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Racine Horlick Alumni 1965

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Now-retired teacher compiles history of Horlick's song and its composer
Stacks Image 1948
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TheJournalTimes.com | September 27, 2013 5:45 am  •  By Lee Roberts

Max Plavnick was a young music teacher at William Horlick High School when he composed “Hail Spirit of Scarlet and Grey” — a song which has endured for 70 years as the school’s official song.

Plavnick — who was born in New York in 1909 and grew up in Racine — had joined Horlick’s faculty in 1937, after teaching for three years at McKinley Junior High School (as the city’s first male junior high teacher), according to Cindy Bononno Maragos. It was a few years later that Plavnick wrote Horlick’s song, which was actually the second official song written for the school.

The first song was composed by previous music teacher Lois M. Hanke Helding in 1934 and was called “We’re Loyal to You Horlick High School.” Both songs were used, for a while, on student radio programs broadcast on WRJN radio, Maragos said. But, after Horlick’s band made recordings of both in 1943, the student body voted to determine that the official school song would be Plavnick’s.

‘A really cool guy’

The story behind what today is called “The Spirit of Scarlet and Grey” (with slight word revisions) is one recently uncovered by Maragos, a now-retired Racine Unified School District physical education teacher.

While teaching at Horlick for the last eight years, Maragos also headed the school’s Graduates of Distinction program. And, in that capacity, she often prepared bits of historical information about the school and its students as gifts for alumni to take home from special events.

Maragos came across Plavnick’s name while poring through Horlick’s archives — which include every issue of “The Horlick Herald” student newspaper, and every yearbook since the school opened in 1928, according to Maragos. Plavnick was apparently a very popular teacher, she said, as many stories were written about him and his work with the band, as well as his school spirit.

“He sounds like a really cool guy,” said Maragos, who retired from Horlick in the spring and also taught at Park High School for 15 years. Plavnick served as a mentor to students, she said, and also gave his time to teach spinning to prospective drum majors/majorettes and serve as a cheerleading adviser.

Digging into history

The more that Maragos — a 1974 graduate of Horlick whose family is among the school’s earliest graduates — learned more about Plavnick, the deeper she dug for information. She found that while growing up here, Plavnick attended Franklin Junior High and graduated from the old Racine High School in 1927. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating in 1932 with majors in instrumental and vocal music. And went on to earn his master’s degree in music history and theory. Before coming back to Racine to teach, he taught for a couple years in River Falls.

Still, there were a lot of “missing pieces,” Maragos said. Why, for example, did Plavnick’s name just stop appearing in the “Herald” after a while? “It was like he just dropped out of sight,” she said.

Her curiosity led her to tap into ancestry.com — a popular genealogy website — where she found Plavnick’s son, Paul. “I typed in Plavnick and a few names came up,” she said.

Knowing it was a “long shot” she sent an email to a Paul Plavnick, and when she received a response from him the following day “his email just blew me away,” Maragos said.

Paul Plavnick was a young child when he and his family moved away from Racine, but he was able to answer Maragos’ question about where his father went, and confirm information she had gleaned from the archives. Max Plavnick left Horlick in 1947 to take a job as superintendent of music for the Ferguson-Florissant Public School District in Missouri, where he served until his death in December of 1966. In other words, Maragos said, he left for “greener pastures.” Paul Plavnick also confirmed Maragos’ assumption that his father was a “very fun man.”

Maragos told Paul Plavnick how his father’s legacy had endured with the school song, and she sent him copies of Horlick memorabilia. “The kids still sing his song at every game, every rally and every assembly,” she said.

A gift for alumni

She also tracked down Paul Krause, a Horlick alumni living on the West Coast who did the only revision of Plavnick’s score in 1956, while still a student. Krause’s arrangement was done to accommodate more instruments, Maragos explained. And, Maragos compiled all that she learned and has given the story as a gift to Horlick alumni, along with professionally printed copies of what she believes is Plavnick’s original score.

“It looks old, but we can’t be certain it is the original,” she said, adding that Plavnick’s son said he doesn’t have the original.

Her search for the music teacher’s story is one of quite a few Horlick-related subjects Maragos researched in her time at the school. She has enjoyed the “hunt” so much that she’s hoping to be able to continue her Horlick research, when she substitute teaches at the school.

“I just pick a topic and start digging,” she said. “This is my kicks.”

'Hail Spirit of Scarlet and Grey'

We are your students Horlick High.

We’re proud of all you stand for.

Ours is the will to do or die.

Your emblem is the ‘North Star’.

We’re all for you Horlick High, for always, come what may.

H-O-R-L-I-C-K, yeah! Scarlet and grey!

— written by Max Plavnick


School is 85 years old

Racine’s William Horlick High School, 2119 Rapids Drive, first opened in the fall of 1928, on 11 acres of land donated by William S. Horlick Sr. of Horlick’s Malted Milk Co.

The school celebrates its 85th birthday this year.