You Can Go Home (To Coleytown El) Again

In 1963, Fred Cantor’s parents moved to Easton Road from Queens. Two years later he graduated from Coleytown Elementary School, just down the street.

To mark that 50th anniversary, a small group — Fred, Nancy Saipe, Leslie Schine, Andy Lewis, Jeff Wilkins, Dan Magida and Cherie Flom Quain — arranged a literal stroll down memory lane. Principal Janna Sirowich and her assistant Carol Borrman helped them take a tour of the current school on Tuesday. Here’s Fred’s report:

Coleytown was K-6 during our time there — the peak years of the baby boom era. Our 1965 photo shows 97 kids in 6th grade. We had 3 teachers, so that’s 32-33 students per class!

Coleytown Elementary School's graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Coleytown Elementary School’s graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Most in our group had not been back inside in decades. Some long-lost or fuzzy memories were jogged during our visit.

There was no formal auditorium at Coleytown. The gym with a stage on the side doubled as the auditorium. We had an annual Christmas concert there. Parents sat in rows of folding chairs on the basketball court.

The gym/stage space brought back memories of a graduation ceremony. Boys and girls walked in from the playground. We were lined up by height, from shortest to tallest.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

Walking down the corridors and visiting old classrooms evoked other images from the distant past:

  • Nap time in kindergarten, where kids stretched out on giant towels.
  • A particularly unruly 3rd grader who was disciplined regularly by having his desk placed in the hallway.
  • Developing a newspaper-reading habit for current events discussions, by clipping stories on topics like civil rights and space exploration.

Everyone remembered recess fondly. Popular games were 4-square and “maul the ball carrier” (tackling the kid with the ball — an activity schools might not embrace today).

Report cards have certainly evolved over 50 years. Our 5th grade math classes were divided into “fast,” “high average” and “low average” tracks. We were also graded on “penmanship.”

Fred Cantor's report card.

Fred Cantor’s 5th grade report card. It’s quite a bit different from those used today. According to teacher Miss Belz, Fred “made good progress this year.”

At this stage of life, thinking back on those early childhood years elicits thoughts of classmates and friends no longer with us.

Those feelings were particularly poignant this week. Our classmate Andy Lewis — who looked very forward to the tour — died of an apparent heart attack just days before he was to head to Westport.

My last email exchange with Andy was about our Coleytown experiences. He said he’d walked home for lunch “if the menu was bad, like fish sticks.”

Andy’s sudden death is also a reminder that we never know what the future holds. We should be grateful for every opportunity to reunite with old friends.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

17 responses to “You Can Go Home (To Coleytown El) Again

  1. One thing I meant to note was that one of the teachers we all have wonderful memories of was Lee Hawes. And we had this terrific experience at a high school reunion roughly 10-15 years ago when Jeff Wilkins, who at the time knew Lee Hawes’ daughter in Newtown, invited Mr. Hawes to join us at the reunion. It gave us a chance to thank him and let him know how much he inspired us.

    What was amazing too was how much detail he remembered from our class.

    • Lee Hawes was a tremendous educator. He also happened to be George Wallace’s roommate at the University of Alabama, and had some very intriguing stories about those days. Needless to say, his politics were not exactly the same as the governor’s!

  2. Adam Schwartz '75

    Is the Little League field still back in the corner behind the school? When i played on that field they used plastic lines and nailed them into the ground. Not much sliding into home in those days! That one picture of the back of the school was taken from the 1st base side of Colertown Jr. High baseball field.

    • Yes, the LL field is still there in the same place. And, yes that pic of the back of the school was taken by the 1st-base side of the Coleytown Jr High field (in the mid-1970s).

  3. Jack Whittle

    Awesome story – As Fred can confirm, much of Coleytown remains just as it was was back then – the little league field is still there, and there is still no formal auditorium at Coleytown; the gym (with a stage on the side) continues to serve as the auditorium, with parents sitting in rows of folding chairs on the basketball court for school events. The school is like a time capsule, and, most important, it still has fantastic teachers who inspire kids.

  4. Adam Schwartz '75

    Fred, after my first reply I started to think. I also went to CES but we went to CJHS for 6, 7, 8 and 9th grades. I was three years behind you (5th grade=67/68) so when did the change happen or is my memory completely screwed up? (FYI… Not sure if you were trying to be PC but by the time we were in 5th grade, we called it “Smear The Queer”. Not trying to offend, just speaking the truth)

    • Adam, Coleytown Jr. High opened in September 1965, so my class was part of the first group to attend the school. My recollection is that Coleytown Jr. High started off with grades 6-9, so my class would have been the last 6th-grade class at Coleytown El.

      Also, I have no idea re the phrase you’re referring to; I never heard it before. But, our good friend Andy, who just died of an apparent heart attack, was gay and did not come out until he was in his mid-40s. Among the reasons for that was the tremendous discrimination and ostracism that existed back in the day. And thankfully that has changed in a major way. So I am not questioning your recollection; I just don’t recall any expression like that.

