Remembering John Day

In the 1960s and ’70s, Long Lots was a tight-knit junior high community.

The faculty and administrators were some of the finest Westport has ever seen.

Camaraderie and spirit — among staff, students and parents — was sky-high.

It wasn't much to look at. But Long Lots Junior High was a great school.

It wasn’t much to look at. But Long Lots Junior High was a great school.

Over the past few years, some of the people most instrumental in making the school what it was have died.

Joe Koeller. Art Bleemer. Joe Ziegahn. Rich Rollins. Lee Hawes.

Add John Day to the list. He passed away last week in Arizona.

John was a wood shop teacher, back in the day when all boys took that course. But although his room was down a long flight of stairs, he was as important an instructor as anyone.

Like any good teacher, he taught the whole student. Like any good educator, he cared about the entire school environment. Like any good role model, he was firm, fair, and fun.

John was also Long Lots’ 1st soccer coach, back in the day when Westport’s 3 junior highs battled each other — and Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich — in interscholastic sports.

John Day

John Day

He’d learned the game in England, during World War II. He kept 40 or so 8th and 9th graders on his teams. He didn’t have a field — football took the upper area, and the lower part had not yet been carved out of the woods — so his teams practiced on a tiny patch of grass where the playground is now. They played their home matches at the very small Green’s Farms Elementary field.

How he did it — handled so many kids, in such a limited space — I’ll never know.

But one of those soccer players was me.

I wasn’t a very good wood shop student. Nor was I a soccer star.

But John Day gave me a chance. I loved the game.

Decades later, I still do.

And — with considerably more resources than he had — I too am coaching. In fact, before I coached at Staples, I succeeded him at Long Lots.

Thanks, Mr. Day. You influenced thousands of kids.

I’m proud to say I’m one of them.

39 responses to “Remembering John Day

  1. The year was divided in two, half wood shop and half mechanical drawing. I was terrible in both. I do remember making salt and pepper shakers that looked like tombstones. They said here lies salt and here lies pepper.. He also owned a store in Westport called Furnikit. (Does anyone else remember this?) It was pre IKEA.

  2. The 3 years I spent at Long Lots I had but one regret… I didn’t get Mr. Day as my Shop teacher but ‘the other guy’. I was jealous of the boys that were in his class.
    RIP Mr Day.

  3. Old Coleytown Colt

    Looks like Long Lots Jr. High fared much better with shop teachers than Coleytown Jr. High did. Ours were a unique bunch – fortunately only one is doing hard time.

  4. Jim Honeycutt

    I taught with John for several years before coming to Staples. He was a really extraordinary colleague. He was loved by staff and students. So much so, that when he was approaching retirement, Long Lots celebrated “John Day Day”. Joe Zeighan created a “John Day Day” patch, which we all affixed to our jackets and dresses to honor him. I still have that patch in amongst my teaching memorabilia and great memories of him and his endless stories.

  5. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    At BJHS we used to ridicule our shop teacher for wearing a clip-on tie. He said he didn’t mind because he’d have the last laugh if his tie ever got caught in a spinning lathe. At that age we would have rather choked to death than be caught wearing a clip on tie.

  6. completed wood shop projects continue to serve my parents.

    • Sue Sweetnam Asetta

      I didn’t see your post prior to posting mine. I also spoke of Mom and Dad still using 🙂

  7. I had Mr. Day in shop in ’74. I remember his strict admonitions with regards to safety very well. Just a month or so ago I finished a woodworking project that my wife marveled at. I told her I learned how to do what I had done thanks to Mr. Day back in 8th grade. Now that’s leaving a (positive) mark!

  8. John Day was truly one of the best teachers i encountered. Long Lots did have a great group of teachers or varied personailties.

  9. Mr. Day gave students faith, confidence, and encouragement. As a girl, many had thought and believed that we were incapable of using heavy machinery – or that we should spend more time in home ec. He treated us all equally and taught that we can make whatever we wanted with effort and enthusiasm. Mr. Day, i believed, loved his job. he was always smiling. He certainly made a difference in my life. The items I made surprised my parents. They had the birdhouse and numerous cutting boards for years! I can still hear Mr. Day say – always wipe the board off – never use heavy cleansers and moisturize the wood with olive oil. That was the first time we used olive oil in our family.

  10. Cindy Plummer

    My mom still has the bird my little brother made in Mr Day’s class. I remember him coming to our house to talk with my parents when my brother was having a few medical problems- he was that kind of guy. My brother died in a motorcylce accident when he was 23 so that bird is especially cherished by my mom, as was Mr Day.

