|Why did we do it?
What was our purpose in taking on such an open ended “History Project”; for which we evolved a script of questions and got answers from over 150 subjects for two decades?
We couldn’t answer the question in 1994 when people would ask “What are you going to do with the interviews?” All we could say was that for educational purposes we had to document our record now or lose the chance to preserve so many poignant accounts, funny stories and touching tales told by exemplary educators. We knew these dedicated public servants might shortly, for reasons yet unknown, be leaving Brentwood for good.
So, we decided to let time sort out the details. We began scheduling appointments. We asked questions and listened saving for generations the essence of what it meant to have been an educator or employed, in this large public school system during the second half of the 20th century. Brentwood remains an exemplar to all others; a diverse microcosm of America reflecting 124 districts on Long Island while simultaneously resembling thousands across the U.S. We’ve accomplished something here to be proud of. Whether we were interviewed or not, ours is a claim of service that few professionals in the State of New York or elsewhere have positioned themselves to share in the way we have.
INITIALLY the practice of sitting with a subject for an hour and giving them a hundred percent focused attention seemed somewhat daunting to a number of friends and colleagues. So much so in fact that many declined our repeated invitations to speak with us as they left careers or retired from full employment. Despite all assurances that we were not about investigative journalism or invading privacy, they deferred. Now, twenty years after we began, some are saying they may be ready. “Better late than never” we say. However, to all among you who were willing to share not only your classroom experiences and personal stories, but precious memories from your lives along with your fondest hopes for the future, we say “Thanks”. Thanks for allowing us to continue the process by paying it forward as we share these interviews with the Brentwood community and countless professionals and researchers near and far. Through an acceptance of ROBS offer of collaboration with Archivist Dr. Geri Solomon and The Long Island Studies Institute at Hofstra University our History Project lives on in academia as well as in the collection of the Brentwood Public Library, thanks to Director, Thomas A. Tarantowicz.
Enjoy unlimited visits to www.robsny.org where you can watch and listen to segments from featured Interviews in the ROBS History Project Section on our Announcements Page each month. Return here to listen and learn again and again.
THIS MONTH'S FEATURED HISTORY PROJECT
Home Economics Teacher
Phyllis Baumann was interviewed on Dec 2nd, 1997 having previously retired in 1992. She currently lives in Brewster, NY which is in Putnam County on the border of Connecticut. She and her husband George looked in Boca Raton and North Carolina as well as other places in Westchester County. Her daughter lives in Ritchfield Connecticut. Her name is Edith Marie Callis then 36 who graduated from Cardozza Law school.. Her son is Andrew Lawrence Pove (single ) who lives in Metfield MA and just turned 35. He owns a Domino’s Pizza business.. He graduated from Johnson and Whales. Edith is married to her husband Steve.
Phyllis and George have 2 grand -children John Stephan Callis (5 yrs), Gabriella Clemens Callis going on 3 ½, Both are bright, intelligent, quick, and creative. Johnny is a thinker, wonderful in math, with a great imagination. He takes after his father’s side of the family in many ways but also takes after his mother. Gabriella is her mother’s clone. Extremely bright, she has an imagination, just like her mother, and loves all sports, She’s also like her maternal great grandmother. She looks just like her and also resembles her mother. John has dirty blond hair like his father’s side of the family and resembles his uncle Andrew. Her children went to Brentwood and Bay Shore, Her daughter was active in Field Hockey. Both Phyllis and her mother enjoyed sports. Her mother had once thought of becoming a Phys Ed teacher but chose to follow a different path instead. Edith also followed music, was accepted into Eastern School of Music and learned to play string bass. She graduated from Julliard and went on to the Fashion Institute of Technology and ultimately to Cardozza Law school to became a lawyer. She is a practicing attorney in NYC. Andrew enjoyed drama, went to BOCES for 2 years and then Johnson and Whales. Worked part time at Domino’s Pizza, worked his way up and eventually bought his own store.
Phyllis was a Home Economics Teacher in the Sonderling Building. She retired due to the physical demands required of her hands-on-learning experience kind of job that took its toll. She couldn’t keep up especially after she saw a change coming she wanted to avoid. She wrote curriculum for the State of NY, was constantly staying on top of the changes in her subject area. She was an innovator and ahead of the times insofar as seating patterns (circles) and approach to learning was concerned. She started in Brentwood in September of 1964 and worked there for 36 years. Before arriving she worked for 3 ½ years in Saddlebrook High School in New Jersey. She also worked for one year in Julia Richmond High School in NYC.
At the time Brentwood HS had the one Home Economics opening she could find.. Those jobs were already hard to come by. The Principal was Fred Weaver. She was interviewed by Mr Weaver, Mrs. Nott and Bill Kuriluk. Fred’s expressed concerns were her gum chewing, her child care and did she have help cleaning her home. He wanted to know if her blinds in the classroom were even, She, Bill Lane, Shirley Hodges, and Jack Zuckerman played bridge in the teachers room during their lunch hour. Fred was worried that because she wasn’t mingling with the faculty she would lose benefit of socializing with colleagues.
