Friday Flashback #363

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the opening of Coleytown Elementary School.

That seems like a long time ago. In the 7 decades since, we’ve seen a host of school changes. From a “new” (then “modernized,” and now “really new” — though already nearly 20 years old) Staples High School, to “new” schools like Burr Farms and Hillspoint that opened, closed and now are just vague memories, to schools like Bedford and Saugatuck that have changed physical locations), tens of thousands of students have passed through Coleytown’s halls.

And — though it’s been expanded a bit — members of that first 1953 class would recognize those halls easily today.

The original Coleytown Elementary School.

However, that opening day 70 years ago is not so far away. Several former students emailed memories of their first year to “06880.”

Happily, one of the first 1st grade teachers — Dorothy Hall — is still alive.

And still in Westport.

She and her husband — retired Staples High School educator Gordon Hall — live here in town.

Jane Nordli Jessep’s 1st grade classroom, with Dorothy Hall. Twelve members of that class went all the way through the Westport schools, graduating with Staples High School’s Class of 1965.

Pat Small’s taught 2nd grade, the next year.

Ann Sheffer was in Coleytown’s first kindergarten class (and was part of the first graduating class to go all the way through the school, 6 years later).

Ann’s first grade teacher was Pat Small. That year she married Paul Lane. Every student in the class was invited to the wedding.

Paul went on to coach Staples football and track teams. Like the Halls, he and Pat lived for many years in Westport. 

Ann Sheffer’s 1st grade class, with Pat Small. Ann is at the far right. 

Those early years are vivid, in the minds of the initial cohort of students. Jane Nordli Jessep remembers “Coleytown Capers.” the fundraising show drew on the formidable talents of school parents, many of whom were in show business.

Jane’s mother Betty had been a big band singer in the late 1930s and early ’40s. In “Capers” she sang a torch song called “The Girl in the Picture.” The final line was apt: “He works all day in the city, so we can live in the country, and spend all our time apart.”

Of course, plenty of parents found time to stage and perform in “Coleytown Capers.” Among the notable: Hal James. The future Broadway producer of “Man of La Mancha” was the Capers’ producer/director.

This edition of the “Coleytown Capers” ran for 3 nights. 

Harriet Wolfson Flehinger has memories too.

Her mother, Hortense Wolfson, taught for 25 years, almost from the start.

After retiring she stayed on as a substitute teacher, until she was 80.

Hortense Wolfson’s 3rd grade class, around 1960.

Harriet’s 1st grade Coleytown El teacher was “Miss Barbara.”

“We learned later that we were asked to call her Miss Barbara because her last name was Worms. It was determined that 6-year-olds could not be trusted to call their teacher Miss Worms,” Harriet recalls.

Miss Barbara, with Harriet Wolfson’s 1st grade class.

Her father, Harry Wolfson, was a stage manager in the Coleytown Capers. One year the cast and crew gave him a small award. He kept it for 30 years.

Harriet also remembers noted artist Stevan Dohanos’ mural.

“I thought it was the biggest horse in the world,” she says. “When I envision it in my mind, I still see it from the perspective of a small child.”

Stevan Dohanos’ mural.

In around 3rd grade, Harriet says, every Coleytown student lined up in the auditorium for polio vaccine shots.

That was also the era of air raid drills. Students lined up inside hallways, and crouched down hands on top of their heads. “In retrospect,” Harriet says, “that was laughable.”

Everyone was proud of the school’s innovation: an outside door for every classroom.

During fire drills, students were told, they cold empty the school in less than 2 minutes.

There was a fort out back, on the primary grade playground. Harriet always wanted to play in it, with the boys.

Finally, they let her make mud balls that they threw at each other. “I thought I was really one of the boys,” she says.

Rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion.

Harriet recalls her teachers’ names: Miss Barbara, Miss Small, Mrs. Capasse, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Friedman, Mr Amundsen. “Funny I can remember all of them, but not what I ate for lunch yesterday!” she laughs.

As she got older and returned to the school, Harriet was struck by Coleytown’s architecture.

“It seems to fit the lay of the land so well. I’m not so sure about all the extensions. But the original building was so graceful.”

Coleytown Elementary School today …

… and the view from the air.

(Wherever you went to elementary school, you’re invited to enjoy our flashbacks, every Friday. You’re also welcome to support “06880.” Just click here — and thank you!)

Ann Sheffer’s 5th grade teacher, Mr. Donofrio.

Ann Sheffer heads off to Coleytown Elementary School.

