Bedminster School Remembered Part 4

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I have all my report cards from Bedminster. As you must know by now, I’m a saver. Here’s the grade 6 one. The grading system was unusual. Rather than using letters A to F, as most schools did, our school used E: Excellent, VG: Very Good, G: Good, P: Passable and F: Failing. As you can see I was not a top student, with most marks being VG, equivalent to a B grade. In Phys. Ed. I got only G’s, there were two E’s in music and mostly G’s in Writing. In Behaviors and Work Habits, and in Health Education the grades were either S: Satisfactory, U: Unsatisfactory or I: Interview (with parents) requested. Don’t think I ever received any of the latter two. In the teacher’s comments, first marking period, Mrs. Haring noted I was often “inattentive” in her Science class, and that I was “capable of much better.” That must have gotten to me, or my parents did, because by the second period I was “active and attentive in Science classes.” My grades were good enough to be promoted to grade 7. Whew!

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Another fad we went through in grade 6 was developing and collecting signatures or autographs. I have several sheets of them from kids in that class, and one from grade 5. This is the envelope our report card was sent home in for a parental approval, and at the end of grade 6 I apparently used it as one might use a yearbook to collect signatures of teachers and friends. Teachers represented are Pointek, Keane, Stout, Haring, Thompson, Leach and Ragno, with a note from Mr. Ragno to “take up an instrument this summer.” (I did try clarinet. Hated it.) I think Julia W. Lutter was also a teacher, but I don’t know of what grade or classes. At bottom left is the signature of our custodian, Charles Bowker. My name is written by homeroom teacher Mrs. Haring, and some classmates are here: Tim Walker, Ralph Johnson, John Beard, Steve Jackson, Pat (Frank) Robertson, Robert Schork, Curtis Vreeland, Owen Jackson, Tom Monsees, and Brent Franklin. Two older boys, Lee Letcher and John Zimmerman were neighbors at home, but in a higher grade. You can see a few of the fancy flourishes and underlines that were then popular among us.

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I don’t recall any organized sports teams in my years at Bedminster, though I did find one mention in the school paper of a “first soccer game to be played” between girls from Bedminster and Mount St. John Academy, and on Feb. 27, Bedminster’s basketball Team played against St. Bernard’s School. I think inter-school sports for our age level were just getting started then. So, what else was going on in and around school? Following are some items from “The Bedminster Tribune” in 1962-63. A number of kids had birthday parties in their homes, including a “Prison Party” for Chris Hobbie on Sept. 8, at which “there was dancing and games involving prison sentences and penalties.” Douglas Smith, a third-grader, fractured his arm on that dangerous slide in the playground on Oct. 10. There was a fundraising effort by grade 8 students selling magazine subscriptions that raised about $1,400. Neighboring Peapack-Gladstone’s school had a square dance on Oct. 13 attended by many Bedminster students.

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For those with money and horses, or those who liked to watch them, the Essex Hunt Club held their annual Hunter Trials on Oct. 28, and in November had their annual race meeting. Above, a running of the hounds begins at the estate of Kenneth Schley on the Lamington River, 1936. Cathy Downey recalls, “Maxine Dixon was my friend and her father worked for one of the very large estates in the area. Maxine and her father rode in the foxhunts. After President Kennedy died, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy and her son and daughter would come to our area for fox hunting. We sat next to them in church sometimes. The foxhunt would come through our back yard, and I remember the sound of the fox horn, the baying dogs, and the pounding of the hooves over the hard fields behind our house.”

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On Halloween, the paper reports, “Mr. Stout and Mr. Snyder hid in the red barn next to the school and watched what went on. Some people soaped windows and others put pumpkins down the chimneys.” I expect there were some punishments given out for that. Those crafty administrators! The paper also reports Mrs. Thompson’s house was raided, the windows soaped and toilet tissue strewn around the yard, but “the children responsible had to show up for a clean-up party.” Grade 5 students had a party to welcome Mr. Hoblak, who must have replaced Mr. Nelson. Above, a rare movie reference in the school paper.

