Judges, teachers, decorated veterans, actors and singers, an Olympian and a Heisman Trophy winner are among its alumni. After opening in 1923, the last graduates were in 1984. Omaha Technical High School, also called Tech High, was located at North 30th and Cuming Streets. This is a short history of the school.
Before Tech High
Before 1920, there was one high school in Omaha. Almost all the other schools across the city offered eighth grade education, and that’s what most students ended school with.
|The Fort Street Special School for Incorrigible Boys at North 30th and Brown Streets in 1916. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
In 1914, the Omaha school district established a unique facility among the 50 schools that were open then. The Fort Street Special School for Incorrigible Boys was located at North 30th and Brown Streets in the Miller Park neighborhood. As a school for boys who “had no interest in school at all,” the challenge was to teach them lifelong learning skills in engaging ways.
Installing a printing press, machining tools and drafting equipment, the students received a career and technical education that schools are striving to provide for learners today. However, after packing the building full, in a decade the Fort Street School was closed and the students were sent to a new school. The year was 1923.
Stenography and typewriting. Imagine going to a school where those are seen as primary subjects, and the rest of the classes are built around them. That was the vision of the Omaha school district when they opened the original Commercial High School. Opened before 1900, the school offered classes in carpentry, printing, auto mechanics, mechanical drawing, the gas engine, electricity and more. Commercial High was on the cutting edge when it opened because they had the district’s first committed Domestic Science teacher. Originally operating in several buildings downtown, a school was eventually built at South 17th and Leavenworth Streets. However, in 1923 it closed and students were sent to a new school.
Welcome to the New School
|The original entrance to Tech faced Cuming, and is shown in this 1924 pic. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
In 1920, the Omaha Board of Education was excited to solicit bids to build a grand new Commercial High School between Cuming and Burt, from North 30th to North 33rd Street. The architect, Jack Wyman, created the designs over three years starting in 1917. However, the initial designs for the Technical and Commercial High School weren’t accepted by the Board. Instead, it was redesigned and renamed to reflect its more specific mission as Technical High School.
|The original lobby at Tech, as pictured in 1924. It is intact today. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
|A 1921 conceptual drawing of the new Technical High School by Helen M. Weary. Image courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
The Most Modern School
When it opened in 1923, Tech High was named the largest and most advanced high school west of Chicago.
The school board intended to combine the knowledge taught at Commercial High School with the skills taught at the Fort Street School, and then pack the building with excited learners who were driven to become successful students. To do that, they packed the building with the latest learning tools, including an entire floor of dedicated home economics classrooms, extensive wood and metal shops, and highly advanced science classrooms that were unparalleled in the district and across the entire Midwest. There was also a well-equiped greenhouse and two large gymnasiums. There was also a deck with a canopy on the roof of the building that housed an outdoor exercise area.
|The illustrious and rare Tech High swimming pool in 1924. It was the only one of its kind for decades. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
|The KFOX radio station pictured in 1926. This was one of the finest broadcasting facilities in the city when it opened. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
There was a high school radio station at Tech in the 1920s, whose call letters were KFOX. Originally called the Quadrant, the Tech High yearbook was also called Liongate and the Reflector.
There were hidden tunnels and staircases throughout the building, a grand marble lobby and even an underground stream.
|The Tech High auditorium pictured in 1924. It was home to the city’s finest acoustics for years, and many popular performances happened here. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
Tech Junior High
During the 1950s, the Omaha school district moved all seventh and eighth grade classes out of elementary schools to create the city’s junior high system. Starting in 1953, Technical Junior High School was located in a portion of Tech High School.
From the start, Tech Junior High was treated as a predominantly Black school. They worked especially hard to ensure that Tech Junior High be for Black students, sending nearby white students to other schools even when it cost a lot of money. In a 1968 Ebony magazine article, Ernie Chambers, then a community activist and not yet a senator, reported that the school was habitually underfunded because it was segregated. He noted statistics from the district around racial breakdown, and directly stated that racism caused massive disparities between Tech Junior High and Horace Mann Junior High (another Black school), and other junior highs in Omaha, all of which were kept predominately for white students.
With 551 black students and 48 white students, the last class at Tech Junior High was 91% African American. It closed after the 1971-72 school year.
In 1973, the United States Department of Education took Omaha Public Schools to court over its segregationist practices, and the former Tech Junior High was cited extensively as an example.
Leaving a Mark on History
Throughout its history, the school graduated more than approximately 25,000 students. Its most important graduates included military officers including Captain Alfonza W. Davis, a Tuskegee Airman; and Brigadier General Kenneth Walker, US Army Air Corps, posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II, and pioneer in military aviation. Several politicians graduated from Tech, including Roman Hruska, former US Senator; Johnny Rosenblatt, former Omaha mayor; James Dworak, former Omaha mayor; and Sen. Ernie Chambers, the longest-serving ever member of the Nebraska State Legislature.
