You can go back

Von_Steuben_High_School_bannerThoroughly enjoyed participating in the fifth annual Alumni Day at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center — or High School, as it was formerly known.  During the day, alumni visited freshman classrooms and talked about what Von was like when they were students and the paths they’ve taken since graduating from high school.

We came to Von Steuben Alumni Day with our memories and hindsight knowledge and expertise in an astonishing range of fields. Yet, it came down to this: the most popular question was  did the boys really have to swim naked?

The answer is, of course, yes. You should see the kids’ faces. This practice, by the way, ended sometime in the seventies.

Another question that frequently came up was why doesn’t Von have a football team? It never has and no one really knows why.  Lack of space is everyone’s best guess. There is an urban legend that the football program ended when a quarterback died during a homecoming parade. Not true!

As someone who was profoundly influenced by an admired Von Steuben English teacher, I was happy to be paired with Ms. Hoffman, who teaches freshman English to three classes in addition to her other assignments. I was interested to learn freshmen now read Romeo and Juliet as their first Shakespeare play. In my day, we read Julius Caesar. Academics weren’t, however, the subject of most students’ questions. They really just wanted to know whether we were the same or different, and we assured them that, despite all the technological advances, teenagers behaved pretty much the same then as now.


After speaking to classes in periods 1 through 5, alums had a chance to wander through the school and then enjoyed lunch together. On my tour I visited the auditorium which is really yellow and has the original drapes, or at least they look like original ones. We also stopped by the cafeteria and the band room, which used to get boiling hot in the late afternoon. I might have learned to play the flute better if the room had been air conditioned then as it is now. No, probably wouldn’t have made a difference.


We also visited the swimming pool. I could have sworn it was much bigger. I passed the library, which now houses computer stations and has no stacks, though bookshelves still line the walls. We looked into the room where you went to get a tardy slip stamped, familiar to all of us. First thing we said: the counter is gone! It’s now the assistant principal’s office and seems like a nice place to hang out.  In fact, the entire building, inside and out, looked more beautiful than I had ever seen it. In 2007, the school underwent a multimillion dollar renovation.


Room 112 served as a lunchroom for visiting alums

The idea behind Alumni Day is to give these young students the benefit of our experiences and alleged wisdom, but as these photographs illustrate, we alums benefited as well. For me, it was a great pleasure to return to the spot where I stood, a bewildered freshman on picture day, in the fall of 1970.


Frances O'Cherony Archer is standing top row, fourth from right.



Frances O'Cherony Archer, Al Bloom, Mark Swerdlik


Before closing, special thanks to Al Bloom, my partner in visiting classrooms. You were the best!

Alumni Day was first launched by Richard Wiener, a Von Steuben alum and former Von Steuben athletic director. He also founded the Von Steuben Alumni Association, which  The organization will launch a new website in the near future, but for now, you can “like” Von Steuben Alumni Association on Facebook to see more photographs from Alumni Day and to keep informed of future events like the October 12, 2012,  All-Years Reunion at Von.


Arnie Kanter, Myrna Heckman, and Arnold Levy



17 Responses to You can go back

  1. AZ April 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    I hope they’ve installed new lockers in the hallways since the 1950s. The old ones were so bad that it didn’t even pay to put a Master lock on the door. Anyone could pull them open despite the lock. I had a lot of valuables stolen from my locker in the 4 years I spent there. Everyone knew who the thieves were but could never catch them in the act. Besides, they were reportedly all armed with switchblade knives and were their own intramural “gang” called the Lucky Knights. I doubt anyone remembers them at this point in time.

  2. Frances Archer April 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    We were wondering about the lockers. These looked much wider than we remembered. Now that you mention it, I am certain these were new lockers. I wouldn’t be so quick to think no one remembers. Here, we all remember a lot.

  3. Steven Waxman April 12, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    Yesterday was the 4th year in a row I participated in Alumni Day. I don’t know if I will do it again, but all 4 years have been rewarding for me, and hopefully, the students as well.
    The lockers have definitely been replaced as has the elevator. What hasn’t been replaced have definitely been refinished, and appear to be well maintained.
    The alumni who participated walked around with their own memories. So many different graduating classes were represented, and my experiences 50 years ago can’t be compared to an alumni the graduated in the 1980’s. The students benefit by hearing the full gamut of experiences that took place throughout Von’s history.
    My students were seniors, and their focus is not on yesterday, but on tomorrow. They’re facing the future with limited funds, unsure of what the new America means to them, and where or if they belong in college.
    In the 4 years I’ve been doing this I have yet to meet a disrespectful or unruly student. They say hello when they walk in and thank you when they walk out. And, you can see, hear, and feel their sincerity which only adds to the reasons I don’t mind getting up at 5:00AM to arrive on time. These 68 year old eyes saw yesterday a high school that recognizes the needs and diversity of it’s students, and is doing it’s very best to prepare them for the trials that lye ahead.