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A list of Top Ten pop songs begins in the Nov. 14 issue, where the top spot went to “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons. Also on the list are “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley. This may have been copied from a newspaper or radio show. The Dec. 12 issue leads with plans for a Christmas program. Mr. Ragno and the chorus were hard at work on some carols, the grade 8 students were preparing a “skit,” and Mr. Keane would be directing the “Christmas Story.” The school band was also practicing for their appearance.

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On Jan. 16 there was a talent show with acts performed by students from grades 6 to 8. Our class featured “Radio Announcement” by Tim Walker and Billy Barr, “Jumpwell” by Maxine Dixon, Pru Hobbie and Janet Szabo (clearly about horses), and “Laurel and Hardy” by Pat Robertson, Butch Frost and Robert Schork.

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As we moved on to grade 7 in 1963-64, Tim Walker and Pru Hobbie left our class. I was sad to see them go, but at least Tim and I kept in touch. Families were always moving in and out of the area in our mobile society. A new arrival in Pluckemin and our school, then Bedminster when he moved there, was Tom Burden. Tom and I hit it off well right away, and became good friends, spending a lot of time together in school and out. Though we lost touch for a while after high school, we reconnected about 15 years ago, and remain good friends today. Other new arrivals were John Ricciardi, and Barbara Haller. Richard Rodenbach returned to Bedminster after being away for one year. A new grade 4 teacher, Mrs. Winifred Zimmerman (above), and her family moved to Pluckemin, and soon to a house they built down the street from us. Her children were already in the school, her son John had signed my Grade 6 report card sleeve. Her son Billy became a close friend of my brother Doug. Mrs. Zimmerman became good friends with Mr. Ragno, and played piano for his concerts. Later she became the new Advanced Math teacher after Miss Goss died. Mrs. Zimmerman’s father Frederick Walter, a long-time Pluckemin resident, was the author of the 1964 booklet about Bedminster that I’ve used for reference in this article.

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Here’s other news culled from the only “Bedminster Tribune” issue I still have from this year. The number of desks in the school was about 273. Mrs. Grady, the librarian got paid for only 3.5 days, the rest of her time at school was as a volunteer. The number of boys in the school was 137, the number of girls was 127, so the total enrollment for the 1963-64 season, at least when the count was made in October ’63, was 264. The top TV show was “The Outer Limits,” followed by “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “McHale’s Navy.” Grade 7 elected class officers were Butch Frost, President; Robert Schork, Vice President; Todd Klein, Secretary; and Ralph Johnson, Treasurer. Again, I have no memory of those elections or class meetings, which were meant to show us how democracy worked, I think.

One thing that was new in grade 7, the class was split in two, 7A and 7B. I don’t know how the split was decided, but it was not alphabetical. From evidence in the school newspaper and magazine, where writer credits were followed by the grade, I know the following people were in 7A and later 8A (which seems to be the same group): Tom Burden, Cathy Downey, Brent Franklin, Butch Frost, Roxanne Hankinson, Steve Jackson, Ralph Johnson, Todd Klein, Marcia Meimaris, Tom Monsees, Robert Schork, Janet Szabo, and Susan Van Arsdale. Our homeroom teacher was Mrs. Thompson, so perhaps it’s no surprise that there are more A class credits in the school publications, on which she was the advisor. Tom Burden remembers, “Mrs. Thompson was a true inspiration. She made me editor of ‘The Bed-Post’ when I hadn’t been there even a year.” The only students that I know for sure were in 7B and 8B are: Susan Gary, Craig Allen, Owen Jackson, and Linda Philbrook. This may explain why I don’t remember some of the other students as well as the ones in my half of the class. I don’t recall if we were all together for Physical Education, recess and lunch, but that seems likely.

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While I didn’t think it was right to include Tim Walker’s candid photos of our classmates, a posed official school picture of our grade 7 class, taken November 14, 1963, seems appropriate to use. A larger version is HERE. Tim and I have gone over the faces and tried to identify the students. We may be wrong in a few cases, but these are our best guesses.

