On June 22 we graduated. This single sheet of folded paper was the program, done in the usual mimeograph style. Among the school board members are several names I remember from their children attending the school, such as Robert Gitzendanner, who lived in the house across Elm Street from the new building, and James Beard, father of our classmate John Beard.
Another board member, Mrs. Charles (Candace) Ashmun became the director of the School Community Education Program until 1973, then went on to a long career as a politician and environmental activist, and has a large nature preserve in Ocean County, NJ named after her. Photo from 1972. She was also the mother of our classmate George Ashmun, of course.
The board secretary was Miss Mary A. Bowker, the daughter or sister of custodian Charlie Bowker. She was also the school secretary. Photo from 1972.
Inside the program are the full names of all 33 graduates. I can’t say I remember much about the ceremony, but I was given a small award for creative writing by Mrs. Thompson, which surprised and delighted me. Cathy Downey recalls, “I had to work really hard at spelling (thank God for spell check) and that got me high enough grades to be salutatorian for our grade 8 graduation. I made the welcome speech.”
Finally, we have our graduation picture, with everyone looking sharp. A larger version of this picture can be seen HERE. My best guesses at putting names to all the faces:
Top row: Steve Jackson, George Ashmun, Brent Franklin, Roxie Blazure, Edward Ketrow, William Chason, Michael Wulff, Frank Robertson, John Ricciardi, Tom Monsees and Craig Allen.
Middle row: Judy Maresca, Susan Gary, Jan Boyer, Janet Szabo, Susan Van Arsdale, Barbara Haller, Kathy Shinn, Maxine Dixon, Julie Cimosz, Donna Timpson, Valerie Chuhinko.
Bottom row: Cathy Downey, Alfred Herzog, Ralph Johnson, Todd Klein, Harlan (Butch) Frost, Ken Benner, Owen Jackson, Dave Hunt, Robert Schork, Tom Burden and Linda Philbrook.
For the next four years my school bus route brought me to the Bedminster School briefly in the morning and afternoon, and I would sometimes step inside to talk to the librarian, Mrs. Grady, or get books at the library in the church across the street. My brothers continued at the school, with Russ graduating in 1971, and after that we left it behind, and lost touch.
Russ has some memories to add of his years at the school. Above is his grade 8 graduation picture courtesy of Jody Millard. Russ is at bottom left, Jody is fourth from the right.
“I remember the big Halloween poster contest every year. Doug was really into it, too. We had big sheets of oak tag paper, and lots of poster paints, and spent hours making our scary creations. Being the ‘art family,’ Doug always won, and then I took the prize for a couple of years. Contestants got to hang their posters on the walls at the school entrance.”
Doug adds, “The Halloween poster contest was always exciting to me. I think I took grand prize two or three times. The best part was getting those packets of powdered poster paint and mixing them up at home. It was magical.”
Doug also says, “Although I never became comfortable with it, I quickly became tagged as the class artist, as early as Kindergarten actually. By the time I got to grade 4, Mrs. Barlow, known for her enthusiasm for art, had me ear-marked for all kinds of special assignments. I would sometimes be excused from lessons to work on bulletin boards and the like. One time she even took me to visit an adult class she taught at Rutgers at night, where I demonstrated a tempura painting technique. It was a bit daunting having to stand up in front of all those grown-ups and perform for them! But I weathered it. Such was the price of being the class artist at the ripe age of nine!”
Russ also recalls, “I don’t remember any intramural sports while I was there. In grade 8, English teacher Mr. Philip Melovitz (photo above from 1972) knew some of us were into basketball and organized a couple of games with some other schools. I think we just wore our gym uniforms. One of our favorite outside sports was played with those bouncy orange balls – we played baseball and the pitcher rolled the ball to home plate. If you got hit with it while running bases you were out. Indoors, dodgeball was the rage. Two teams on either side of the gym, and we threw balls at each other (I think more than one ball at a time). If you got hit you were out and went into jail at the back of the opposing teams side. If you threw it and an opposing team member caught it, a “prisoner” could be released (you got to pick who). Games went on for a while and I remember Tommy Van Arsdale and I were often some of the last ones left.”
And, “I was in the school band from grades 6 to 8 and played the clarinet. I wasn’t very good so I played the base lines. We had concerts and Mom and Dad came. I think they sounded pretty awful, but we tried. The music teacher was a new young guy, not sure of his name.” Poor Russ, he inherited the clarinet that my parents had bought for me.
