The principal of our school my entire time there was H.J. (Jake) Snyder, seen here in a 1961 article from “The Somerset Hills Exponent.” The article says he started at the school as an English teacher in 1947, and became the supervising principal in 1951. He and his wife Mildred had two children who attended the Martinsville schools, so he must have lived in that area east of Pluckemin and outside Bedminster Township. His hobbies were gardening and woodworking. He described the biggest headache in his job as being “transportation.”
Mr. Snyder seemed to me a very kind man at heart, perhaps a little high strung, though he could be stern and harsh when he needed to. Bad kids were sent to the principal’s office, where he would often let them cool their heels on a chair outside for a while, thinking about their offenses. I have to admit I was a good kid, so this only happened to me once. When I finally was called into his office, Mr. Snyder asked me a few questions, sternly reminded me of the rules, and sent me on my way with a smile and no punishment. Some kids were not let off so easy, and could be expelled for a week or more, or given extra work, either physical chores in the school or homework I think. Catherine (Cathy) Downey remembers being sent to his office for talking in class. “I cried and cried while sitting on the principal’s bench, and he just let me go back to class.” My brother Doug recalls having to go to the Principal’s office in grade 3 to read a report to Mr. Snyder all by himself because Mrs. Chabot was so impressed with it. ”I think the report was on cotton, of all things. He was very pleased with it. I was sweating bullets.” Jodi Millard writes, “I confess…I had to stay after school and write on the chalk board ‘I will not talk in class’ something like 100 times. I think once I had to do it on paper 500 times. (sigh)”
The assistant principal was William Stout, seen here in a 1979 photo with some of his students. Mr. Stout was also the Physical Education (Gym) teacher. According to a “Bed-Post” article, he began teaching in 1948, and his favorite hobby was riding horses. He was the real disciplinarian of the school, with a sharp eye and a loud bark when warranted, but also a fair and generally kind man, even with wimpy kids like me, who were awful at all kinds of sports. Cathy Downey remembers, “Mr. Stout was really very fair when it came to girls and boys being given equal opportunity at sports. We all played soccer together. We had quite a gymnastics collection with ropes and parallel bars, a vaulting horse and rings. My only complaint was that the girls had to have two hours a week of Home Economics, and the boys then got a double period of PE (Physical Education). I remember looking out the window at the boys running and playing while I sat in a chair learning the cross-stitch and basic machine sewing. Miss Poindexter was the teacher and she was really quite good. To this day I love hand sewing.” My brother Russ recalls, “Mr. Stout was a really in-shape guy. He was stern, but also had a heart. I remember his wife would substitute for him sometimes — she was also a really in-shape person.” Pru (Hobbie) Cuper writes, “The Stouts were definitely memorable! I was scared to death of Mr. Stout but really liked his wife. The square dancing in gym class was fun (mad rush of boys who were allowed to pick a girl to dance with…which, of course, is a pretty cruel system by today’s standards). The gymnastics were definitely NOT my favorite. I also remember a variation of dodgeball (nicknamed Killer Ball) that involved boys hurling the ball at people’s heads. I remember watching a girl get flattened one day and needing to be taken to the nurse because her nose was bleeding.”
My 1961-62 grade 5 teacher was Mr. Nelson, and neither Tim nor I have any real memories of him, nor have I found any photos or information. Cathy Downey remembers, “Mr. Nelson was my favorite teacher. I thought he was very cool and fun. I think a lot of the girls had a crush on him.” Pru (Hobbie) Cuper recalls, “Mr. Nelson (my all-time favorite teacher) was newly married and his wife had a baby boy during the year he taught us. They named the baby Kenneth Edward Nelson and he told us (with delight) that the baby’s initials were also his first name. One day, Mr. Nelson’s wife brought the baby to our classroom window (it was a warm spring day) and we all got a chance to wave to her (and the baby).”
