2007-06-29 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

High School, Fifty Years Later: Testing Mortality
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Commentary By Howard Schwach

A vintage photograph of the 1953 graduating class from PS106 in Edgemere. The photo was distributed at the FRHS 50th reunion of the class of 1957. Photos such as this one were highlights of the reunion, with participants pouring over the photos looking for long lost friends and relatives.A vintage photograph of the 1953 graduating class from PS106 in Edgemere. The photo was distributed at the FRHS 50th reunion of the class of 1957. Photos such as this one were highlights of the reunion, with participants pouring over the photos looking for long lost friends and relatives. There is nothing like a reality check about your own mortality than attending a fiftieth reunion of your high school class.

That happened to me last weekend when the Far Rockaway High School, Class of 1957, held its reunion at the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale.

The reunion was great, and it was lots of fun to see old friends after 50 years, but it quickly became apparent that the party was noteworthy not for those who were present, but for those who were no longer with us.

The four-page spread of photos and names was startling. I knew of some of them, certainly, because we had published obits about their passing. Others, however, were news to me and disquieting news at that.

We tend to think of people as we last saw them. For me, most of those who had died were still teenagers.

There was Dolores Jackson, one of the few black students at the school during the 1950's, voted the most popular kid in the class and the head cheerleader. There was Jay Brause, one of my best friends throughout high school and the Boy Scout experience. Jay and I would often double-date, bowling at the Arcade Lanes above the Colony Car Shop and then pizza at Cosmo Pacetta's on Beach Channel Drive.

There was Richard Freid, the class clown; Diane Klein, a perky teen who was friendly with my cousin; Elayne Cheron, whose father owned the busiest pharmacy in the village of Far Rockaway; Ernie Rosenberg, who was always ready to help; Richie Propis, whose parents owned Bargain Town, but who never was pretentious; David Fisch, who was always looking to make somebody laugh; Robert Lotto, who signed my yearbook as "the jester;" Robert Skolnik, who everybody called "Scully;" Ernie Rosenberg, who was distantly related to me and Artie Levokove, who I have written about in the past.

Levokove was the quintessential 1960's kid, kind of a real-life "Reverend Jim."

He was the captain of the basketball team, one of the most popular kids in the school. He was also one of the top students who was heading for medical school, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a well-known and respected surgeon in a local hospital.

I never saw Artie again after graduation until 1979 - more than 20 years later.

We had moved back to Rockaway from Connecticut and I needed a locksmith to put a new lock on my front door.

I saw an ad for "Doctor Lock" that looked unusual and I called him. He said that he would be over in about an hour.

Shortly before the appointed time, a skinny, rather disheveled man rode up on a bicycle with two large saddlebags hanging over the rear wheel. There was a large "Dr. Lock" painted on the saddlebags.

The rider got off and I was not so sure that I had called the right man for the job.

It turned out to be Artie Levokove, who told me that he had had a bout with drugs and another with mental illness.

All of his hopes for a medical education gone, he rehabilitated himself with a locksmith course and had now made that trade his life's work.

He passed away a year or two ago and his story has always provided a cautionary tale that should be told to all young people who turn to drugs. Unfortunately, it was not an uncommon story in the late 1950's and early 1960's, when we were told often to "Tune in, Turn on and drop out."

But there were lots of success stories that came out of the class of 1957 as well.

Robert Kennedy became a vice president of the Pillsbury Corporation.

Linda Stone Shure, one of the small group of alumni who made the whole reunion work, now does studio teaching for the kids on the "Hannah Montana" television show.

Alice Smilowitz Leventhal is married to the chair of the Astronomy Department at the University of Maryland and has a private practice in Psychology in New Jersey.

Ruth Altman bills herself as my "first girlfriend," spent many years working all over the world for the U.S. Army and then went on to work for Ed Koch when he was mayor of this city.

Larry Shields was one of the most literary of the school's students. He went on to become a doctor and a "mediocre handball player."

Howard Berelson started out as an industrial designer, but wound up as a very successful illustrator of children's books.

Ellis Wohlner emigrated to Sweden in 1972 and remained there until he returned for Saturday's reunion.

Al Katz, who remains my friend today, went into the Navy with me and then became a professor at Fairfield University. He retired from that university in May.

Marta Sorkin earned a degree in Historical Archeology and has worked for museums for more than 27 years.

Joe DiResta joined the Navy and then the FDNY, where he wound up working in the Big House in Far Rockaway.

Steve Kandall, one of the A-list kids in high school became the Chief of Neonatology at Beth Israel Medical Center and has been published hundreds of times.

David Miller, a star of the swimming team went into the Navy and then to a career as an electrical technician within the defense industry.

Lance DePlante took the opposite road from Artie Levokove, choosing the military as a career. From 1962 to 1994, Lance served in the special forces, visiting such hot spots as Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and Israel. Lance holds two purple hearts and eventually wound up as a colonel on the personal staff of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Mike Hausig starred on both the baseball and football teams was the quintessential athlete and remains so, "skiing 35 to 40 days a year in Colorado and playing on a baseball team in his home town."

There are more, of course, who deserve to be on this list made a life for themselves and their families in a very difficult time.

It is interesting to note that most of them were proudest of their kids and their grandkids.

That is the common thread that weaves through the majority of their bios.

It is a common thread, I think, that weaves through all humanity.

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