Top row: Kathy Shinn, Roxanne Hankinson, Craig Allen, Janet Szabo, Brent Franklin, Maxine Dixon, Donna Timpson, Judy Maresca, John Ricciardi and Richard Rodenbach.

Second row: Roxie Blazure, Bruce Cree, Susan Van Arsdale, Edward Ketrow, Linda Philbrook, Bruce De Bacco and Marcia Meimaris.

Third row: Dave Hunt, Susan Gary, Tom Monsees, Steve Jackson, John Beard, Butch Frost, Owen Jackson, Todd Klein and Ralph Johnson.

Bottom row: Julie Cimosz, Robert Schork, Ken Benner, Jan Boyer, Alfred Herzog, Pat (Frank) Robertson and Cathy Downey.

That’s 33, and Tom Burden had not yet arrived in our class, he would make 34. If the grade was split evenly, that would have put 17 students into the A and B classes, which seems about right to me. The smaller class sizes gave us more individual attention, which depending on your outlook could be a good or bad thing…

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A week later our school, and the nation were shocked and traumatized by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Hilary Walker remembers that her grade 5 class was about to watch an educational TV program on the school’s mobile television, but when the teacher (probably Mr. Hoblak) tried to tune it in, they instead got live news coverage of the shooting. Hilary recalls the teacher turned white, and quickly ran out to tell Mr. Snyder. The shooting was announced on the news about 2 PM our time, from what I can gather, but the later news that Kennedy had died did not air until around 3 PM. Most schools closed early, and ours probably did, too. I’m sure the teachers would have been unable to teach anyway. I don’t recall how my class got the news, but it must have traveled quickly from teacher to teacher, with each of them telling their students. It was a Friday, and at home the TV was on all weekend, as the nation mourned, and watched more shocking developments like the shooting of Kennedy’s assassin Oswald on live TV, which I recall seeing, and the Kennedy funeral on Sunday. The event made the world seem a darker and scarier place to all of us.

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Also in our 1963-64 school year, the British Invasion of pop music was sweeping America, led by The Beatles. Their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9 was watched by the vast majority of children in the nation including myself. I remember being more impressed by the hordes of screaming girls in the audience than the music. I was not listening to rock and roll much at the time, and at first found Beatlemania kind of annoying and silly. Some of the girls in our class felt differently, and a few boys too! Cathy Downey writes, “I remember being on the bus and some of the older girls in the back talking about a new band, the ‘Beetles.’ One girl had an album and I slipped to the back seat and got my first look at John, George, Paul, and Ringo.”

A little later, at Tim Walker’s house, he played some of the group’s early releases, and I was taken with the songwriting and George Harrison’s solo vocals on “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” It wasn’t until we saw the film “A Hard Day’s Night” that next summer that I became a true Beatles fan, and have been one ever since.

KleinMaze

Without more “Bedminster Tribunes” to refer to, I don’t have much more to say about our grade 7 year. There was a fad among my friends, including Tom Burden and Tim Walker, for making mazes, and some of mine made it into “The Bed-Post,” though the awful mimeograph reproduction made it hard to even see how it was supposed to work. I know I made plenty of them on notebook paper when I should have been doing other things.

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Again, I don’t have a lot of details about our grade 8 year in 1964-65. I know we took tests meant to see what kind of career paths we might be heading toward. I think my top result was Forest Ranger, so I’m not sure how well crafted those tests were. We were already looking toward High School, and I think went on a visit to Bernards High (above) at some point to see what it was like.

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Here’s one event I’d forgotten completely until I found the program while doing research at the current Bedminster Library, a play put on at the school primarily by students from grades 7 and 8. I don’t know who did the art for this cover, but it wasn’t me.

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Above are the setting and cast. Even looking at it, I can’t remember a thing about the play. It was written in 1956, the author Le Roma Greth seems to have been a prolific writer of short comedy plays, many with a hillbilly theme, though this one is not.