  4. Frances Archer April 12, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Hi Steve. Thanks for visiting. I agree, the students were very attentive and respectful. I imagine you’d have a whole different experience visiting with seniors. Maybe next year, I’ll get that opportunity.

  5. rich wiener April 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Each year I do this I say it will be my last one. A day like yesterday does not just happen. I begin preparation in Sept each year. Yesterday was the largest of the 5 years and went quite well. The only hiccup was that 3 teachers that were supposed to take part were absent which had me change gears and move people around.
    If any alum would like to be part of this day next year remember it is a committment. If you are interested I would need to know so I can begin forming a list for next year.

  6. Frances Archer April 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    Rich, thanks for organizing. Anyone who is interested can use the contact form on this blog and I will forward your information to Rich.

  7. Wendi Goodman April 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    Regarding the Von football team or lack thereof…. I always heard the reason there was none was because some kid was kicked in the head during a Von Football game and died. End of Von football due to parental complaints.

    Anyone remember the story about the kid dying in the swimming pool? Supposedly he was bullied into jumping in the pool and died of an asthma attack.

    I’ll bet a lot of ghosts walk the halls of that school.

  8. rich wiener April 16, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    all not true. I have heard them all. One thing is for certain, Von never lost a football game.

  9. rich wiener April 16, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    All the football rumors are just that, rumors.

  10. John Erickson April 17, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    When I attended Von (’41-45) it was assumed that Miss Varian M. Shea, our princpal, would not permit any discussion of football. Amundsen and Roosevelt were options for those who wished to play.

  11. Frances Archer April 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    John, and in those days you could to some extent choose which high school you wanted to attend. I’ve talked to several people who didn’t go to their neighborhood high school and it wasn’t a problem to attend a different one. That wasn’t true in my day.

  12. John La Buda May 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    The story about the boy and the swimming pool I believe is true. I remember hearing about the incident from my older brother (Class of ’70). I think in the first few pages of the ’67 Yearbook there is a memoriam.

  13. Frances Archer May 16, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    John, check out this story about a wedding in Albany Park. Look at the photo caption. One of the guys has your same last name.

  14. Mark Swerdlik June 12, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Wendy made reference in her post above to a rumor that a student had died in the swimming pool. Tragically, it is true (as John suggests in a later post). A classmate of mine freshman year, David Kravitz, died in the pool (and whose picture is published “in memoriam” in the 1967 yearbook). What I recall is that his death occurred early in Fred Greenberg’s (Fred used to work at Deborah Boys Club as a gym instructor/basketball coach) placement as a student teacher. at Von in the PE department. Fred made a valiant effort to rescue Dave but he died instantly of a heart attack. We learned Dave was born with a heart defect which was the cause of his death. Dave was a wonderful young man, a member of the what was called “The Bowrery Boys” (they even had t-shirts) growing up in Hollywood Park, and a friend to all. Being a school psychologist, I am aware of how a typical school would handle such a tragedy now such as deploying crisis counselors for students and staff. Unfortunately, back in 1963, it was felt it was better not to talk about such tragic losses with young people so I recall being in my English class that next day after Dave’s death (David sat in front of me in English class) and nobody (teacher or classmates) said anything. His desk just stood empty. Very sad. Thanks for eliciting this memory. Although not a pleasant one from my high school years, it’s nice to remember such a wonderful person as David Kravitz.

  15. Frances Archer June 12, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Mark, thanks for filling in the details of this tragic story. I guess Dave’s story is the reason they’re now requiring athletic physicals in middle school for kids who participate on team sports. It’s hard to believe anyone ever thought it was a good idea not to talk to kids about death and mourning. Some day I will follow up with you on the Bowery boys story.

  16. Al Gordon June 17, 2012 at 11:48 pm #


    It’s not a swimming pool. Read the sigh on the door. It;s a natatorium!

    Al, Class of Jan. 1959

  17. Frances Archer June 18, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    Is that what you called it back in 1959? You guys must have been a lot smarter than us.

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