Old East Williston

 Submitted by Bob Smith

    At the end of the ceremonies marking our 75th anniversary I met Mrs. Ruth Imhof in the village parking lot.  She told me she had been a teacher at North Side back in the mid thirties and forties (of the last century, for all you strict interpreters) and, of course, I begged her for an interview.  This is what she told me.

     “I came to North Side in 1937, as Miss Ruth Kessler, when the first grade class was too large for Miss McKay alone, so it was split in two.  Previously, I had taught for a year at a rural school in southern Vermont, near the Massachusetts border.  It was a true one-room schoolhouse setting.  There were nine children, and they represented each grade from the first through the eighth.  I’d had rural-school-training at Potsdam, from which I’d graduated in 1936, so I wasn’t totally unprepared for the experience.  The older children helped the younger ones and we shared everything, including whooping cough.  When I sent home a few of the youngsters who had developed the illness, the parents sent them right back, saying, ‘they might as well all get it’.  Of course they did.  And so did I, and taught in spite of it.  I wasn’t absent once during that year.

     “I lived with the family of a logger who had two children in the school and would take us there in his big truck during the snowy winter months.

     “My sister, Constance, Mrs. Bagshaw at that point, taught kindergarten at North Side and wrote me of the opening for a first-grade teacher.  I applied to Mr. Raymond Sprague, the principal, and got the job.  North Side had eight grades then.  East Williston was a much less developed community than it is today.  The Ridge had been opened the year before, but much of the area behind the school was farm or field or wood.

     “I particularly remember those lovely early years at North Side.  Mr. Sprague was a very nurturing and enlightened man, and we were encouraged with his approval of a new project.  If the weather was good, we’d hold classes out of doors, take our chairs and books and just move onto the grass and have our lessons there.  He always encouraged us to do remedial work in the morning when, he reminded us, that the youngsters were ‘at their freshest’.

     “Parents were especially helpful.  They had to get their children to school by eight o’clock and there was never any complaining.  I will always remember how welcoming and friendly the parents of my students were.  They invited us into their homes to tea and dinner and took us swimming and boating in the summer.  It was a really friendly community that cared about its teachers.  A group of mothers of my students had a sewing circle, and I would join them for tea or coffee many afternoons.  Eventually, my husband and I were asked to join an evening group that played cards and called itself the ‘Snippy Snappers’.  We continued as members long after we moved away from the area.  All the parents were so friendly and respectful to teachers that their children naturally were also.

     “My husband, Howard Imhof, lived on Broad Street in Williston Park.  His parents had a bakery, Imhof’s, that had quite a reputation in Oyster Bay.  He came to teach Phys Ed two half days a week at North Side in 1939, after graduating from NYU.  North Side wasn’t his only school: he also taught part-time at Carle Place, Cold Spring Harbor and East Norwich at the same time.  Those  were the ‘30s - Depression time.  We were married when he went into the service in 1941.  He’d hoped to join Gene Tunney’s group of phys ed enthusiasts, but was made a gunnery officer instead.  After the war, in 1946, he obtained a principalship in Oyster Bay and eventually became superintendent of Oyster Bay Schools.  He held the position for nineteen years.  We both began a summer program of sports, and arts and crafts, in the district with the avid support of Mrs. Doremus who was, I believe, not only the first woman to win election to the East Williston School Board, but also the first woman on Long Island to do so.  The summer program we initiated is still very much a part of East Williston’s summer activities.

     “Four of us North Side teachers lived in a house we rented on Broad Street in Williston Park.  One of our group was my sister Constance Bagshaw, who was married to a man in Riverhead.  He would drive in on Friday afternoon to take her out, and return her on Sunday evening.  The other two were Evelyn Weller, the fifth grade teacher, and Vera Parmelee, the music teacher, who later married Dr. Delgard.  We took turns shopping, cleaning and cooking, and had a great deal of fun.  While I did have a car at the time, we often got to school on the bus that ran along Hillside Avenue.

     “My husband returned from the service in 1946 and we decided to start a family, so I gave up teaching, but I always maintained some connection with some of my former students.  For many years I corresponded with Cynthia Doremus whose mother had been the first woman on the Board of Education.  I still correspond with Irene Kossman who had been Irene Schalupa.  I remember Sam Mitchell very well.  One day I was on a gurney in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital where someone called out to the person on a gurney on the other side of the curtain: ’How are you doing, Teddy Webb?’ Which, of course, led to the conversation.  I certainly remember Teddy, who is the head of the American Red Cross in Mineola; as I do the Enos children who lived next door to the Duryeas in the Ridge, the Trantum youngsters and the Peters children; and little Angelo Fusela, who isn’t little anymore.  I wonder where they are now?”