Archived Story

Dear John/The Wahoo

Published 6:27pm Tuesday, May 21, 2013

When was the high school yearbook Wahoo first published? Where did the name come from?


— Dave Thomas


It has been The Wahoo since 1919. In 1918, the yearbook was called “Doe-Wah-Jack.”


No explanation was given for the name change.


The 1918 annual did note that Dowagiac’s first high school yearbook had been issued 20 years prior by the Class of 1898 as a small publication, “Once Told Tales.”


The Class of 1998, Dowagiac’s 134th graduating class, noted their Wahoo was Dowagiac’s 100th high school yearbook, as well as the centennial season of Chieftain football.


“Since this first book appeared nearly every succeeding senior class has published a record of the year’s activities for distribution at Commencement Time. Each year a different name has been chosen for this class production. The Class of 1918, in presenting this Annual to the students of our high school and their friends, urges that the name Doe-Wah-Jack be made the title of all future issues. We feel that the classes that follow will in common with us recognize the desirability of such a standard title and will agree that Doe-Wah-Jack is distinctive and appropriate.”


Though that plea fell on deaf ears locally, a high school in North Carolina listened.


In 1919, The Wahoo, “published annually by the senior class of Dowagiac High School,” was dedicated to yearbook adviser Norma Allen Essig, a teacher “the Grim Reaper has taken from us, one dear to the hearts of all.”


Arthur Frazee was superintendent and William H. Carey principal of the school with 36 in its graduating class. Class colors were white and gold. Graduation required 16 credits. There was a Glee Club.


The class motto was, “Out of school life into life’s school.” Advertisers in the 1919 Wahoo included The Beckwith Co./Round Oak stoves, ranges and heating systems; and Heddon’s Dowagiac — reels, rods and minnows.


There are a number of definitions for wahoo, of which the most likely would seem to be a way to express exuberance or enthusiasm or to attract attention.


As for the Doe-Wah-Jack high school yearbook in North Carolina, Kay Gray at Dowagiac District Library directed me to this bizarre story from 1994, which I don’t recall hearing before.


That Doe-Wah-Jack annual chronicled life at Burlington High School (later Walter M. Williams High School) since it began publishing in 1924.


Doe-Wah-Jack is the phonetic spelling of our Michigan city, Dowagiac. In fact, their website points out, Dowagiac’s Chamber of Commerce letterhead featured an Indian with that same phonetic spelling printed underneath. The name comes from a Potawatomi Indian word, Ndowagayuk, meaning “foraging ground.”


Dowagiac was home to Round Oak Stove Works, which began in the late 19th century making wood-burning stoves and later expanded into cooking stoves and furnaces.


Each stove bore the phonetic spelling of the city in which it was made.


As for the connection with Burlington High School, according to Anderson R. “Buck” Thomas, a BHS sophomore in 1924, naming the school’s inaugural yearbook the “Doe-Wah-Jack” was the idea of Graves Holt, who worked part-time for his father, CT, at Burlington Hardware Co.


Graves, hearing a search was underway for a suitable name for the annual, was apparently inspired by a Round Oak stove the store displayed.


This Dowagiac connection was uncovered almost by accident by Betty Lynn Barnwell Cooler, BHS Class of 1944.


Always curious about the Doe-Wah-Jack origin, she was reading a cable company proxy when she saw Dowagiac, Mich., mentioned.


Sounding out the word, something clicked. She wrote this city’s Chamber of Commerce. Its information about the city and Round Oak Stove Works, written on its distinctive stationery, confirmed she connected correctly.


And guess what? I called Walter M. Williams High School in Burlington, N.C., on Tuesday and its yearbook is still called the Doe-Wah-Jack, though the nice lady who answered the phone, a transplant from Los Angeles six years ago, struggled to pronounce it. Wahoo!


 Dowagiac Daily News



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