Expanding Campus and Lay Administration (1980-89)
As the new decade began, the Rev. Joseph McGee, the Superintendent for Catholic High Schools, called for more lay leadership within the secondary schools in the Archdiocese. Fr. Duerr, after discussing the idea with many successful alumni from the 50s and 60s, proposed that Trinity consider having a School Board. John Brenzel recalled asking Fr. Duerr if the Board would have the power to fire the principal. When he answered in the affirmative, Brenzel replied, “Fine, because I don’t want to jack around with something that is just for show.”
Brenzel helped to find people for the Board and negotiated with the Archbishop the rights it would have. Its constitution and by-laws stated that the Board would have 10 to 15 members and eight ex-officio members from the administration, including the Faculty Senate chair and the Alumni Association chair.
Recalling the Board’s inception, Creighton Mershon said, “I think the whole idea of running this school more like a business is an interesting step in professionalism. Trinity started on a shoestring and it is kind of a miracle the way it has come along. It operated that way for a long time, but finally in the late 70s and early 80s it became apparent that if Trinity didn’t change it couldn’t compete.”
At its first meeting on September 11, 1980, Michael Boone was chosen as the first Board chair. Other officers were Tony Heitzman, vice chair; Newton McCravy, secretary; and John Brenzel, treasurer.
Several committees were formed including education, finance, development, building and grounds, and long range planning. An executive committee was charged with exercising power and authority delegated by the Board in management of the business and educational affairs of the school.
From the beginning the Board had the power to formulate policy and to oversee the general operation of the school, whose daily duties were still the purview of the principal and his staff.
Early minutes of the Board were taken by Evelyn Fultz, the principal’s secretary. Four meetings a year were required and those early ones lasted for hours. Among its early decisions were the hiring of a business manager to oversee the school’s financial operations and the establishment of a budget for the 1981-82 academic year, which represented a 13 percent salary increase for faculty and staff.
From the very beginning the Board realized that its true success would be in fund-raising. In April of 1981, the development committee approved a major campaign titled “Trinity: An Investment in Tomorrow.” In order to make this campaign successful, Fr. Duerr hired John Grenough, a former faculty member, to be the executive director of the Trinity Tomorrow Campaign. In addition to this duty, Grenough also directed the school’s public relations efforts, oversaw alumni giving and coordinated a long range planning/self-evaluation effort.
Creighton Mershon said this of Grenough: “When he became the development director, he didn’t have any experience but knew Trinity and knew the players and was a very good choice for the position.” Jeff Ashley ’85 recalled that Grenough went out and spoke to the Rotary Club and other organizations to drum up support for the school. “At that time not many high schools were moving toward the traditional model of development that you would see in colleges and universities,” Ashley noted.
Within two years the corporate phase of Trinity Tomorrow had pledges of $70,000. Later, individual solicitations were made to alumni, families and the St. Matthews business community which allowed that first campaign to reach its goal of $1.5 million. Of that amount, $750,000 was earmarked for a tuition-aid endowment fund and another $60,000 was set aside for the lay faculty retirement fund, something that was needed to show support for the long years that teachers endured without the retirement benefits that their public school counterparts enjoyed.
In 1981, Fr. Duerr combined the community service program, which had been coordinated since the mid 1970s by faculty member Mike Hamilton, with the Senior Religion Program. Students spent time visiting day-care centers, elementary schools and nursing homes for the elderly. By merging it with the Religion Program, it enhanced the students’ awareness of their roles as Christian young men.
One of Fr. Duerr’s greatest legacies at Trinity was the initiation of a detailed school self-study, which had been suggested by the School Board.
In announcing the study, Duerr remarked, “We want to bring to our attention the things we do well and the things we don’t do so well. We want to lay the groundwork to follow for the next five or 10 years.”
English teacher Frank Ward H ’01 was selected to lead a steering committee that comprised some 20 subcommittees. The study began in 1981 and was finally completed in 1983. The study’s first phase dealt with mission statements and the philosophy of education. Questionnaires were sent to alumni, parents and community leaders for their input. The second phase examined the academic programs and student activities, with visiting educators spending time sitting in on classes, meeting with teachers and students and ultimately filing their own report. In many ways this was Trinity’s first real marketing research.
Fr. Duerr was pleased that the self-study produced an Operational Philosophy statement which indicated that Trinity exists to offer students a quality education with religious instruction and a faith community experience. In addition, the study noted that opportunity for service was integrated into the curriculum with policies, regulations and practices rooted in and justified on Christian principles.
