The honorary chairperson of the Pratt Community College 75th anniversary celebration reflects on her time at PJC.
Editor's Note: A full history of the college, as well as many other stories are included in a special section that will be inserted in Thursday's print edition.
In 1940 Dorotha Gray graduated from high school and was ready to go off to college. It wasn't possible — not for Gray, not for many other young people when economic hardships of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl lingered and another world war loomed.
Pratt Junior College had just graduated its first class, and Gray enrolled for the fall term.
Total fees were $35, she used second-hand textbooks and the combined senior high school-junior college was right across the street from her home.
"You were a student, that was about it," said Dorotha Gray Giannangelo, looking back 73 years. "Not much else was happening, because of the war and preparations for it and the newness of the college. Nothing had been established."
It was very much a shared facility, with one gymnasium, one science room, one journalism room and one art room. Some teachers taught both high school and college classes.
"I had the same English teacher four years in a row," Giannangelo said. "I'm glad she was a good one."
And while the junior college was "just two more years of high school," she is grateful for the experience.
"From the very beginning, it was a very good school, with excellent teachers," she said. "I am eternally grateful for the junior college or I never would have had a college education. It was absolutely the only way."
Jobs were scarce — there were not the large number of part time jobs young people have today, and without a lot of college activities, many students had time on their hands. Teachers game extra work, which most students appreciated.
Some teachers organized clubs: Giannangelo recalls a language club, a Shakespeare club and a 15-member pep band, but social activities were "few and far between."
Fun was when she and four friends pooled their nickels to buy a quarter's worth of gas and drag Main, ending up at the railroad station to watch passenger trains coming in.
"That was entertainment," Giannangelo said.
There were some college dances — sock hops, with students required to remove their shoes to protect the new gym floor. Prior to the establishment of the college, high school juniors and seniors celebrated the end of the year with a banquet and a program. When the college was allowed to dance, high school students petitioned the school board, and they were allowed to have a prom, with dancing in the gym.
The war in Europe and the almost certainty that the United States would become involved affected the early years of the college.
Women outnumbered men in the early classes. The college offered air cadet training, and as soon as a man finished, he went into the service, Giannangelo said. Many were drafted or enlisted before they were able to graduate.
Out-of-town field trips were limited because gasoline and tires were rationed.
Teacher training was a strong department, and after two years, a student could get a provisional certificate to teach. Many of the girls did that to relieve the shortage of teachers later during the war, Giannangelo said.
Pratt Junior College had the latest technology, she said, supressing a mischievous smile. A teacher could take his or her class to a visual aids room on the third floor, which was equipped with an overhead projector and a 16 mm projector. It had a public address system so that H.B. Unruh, college dean and high school principal, could read the announcements every morning instead of having them mimeographed and delivered to each classroom.
The building was not yet completed when the junior college started in 1938, so for a few months, grades seven through sophomore in college shared the old Liberty building. Classes were staggered, with college in the early morning and evening, and junior high and high school during the middle of the day. About mid-semester, juniors, seniors and college students moved into what is now the administrative building for USD 382.
Giannangelo graduated from Pratt Junior College with the Class of 1942, and transferred to the University of Iowa. Her junior college education had prepared her well, and with careful planning, she only lost two credits.
"I was more than prepared academically," she said. "I was ahead of many of the juniors in many subjects."
Because of the war, her four years of college were not joyous years, she said.
"It was a time of transition. The world, the culture of every country changed because of World War II. Historical transitions like that are difficult."
Giannangelo returned to Pratt and was honored by Pratt Junior College as Outstanding Alumnus of the Year in 1968. She produced seven musicals for the college "Feast and Follies" and taught speech for two years.
Giannangelo is the honorary chair for the Diamond Jubilee celebration — a perfect job, she said, because it has no responsibilities. She considers the college to be "the greatest gift the people of Pratt County could have given their children," allowing thousands of young people to get two years of schooling that would not have been available without the school.