who was head of the Commercial Department, looked after all the selling of the tickets and stuff. I was the one who was supposed to maintain order and discipline in there. That was sort of my job as a new teacher.
“Mr. Blake said: ‘Marsh, we’re on the same staff now. My name is Dick, not Mr. Blake.’ Mr. Blake lived across the street from my aunt and uncle and had known me since I was one or two years of age. I said: ‘Mr. Blake, you’ll always be Mr. Blake. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t seem right calling you Dick.’”
In September 1949, Marsh was getting married and didn’t have a place to stay. In a Tuesday auditorium, Terry Ferris announced from the stage that Mr. Morris didn’t have an apartment and that if anybody knew of one, to let Mr. Morris know.
“I didn’t have a place and didn’t have a car then either. Ken Parkinson lived in Dorchester and was in grade eleven or twelve. I remember Ken came along in his car and picked me up at my aunt and uncle’s on Dufferin and drove me over to “Finer Flowers” at Dundas and Rectory. That’s how I got our first apartment.
“Later, when my wife and I lived on Queens Ave and we had a car, on my way to school I used to often pick up a bunch of guys like Warren Skuse and Roy Merkley. By the time I’d get to school in my old brown 37 Ford, I’d have a full car.”
Marsh coached football, track and field and hockey but never basketball.
“Yes, hockey. When I was at Beck, we used to play hockey at the old arena at the Fair Grounds. It was just a tiny little arena, and of course some of the practice times we got were horrendous. Some schools had swim teams. We didn’t even have a coaching team because there was no pool.
“In addition to Math and Phys Ed, I also taught some Guidance when it was still fairly new. I did it because Mr. Johnson needed someone in Guidance part time. Wilda Graber was involved, also John Askew and Art Pritchard.
“For track and field meets, Terry Ferris and I would split the team and take them in our cars. We’d drive down to places like the Kennedy Relays in Windsor. My daughter was just a baby in 1953, and a bunch of the guys wanted to over to Detroit to Sam’s Department. Store. They bought little booties and bonnets and stuff like that for her. That was wonderful.
“I remember the football games at Labatt Park, usually Friday nights. That was a biggie. There were only four or five other schools then, and the games were always double-headers. Labatt Park was the place to go Friday nights.
“Did anyone mention Terry Donnelly? When Terry was a student at Beck, I taught him Math around grade eleven or twelve. Terry went into Law. I’ve been in touch with him a couple of times here in Toronto. He’s been very generous in his charitable donations. There was a picture of Terry recently in the Star when he gave thirteen million dollars to the University of Toronto. There’s a research centre at the university named after him now. I think it’s called the “Terry Donnelly Research Centre”. It was in the Star not so long ago.”
In 1955, Marsh left Beck for North York’s Earl Haig Secondary School, where he taught Math, Phys Ed and a couple of Science classes. He picked North York “…because it was a developing area and the chances of advancement seemed pretty good.
“From Haig I went to Emery Junior High School, which I opened as principal. In a lot of ways, Emery Collegiate was a smaller school and a lot like Beck. I tried to bring in a singing auditorium, but it never went over. What happened at Beck was unusual.
“My next school was Georges Vanier Secondary School. Vanier had 2,100 kids, but I had four vice-principals. They did a lot of the administration, allowing me to be out in the classrooms with the students, and I enjoyed that part of it. I’ve always enjoyed contact with people. I don’t particularly like paperwork.
“When I left Vanier, I went to the Board for a year as Supervising Principal of Summer Schools and Co-operative Education Programs. I did that for a year and then retired in August 1983.
“I’ve been retired for twenty-one years. My first wife died ten years ago, and I remarried in August 1998. We live on the 39th floor of Palace Pier. I can see Niagara Falls from my window and the CN Tower glistening in the sun.
“We play a lot of bridge, and I’m quite active in my church. We spend our time traveling. So many places. Israel was a real meaningful place. I enjoyed Singapore and Australia, particularly the people. I’m a very fortunate man.”
“It’s not so much what you do as a teacher. It’s who you are that’s important. I enjoyed teaching Math. I enjoyed teaching Phys Ed. I enjoyed teaching the students. I felt I was teaching them things through Math and through Phys Ed that would last a little bit longer than Math and Phys Ed ever would. The sense of co-operation, of working with people a little bit different. Maybe these different people didn’t learn Math quite as easily or rapidly, but they had other qualities you recognized were important.”
A marvelous philosophy from an exemplary human being! Thank you Marsh, for continuing to lead by example.
Copyright Carol Lowe July 7, 2004
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