Thursday, May 14, 2009

Miss Mercer and 1st Grade - 1961-62!

Miss Mercer - mention that name and you immediately recall what that class was like. For me the first thing that comes to mind is doing "The Twist" at our desks in the morning after the Pledge and morning prayer! Miss Mercer would put "The Twist" on the bulky school record player and we would twist 'til our sides ached! It was great fun and always set the tone for the day - we were ready for anything!

This was also the time we were introduced to Dick & Jane! The Dick & Jane readers were instrumental in teaching us how to read and write at the time. Think & Do books were also a major part of our learning process. Of Dick & Jane Pat says: "Dick and Jane still rule but I used many books and my own imagination to keep you all connected and fascinated. Variety is the key."

Above is Karen Pursiano's "New Before We Read" workbook. Karen was a grade below us and is Linda's sister.

After Mrs. Janicke in kindergarten, Pat Mercer was our first full-time teacher. Bruce Meneghin, Melanie Teasley and I would walk to school together each morning. As I recall, I loved going to school each day as a direct result of Miss Mercer. She made learning fun, but I realized later in life that I probably started school a year too early - for the most part I was always a struggling student - always trying to catch up but loved every minute of school.

We had great parties too including our first big Valentine's Day party when we decorated this huge box where we would deposit all our valentine cards that we wrote to our classmates. At the afternoon party they were distributed to everyone. It was great fun and I remember always looking forward to the cards from the girls!

Above is an early Think & Do workbook similar to the kind we used.

We had a huge class - I mean huge - 32 kids! So Miss Mercer received help during the entire year from a woman name Grace Hensley who helped Pat get through the year - I can't imagine having 32 1st grade kids in one class! Pat recalls Grace warmly. She remained friends with her for several years until she moved from Ridgewood. Grace helped with all the paperwork and grading. She is now deceased but Pat says "I adored her!" Grace is pictured in our class photo.

Pat Mercer grew up in Margate City, NJ which is a Jersey Shore town. As she herself recalls, "It was a wonderful place to grow up and I still return often. Living in a resort town was lots of fun."

Above is a photo of Atlantic City High School where Pat graduated. It was built in 1922 but was torn down in the 1990's for something even better than a school - a parking lot! Kinda reminds you of that song by Joni Mitchell.

Pat was the 3rd of 4 children and all 4 attended and graduated Atlantic City High School. This historic and beautiful school was amazingly torn down about 15 years ago to make way for - are you ready - a casino parking lot! Sure they built a new school but ACHS was a memorable school, built in the gothic style. On a website I recentlly found this about the old ACHS: " As you walk through the halls and the rooms of these old buildings that are no longer in use, you sense a feeling of loss for the beauty that was held within these walls. Looking up at the ceilings and walls, one can find etchings that the new buildings are not graced with. These are art forms that are lost and are being destroyed all over.....". Soon, there will be a time when one looks at that parking lot and that person will never know that a high school was ever there. You could almost say that education took a back seat to gambling - sigh, but that's a debate for another blog!

Upon graduating high school, Pat attended Glassboro State College (shown in above photo) which has since been renamed Rowan University in New Jersey.

Pat relates that the first time she entered a classroom as a teacher she was hooked! She says, "I enjoyed a satisfying career. When I was student teaching, I asked my supervisor what the best school system in New Jersey was and he told me it was Ridgewood, NJ so I sent a letter of inquiry having no idea where it (Ridgewood) was and it turned out he was right. During the superintendents convention in Atlantic City I was interviewed and hired." This was February 1960. She was hired at a salary of $4,500 a year - of which she says "Yikes!"

Even at a young age, Pat Mercer was very much involved in teaching her classes - it wasn't simply a career - she took a special interest in shaping the class and trying to inspire each one of us. She recalls: "When you teach elementary school there is no such thing as typical - that is what makes it so exciting! Kids are very adaptable. When I felt the pulse of the room changing, I changed with kids were so bright and fun, I had a million tricks up my sleeve and needed every one of them. ..........keeping the kids stimulated and excited to learn was no easy task."

When asked about dancing at our desks Pat recalls: "It was my belief that music helps break the ice. 'The Twist' was the popular music at that time so it was natural for me to choose it. I have always - for 31 years - encouraged kids to dance and sing each day - it brings out the best in the kids and allows their fear and insecurity to fade. Of course I pretended not to watch them but in reality that is how I found out who they were."

Looking straight ahead in the photo above is the door to the kindergarten. To the left of the door is where our 1st grade class was. We had the cloak-room outside where we hung our winter clothes and rain gear which included those rubber buckle boots! My daughter Jennie actually took the photo from outside! Photo taken December, 2008.

