Staples’ 129th Graduation Is Nothing Like Its 50th. Or 1st.

Tomorrow afternoon, 483 Staples seniors graduate. For them, the high school’s 129th commencement ceremony is a time to look ahead.

The other day, Mary Schmerker looked back. She thought about her own graduation, in 1958. That was the first one held in the auditorium of the brand new North Avenue campus.

But Mary was thinking much further back. She found a graduation program from 1937. Her mother, Ramona Otis, was in that class — and her grandmother, Mrs. Arthur Otis, was the musical accompanist.

That long-ago event — when President Roosevelt was just beginning his 2nd term, the Golden Gate Bridge opened and the Hindenburg crashed — took place at Bedford Junior High School (now Kings Highway Elementary). Staples (the current Saugatuck El) had no auditorium of its own.

SHS 50th grad - cover

The graduating class of 88 students was divided into 3 groups: college course, general course and commercial course.

There were just 14 teachers. Among them: Staples legends Eli Berton, Gladys Mansir,  Rhoda Merritt (later Rhoda Harvey), Walter Stevenson and Roland Wachob.

The graduation ceremony included several awards. The PTA gave one for highest 4-year average in English. The honoree (not listed) received $5.

The printed program was highlighted by a letter from Connecticut governor Wilbur Cross. It was more than a formality.

Governor Cross wrote:

I shall never forget the pleasant year I spent in Westport as the second principal of Staples High School. It was the academic year 1885-86. During that time I was very closely associated with Mr. Horace Staples who was then 85 years old.

Cross was not just the 22-year-old principal. He also taught Latin, Greek, English literature and geometry. One student memorized the entire first book of “Paradise Lost.”

“I still have a warm heart for the Staples High School,” Governor Cross concluded.

Governor Wilbur Cross' letter in the commencement program -- with a photo of Staples High School.

Governor Wilbur Cross’ letter in the commencement program — with a photo of Staples High School.

Cross did not preside over a graduation ceremony. That was still a year away. The school had opened a year earlier, so the 1st 4-year graduates did not receive diplomas until 1887.

There were only 6.

So — as Staples prepares for its 129th commencement ceremony — let’s give a shout-out to its 1st-ever class of graduates: Nellie Elwood, Florence Fyfe, Hope Lewis, Bessie Marvin, Lena Morehouse and Josephine West.

Yes, that 1st graduating class was all girls. The boys had left school, to work on Westport’s farms.

A mere 33 years later, those 6 graduates won the right to vote.

Ten years after that, they might have voted for their former principal, in his race for governor of Connecticut.

11 responses to “Staples’ 129th Graduation Is Nothing Like Its 50th. Or 1st.

  1. Mark Samuels

    Thank you Dan.

  2. As a member of the Class of 1968, I remember there was no graduation ceremony at all. We put on the apparel and marched toward the bleachers on the football field but there was the rumbling of thunder as we were getting into our seats. As the storm approached quickly, a decision was made to race back to the gym. The idea of any ceremony was abandoned and we were told we would receive our diplomas in the mail. And so it was in June 1968.

  3. Any chance we could get a list of the graduates of 1937? Sure there are some names of family members of many of your blog subscribers…

    • Check back later today…

      • Here are the 1937 graduates.

        College course: Jean Allen, Stephen Anderson, Frances Benedict, Ann Breyer, Dorothy Collis, James Crowell, Robert Davidson, David Dennison, Richard Ehrlich, Herschel Elliott, Carmen Fike, Nellie Fluder, Doris Gordon, Richard Gordon, Joseph Gray, Dorothy Hay, John Heller, Joan Kay, Robert Keedick, Barbara Lane, Marjorie Macrae, Frederick Meyer, Loren Northrop, Martha Noy, Ramona Otis, Malcolm Paine, Bunelle Rehber, Eloise Reilly, Philip Rock, Alyse Sakowsky, Kenneth Scofield, Betty Smith,, Donald Tuttle.

        General course: Joseph Agostini, David Allen, Charlotte Chamberlain, Charlotte Deely, Alexander Gombos, Evelyn Ferguson, Gertrude Hannan, Mary Herbert, Anthony Horelick, Dorothy Kirby, Jessie Larkin, Bernice Legge, Helen McGrath, Rita Nowack, Mary Raymond, Mildred Saunders, Priscilla Shriver, Anthony Slez, Doris Webber, Donald Werner.

        Commercial course: Lowry Andrews, James Barker, Anthony Barone, Dolores Bellucci, Dominick Bennette, Harry Bloomberg, Morfenia Capetanidis, Lena Carusone, Ethel Closson, Illia Dake, Ella Disbrow, Neil Duffy, Katherine Feeney, Jack Grant, Michael Gurn, Ruth Haskins, Elizabeth Hewes, Louis Jacobson, Barbara Klett, Betty Koopman, Mary Main, Alma Manzi, Elizabeth McDonald, Martha Mills, William Mills, Anna Pollack, Dominick Postorino, Anna Renzulli, Kathryn Roberts, Ethel Scribner, Earl Skinner, William Sunderland, Loren Troy, Lillian Twarda, Angeline Valiante.

  4. Lost in that great story is that even 100 years school buildings were recycled for general town use. If my mind’s eye is correct, what was in 1887, Staples, later became Town Hall.

  5. Loretta Santella Hallock.

    Town Hall was the original Bedford Elementary School. The late Jane Lehn Koeller went to school there and later worked there in the Personnel Department.

  6. I thought this may have been my dad’s class (Donald Kellogg); somewhere packed away are his yearbooks. So he was probably Class of ’38. I do remember Stephen Anderson (Steppy) who I connected with back in the 80’s and he told me that my parent’s wedding was the occasion of the year for which he bought his wife a new dress. Boy have times changed…

  7. Jack Whittle

    In my collection of Staples yearbooks I have one from 1946, which came with a graduation program tucked inside. And it looks remarkably similar to the one in the above story – same picture of who I assume is Mr. Staples on the front cover, also held in Bedford Junior High School auditorium, familiar last names among the grads, etc.

    70 years ago, these graduates would be around 88 today if still living.