14 responses to “Friday Flashback #363

  1. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    Great story! I had the pleasure of having Mrs. Dorothy Hall as my 2d Grade teacher at Saugatuck Elementary after she moved there from Coleytown. I renewed my acquaintance with her a few years ago and she and Gordon are doing very well. Her birthday is this Sunday on the 3rd.

  2. My Westport schooling began at Bedford Elementary )later City Hall) and onto Coleytown in 1953 as a third grader. Mrs. Capasse was my third grade teacher who taught us about the new phone number system in Westport starting with capital seven (227). I can vividly recall the beautiful Stevan Dohanos mural and lining up for our polio shots. I can still remember some of the new school song for our new school (…Coleytown, Coleytown, we love you). Does it still exist? Happy school lunches and Foyr Square on the playground. Good times.

    • I remember almost all the words to that song, but I bet the children now don’t know it or sing it.
      “Coleytown, Coleytown,
      Friends tried and true.
      Coleytown, Coleytown,
      We love you.
      (The next line I can’t remember…but it ends with
      We will all be true.
      Coleytown, Coleytown,
      WE LOVE YOU.”
      Basically, though it might have had other verses as well.
      It was truly a great school.
      Thanks for posting this stroll down memory lane, Dan.

  3. When we toured our “new” elementary school, transferring to Coleytown from Bedford Elementary, now town hall, our first sight as we entered the front door was Steve Dohanas putting the finishing touches on the painting of a horse and rider that adorned the entrance’s facing wall.

    Coleytown Capers followed shortly thereafter, billed as a fundraiser for student activities, and a year later we graduated from Coleytown, moving on to Bedford Junior High School, now Kings Highway Elementary.

    Our class, the Staples Class of 1961, was the first to attend all three years of high school in the then “new” Staples High School. Those were interesting and formative times in Westport.

  4. A lot of familiar names here starting with our wonderful former neighbor Dot Hall. It was really something for me to see that pic of Dot from 1953-54.

    My first day at Coleytown El was April 1, 1963—4th grade. I do not recall any individual classroom photos from 5th grade. In 6th grade, we had one giant group photo comprising all three homerooms with just under 100 kids—or almost 33 kids per classroom! Holy cow!

    The outside doors to each classroom were naturally ideal for getting recess off to a quick start.

    My homeroom teachers were Mrs, Friedman, Miss Belz, and Mrs. Hawes. I did have Mr. Donofrio for math one year.

    Finally, coming from PS 179 in Queens, where we had a wonderful auditorium, I was surprised that there was no auditorium at Coleytown El. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • That should read Mr. Hawes (who was among my best teachers at any level—including college).

      And re that baseball diamond: I think that might have been put in when CJHS was built.

    • Harriet Flehinger

      Fred- There was a huge auditorium, with a big raised stage. It was the gym, but could be set up as an auditorium with folding chairs. Coleytown Capers was presented on that big stage for years.

  5. One more thing, rethe rear view photo of Coleytown prior to expansion: I took that I think in 1975-77. The baseball diamond in the foreground I don’t believe existed when we were at Coleytown El in the 1960s although my memory could be off.

    • Fred…When I was in 5th and 6th grade I used to hang out to watch Little League games at Coleytown, probably had a crush on some boy. That was 1957,58,59, so yes there was a really nice baseball diamond in those days. Also, a less fancy one nearer the building, we used to play kickball there.

  6. Thank you, Dan and all of the contributors & commenters to today’s Friday Flashback feature.

    Thank you for bringing the first week of the school year to a close with an homage to the 70 year history of Coleytown Elementary School and the teachers, staff and pupils who were there at the start.

  7. Loved reminiscing with Ann’s pics ❤️ and reminds me of my own in Sands Point, LI until 8th grade and our move to CT 😁

  8. Paul Lane was so popular that Pat Lane seems to get short shrift. She was a lovely woman and became a popular Special Ed teacher with a special little “aeirie” at the top of Greens Farms School.

  9. Kathy Herstein Weiss

    What a wonderful flashback!! I, too, went to that beautiful Coleytown School from kindergarten through grade 6. I found myself in the picture of Miss Small’s 2nd grade classroom, and also was in Mr. Donofrio’s 5th grade class. Such an exciting year, as he was my very first male teacher. Lynn O’Dell was our wonderful principal at the time. Continued onto Long Lots Jr. High School and graduated Staples, class of 1967. Decided to become a teacher, and found myself substituting at Coleytown here and there before marriage and temporarily leaving town. Thanks for the fond memories………….

  10. How great to see a photo of Mr. Donofrio after all these years. He was a big personality and a memorable teacher. He taught us that when you dried your face with a towel you should always pat it dry and never rub it because that’s how you’d avoid wrinkles. Talk about a truly useful life lesson!

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