Tim Walker was still a close friend, and I often talked to Pru, also interested in a lot of the books I liked, especially ones about horses as I recall. There was a group of girls in our class that were horse-crazy, including Maxine Dixon and Janet Szabo. Janet also had a talent for drawing horses, another interest we shared. Here are other things I remember that might be from grade 5. At one point there was a craze for trading pencils. I would trade two or more partly used pencils for a new one, for instance, trying to build up a stock of brand new pencils, a collecting fad. There were often posters and art wanted to decorate the bulletin boards in the main entrance, or the classroom, and even an annual Halloween poster contest. This was something I enjoyed and found I was pretty good at. There were science projects, like making a volcano that erupted with baking soda and vinegar.
There were educational filmstrips and movies. The space program was big news at the time, and I recall being gathered in the gym at least once to see a Mercury astronaut launched from Cape Canaveral on TV, probably John Glenn in Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962, above. The school had a large (for the time) TV on a portable stand. My brother Russ writes, “I clearly remember them rolling a TV into our classroom in 1969, and we all watched astronauts on the moon. I also remember nuclear attack drills in the early grades. When the siren went off, we had to get under our desks. Like that would have helped.”
In Grade 5 we were joined by Missi (Melissa) Trauger, a girl who liked to write short plays. I have copies of two, above is the beginning and end of “Jumping July,” written and narrated by Missi when the play was put on for our class. Mr. Nelson must have encouraged us to do that. I wasn’t in the plays, but I may have helped in some way, with rehearsals perhaps, which would explain why I have them. I remember being impressed that someone my age (12) could do this sort of thing, and as I recall they went over well with our class. The plays are mostly realistic bickering and teasing between children, with any action off-stage and explained by Missi as narrator, but at the time we thought they were great. This may have inspired me to try writing myself. Pru (Hobbie) Cuper had the lead role in this play, and she remembers, “Missi Trauger was with our class for a very short time. She lived a few blocks from my house and we used to walk to each others homes to play after school.”
In the fall of 1962 I started grade 6, and now began moving around during the day to different classes for a variety of subjects and teachers. My brother Doug entered Grade 2, and Russ began Kindergarten. New students joining us this year were Kathy Shinn and Susan Van Arsdale. The Van Arsdale family moved to Pluckemin, and Susan’s brothers Edward and Tommy became close friends with my brothers Doug and Russ respectively. My homeroom teacher was Mrs. Ida Haring, and I believe our room was in the new building at the corner next to the main entrance and across from the gym. Mrs. Haring was also our science teacher. An article in “The Bedminster Tribune,” our school paper, reports she was a member of the Audubon Society, and the Somerset County Historical Society. She had two daughters, one already a teacher herself, and one studying nursing. Cathy Downey remembers, “Mrs. Haring was an excellent teacher, and it was in her class that I first fell in love with science. Remember the pinhole cameras? She was very strict in that a simple look, if anyone was acting up, would make the classroom into a chilled silence.” I don’t remember the pinhole cameras, an example of how we all remember different things from our school days. I believe the 1973 picture above is from that classroom, at the back looking east out the windows to the row of parking spaces on the far side of Elm Street. The equipment is all new to me.
Here’s that diagram of the upper floor of the old building with the names of the teachers in each classroom, as we remember them. From grades 6 to 8 we spent a lot of our day here. Tim and I were in the Advanced Math class with Miss Jane Goss. Miss Goss was a wonderful teacher who taught us all kinds of cool things. Some I remember are the huge numbers up to googolplex, set theory, and mathematical logic. Tim Walker calls her the best teacher he ever had. Unknown to us, she had cancer, and was often out sick, probably getting radiation treatments. I remember her as tall and thin with short hair for the time, and a warm smile. Tim and I were both shocked to learn of her death, in 1966, the year after we graduated. ADDED: Patricia Bankowski has found her obituary in “The Bernardsville News” of March 2nd, 1966. While it doesn’t give her age, she graduated from Vassar in 1944, so we can estimate she was in her mid-40s.
Mrs. Rhoda Leach was the regular Math teacher for our class in grade 6. A “Bedminster Tribune” article said she had a number of teaching jobs before coming to Bedminster. She had two daughters and five grandchildren. Mrs. Leach retired at the end of that year, and the new Math teacher for our time in grades 7 and 8 was Mr. Gene Helsel. Tim and I don’t remember these teachers. Tom Burden recalls, “when I came in grade 7, the subject was ‘new math,’ which made no sense to me, and at the time the country was pushing the metric system, unsuccessfully, as it turned out.”