  11. well said, Dan.

  12. What a nice story! Rip John. Dan, keep these great writups coming. It’s so nice to hear positive compliments of how others changed or gave back to the children.

  13. Cindy: John also made small, beautifully painted birds which the WEA gave as gifts to retiring teachers. If a problem ever arose at Long Lots, as WEA prez I would head over there to meet with Joe Koeller to try to negotiate a resolution. However by the time i got there, I would find that John as Building Rep had already met with Joe and there was no need for me to be there. He was a great teacher and a great human being.

  14. Aw, Dan, thank you for that story. I didn’t know Mr. Day; we’ve only been in Connecticut for a little over 20 years and our children didn’t go through the Westport School System, but your memories recalled of this man and a time now past was very special for me this morning. With you and your blog, it’s not only what you say but HOW you say it. I look forward to it everyday and I thank you.

  15. Christie P. Class of '81

    Not only did the students adore Mr. Day, but so did my parents. My dad collected Mr. Day’s beautifully detailed carved birds which are still prominently displayed in their home all these years later. To this day if I spot a carved bird at a store or craft fair I look under the base to see if it has John Day’s name on it! My brother learned great skills from Mr. Day and had a lot of respect for him. Today my brother is a builder and has a terrific reputation for his creative finish work and attention to detail.

    Our family held John Day in high regard and has thought of him many times through the years. I’m sure he’s rising on beautifully carved wings.

  16. Great story. I realize I knew very little about the Long Lots soccer coach until I read this piece. He sounds like he had a lot in common with the wonderful first-ever soccer coach at Coleytown Jr High, Jack Finn, who had a policy of not cutting anyone and consequently provided an opportunity for so many to get their feet wet so to speak in what was then a relatively unknown sport in many parts of this country.

  17. Good Read. I think that Staples’ success in those years was due in large part to the Jr. High coaches. And I think you were a better player than you thought you were.

  18. Sue Sweetnam Asetta

    I loved him! My mother still has some of the masterpieces my brothers and I created with his guiding hand. I recently mentioned him in reference to learning about “kick back”. Thanks Dan for posting. Long Lots was a tight knit community. So many great memories.

  19. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I attended Long Lots from 1963-1966. I had Mr. Day for a study hall and that was the only way I knew him until recently. A few years ago, Rob Schmidt, a friend and former Long Lots student, came to visit us in Tucson. He had a close relationship with Mr. Day. He called Mr. Day from our home and we all hopped in the car and drove the 30 minutes south to Green Valley, where he lived. He and his wife were extremely gracious to us. Mr. Day lovingly showed us his citrus trees in the backyard, sending us home with lots of fruit. He then took us to his workshop in the garage. It was unbelievable. The garage was filled with carved birds, kachina dolls, carved, decorated walking sticks, you name it! Mr. Day also served as a Docent at the Pima Air and Space Museum. During our visit Mr. Day shared with us his experience serving in World War II. He lied about his age to get in the service before he was 18. He flew in planes that fought air battles. He was quite a guy. I am overwhelmed to think about how many students he molded and shaped to be better people in this world. Rest in peace Mr. Day.

  20. Jean Lint Mason

    Thanks for your tribute Dan. Like Sue, I too remember the “kickback” instruction. My parents had many of Mr. Day’s carved birds. They kept them on their kitchen mantel until they sold their home a few years ago.

  21. Lovely tribute, Dan.

  22. Sally Campbell Palmer

    So nice to hear so many loving compliments for a change! Thanks, Dan, look forward to reading your posts every day.

  23. Charlie Cuseo

    I had Mr. Day for wood shop all three years in Long Lots. I was also fortunate to play soccer for him for two years as goalie. He was not only a good coach in soccer and wood shop, but he always taught us about life. I used to sit after school with him and others and just carve birds and talk about all kinds of subjects. He was a true friend and a good person. He will be missed by all who knew him. Rest in peace my friend!!

  24. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Dan, if you Google, “John Day, Green Valley, AZ” you should be able to find his obituary. Way too short and does not elaborate on all of Mr. Day’s accomplishments!

  25. He was such a good man,,, the kids could use him today….

  26. Jill Denowitz

    Was a great teacher at long lots…we made a cool paper dispenser for telephone notes that sat by my parents’ phone on high point road until they moved…certainly stood the test of time and it was quite functional!
    I remember him fondly!

