Pettibone School - the memories abound
Updated 12:02 pm, Wednesday, July 1, 2015
I chuckle to this day when I recall the incredulous looks on the faces of students in Nicole Lawlor’s third-grade class this spring when I told them I had attended fourth grade in that very same classroom at John Pettibone School.
Of course, Nicole hadn’t even been born when I was in fourth grade back in 1958-59.
I was on hand that day at Pettibone as a guest reader and enjoyed every second of the experience, even more so because I knew the school, my beloved former elementary school, was in its final weeks as an educational facility after 60 years of service to our community and its youngsters.
Hard as it might be to believe for many folks who know me now, I was once young.
Way back when, my fourth-grade teacher was a very strict and quite imposing woman named Mrs. Wells. She might be the only teacher I had throughout my New Milford school days for whom I can’t attribute a first name. Perhaps she didn’t have one? As far I was concerned, she didn’t need one.
As it has been for countless thousands of children since, Pettibone was my home away from home that school year and for five formative and memorable school years in all.
It was memorable more than for any other reason because of the teachers I was lucky to have, from the gentle and caring Miss Krusky in third grade, the aforementioned Mrs. Wells, and, then in fifth grade, a charismatic, energetic soul named Myrna Worthington, a New Milford native whose teaching career spanned many decades.
By the time I reached sixth grade, the town had grown so quickly that all the students from third through eighth grade wouldn’t fit there any more. So, because I lived near town, I headed back to Main Street School (now the Richmond Citizen Center) along with about half of my fellow sixth graders.
I realized during that school year away from Pettibone, more than I had during my first three years there, just how cool it was to attend JPS.
So, when I hopped off the school bus in September of 1961 to start seventh grade at Pettibone, I was a happy young student.
In retrospect, Mrs. Post might have been the first person outside my family to tell me I possessed a decent hand at writing. I remember her writing on one of my papers that I had a knack for turn of phrase. I’m sure I smiled and thanked her, then when I got home likely asked Mom just what Mrs. Post had meant.
Then, of course, I had shop classes with Peter Messer, and even created a very basic birdhouse to show for my efforts.
Mrs. Hughson and Mrs. Cope were my respective art and music teachers. I hasten to add, neither had luck culling much in the way of ability from yours truly.
Never to be foregotten was my physical education teacher, Luke Ward, an irrepressibly happy man who had semi-retired to town after a long teaching and coaching career in prep schools. Luke was to become a close friend and, I have to say, was one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.
Our friendship lasted for many years after and might have been the very best thing I gained from my years as a student at Pettibone School.
Those were good years, all told, even factoring in the inevitably distressng adolescent crushes and other growing pains.
I remember vividly when I was seventh grade, witnessing New Milford High School basketball standout Howard “Pete” Pease firing in a then school-record 40 points for the Green Wave in the tiny Pettibone gym during an 88-39 win over visiting Ridgefield. That my brother, Art, assisted one of Pete’s final hoops made it all the more exciting.
How cool it was during those years the high school team played its games at Pettibone, my school.
By the time I finished eighth grade, I was ready to head to the big time, NMHS, but knew I would be leaving a very special school.
The night of the promotion ceremony in the Pettibone gym, I was grudgingly decked out in jacket and tie - even back then I abhorred such societal obligations. Yet it was worth the agony of dressing up to show my appreciation and respect for the great years I’d experienced at JPS.
During the ceremony, I distinctly remember hearing my name called as the recipient of the Weldon R. Knox Math Award, and marching proudly to the stage to shake hands with Principal Stanley Setear and former Superintendent of Schools Weldon R. Knox.
What a way to go out, I thought. I’m leaving Pettibone, but I’ve left my mark.
Little did I know, even with my school days over at Pettibone, I was about to embark on a life that would bring me back to my beloved school countless times, right up to that wonderful hour with Nicole Lawlor’s students just a few weeks ago.
During the ensuing half-century, Pettibone School has been a regular stop for me, whether to cover school activities for the old New Milford Times and then The Spectrum, or for other events and programs.
Helping brother Art supervise New Milford Parks & Recreation’s youth basketball program at Pettibone was among the most impactful experiences for me.
As I’ve been reminded countless times since, that program was unforgettable for the many hundreds of kids who learned to dribble, shoot and play defense, and about sportsmanship and fair play, on that same basketball court Pete Pease had graced decades earlier.
As I’ve reflected on the role Pettibone School has had on my life, it has crystalized in my mind, in a small way, I have morphed into a teacher of sorts, whether as a youth sports supervisor or guest reader.
I owe so much in my life to the teachers I had in school, and many of the very best were during those five precious years at John Pettibone School.
I suspect I’ve got plenty of company in that sentiment among my fellow Pettibone alumni, and very likely with the hundreds of youngsters who’ll pull up roots to attend another elementary school for the 2015-16 school year.
The Board of Education hurriedly has closed the school and the town could ill-advisedly sell the property, but they can’t take away the wonderful memories we all share of good, old John Pettibone School.