Of the many superb teachers I was privileged to have at SPHS, none were as instrumental in my life and career as Barbara Ercek, who taught English and journalism. As editor of The Tiger in my senior year (1965-1966), I knew Mrs. Ercek well, and it was she who helped me focus on a career in journalism and public affairs, my college majors and my life's work.
A native "Hoosier" and proud alumna of Indiana University, she embodied the best values and virtues of the American Midwest: a direct, unassuming manner; a stellar work ethic; a plain-spoken, honest style; and a passion for her craft. She really knew her stuff! Unlike many high school journalism teachers whose first love is English literature, Barbara was a journalist first, and her passion showed. As Tiger editor, I enjoyed a few "perks": free tickets to Hollywood movie premiers and occasional tickets to USC and UCLA football games, among them. The pleasure of these diversions, though, paled in comparison to the solid career preparation I gained while still in high school, thanks to Mrs. Ercek's perfectionism and mastery of the profession. She inculcated in me impeccable standards for accuracy, fairness and balance.
On a personal level, Barbara and her husband, Chuck, lived a short distance from my home, and I would frequently spend afternoons with them, particularly in summer. I remember "hanging" around their patio and breakfast bar and, within appropriate boundaries, being treated as an equal, rather than a kid. They never condescended, always encouraged. I probably barraged her for letters of recommendation, which as a college communications professor, I've paid forward many times over.
Although Barbara encouraged me to consider the nationally-ranked journalism program at Indiana University, Bloomington seemed like a world away to a Southern California kid. Many years later, on visiting the lovely campus, known for its distinctive native limestone, I thought of her. And, of course, I've done so many times since--as college yearbook editor and University News Service writer, press secretary to a U.S. Congressman, a professional writer and communications director and now, a college professor and speechwriter in Washington, DC. In fact, there are few days when I haven't thought of how fortunate I was to have known Barbara and all of my teachers at SPHS--to risk omitting someone, Miss Warren (Social Studies), Mme. Farwell (French) and Mrs. Berlot (English) all had a lasting impact upon my enduring passion for the English language, world and national affairs and French language and culture. While I appreciated all of them at the time, it was many years before I fully recognized how well prepared I was for college and for life because of my fine public high school education. Having spent most of my adult life on the East Coast in New England and Washington, DC, I've worked and sometimes competed with colleagues from elite educational backgrounds, and I always felt that my preparation equaled or exceeded theirs.
I've said it many times before, and I'll say it again: All of us who were raised in South Pasadena and attended SPHS were fortunate to grow up in that time and place. It's heartwarming to know that as a "silver award" school in the new national Princeton Review rankings for the second consecutive year, SPHS continues its exemplary academic standards. Go, Tigers!
Betty Millsaps van Iersel, Class of 1966