Of the teachers at Glen School - which included Pat Prescott, Jeannette Janicke, Amy Beattie and Nancy Cook - Pat says: "The teachers were all very close to one another. We ate lunch in that room at the end of the hallway (near Miss Beattie's classroom). Some teachers would play cards, some would read, whatever. It was a social time and we all got along." Amy Beattie and Pat even shared an apartment together before Pat got married.

Pat nails it when she says the kids cannot remember what they are taught at that young age but indeed remember the teacher, what the class was like - how they felt in that class.

Pat loves that she is remembered so fondly - that she had a hand in helping children at a young age learn and be themselves.

I asked Pat about a man by the name of Mr. Kraft. While I attempt to avoid being negative about anything it is a difficult task when talking about Mr. Kraft. He was some sort of school psychologist. As I recall I was very put off by this man. I recall that in art class in first grade, I was asked to draw a picture of my family. There were 5 of us. Each member of my family wore glasses except for me. In the picture I had drawn glasses on each of us - including myself even though I didn't wear them. Well Mr. Kraft attempted to analize this - why would Ricky draw glasses on himself when he doesn't wear them? My mom was called in - it was absurd really. My mom put him in his place and that was that. Pat recalls Mr. Kraft in a similar way. "I remember Mr. Kraft. I had a class of 32 kids and he was telling me how to talk to each one of you individually - I don't think so. He also thought I should sit on the floor so I wouldn't be higher than the kids - no to that also - amen!"

I had asked Pat what the last day of school was like for her. She responded this way: "The last day of school (all the years) has always been a real tough day. I spent so much time with these little friends and really knew who they were."

I am trying desperately to gather information about our beloved principal Art Linden but it is a difficult task. About Art Linden Pat remembers him like this: "Art Linden was a fun person and we all loved him so. Art was a marvelous human being with a family he loved dearly. I was very close to his wife Mary and to him even after I left (Glen School) in 1964. Mary's death was a tragedy and in the end - it is my opinion - he (Art) died of a broken heart. The story is tragic and wonderful but I do not feel it is my place to tell his story....just to remember them and smile."

When we were promoted to 2nd grade, we had 2 classes - I was in Mrs. Cook's class and Pat taught a split 1st & 2nd grade class. Cara Worthington recalls learning diagram sentences from Pat in 2nd grade.

Pat also recalls how parents and teachers worked so well together. Ultimately - she says - the parents are teachers too and must have responsibility for their children's learning and behavior. Pat recalls fondly the relationships she had with many parents and the mutual respect for each other.

Leaving no doubt - her fondest memory of Glen School - of teaching - is by the far the kids - "It's always about the kids"!

Show & tells were always a big part of the school days at Glen School - a chance to tell about a trip you took or collection you had. Pat remembers one show & tell when Ricky Marsh told us all how he was a philatelist (one who collects and studies stamps) and how one day she cut up the organs inside a chicken and one of us called out "Miss Mercer you are deee-gusting!"

Above is our 1st grade class - all 32 of us! This class photo was provided by both Ricky Marsh and Art Brierley (at the same time) - thanks you guys!

Front Row l to r: unidentified, unidentified, Melanie Teasley, Jan Potdevin, Karen Eide, Linda Pursiano

Second Row l to r: Betsy Kline, Barbara Durheimer, Ellen ?, Kara DeGraw, Jill Neandross, Lisa Faeth, Cara Worthington, Pam Bennett

Third Row l to r: Robbie Whittemore, Bruce Meneghin, Ricky Flannery, Ricky Marsh, David Clay, Art Brierley, Gary Vukov, Chic Voorhis, Greg Rehe, Danny Wagner, Carl Vrabel

Back Row l to r: Corey Duvall, Richie Spell, Tim Dekoker (sorry if misspelled), Paul Vaccari, unidentified, Doug Brown, Bruce Cunneen

Back-to-School night was always a big deal - especially for us kids. I remember how exciting it was to clean my desk and leave out good papers and artwork so when my parents came to class that night they would be proud. I remember writing a note and getting a note back from my mom and dad which I would find the next morning. Pat recalls Back-to-School night as fun too. "I remember being reminded to be able to answer questions on the topic of the time "Why Johnny Can't Read" - Dr. Voorhis (Chic's dad) asked the question (about that topic) and I gave a great answer - my career was on track! Parents were so lovely and respectful."

Above is a picture of Bruce Cuneen from our kindergarten photo.

In kindergarten through 2nd grade, there was a boy in our class named Bruce Cuneen. He was an incredibly happy kid and I remember him fondly though I didn't fully understand his affliction. Isn't it amazing how a child - knowing they are terminally sick can smile and be so happy? He suffered from Cystic Fibrosis. He fought to be included in everything and was always so carefree. Pat remembers this about Bruce: "He was a strong-willed little boy. He had Cystic Fibrosis - the life expectancy was 7 in 1960. He had wonderful parents who wanted him to have as normal a life as possible knowing it would not be a long life. He was a great little kid - just like all the others - no special anything - just one of the boys. They moved away at the end of the year." June Cuneen was involved at Glen School right through 1962 and was both a castmember and a member of a committee for the 1962 Glen production of "No Space Like Home". Pat continues, "He (Bruce) died soon after and his funeral was in Ridgewood. I went to his funeral and there was the darling child lying in a casket in a Cub Scout was a difficult time for all."