In 1982, when the position of Superintendent of Catholic Schools became available, Fr. Duerr agonized over the decision to leave Trinity and apply for the position. In a letter to Monsignor Raymond J. Treece, Executive Vice-President of Bellarmine College and Chairperson of the Search Committee, Fr. Duerr wrote, “I am satisfied that this is the best way I can serve God and His people at this time.”
At the January meeting of the new School Board, Chairman Don Keefe told the School Board members that Fr. Duerr had confided in him that he had accepted the appointment, effective at the end of the school year. Keefe called a special meeting on January 24 to begin the search for a new principal.
Fr. Duerr had a very successful tenure as Superintendent from 1983-1991, when he resigned to become pastor of St. Clement Church, a job that he previously had never held, having been in education since his ordination to the priesthood.
After an open search, the School Board selected Peter Flaig, the Assistant Principal in charge of Studies, to succeed Fr. Duerr. Flaig, therefore, became Trinity’s first lay principal.
Although Trinity had been moving in the direction of lay leadership since Vatican II, some were concerned what the hiring of its first lay principal would mean for its future, especially as a religious school.
Flaig immediately acknowledged the concern by commenting, “My major challenge is to keep prominent the fact that Trinity is a Catholic High School,” promising parents and students that “we will continue to stress the Gospel message, Christian caring, and service to our neighbor.” Superintendent Duerr noted that “Flaig will be assisted by the eight priests and five religious who remain at Trinity.”
One of those religious, Sister Jane Hall, said of Flaig: “I thought he was great as an administrator. I found him very open and he was an excellent listener. He never turned you down.”
Flaig selected language teacher Larry Kurtz to be his Assistant Principal in charge of Academics, a relationship that would last for more than a decade.
Early in his second year at Trinity, one of the most tragic pages of Trinity’s history occurred. On September 29, 1984, juniors Richard Stephenson and Scott Nelson left their homes to go to a Trinity football game at Maxwell Field, next to Male High School. Unfamiliar with the location, the boys stopped and asked directions at a Moby Dick Restaurant. When the two young men did not return home that night, their parents alerted the police. The next day a detective found their bodies in weeds in a vacant lot in an area known for its high crime. The boys had been kidnapped, robbed and murdered.
The Trinity community went into shock and mourning. At the weekly Sunday night Mass, Fr. Domhoff prayed that “everyone help each other to get through this.”
“I think one of the reasons our class was so close was because of the tragedy,” recalled Michael Yates ’85. “This just shook this place to the core. You had two choices – everybody goes into a shell and walks around like zombies, or we come together and bring each other up and make a difference. That is what we did.”
Three years later, Flaig wrote a letter to parents when the men accused of the crimes – George Wade and Victor Taylor – were on trial. “The final closure now rests in the hands of the court and our justice system, not ours.”
When the trial was over and the two were found guilty Flaig noted, “It is all right to live again and to laugh again. Our faith reassures us. Our friends are with God and we will all meet again. Richard and Scott will always remain part of the fabric which binds Trinity.”
One of the new lay principal’s greatest accomplishments during his tenure was a greatly enhanced campus. When Flaig became principal, Trinity’s image was one of congestion, clutter, asphalt and an aging hodge-podge of facilities – in large part because of lack of funds for construction or maintenance.
Two decisions during the 1983-84 year would allow Trinity to make dramatic change over the next 15 years.
The first was a shrewd move by Trinity’s first full-time development director, John Grenough, who had the Foundation Board legally incorporated as a non-profit corporation for the sole purpose of assisting the School Board in the funding of future facilities and the creation of an endowment. The other was a suggestion by Board member Creighton Mershon that Trinity develop a master plan that would improve its facilities and give the school a new image. Mershon noted: “Fr. Duerr was the first person I talked to about a campus plan and I guess I kept hammering away at it.”
This time the Board’s long-range planning committee moved on the suggestion, hiring architect Larry P. Mellilo in October 1984 to develop a general plan and model of current and future facilities. His plan called for Trinity’s campus development to come in stages and would ultimately require additional property.
One additional piece of property that Trinity eyed was an imposing, gray, art deco style building on the east side of Sherrin Avenue, known as the National Guard Armory. Erected in 1942, this 19,449 square-foot building was designed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and was once the headquarters of the 149th Infantry Regiment of the 38th Infantry Division of the US Army. The military used this building until 1962, when the Kentucky National Guard moved to Bowling Green and the City of Louisville eventually received the deed. Although structurally sound, by the early 1980s it appeared greatly run-down, perhaps due to the fact it had housed 70 tenants over the past two decades.
