Alum Teachers Stroll McCombs Memory Lane
In 1973 Dave McGinnis and Mike Walag were brand new teachers. And McCombs was a brand new school. Now, 43 years later, they’ve both retired. Thursday McGinnis flew into town from Montana and the longtime friends and colleagues went on a tour of their old proving grounds, guided by current McCombs principal Nancy Croy.
McGinnis, a North High grad (Class of ’69), taught science all those years ago before moving on to teach at Montana State University. Retired from teaching, he still serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation. Walag taught vocal music. Later he moved to the high school level and trained a chorus full of All-State singers at Roosevelt and Lincoln during a DMPS career that just ended a year ago after 42 years of service.
Much has changed at McCombs since the two were there last. For one thing, the Trojans are now the Eagles. That didn’t stop Walag, who composed the original school fight song, from belting out a few bars of it when the mini-reunion group that included Mcginnis’s wife Sheila and a couple of tagalongs, stopped in science teacher Deb Victor’s classroom where McGinnis once presided. Victor has taught at McCombs since 1987 and she recognized Walag’s name.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “Mr. Walag – you were a legend here when I arrived.”
“Really?” he said. “That was a few years after I left.” The impressions he made were lasting.
McGinnis may have been a science teacher but he collaborated closely with Walag on musicals that were staged to raise both money and a sense of community in McCombs’ early days.
Original productions like “Thursday Night Fever” and “Disco Machine” (remember, it was the 70s) were big hits and staged multiple performances, quite an achievement at the junior high/middle school level.
Not only did Croy conduct a personal tour for the returnees, in her office she’d compiled a dossier of old copies of The Trojan Times and programs from the musicals and cabarets. She also provided refreshments.
McGinnis recalled writing a grant for $1,500 when he was still at McCombs that was used to purchase “the first Apple 2 classroom computer in the district.”
There are lots of interior walls at McCombs now that weren’t there when the school opened during an era when open classroom space was all the rage. And the original building has been expanded. But the essence of the relationship between teachers and students is timeless.
“This was a magical place,” McGinnis said. “We launched our careers here, coaching kids to follow their dreams. That’s what we did, encouraged them.”
Principal Croy nodded. “That’s what we still do,” she said. “We’ve got programs here that are pretty unique for middle schools (see Project Lead the Way and AVID). McCombs is the best.”
Then she gifted the two teacher alums with McCombs t-shirts which they promptly donned. What do you know, they looked like perfect fits.