The school also graduated many of the 20th century’s most important Nebraska athletes, including Bob Gibson, Baseball Hall of Famer for the St. Louis Cardinals; Louis Hartz, former American political scientist; Jim Houston, national rodeo champion; Johnny Rodgers, former college football superstar and Heisman Trophy winner; Bob Boozer, a college and professional basketball player and Olympic Gold Medalist in 1960; Jack Urban, former professional baseball player (Kansas City Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals); Les Webster, college and professional football player for the Cincinnati Bengals; Lucille Wilson, 3x United States women’s track team in the Olympics; Phil Wise, college and professional football player; and Ron Boone, a professional basketball player.
Actor John Beasley also graduated from Tech.
Carl Palmquist was a longtime principal at Tech who had many admirers and detractors. He worked at Tech during the 1950s and 60s. His efforts in leading the school through racial tension and advocating for students who’d been kicked out of other schools are still admired. However, he was criticized during his tenure for racist practices and discriminating against some student populations.
In 2016, longtime coach John B. Morse was inducted into the Omaha Public School Athletic Hall of Fame. According to Morse, the Trojan baseball team’s only only state championship happened in 1966.
The last Metro Champion football game was played between Tech High and Creighton Prep in 1971. That year, coach Richard “Dick” Christie coached the team. Throughout the entire season, the team never kicked an extra point or a field goal until the last 9 seconds of the game to beat Creighton Prep 9 to 6.
- L. R. Rusmisel
- Dr. Dwight E. Porter
- Dr. Carl Hansen (1945 to 1947)
- Carl Linn (1947)
- Lloyd W. Ashby (1947 to 1950)
- Carl Palmquist (1950 to 1971)
- Dr. Odra Bradley (1971-1984)
|A study hall or classroom pictured in 1923. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
White Flight Closes Tech
Housing equality became a primary issue in the late 1950s for the civil rights movement and redlining and forms other discrimination had to end. White people in North Omaha generally didn’t want to live near African Americans. So, from Cuming northward to Ames and from 40th east, North Omaha emptied out of white families rapidly in part of a nationwide trend called “white flight.” Race restrictive covenants that were signed by a lot of middle class homeowners became illegal to enforce, and white people didn’t want to live by African Americans.
Becoming a de facto segregated “black school,” Tech also became Omaha Public Schools’ center for mentally handicapped students. The pressures drove school performance down, further pushing away students.
By the mid-1960s, Tech’s student population was down to 800 students. As part of its desegregation plan, the district implemented a magnet school program in the 1970s that brought students back. In 1972, the Omaha school board approved an extensive renovation of the school. It featured new science labs, a radio/television center, painting and more in the classrooms and halls, along with new light fixtures and new classroom furniture. In 1972-73, the student population was 94.5% African American. By 1974 the population was back up to 1,500 students.
|A view of the exterior of TAC today from the original cafeteria. Photo courtesy of Jay Katz.|
New Schools in the Old Tech
|A 2014 picture of the Teacher and Administrative Center. Photo courtesy of Omaha Public Schools.|
|This history is dedicated to the memory of Omaha Technical High School, 1923-1984, including all the students and adults who ever shared its halls. Photo from the Omaha Tech High alumni facebook group.|
The future of Tech High continues to reveal itself, and with the leadership of the Omaha school district’s board and staff, the building should live long into the future.
- Omaha Technical High School webpage on classcreator.com
- “History of the Skinner Magnet Center” by Omaha Public Schools
- Omaha Public Schools Career Center official website
- “Technical High School” by the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association
- “Omaha principal to reach 50 year mark” by KETV about the illustrious Gene Haynes, who coached and taught at Tech. When I was at North he used to say, “Hit the bricks Brotha Sasse!” every time I walked by him. I thought that was unique until the Internet told me he said that to everybody, and always remembered our names.
|See those little shelves on the sides? This is the Tech High library, where apparently a lot of studying and reading happened! Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
|A 1923 report card from Omaha Technical High School. Image taken from ebay.|
|This is a hallway at Tech High. A hallway. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
|The Tech High auditorium set up for a performance in 1926. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
|The approach to Tech High School going west on Cuming in 1924. The fence surrounds the football field, with its bleachers showing over the top. Photo courtesy of the Durham Museum.|
|Eugene Haynes is on the right with an early 1980s Tech High Trojans basketball team. Image from the Omaha Tech High alumni facebook group.|
|Eugene Haynes is to the right with the 1960 Tech High Trojans basketball team.
(Image from the Omaha Tech High alumni facebook group.)