Flaig, Grenough and the Rev. Al Moore, head of the Art Department, saw a future for this building and asked the School Board to purchase it. Negotiations with the City of Louisville soon involved the Archdiocese and on February 26, 1986, the Trinity Foundation announced that the Armory had been acquired by the Archdiocese in exchange for the old Flaget High School practice field. The Archdiocese then approved loaning the school $350,000 for the cost of renovations.
Flaig formed a committee of 10 teachers and administrators to study how the building could best be used and also what to do internally with any current space that would now become available from programs that might move to the new property. The committee decided that the Armory would become the home for arts and communications classes, a logical suggestion since it was located next to the Trinity Theatre. The first floor would house the Art, Music and Journalism departments, with speech and debate offices, and a 5,000 sq. ft. multi-purpose Convocation Hall occupying the second floor. At its dedication by Archbishop Thomas Kelly H’01, Superintendent Fr. Duerr noted that “Trinity was the only Catholic school in the country with such an intensive Fine Arts Program.”
In the space vacated by the move to the Armory, the library moved to the second floor of Old Trinity Hall where it enjoyed 1,800 additional square feet than the previous location, where new classrooms were being built. The Art Department’s former quarters on the first floor became a 2,500 sq. ft. computer lab which would develop into a very important academic program in the next decade.
With the acquisition of the Armory, it became almost imperative for the school to purchase the Courtesy Cadillac property that fronted Shelbyville Road on both sides of Sherrin Avenue, adjacent to the school.
John Brenzel, a member of the Foundation Board, negotiated the $2.15 million deal in 1987 with the Swope family. The purchase of 3.28 acres would increase the campus by 40 percent.
The Foundation borrowed $150,000 from the Archdiocese for the down payment and soon began a capital campaign with a goal to raise the $2.15 million by December, 1988 – the most ambitious effort in the school’s history.
John Grenough encouraged donors to “Buy a Piece of the Rock” as the theme of the new campaign. Grenough recruited Jack Guthrie to help put together a marketing and public relations plan for the campaign. “One thing we need is a symbol to launch the fund-raising effort,” Guthrie told Grenough. “We need a ROCK.” With the thought in mind, Guthrie contacted Bob Liter ’59, who owned and operated several rock quarries in the Louisville area. Liter said he would gladly help and suggested that Grenough meet him on one of his quarry sites in eastern Jefferson County and pick out a ROCK.
Grenough made his selection and Liter arranged for a large flatbed truck to deliver the 15-ton “Piece of the Rock” during a special dedication ceremony held in front of Steinhauser Gymnasium. The St. Matthews Police Department closed west bound Shelbyville Road and redirected traffic during the official placement of the ROCK that remains in place today as a symbol of Trinity. The fund-raising campaign was a success and the property was closed on in January 1989.
Over the next decade, this new purchase allowed the school to make incredible physical improvements – Administrative offices, a new Campus Store, and an attractive new rotunda which became the main entrance for the school. What used to be an automobile service area was transformed into a beautiful new cafeteria.
While Trinity was moving forward with its successful School Board, Foundation Board, its new lay administration and its purchase of two major buildings, Trinity experienced the sadness of the passing of its founder, Monsignor Alfred Steinhauser, on May 27, 1985.
Fr. David Zettel noted in his obituary, “He guided this school alone as principal. He had a firm and determined manner and yet he could always be close to students with a sense of humor. To know him was to recognize immediately that Trinity was part of his fiber, part of his very being.”
With the new buildings, Flaig’s other major challenge was to maintain the size and diversity of Trinity’s student body. Keeping tuition affordable was an annual goal, but with the high inflation rates of the mid-to-late 1980s, enrollment began to decline. In 1987, total enrollment was 1,150, but a year later it had dropped to 1,063. Trinity was not a lone exception, as all Catholic schools were facing declining enrollments.
About this time, new leadership emerged in the person of Charles H. Leis H’01, a graduate of Bishop David High School. Leis had been recruited to the School Board by John Grenough in 1986. He quickly emerged as one of Trinity’s key volunteers and became the School Board chair in June 1989.
A successful executive with Bramco Inc., one of Louisville’s most prominent privately held companies, Leis was a prudent financial organizer with the skills of a successful entrepreneur. He immediately became a confidant and advisor to Peter Flaig and would be a vital part of Trinity’s growth for the next two decades.