  5. Fred, Leslie, Nancy, Dan, Cherie… this is great! You all were my peers/classmates; I’m in the second row, second from the right in the class pic. Sorry to hear about Andy. We’re at that age. I played trombone in those holiday concerts (and not very well at that… giving it up shortly thereafter). We used to get music lessons in the boy’s locker room; great reverb from the shower. I remember one class in sixth grade where the power of swallowing was demonstrated by a classmate (Bodecker?) standing on his head and drinking a glass of water. That’s inspired teaching! Then there was kitchen physics, with lots of milk cartons and straws leaking water. A gravity demonstration? I also remember – not so fondly – that disruptively laughing and passing notes would keep our entire third grade class in from recess, writing a hundred times, “I will not laugh in class.” It ruined my cursive, and to this day, my print handwriting is horrible; her name is long forgotten, but even then I knew she wasn’t a very good teacher. Another memory: climbing the rope in gym class all the way to the ceiling, which was a million miles above us, and playing dodge ball as a gym activity, where the big kids always creamed the rest of us. And the coach always calling me “Joe,” which of course I wouldn’t answer to. FInally, I remember sometime in the Eighties walking through CES and noting how incredibly small the desks and chairs were, and then thinking that we actually fit into those once. Thanks for the memories. Stay happy and healthy, all of you!

    • Mike, I remember you. I was terrible at climbing the rope–although I thought we didn’t do that until jr high–and also recall dodgeball vividly (and wanting Curt Masterson(?) on my side because he was one of the heavyweights in that game and I was small for my age. Your recollection about Sandy Bodecker is most likely spot on; he lived near me on Silverbrook and was very agile (and a superb skier).

  6. Great memories. I was a year or two behind you. I have been back to Coleytown Elementary on several occasions (over the years) to reconnect with Mrs. (Sue) Spencer and Mr. (Al) Donofrio who had a tremendous impact on my Wonder Bread years. The water fountains are so low! I learned to tie my shoes (kinda) in Mrs. Crews kindergarten class. Recess was the best. The little league field had the best snack bar anywhere. We used to walk home and the fire house had a coke machine I think is was a dime. Those were the days! I have lost touch with so many but recall and fondly those I went from kindergarten to junior high (I was the first 6th grade class) to staples. I don’t remember many of the guys, but I remember Dorothy Broadman, Mary Beth Kyle, Julia Shay, Sue Kahn, Kathy Krien, Leslie Cannon, Ann Becker, Teri Tippit and I am sure others!

  7. Steve McCoy (go Burr farms)

    Fred. I think there must have grade inflation at CE. There is NO way you deserved a B for penmanship!

    • Diller, you are not the only person who has had that reaction to the grade for Penmanship. (And I was somewhat surprised myself when I dug out this report card.) A couple of years later, at Coleytown Jr High, Mr. Osowsky was not as kind to me in grading my technique in Mechanical Drawing.

  8. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    Fred, of course you still have your 5th grade report card. So do I except it was from a different state. Long live ephemera.

  9. Carissa Simon Baker

    What a joy reading about your trip down memory lane and all of the great comments written here! I moved to Connecticut entering 5th grade at Bedford El. Had an occasion a few years back to take a stroll through what is now the town hall. Although the building has changed, it was thrilling to be back in those halls. I was flooded with memories, as you all were walking through Coleytown El. And I was certain I heard the echo of our voices, giggles and Mrs. Lyon’s playing of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” as she did each morning as we entered class to start our day.

    Great picture of all of you. Didn’t get to know any of you until Coleytown Jr. High in gr. 7, which was such fun! What a blessing it was! Fond memories of you all!

    Much love,

  10. Carissa, that’s very cool that your teacher (or principal) played “Downtown” every morning. That is a wonderful memory and it must have been a fun way to start the day.

    And that triggered a Coleytown pop music memory for me. In 5th grade (when Beatlemania hit) during a class music lesson, Laurie Dworkow–at least I think it was Laurie–wanted the teacher to let us do a Beatles song as a singalong. She rallied the troops so to speak in support as the teacher initially declined her request; and others spoke up seconding Laurie’s request. (Did this qualify as our first student protest of the sixties?). The music teacher–Mr. Hanulik?–however continued to politely decline and we did some other song he had originally planned to do.

    Margaret, as part of the Ephemera Twins, I know you won’t be surprised to hear that I also have my Sunday school report card from that year. But I know you have lots more Staples stuff than I do!

  11. Nancy W Hunter

    Wonderful to see old school photos, especially the rearview shot of Coleytown which brought back so many memories of recess breaks and gym kickball, grade 2 through 5. It was great to be able to run directly back into the classroom from, what seemed like, an enormous field!
    While I’ve kept a fair bit from my Westport years, some was lost during many moves (wish I still had my Coleytown Jr. High yearbook!).
    Thanks to people like Fred, though, who has managed to keep and file everything from photos to report cards (and field day ribbons, newspaper clippings… no doubt!), so many memories are jogged.

    Thanks again, Fred!

    p.s. wasn’t the LL team named the Marauders?