Miss Catherine Pointek, here in a 1973 photo, was our Social Studies teacher. She began teaching at Bedminster in 1952, according to a “Bed-Post” article. I don’t remember much about her, or the class, but I think I liked it well enough. Social Studies covered the United States in early grades, moved on to the countries of the world in later ones. We learned about each state and country’s people, customs, natural resources and so on, with some history. Cathy Downey remembers, “Miss Pointek was a fine teacher, but I remember being compared by her with my sister Louise who was six years ahead of me with a genius IQ.” Pru (Hobbie) Cuper writes, “My sisters and I recall Miss Pointek telling stories about the town in Pennsylvania where she grew up. Most of the stories were somewhat alarming, involving crimes that had occurred in the town (not sure why she felt a need to share those with us!). There were a few students who were incredulous. She would reply, ‘You don’t believe it? Well, it’s true!’”
TOP PRIZE WINNER at the Columbia Scholastic Press competition this year, the Bedminster School’s student newspaper, “The Bedminster Tribune,” is proudly held by the faculty adviser, Mrs. Helen Thompson, as she commends the two student editors, Boby Lou Cramer, at left, and Steve Strait, at right. (From the “Somerset Hills Exponent, May 25, 1961.)
My favorite teacher was Mrs. Helen Thompson, who taught us English, which included proper use of grammar and punctuation, sentence structure, tenses, and things of that kind. A “Bed-Post” article says she began teaching in 1959, and was born and lived in nearby Lamington as a child. Her favorite hobbies were boating, playing the organ, and gardening.
Our textbook in grade 6 was this one, “Building Good English” by Harold Gray Shane. In Mrs. Thompson’s class there were often examples of humorous word play and puzzles. One that sticks with me was about punctuation. Miss Thompson wrote out the following on the blackboard: THAT WHICH IS IS THAT WHICH IS NOT IS NOT IS THAT IT IT IS, and asked us to make sense of it. When we couldn’t she added the punctuation: THAT WHICH IS, IS. THAT WHICH IS NOT, IS NOT. IS THAT IT? IT IS! In her class we were also given creative writing assignments, from poems on a particular subject to essays and fiction. She encouraged us to use our imagination and create any kind of stories we liked.
The best of them ended up in the school magazine, “The Bed-Post.” I’ve already written a short article about that HERE. It was usually published three times during the school year. This 1962 cover is by Art Editor Sam Richardson, and each cover was hand painted in two colors of poster paint.
Page one lists the staff and contents, and gives the price: five cents. Of course, these magazines — and the school newspaper, also run by Mrs. Thompson — were subsidized heavily by the school. It was exciting to me at the time to see my name and work in print, and I think many of the students felt that way.
The cover of “The Bedminster Tribune” from Oct. 17, 1962. The paper was intended to come out twice a month but often emerged less frequently, perhaps due to supply or article shortages. These articles were on class officer elections, and at upper right is our grade 6 class. Tim Walker, Pru Hobbie and Curtis Vreeland all ran for class president, and Pru won. I was elected as secretary, though I have no memory of this, or any class meetings. At bottom right is an article about one of a series of National Audubon Society lectures/slide shows we attended that sparked in me a lifelong interest in birds, especially one by Roger Tory Peterson.
The first inside page of the paper lists the staff. I was the Art Editor that year, which meant I drew most of the illustrations and titles, like the one on “Classroom Capers” written by Tim. I had the same job on “The Bed-Post” in grades 7 and 8.
Mr. Michael Keane was our Reading teacher, working with us on reading skills, phonics, and probably spelling too. I think we used the Ginn series of readers and workbooks, examples above, and were probably assigned other books to read as homework, though I don’t remember any in particular.
