By Curtis Rhodes
As I write this, another school year is about to begin. Boys and girls will once again be leaving their bikes at the racks and carrying their new pads and pens and pencils up the hill and enter the freshly scrubbed halls of Pierson High School. Its been a few years but I remember so well entering that building every September, after an idyllic summer, and feeling once again the dread of another year. But also a comfortable feeling of being back with the kids and teachers I had spent every year with since I first started at Pierson in September, 1950.
The smell of old chalk and locker rooms and muddy boots and rancid kids was temporarily gone. A fresh smell of floors that glistened with the wax that Vinnie and Morley and Mr. Beebee had spent the summer applying and fresh paint on the walls of the broad staircases leading up to my third floor homeroom and the new corduroys and sneakers I was wearing filled me with an anticipation that…this year, I was really going to buckle down and get some good grades!
Well, a few weeks of trying to keep awake during class as the leaves outside the tall windows began to change and the radiators began their creaking and banging and hissing and I was a lost cause…again. I just wasn’t cut out to be a scholar. Somehow, however, something, (osmosis I suppose,) got me through. And not only got me through, but gave me the knowledge of history, science, geography, math, even enough French and English to, to this day, allows me to shout out questions on Jeopardy, look like a genius next to Jay Leno’s Streetwalkers, and still spiel out lengthy quotes from Shakespeare and the Declaration of Independence.
Who gave me this knowledge? I’ll tell you. It was this group of people pictured above. These are the teachers of Pierson High School, most of whom were there when my brother Craig started first grade in 1947 until my brother Kit graduated in 1966.
About a year ago The Express published this photo and, nobody recognized them! Much to my shame, I, too, didn’t offer the names of the people in this picture. These people who not only were among the most important people in my life, but in lives of the hundreds of those who attended Pierson throughout the 1950s and 60s.
I’ll try to be brief even though each one of these people elicit long and wonderful stories. (Most of the people, anyway…there are a couple I don’t know.)
As I said, I attended Pierson High School starting in kindergarten in 1950. Well, maybe it wasn’t truly a high school but that’s irrelevant.
Kindergarten was Mrs. Edwards, the happy lady, third from the left in the middle row. She was the wife of the kindly postmaster, Mr. Edwards. We had milk every day brought to us in small glass milk bottles by The Head of the Pond Dairy and we sang songs and played games and loved our mornings with Mrs. Edwards.
When Craig started Pierson in first grade (he was the smart one in the family and skipped kindergarten…) Mrs. Topping was his teacher. In 1947 I thought she was the most beautiful teacher in the world and really hoped that she wouldn’t grow old and retire by 1951. Luckily for me she didn’t. She is the pretty lady who is at the third from the left in the front row.
For some reason, we had two second grade teachers at Pierson High School. I had Mrs. Gregory who is the first lady on the left in the second row. My brother Kit had Mrs. Smith who is fifth from the left in the front row. Mrs Smith insisted on calling Kit (whose name is Christopher) Chris… and he swears it has scarred him to this day. He’s overly dramatic.
I loved third grade where we made butter and really started getting into pressuring our parents into buying the magazines we were recruited to sell at the first assembly every year. Miss Battle taught third. She’s over there in the lower right. Miss Battle passed away just a few years ago. She made it into her hundreds!
Mrs. Payne taught fourth. Mrs. Payne lived right there on Main Street and every time we headed down street we knew she knew what we were up to. There was no escaping Mrs. Payne’s eye. Mrs. Payne is right behind Mrs. Topping…second row, second from the left.
Fifth grade was the wild card at Pierson. Just about every year there was a new teacher for fifth. When I was in third grade, 1953 (about the time this photo was taken, I think, Mr. Chick…Nick Chick…was brought in as coach. You’ll see him on the far left in the third row.) Mr. Chick had two kids, Mary Lou and Billy. Mary Lou Chick was in my class and she was as pretty as her name suggests. When we entered fifth grade, Mr. Chick became our teacher.
Things started getting serious, academically speaking, in sixth grade. Mrs. Hildreth knew we kids weren’t interested in anything but trouble and ruled with an iron fist. Funny, she doesn’t look so tough, there in the very middle of the picture with the blonde hair.
In seventh grade we suddenly became upper classmen and moved on up to the third floor. We were assigned a homeroom teacher and when the bell rang we would scoop up our books and mosey on to our next class. Miss Gregory was our homeroom teacher. Always a little exasperated and overwhelmed by us, but she really loved the Class of 1963 and was our best friend throughout high school. Miss Gregory is looking exasperated in the photo here at the lower left.
Miss Gregory was also our English teacher and it was she who made me memorize, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day…” And boy, did it! These days were becoming very long.
The bell did ring, however and across the hall to history with Mrs. Muller, who is standing next to Miss Gregory (in the white suit and glasses.) History. New York State, Ancient, American, European, World! We were sure she had lived through it all.
Then there was Mr. Wescott. Math. He’s in the middle of the top row. Another great teacher, but really tough. No messin’ with Mr. Wescott… but also just the teacher you wanted on your side.
The fourth of the “Old Guard” seen here is Mr. Daniels. Science. He’s upper right hand corner. Another great teacher who gave his all to his students, against all odds. We teased him unmercifully, I’m sorry to say.
Our French teacher … seen third from the right in the bottom row … came to Pierson a Miss (?), Craig remembers, but after she married Joe Schiavoni, she became forever after Mrs. Schiavoni. The French teacher.
I wish I knew everyone in this photo but there are at least two more who made a big impact in the lives of everyone who attended Pierson.
Mr. Mahar! The guy who looks a little like Jackie Gleason…third row, second from the left. He taught shop but was most remembered as the guy who taught us all to drive. Loved by all!
And finally, Pop Mazzeo, up there at the top with the white hair. Renowned as the John Phillip Sousa of Sag Harbor. Band leader and music teacher extraordinaire. Much has been written about Pop Mazzeo.
Oh, I should mention someone who isn’t pictured here but was at the core of Pierson from 1947 through 1966, William P. Crozier, our principal. Willie the Whip. Tough yet compassionate. The perfect guy to lead these great teachers throughout an amazing era.
And so, from Mrs. Edwards whose Kindergarten room is right there, first door on the right on the first floor, to Miss Gregory’s homeroom, three floors above, I was dragged, mostly kicking and screaming, from room to room, floor to floor. I think you can tell, however, that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend those years anywhere else. And, believe it or not, (I still don’t). I managed to graduate with a Regent’s Scholarship!!! Miracles never cease.