As kids we all have memories of the JFK assassination - I was in Miss Beattie's class at the time (see her profile in this blog). I asked Pat what she remembers about that history-changing day.

"The Kennedy Assassination was a day I will never forget. I was reading to the kids after they returned from lunch. Mr. Linden came in and whispered "Do not tell the kids, but the president has been shot." We had one little tv in the entire school - I could not believe what I was hearing. I waited a bit but then burst across the courtyard to find out what was happening. The kids could sense something awful had happened so against my instructions, I decided I needed to tell the kids the truth as I knew it at that moment. It was a Friday and I knew that once the kids got out of school they would enter a world of chaos so I sat them all down and told them the story. Life was never the same again. The kids knew me well and could clearly see that I was rattled and possibly even crying. I knew that people would be so stunned they would not have time or the words needed to convey what was happening so I told the truth as I knew it but more importantly, I assured them that their life would go on as they knew it."

In 1962, the entire school - just about every parent - put on an extravagant musical called "No Space Like Home". This show was produced by Hank Henckler's mom Muriel. Hank was 4 grades ahead of me! Several teachers along with a slew of parents participated in the show (including my dad). The teachers included Amy Beattie, Pete Gauharou, Barbara Zink, Charlotte Nash, Art Linden AND Pat Mercer. Pat, as it turns out was a dancing girl! She remembers it this way: "I remember the teachers were in a musical at night. I was a dancer and the theme was the moon. I was humiliated to death to appear in the outfit - not my thing!" The show was memorable simply beacuse of the sheer effort of it and the participation of practically everybody! Pat says "the parents were soooo much fun!"

Pat Mercer (center) and mom's as part of the dancing chorus from the show "No Space Like Home"!

Pat was married on June 29, 1963 and became Pat DiLauro. She recalls many of her students actually went down to Margate City to watch the ceremony! She met her husband Renato - affectionately known as "Rennie" - through her sisters who had met him at a wedding - they gave Rennie Pat's number and the rest is history! Sadly, Rennie passed away in 1996.

Pat and Rennie raised 3 children - JoAnne, John and Andrew. She has 3 grandchildren and a foster child who feels the love of the DiLauro clan! Pat still lives in the same house she has called home for over 40 years! (I love that!)

Summing up Glen School she has this to say:

"I loved every minute - Glen School was my first job. I adored Art Linden and Glen School - it was magic! I remember all of you - every detail. I have a candle that Gary Vukov's grandfather made. Being a teacher is a gift. You all taught me as much as I taught you!"

Aside from Gary Vukov, Ricky Marsh and Bruce Cuneen she recalls speaking to Kara DeGraw in the early 90's. She has been friends with Cara Worthington "forever" and recently mentioned Linda Pursiano this way: "Linda was an adorable little girl! I remember her well....also her mom who I used to see at the A&P when it was on Route 17."

Many students recall Pat fondly including Ken deGruchy and Ricky Marsh who recently told me "Miss Mercer was one of my favorite teachers - ever!" Ricky recalls fondly playing with Jill Neandross (one of the first girls he ever played with). He also remembers Jan Potdevin who attended Bucknell University with Ricky in the 1970's. Ricky's neighbor? "Frankie Petrucci but we were never in the same class." Ricky is known today as Rick Marsh. Chic Voorhis - and obviously several others - were fortunate to have had Pat as a teacher twice!

When Pat emailed me in January, I was thrilled! The connection - just like with old friends - is always there. Thanks to Cara Worthington for pointing out the blog to her!

Please click on all pictures to enlarge.

The memories are many and if you have any memories of this class or any class please share it with me at .

1 comment:

  1. Dana DeGraw DeraneyAugust 15, 2009 at 3:43 PM

    Just found this blog through John Teasley.It jogged many memories for me. It was fun seeing the photo of your class with my sister Kara (DeGraw). I seem to remember we went to Miss Mercer's wedding. Is there any info on the earlier classes? We were shuttled around to Travel and Somerville and the basement of First Pres and actually started in the Glen building in 2nd or 3rd grade. Wasn't it Miss Beattie who got burned on her leg while riding a motorcycle? We thought she was so cool! I think she was also the one who said that if she got one more student in her class she would jump out the window and when another new student arrived we all laughed because of course the windows were small and low -and on the first floor.
    I would love to hear from other Glen alum. It just got back from my 40th HS reunion and it was fantastic.I am on Facebook.
    Dana DeGraw Deraney