Here’s our Reading teacher, Mr. Keane, looking dapper in a suit. I don’t remember him as well as Tim does, but an article in “The Bedminster Tribune” describes a trip he took to Ireland, France and England where he participated in sports like football, soccer, fishing and dancing (!), and attended some Irish football games. The photo is surely at the door of his classroom. Note the windowed transom over the door and the high ceiling. This is one of eleven photos taken by Tim Walker in our Grade 6 classes. Many of them show fellow students, and we’ve decided not to use those in full because we don’t have permission from the people in them, though we feel the teachers are okay to use, and I’ve also pulled some cropped images, as you’ll see. Pru (Hobbie) Cuper writes, “Mr. Keane used to let us read plays aloud in class — I remember reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a British accent (I was the Ghost of Christmas Past – ‘Pahst’). Mr. Keene got a good chuckle out of this and encouraged us all to try doing the play with British accents.”
In this cropped image from Mr. Keane’s classroom you can see the coat closets in the back of the room with a shelf for lunch boxes, and far above the room’s small clock. The ceilings in the second floor of the “old building” were quite high. The upper half of the windows could be lowered for ventilation in warm weather using a long pole with a hook on the end, but there was no air-conditioning.
By contrast, here’s a coat closet from the new building, in Mr’s Haring’s science class, also our homeroom. It had a soft accordion-style sliding door that was usually kept open like this, I think.
Here’s a larger cropped picture from Tim I can use because we have permission from Pru (Hobbie) Cuper and Catherine (Cathy) Downey, the two people in it. Also Mr. Keane’s room, this shows the “newer” style of desks. There’s a storage area under the seat with the opening on the other side, as you can see HERE.
This photo from another classroom, perhaps Mrs. Thompson’s, shows an older style of desk that has a pencil tray at the top, and a hole at top right meant for an ink bottle or inkwell. Dip pens and ink for schoolwork had long been out of use by the 1960s, we used pencils or ballpoint pens. The top was hinged below the pencil tray and inkwell, with a storage area below. A better look at this type of desk is HERE.
This is an exception we’ve made to pictures of the students, since we can’t identify them and doubt anyone else is likely to. It’s taken in the gym, and at far right in the back you can see a bench and table folded into the wall, while in the foreground are two benches open for seating. This was quite a clever idea, I think. You unlocked them with a key, and they folded out to a length twice the height, hinged in the middle. In the back is part of the stage and curtain, and under the stage were storage cabinets for gym equipment, I imagine.
The last of Tim’s pictures I’m using is of our Music teacher, Mr. Joseph Ragno. He was liked by most of the students. He began at our school in the spring of 1962 after the previous teacher left suddenly. (Cathy Downey, Pru Hobbie and I recall rumors that teacher had been found with drugs.) I remember Mr. Ragno as being funny and very demonstrative and excitable in an Italian way, with a hearty laugh. He also had a notorious hot temper and could lash out at students who misbehaved. Despite that, Pru recalls many of the girls had a crush on him. An article in “The Bedminster Tribune” reports he had begun vocal lessons himself at age 18, also playing in his college symphony and concert band in Lebanon Valley, PA. Later he played with the Ted Blue Quintet (a group I can find no record of) and the United States Marine Band. Mr. Ragno transformed our music education from singing songs around a piano with our previous teacher to an ambitious choral music program and school band. His personality won us over and made us want to create beautiful music for him. I think we did some pretty good concerts. I’ll show the program from one later. Cathy Downey remembers, “Mr. Ragno was the most amazing music teacher. He took me under his wing and I played the clarinet, the flute and the piccolo in band and orchestra and he would have me play all sorts of different parts. I also sang in the choir and loved singing harmonies. He taught us music appreciation and how to hear the different instruments in each symphony.” I remember us learning and singing challenging material in the choir like Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “America” from Bernstein and Sondheim’s “West Side Story.”
More about grades 6 to 8 next. Other parts of this article, and more you might find interesting can be found on the REMEMBERED page of my blog.
If you’re on Facebook, I’ve also set up a Facebook page for the school where you can comment and perhaps connect with former classmates. There will be additional photos and documents there that I didn’t have room for here. Please “Like” it and add to your Favorites to keep up with the latest posts.