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The back cover has all the credits. Clearly it was put on for the public in the gym, with support and funds from the Parent-Teachers Association, with Mrs. Thompson advising. I’m not sure what Mr. Snyder’s duties as Technical Adviser might have been, but the school’s custodian, Mr. Bowker was in charge of the sets. My credit for Programs means I stood at the door and handed them out, I believe.

Bowker1966

Here’s a poor photo of Mr. Charles (Charlie) Bowker, from an article in the “Somerset Hills Exponent” in 1966, also showing one of the playground swings and the back of the gym. As I recall, he was much loved by the students. The article by Elsie Brown says,

“In the early hours of the morning, before the sun is up and when the only sign of life is an occasional milk truck and the singing of the birds, there’s one man hard at work making sure that all is in readiness for the 8:30 arrival of several hundred children at the Bedminster School. Making sure the boilers are functioning properly, seeing that each classroom is clean and neat…these are the things that Charlie Bowker, custodian at the Bedminster School already has done when most people in the town are still catching a few extra minutes of sleep. A jack-of-all-trades, a source of any and all sorts of information, a friend to each and every student and teacher — these are the qualities which endear Mr. Bowker to students as early as their first day.”

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Here’s Mr. Bowker with, rake in hand, outside the school from the 1972 yearbook. That may have been his last year at the school, he’s not in the 1973 one. Both my brothers liked Charlie Bowker, and were often enlisted to help him with things like opening up the benches and tables in the gym for lunch. Doug writes, “Mr. Bowker was possibly the most angelic being I have ever encountered, disguised as a humble janitor. He never had anything but a kind word to say to any of us kids, he took care of all the dirty work around the place (which included cleaning up whenever some kid threw up — a fairly common occurrence), and above all, he seemed to be genuinely contented with his lot in life.”

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One important musical event was the 1965 Spring Concert organized and directed by Mr. Ragno, who also arranged some of the music we performed. I was in the chorus, and even get a percussion credit. The selections are a mix of classical standards, folk tunes and spirituals. I remember being greatly moved by “Were You There?”

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Here are the entire cast, with children from grades 6 to 8. The parents loved it. I know I was happy not to be in the band, the chorus was more fun.

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When we had recess inside due to bad weather, I think a record player was available to play 45rpm singles brought in by the students, and there was probably some dancing, supervised by the teachers. There was an actual grade 8 school dance toward the end of the school year that I went to, unaccompanied. I remember some of the songs we danced to being “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits, and “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, already an oldie. I didn’t date in grade school (too shy and nerdy), but some kids did. “Going steady” was already a mark of social status as early as grade 6. Pru (Hobbie) Cuper remembers Butch Frost was the first boy she “went steady” with, which involved him giving Pru his ID bracelet to wear.

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I believe it was some time in this year that I went on a school trip to the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to see a performance of “La Boheme.” The bus trip would have been organized by Mr. Ragno. There might have been a similar trip in grade 7. I don’t think I liked the music or singers much, but I remember being impressed with the gilded glory of the building and stage, and the massive sets. We sat in the top balcony, the cheapest seats. This building at 39th Street and Broadway opened in 1883, and would soon close to be replaced by a new theater in Lincoln Center.

Cathy Downey remembers, “In grade 8 we also had a political debate. Because my parents were voting for Goldwater, I got to be on the Republican side of the debate but I lost. I guess my heart just wasn’t in it.”

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In May or June of 1965 our class went on a trip to the New York World’s Fair. I also visited the fair with my family, so I’m not sure what things I saw on which visit, but we all thought it was wonderful and amazing. One of the teachers that came with us was Miss Goss, and she had a hard time keeping up. We didn’t understand why then. Roxie Blazure recalls another teacher who came with us, Mr. Helsel. “He was rather quiet until our trip to the World’s Fair. Then it was like he opened up once we left the school parking lot.”

Next time, my graduation and on to the school as it is today. Other parts of this article and more you might find interesting are 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.

 

 

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