Phoenicia school celebrates 50 golden years

L.J. Warren and his children (photo by Violet Snow)

L.J. Warren and his children (photo by Violet Snow)

Who do you think that is?” Shandaken resident L. J. Warren asked his three young children, pointing to a little photo in the Phoenicia Elementary School 1991 yearbook. They craned their necks to see. The oldest said, “That’s you, Daddy?”

The Warren family were among the attendees as the Phoenicia Elementary School celebrated its 50th anniversary in a lively evening of nostalgia and community bonding on September 19. Looks of wonderment abounded as a crowd perused treasures on display in the cafetorium, and many people reunited with former teachers and classmates, both through photos and in the flesh.

Principal Linda Sella had noticed the building’s 1964 cornerstone this past spring but couldn’t assign an anniversary project so late in the school year. Eventually she put together a committee headed by school secretary Sheila Jansen, who gathered memorabilia, scanned photos, and sent out invitations. Name tags were made up from the 1964 yearbook, with enlarged photos of the children in the first graduating class, along with faculty from that year.


Pauline Schlosser, whose son Jeff was in the sixth grade in 1964, supplied yearbooks from the early years. Pauline often helped out at the school, and Jeff’s wife, Jean, taught there for years.

There have been only three principals at Phoenicia in 50 years, said Sella. The first, Robert Moroney, was represented by two adult grandchildren wearing the name tags of the principal and his wife, Mary Ann, who was on the initial faculty. Randy Collins, principal from 1984 to 2001, arrived in person with his wife, Beth Lipton, former Woodstock Youth Theater director. They were warmly greeted by parents and staff.

Lolly O’Meara Adler, a sixth-grader in 1964, has been back to the building many times because her daughters attended the school. “I have fond memories of Mr. Moroney and the teachers,” she said. “I remember field trips to the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Natural History. Oh, and the World’s Fair! I remember the monorail — what fun!”

“The school seems so much smaller,” marveled her classmate Liz McGrath, who now lives in Park City, Utah. “I was visiting my mother in Kingston, and Lolly told me about this. I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in years.” Watching a slide show of photos from the first yearbook, McGrath pointed to a picture of a stern-looking woman with glasses and gray curls. “There’s Mrs. Ford. She sent me to detention for a month. She told me to pick up my lunch tray, and I said, ‘I’m still eating,’ and she reported me.”

McGrath expressed affection for her sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Blish, whom she remembers as “creative.” A few minutes later, Sella introduced a smiling man whose nametag read “Mr. Marion Blish.” “This was my first job,” said Blish.


Time capsules

Helen Cordo, who still lives in Phoenicia, worked as an aide at the school for 32 years. She was close to tears as she looked around. “I want to come back!” she said. “People are always stopping me in town, saying, ‘You don’t remember me!’ I say, ‘How am I supposed to remember? You were just a little thing back then!’ They say, ‘You were crazier than we were!’ That’s a compliment — I say, ‘Thank you very much.’ I never had a problem with any of the kids.”

On display at a central table were the contents of a time capsule buried in 1993 by a class at the Bennett School. Included were TV Guides, local newspapers, school bulletins, a wooden ruler with the legend “Elect Norma Litwack,” a wrapper from a bag of Wise buttered popcorn, a digital watch. Sella said there are several time capsules in the area. “This one is only 21 years old, but it was the only one we could find,” she explained. A capsule near the eagle statue at the entrance to town is supposed to be left there for 100 years. In the late 1980s, as concrete was being poured for the handicapped ramp in front of the Phoenicia School, a teacher rushed out to incorporate a capsule that will no doubt remain in place for some time.

Teacher Kevin LaMonda arrived with a 2003 capsule that had been unearthed from the nature trail behind the Bennett School. However, it had been sealed in such a way that it could not be opened without power tools, so the unveiling was delayed.

Out back near the playground, first-grader Cosmo Spiotta was waiting for the burial of the 2014 time capsule. “What’s in there?” prompted his father, Jason.

“A picture of me!” said Cosmo. “And my whole class.”

Sella gathered students around a four-foot deep hole at the edge of the lawn. She held up a plastic jar and listed some of the contents of the 2014 capsule: a set of Post-Its; an iPod with music used in Patrick Burkhardt’s gym classes (with a note explaining what it is, in case the object is obsolete by the time of retrieval); a Chobani Greek yogurt container; a school lunch menu. She pitched the jar into the hole and invited children to add coins as signals for metal detectors of the future. Then the kids raised a cloud of dirt as they kicked at the piles around the edges, burying relics of the present for their successors to discover.