Graduation day, 70 years before COVID-19
By Bob and Dick Chancia
It was an azure sky day and the old Theodore Roosevelt School on Taylor Avenue in Utica’s Cornhill section provided the backdrop.
The June Class of 1950 was carefully assembled for our official 8th-grade graduation photo. It was beyond our comprehension that 70 years later commencements would be virtual or drive-thru.
Class President Sherwood “Sherry” Boehlert was seated front row center with Vice President Pat Calderella to his right and Treasurer John Wallace at her right. It’s somewhat prophetic that Boehlert was our president, as he later served many years in the U.S. Congress.
Bob Brooks, who went on to UFA, Hamilton College and finally University of Michigan Law School became a Chicago attorney and professor at Northwestern University. Valedictorian Maureen Bouziden edged out Brooks, the salutatorian.
We’ll never forget that day!
We proudly flaunted our royal blue and white silk streamers, emblematic of the graduating class, pinned to our waists.
The class sat on the stage.
Principal A. Ray Calhoun, Physical Education teacher Pete Hussey, English teacher Ellen Weigel, Industrial Arts instructor Bob Langworthy and art teacher Abe Blumberg filled the first row. We still have the wooden plank wishing well pump lamp made in Mr. Langworthy’s shop class.
Miss Weigel had a crush on Mr. Hussey or vice versa and Miss Wood taught us how to sing, hopefully, to become the next Enrico Caruso or Ethel Merman.
They prepared us well, for high school, college or whatever vocation would follow.
After a few speeches, achievement awards were presented as academic success was the most prized honor. We weren’t awarded any but our best friend; the late Rocco Giruzzi nabbed two: best athlete and the art prize.
We performed a clarinet duet, “Moonlight and Roses,” by English organist and composer Edwin Lemare.
Miss Wood accompanied us and the vibes from the audience made us feel like Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman.
There were no robes or flat mortarboards with tassels to shift sides when certificates were presented. We wore gray dress slacks, green corduroy sport coats, white shirts and ties, all from My Boy Shops. The girls were attired in new white dresses and shoes as this was a special occasion. 8th grade was our first graduation, unlike today’s rites held after pre-school, kindergarten, middle school etc.
The rolled-up diplomas, tied with royal blue ribbon, were as coveted as getting a driver’s license. About 80% of our class went on to UFA and 20% to Proctor as Conkling Avenue was the divider.
We kept track of Boehlert through the years. He worked for Wyandotte Chemical in Detroit during our years in Motown. Dick sat with him at Utica College basketball games in the mid 1990s when our Alex played for the Pioneers.
Proctorites, such as Whitesboro educator Pat Calderella and others are still among our friends. Insurance broker Jim Paravati was from the Blue Ribbon Dairy family. Joe Girmondi, of Twin Ponds Golf & Country Club was the first to get a TV in 1949. It was a black and white RCA that we watched in awe at his 13th birthday party.
Roosevelt School was situated on one of the many majestic elm shaded avenues, sloping down from Parkway East into the valley. Being in Cornhill, its students came from diverse neighborhoods. Eileen Doyle, Howie Lefkowitz, Joan Wagner, Sarah Russo, Pricilla Wilsey, Louise Schafer, Millard Harris and Ron DeBernardis, son of radio’s Italian American Hour host, Louis, were some of our classmates.
Time marches on and change jolts our clinging to the status quo. What remains constant are the memories we’ll treasure through the years.
Whether a congressman, pharmacist, educator, lawyer, insurance agent or local taxi company owner such as Sheldon Gordon, our June class of 1950 has served Utica well. We’ll remember always experiencing quality teaching and our Graduation Day 70 years ago.
It wasn’t zoomed online. It was live!
Brothers Bob and Dick Chancia are native Uticans.
Bob lives in New York City. Dick lives in Utica.
Theodore Roosevelt School’s 8th-grade graduation Class of June 1950 included Class President Sherwood Boehlert, who later represented Central New York in the House of Representatives from 1983-2007. [SUBMITTED PHOTO]