Mrs. Thompson was still the English teacher when my brother Doug was there. He remembers, “The teachers lounge was where Mrs. Thompson smoked herself into a stupor. Even without knowing anything about second hand smoke back then, I always felt sorry for the other teachers.”
Some teachers of my class had left, and new ones came in. Doug recalls Mr. Hammond as his reading teacher. Russ remembers a new, young reading teacher named Mr. Spillane who quickly lost control of his classroom. “He was replaced by Mr. Barry Phipps, a huge, portly man with a red face. Besides being intimidating in size, he carried a pool stick with him. Whenever anyone got out of hand, he would slam the stick on the student’s desktop. Scary!” Russ also writes, “By the time we got to grade 5 we had two classes.” His grade 5 teacher was Mrs. Ray, and Russ writes, “Do you know a play called ‘Maria and her Little Cake’? It could have been written by the class for all I know. Mrs. Ray made me play Marie!! It was pretty funny. Mrs. Ray was great.”
Dave Lucas gives us these names: Mrs. Leona Niekerk in grade 2, Mrs. Baim in grade 6, and Mr. John Thomas in grade 7. His reading teacher was Mrs. Westervelt, probably the same one who had given Tim Walker penmanship lessons years earlier. Tim remembers her living near the school. Ellen Burden Parker and my brother Doug recall Mrs. Mary Tiger (above, from 1972) as their math teacher. Ellen writes, “I’ll never forget how she stayed after school to help me. I was a terrible math student, but she never lost her patience with me.” Tom Van Arsdale remembers Mrs. Craig as the regular math teacher and Mrs. Zimmerman for advanced math. Of Mrs. Niekerk, Jody Millard writes, “I recall she had Beatnik Day when we were permitted to wear cut off type ragged edged pants and we all had to lay on the floor on blankets listening to poetry. (I think we took turns reading and Mrs. Niekerk supplied the poems.) Instead of clapping we all snapped our fingers. We thought we were very cool little second graders.”
Russ says, “By the time I went into grade 8 they had added the final wing, and I think there were actually two of each of the lower grade classes, baby boomers in full swing! After I graduated, they changed the old building into the little kids area. As part of my summer maintenance job I helped paint it in wild colors.”
Here are the covers of the 1972 and 1973 yearbooks. The 1972 one has a special dedication to Mr. Snyder on the inside front cover (clearly a late addition) on his retirement. My brother Doug remembers Mr. Snyder had a heart attack when he was alone at the school late one night, and nearly died, but managed to crawl across Elm Street to get help, so I’m guessing that brought on his retirement decision. That year Mrs. Chabot and Mr. Melovitz shared duties as Assistant Principals of the lower and upper grades respectively.
There are many photos within those annuals that I don’t have room for, but some of the teachers and staff mentioned and shown (not covered earlier) in 1972 are Mrs. Margarette Marsden, Administrative Assistant; Mrs. Mildred Barkman, School Nurse (above); Mr. Carl Larsen, Building Custodian; Mrs. Ruth Ahrens, School Psychologist, Mrs. Margaret Mertz, Learning Disability Specialist, Mrs. Phyllis Nordgren, Speech Therapist; Mrs. Catherine Venner; Miss Kathleen Nevitt, Reading and Literature; Mr. James Vath, Science; Mr. Robert Watts and Mr. Richard Ledder, Music; Mr. Richard Bunn, French; Mrs. Ruth Smith, Art; Mrs. Carol Wiederholt, Asst. Librarian and Media Teacher; Miss Weber, Grade 6, Miss Murphy and Mrs. King, Grade 5; Mrs. Homme, Grade 4; Mrs. Mullen and Miss Brzezienski, Grade 3, Mrs. Teisher and Mrs. DeTurk, Grade 2; Mrs. Dalrymple, Grade 1; and Mrs. Thomas (wife of Mr. Thomas another teacher), Kindergarten.
1973 added a new Principal, Dr. Joseph Dispenziere; Miss Kristie Gitzendanner (a former student), School Secretary, Mrs. Michele Mullen and Mrs. Carol Traina, Language Arts; Miss Barbara Thomas, French; Miss Patricia Murphy, Mathematics; Miss Brenda Miller, Music; Mrs. Condon, Sewing; and Mrs. Margret Carton, Physical Education.
Organized school sports are represented in both yearbooks with boys’ basketball team The Bedminster Braves, supported by girls’ cheerleader squads. The School Marching Band continued with the addition of a girls’ twirling squad. Later yearbooks would add more new names, but I haven’t room for them here.