  27. Heidi A. Lord

    Mr. Day was an amazing person. He and my dad, Ben Lord worked together and were friends outside of school. We went on many family trips together and he was such fun! I also took his shop class. He help me build a big “dog” house for a bunny I rescued. Having a horse farm now, I work with wood in alot of ways, I always think of him. Outside of school, his was a talented bird decoy artist, his works sell for a ton of money. I am sorry he is gone but glad he was part of my life.

  28. John Day’s shop classes were a highlight of the Junior High experience at Long Lots in the mid-60s. In 7th grade, the projects were drawn from short lists of tried-and-true plans (memo roll holders, salt and pepper shakers), but in 8th grade we were encouraged to design our own — dog-food scoops, custom display cases, turned salad bowls — even a rocket launching console. Some of them survive at home to this day. Unlike Gym class, everyone was made welcome, and there was no hierarchy of talent. The skills he shared lasted a lifetime. I only wish my kids could have had the same opportunities to learn the satisfaction of making things with their own hands.

    Thank you, Mr. Day.

    Scott E. Brodie, Long Lots ’67

  29. First off.. Dan. Thank you ! for posting this heart felt remembrance of Mr. Day.. I would have never known about his passing without.
    I was a student of Mr. Day’s during my threes years at Long Lots.. I have nothing but great memories. In his class and on the field. During the soccer years.. I was one of the lucky ones to see the opening of the lower field. We had great cross town bang up games on that field against Coley Town and Bedford.. Mr. Day was a great coach !! along with his assistant
    “Sam” In his wood shop class I learned all of the basic skills of wood working. I still use these skills today as a building contractor. I’ve been self employed 31 years. Mr. Day also tough me how to hand carve one bird.. It wasn’t very good . But ! i did it.. Mr. Day was a wonderful and talented man.. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have known him. I’m sad to here of his passing.. God Bless you Mr. D.

    extremly lucky to have known him..

    • Lou and I were in the same class togather with Mr, Day. Boy, we had fun. I only wish we knew way back then how lucky we were to be in such a great place with great people. Take care Louis…….

  30. When I share with friends or my kids about my years in school, they inevitably marvel at the opportunities afforded students in Westport (HS radio station, anyone?), and that includes metalshop and woodshop in jr. high. I recall Mr. Day asking us all to go and buy straightedge razors so we could grind them down and make the ideal woodcarving knives from scratch. When my family watches me sharpen our own kitchen knives on my Arkansas whetstone, they know it’s because I learned that skill in jr. high from Mr. Day. And just a few years ago I had the honor of going back east to clear out my deceased grandmother’s home in NJ. On the her kitchen table 25+ years after the making was a whale cut out of black walnut and glued to a clothespin base that I proudly made for her as a Christmas present. John Day touched people he never met.

  31. What a great guy. I still have the book case he helped me build. He was also a talented wood carver and made increadable duck decoys. He was one of many that made Long Lots such a great school. God bless him.

  32. It’s funny how as educators you don’t always see the good you’ve done immediately! Sometimes it takes years when a student comes back to you and says, “I really loved your class and I’m interested in what we did these days and I think I’d like to pursue it”
    It can warm your heart and make you very happy to see this!

  33. Mr. Day was my wood shop teacher in the mid-70’s. He nick-named me Hank Stram. In addition to being an amazing shop teacher, he taught me wood-carving, knife making, and sharpening. He even game me a laminated maple bench top which I use to this day in my basement wood shop. As I hand down the skills he taught me to my teenage son, I think of him frequently. He was one of those special teachers that takes an interest in you and stays with you the rest of your life.

  34. Douglass Davidoff

    The dorky sign I made in John Day’s shop reading simply “I LOVE YOU” is one of my mother’s enduring prized possessions. My dad was especially fond of it.

    Thanks, Mr. Day. Farewell.

  35. Rob Schmidt 67

    Mr. Day was without a doubt the teacher who influenced my life the most at the Westport school system from teaching me skills in both woodworking and life. I loved listening to his stories of flying his missions over Germany as a ball turret gunner in a B-17. we fished together, carved birds together, and worked together at Furn-A-KIT, the business he started with the late Charlie Ehrens. The last time I saw Mr. Day he snuck my friend and me into the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, AZ before it opened so we could climb in and around the WW11 era B-17 what a treat for a WWII buff like me. For a man who had far from a carefree childhood, he turned out to be one hell of a nice guy! I will miss him. Rob Schmidt ’67

  36. Bruce Robinson

    Mr. Day helped me make a wooden rooster which my mother wanted and she prized it until her death in 1991. I believe this was the class of 1960. He was always nice to me even though I couldn’t even hammer a nail into a board! Bless him.