Pencils make a comeback at San Dieguito

Reintroduction of dispenser, discovery of Gimpy's graffiti

Norm "Gimpy" Keith points out his graffiti on the pencil box lid
  • Norm "Gimpy" Keith points out his graffiti on the pencil box lid

Little did Encinitas resident Norm Keith know that his 1953 act of high school hi-jinx would be discovered in 2015.

Keith was a senior at San Dieguito High School in the early '50s when he was elected to serve as student-body activities manager. He organized a lot of events for his fellow classmates. One of his jobs was to refill the pencil-vending box in the school’s library.

The pencil machine

The pencil machine

The wooden pencil dispenser, which served students on campus well into the 1970s, was rediscovered a few years ago. Long lost was the key to the box. Bonnie Wren, coordinator for the school’s alumni association, decided it might be fun to get the vending mechanism working again and put it back into service.

Upon opening the lid recently, the inscription “Gimpy” was found, written in pencil. Who was Gimpy? Wren inquired with members of the 1950s classes. Darlene Johnson, from the class of ’56, said, “Everyone knew Norm as 'Gimpy.'”

Last week, Keith, along with Johnson, returned to the campus for the reintroduction of the pencil dispenser in the school’s media center.

How did Keith get the nickname? He said they used to race in Ponto (now South Carlsbad) at a place called the Bean Bowl, where farmers grew lima beans. He rolled his car one night and someone said his wrecked jalopy was now a “gimpy-looking” car. The nickname stuck.

Though he doesn’t quite remember his vending-machine duties, nor his act of vandalism, he does remember “the brotherhood” — guys who would go out to Rancho Santa Fe and park with their dates.

“It was in a middle of a dirt field, where the sheriff wouldn’t be able to find us,” he said. The boys would place their cars in a circle and all tune to the same radio station. They would dance in the center of the circle. “We had the first surround-sound,” he joked.

Keith assured the current students attending the pencil-machine reintroduction ceremony that no beer was around when the ladies were present. “If it was just us guys, that may have been a different story.”

Keith said he dropped out a year before graduation. After working full time for a year, he said he wanted to go back to high school. One evening he went to the school superintendent’s house and begged to be re-admitted to school.

“The superintendent said yes, but I had to get a C average and keep my nose clean, ” Keith said. “I averaged a B+.”

Surrounded by school staff, students, and fellow alumni, Keith was the first to put his nickel in the box’s coin mechanism. He received his pencil, in the school colors, blue and white, with the school’s Mustang mascot.

When asked if today’s students still used pencils, freshmen Maddie and Taina said definitely yes. They were there to cover the event for the school’s newspaper and both wanted a pencil.

Each pencil costs the alumni association about 18 cents. “It’s a donation to the current students,” said Wren.

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