Tim Walker has friends who moved to Bedminster in 1984. They reported that the number of students had fallen by then, with classes below 20 students each. But large changes were coming to the area. New interstate routes 287 and 78 came plowing through the southern part of the township, crossing just southwest of Pluckemin. They took years to complete, but eventually brought lots more traffic and commuters. In 1977 AT&T bought a large piece of Schley Mountain and built a corporate structure there for their Long Lines and Network Operations Center, a few miles south of Bedminster, and they expanded it further in 1987. Many other businesses followed. The restrictive zoning laws that had prevented large-scale development of the area for decades were finally defeated, and soon an even larger part of Schley Mountain, from Pluckemin to Far Hills, became The Hills, a massive housing development, adding many more homes and families to the township. The result was a need for a new and much bigger school.
More land was purchased just south of the school we attended, and a large new structure was built there in the early 1990s, opening in September 1993. It currently has about 600 students, Kindergarten through grade 8. Above is a recent photo I took of it. More recent photos follow. The current school’s website is HERE.
The former campus was empty for a few years, and then was sold to developer Mark Mellilo (Jessica Associates Ltd.) who turned the older building into offices. Another office building in a similar style was built on what had been the front lawn of the school. It’s now School House Village.
The front facade of the old school building is still largely the same, though I’m sure the windows are new.
Of course, inside it’s quite different. Here’s a look from the front entrance down the stairs to the ground floor as it is now.
From the back you can see a new structure added to the south side that houses a large open stairwell and bathrooms on the second floor. Otherwise, the look of the building is much the same as when I was a student there. What we knew as the “new building” was removed, and is now a parking lot.
Beyond the parking lot fence, some of the recreation fields we used for sports like baseball and football are still there, and used by the new school. A path and bridge over the small stream at the south side gives them access.
From the end of Elm Street you can still see the trees on Schley Mountain to the south, though I don’t know that anyone still calls it that.
And here’s something I find fascinating. Remember this picture of the school from about 1914? See that building to the right of it?
It’s still there, looking almost unchanged! It seems to be an outbuilding of the house next to the former school, an amazing survivor!
The plaques from the World War One and Two monuments that used to sit on the front lawn of the school have been moved to a new location at the northwest corner of the property next to Route 202, in this well-designed setting, and joined by newer monuments for the Korean War and the Vietnam War. That’s how things look today.
Here’s the current Bedminster Library, the Clarence Dillon Public Library at 2336 Lamington Road, where Tim Walker and I met to do research with the help of research librarians Eric Schwarz and particularly Marie Crenshaw. This article would have been much shorter and less complete without them.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back into my own history, and elementary school life fifty years ago. A new page on my blog titled REMEMBERED has been set up for articles like this, that involve personal history and memories rather than those relating to my work. You may find more to interest you there.
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.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
As stated above, the Clarence Dillon Library was a major source for documents and information. Research help came from Tim Walker, Russ Klein and Jody Millard. Memories and anecdotes from many former students have enriched the article, including some from Catherine Downey and Pru (Hobbie) Cuper, who Tim and I were able to find and reconnect with recently. Thanks to each and every one of you who contributed. Sources include:
The New Jersey Digital Highway, a source for many fine old photos from around the state, including some held by the Clarence Dillon Library.
“The Township of Bedminster” by Frederick Walters, 1964, published by the township to honor the New Jersey Tercentenary (1664-1964). This 8.5 by 11-inch booklet, 112 pages, can be found for sale online, or in pdf format. Walters had lived in Pluckemin for 40 years when he wrote it.
“Images of America: Bedminster” by William A Schleicher and Amanda R. Schleicher, by Arcadia Publishing, 1998. A good printed source of early 1900s photos, many by Edythe Van Doren, and some later photos.
serioustoyz.com (Satellite Lunch Box photo).
Spectrum 1972 and Flashback ’73 Bedminster Township School yearbooks courtesy of Jody Millard.
Personal photos and documents of Tim Walker and Todd Klein.
“The Somerset Hills Exponent” newspaper, archived clippings at the Clarence Dillon library.
John Glenn photo from a movie camera installed in his space capsule, NASA.
The Kennedys at Love Field, Dallas, Texas just prior to the assassination is an Associated Press file photo.
The Beatles on Ed Sullivan photo from MGNOnline.
Bernards High School photo from the 1969 yearbook.
Old Metropolitain Opera House photo by Henry Grosinsky, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.
Other unattributed photos were found on Google Images.