Mystery Class photo

Students at Norvell School 1940s. I noticed the strip of airplanes above the students and wondered about that. There is a story below about a Xmas drive for the pilots at an air force base.

A few years ago one of my cousins sent me the above photograph. They didn’t know anything about it. Unfortunately my aunt Gladys Cleage Evans, who was an art teacher from 1944 to 1948 is no longer with us to identify. I’m assuming that this was one of her classes during that time. She taught at Norvell elementary school on Detroit’s East side in the old Black Bottom neighborhood, since urban renewed out of existence.

My maternal grandfather lived in Black Bottom when he first arrived in Detroit from Montgomery, Alabama in 1917. It was the ghetto where the vast majority of black people in Detroit lived and where all the people he knew that had gone to Detroit from Montgomery before him, lived. Anyway, back to the photo.

Then I remembered that my cousin Dee Dee on my mother’s side had lived in the Norvell neighborhood at that time and I wondered if she had attended Norvell. She didn’t, she attended Smith Elementary, a few blocks away in a different direction. On the map below you can see both schools, plus where Dee Dee lived. Gladys lived with her parents over on the Old West Side of Detroit.

The neighborhood. Norvell Elementary School up on the left. Click to enlarge.

Students Set Fine Example in Goodwill

Oscoda Fliers Will Get 450 Box Presents

The Michigan Chronicle
Saturday October 30, 1943

The children of the Norvell school are attempting something rather unique this year as a Christmas project. They decided that it would be a nice thing and entirely in keeping with the Christian spirit of the Yuletide season to devote their entire efforts to packing Christmas boxes for the fliers of the Oscoda Air Base.

David Blair, captain of the Safety Patrol and Sophie Smith, captain of the Service Girls’ club, head a committee of fifteen students who are doing all of the work within the school. It is planned that 450 boxes or, one for each two children in the school, will be the result of this project.

Extensive Program

The children are writing up their own publicity, drawing posters to be displayed in the halls and conducting speaking programs in the various rooms to stimulate interest in this activity.

It is hoped that officiers from the Oscoda Air Base will visit the school while the project is in being, and give the children first-hand information about life in the United States Army Air Corp.

A board of directors has been selected to supervise the buying of materials for the Christmas boxes, and generally oversee the project. This board is composed of: Miss Carolyn Dunbar, teacher, Norvell school; Mrs. Fannie Goodgame, director, Nursery School, Gleiss Memorial Center; Mrs. Laura Ford, a parent, 2916 Jos. Campau; Owen F. Stemmelen, principal, Norvell school.

The philosophy of the staff at the Norvell school is molded around the theory that, the enthusiasm and activity of children, if guided into well directed channels, will furnish much needed power, and that busy hands have no time for mischief.

The students who are working on the committee with Sophie and David are: James Finley, Elbert Foster, Herman Parks, Helen Johnson, Betty Matthews, Mildren Remsing, Albert Grimaldi. Charles Hollins, Eileen Brown, Helen Taylor, Frank Lauria, Mary Bologna, Delores Berry, Calvin Montgomery, Leroy Dennard, Robert Ketelhut, Alphonse Stafford, Joan McAlpin and Dora Davis.


I stumbled across Quizdown while investigating the Smith and Norvell schools. Quizdown was held every Saturday morning at Detroit Institute of Arts and broadcast on the radio. Sponsored by The Detroit Free Press and featured teams from two local schools competing against each other by answering general knowledge questions provided by other Detroit area students. Various famous people appeared on the show and interacted with the students.

Other School photo stories

Eighth Grade Graduating Class – Wingert Elementary School Detroit, 1922

The Afram River and Freedom School – 1964

16 thoughts on “Mystery Class photo

  1. Those class photos are stumpers, aren’t they? I have several in my family collection that I’ve inherited and, while I can identify the family members in them, the other names have been lost to time.

    1. The only people I can identify are family members, if there are any. In this case, there are no family members so they are all a mystery to me.

  2. I love how you include me for clippings and maps in addition to the photos. There’s so much to learn from this post.

    1. I think it’s the combination that tell a better story than any one item alone. Unless you have a story to go with it, which I don’t in this case.

  3. Loved the last photo of Duke Elington with the Quizshow winner! Of course the whole team would have won. I remember some team competitions between schools which my grandchildren took part in. It is a bit heart breaking to see all those young people and not know who they were, and what they became in their lives. Some busy men and women won’t ever see this old photo of themselves.

    1. The photo was from the early 1940s, so those kids would now be in their late 80s… But if I’d had names, I would have looked them up!

  4. That’s a wonderful class photo even if you don’t know the children’s names. Its semi-casual style shows more personality and character of the kids than the usual orderly formal class photos do. I once bought a set of three unknown elementary school class photos from the 1940s, 1st through 3rd grade, because every kid displayed a quirky attitude. I sent it as a gift to our former Sepia Saturday blogger, Tattered and Lost, who inspired me to look closer at photos like that.

    1. Wish I knew their names. Wish I’d talked about the kids in this photo with my aunt. I have one of my mother with her class and I never asked her about those kids either. I do like the more casual take.

  5. I bought a chest of drawers at a Salvation Army thrift shop once & when I got it home, found one of those combo individual portrait together with a team photo someone had failed to remove from a bottom dresser drawer. The things in Salvation Army thrift shops come from all over & are not limited to the area where the shop is located, so I was afraid the task of finding the owner of the picture was probably not possible. Still, I wanted to try, and through a series of hints & a little luck I actually found out where the photo had come from & managed to get it to the owner. They were so glad to have it back, & I felt good for the rest of the week. 🙂

  6. What a great post! Amazing where one photo can take you in your research. Kudos on figuring out the significance of those planes in the first photo. I wonder if any of the children who worked on the campaign are in the photo. I also enjoyed the Quizdown photos. It reminds me of the “Birthday Club” newspaper pages that my Uncle Fred appeared on. There may not have been social media, but what media there was back then found a way to reach out to youth.

  7. Your cousin Dee Dee and Aunt Gladys look to have a marked resemblance. Loved the champ’s photo, such a happy one!

    I have a whole cabinetful of B/W photos belonging to my late parents that have several similar group photos – completely stump me.

    1. Which is odd because they aren’t related. Dee Dee is on my mother’s side and Gladys on my father’s. I never noticed it in real life, but I did see it in the photo.

      If only they’d written a few words on the back!

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