Since retirement she and George have been busy with babysitting for the grandchildren. She was substituting at the Brewster School District, and had become a member of the Board of Directors of the Condo Association where she lives. She soon became President of the Board. She changed her membership from the local chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma International to become President if the chapter. She has always been busy. Their first trip was to Israel after they retired. Then they did an Alaskan cruise. They time share; in Newbern and Myrtal Beach. They travel with friends to Branson Mo., This year they will be going to San Diego on time share. She is thinking of joining ROBS on one of their trips to. France or Spain. Her baby sitting has taught her she would not like to be a Kindergarten or Nursery School teacher. Children she said, need to be home with caregivers that are family members.
She moved to Brentwood in May of 1962, when her first husband’s company moved to Long Island. After several years on one income she decided to look for work to help with their expenses. and became a part time waitress in Bay Shore from 4 pm to closing. That didn’t last long and led directly to her accepting a teaching job in Brentwood. Her starting salary in NJ was $4k yr. in 1958. The starting salary in Brentwood in September of 1964 was $6,400.
There were less distractions for students before the internet and computers. They came to school better prepared to learn. She always had a number of disruptive students during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Brentwood even then was a unique district – it was the largest Hispanic district outside of Manhattan in the State of NY.; and the 6th largest school district in the State of NY. It was known as an inner city, suburban school district. She was Certified in Home Economics and Administration from Hofstra University. She served her internship as an Assistant Principal with Mary Efron at South Junior High one summer and prepared herself for the Department Chair of Home Economics when Jean Kasin retired. That never happened because they moved Frank Lerche from the Art Dept to Home Economics. He had always been a big fan and supporter of Home Economics. Bill Condon replaced Frank when he retired. They grew to a nine person department. Mrs. Kasin and Mertie Lewis were in the Sonderling and Phyllis and Linda Williams were in the Ross Building. When Phyllis left it was only herself and Mrs. Gruskin.
Phyllis corresponds with some of her former students and is a surrogate grandparent to the children of another former Brentwood student. She was active in the Planning Committee. She appreciates how strong and wonderful the teachers union in Brentwood was and is. She expressed gratitude for the School Board, for the Superintendent, and the BTA. She emphasized the importance of reducing class size. When she taught parenting, clothing construction and foods class size were all important. The curriculum changed in the 80’s and 90’s because of our students needs. She was also a Building Delegate to the teachers union for many years. She worked with Bill Mullady as a Union Rep. She misses getting dressed up and going to work. She misses the students and the camaraderie. She doesn’t miss the teenager’s attitudes. Although teens don’t change, our impressions recall our own experiences growing up. Born June 11, 1937 in Washington Heights she lived there until she was accepted to Pratt Institute but then in 1960 Graduated from Hunter College with a BA and a Masters and moved to NJ and then L.I. Her mother was assertive before the days of being assertive was in fashion. Phyllis thinks she herself was assertive from the day she was born. She always enjoyed being in a leadership capacity. She attended PS 173, 187 and George Washington H.S. She remembers peddling across the George Washington Bridge with her best friend Marilyn Goodman and heading south to the Palisades Amusement Park to go swimming. The Y and WMCA at 178th St. and Washington Ave was where they “hung out” She remembers going to a woodworking and metal shop after class at the Y where you made little ash trays and candy dishes. She didn’t enjoy school until she got to GWHS overlooking the East River. She made several lifelong friends there like Marilyn, Lillian and Helen who are still her friends and get together today. She remembers her first Home Economics. classroom experience and her teacher Mrs. Owens. She swore after that that experience, she would never become a Home Economics Teacher.
She remembers her father’s father who used to call her “Shnicklefritz”. He would sit her on his lap so she could dunk donuts in his coffee. Her paternal grandmother was a little lady who played the piano and sang beautifully and it was always enjoyable going there. She did not like Math and Latin. She was not good in French. She liked English. She liked the Sciences but went to college without any Chemistry, Every year there was a high point when students remembered you for a difference you had made in their lives. She remembers her first boy in Home Economics. His name was Bill Ubelacker, who went on to become a Chef in the Armed Services and then came back to visit her and speak to boys in the class telling them how he had felt when he was in their place sitting through parenting classes and realizing he might one day become a parent. The biggest disappointments she suffered were the unwed mothers, seeing students with potential suddenly giving birth to their own babies. Those parent classes are crucial to young people. She spoke of recalling the Kennedy assassination.
Her mother and father had been her two greatest inspirations to become a teacher. She came from a poor family without ever feeling poor. Her advice to new professionals entering the field; “persevere, be patient, don’t go into it for the financial reward, instead do it for the reward you will get from humanity. Don’t give up. Without teachers there would be no doctors, lawyers and scientists. People forget that we are the lowest on the totem pole in terms of prestige and remuneration but we are the most important. From our profession comes all other professions. There is no finer profession than teaching” In the final few minutes we discussed her experience with student and professional attire and dress codes, school uniforms and cultural changes that effected codes of behavior and parental expectations. down through the decades.
You can also view any of these past interviews by visiting History Project Interview Archives :
Baker Bernhardt, Ruth
Baker Bazata, Eleanor
Laub, Dr. Herb
Sustrin, Letty and Sheila
Walker Lloyd, Shirley
View May 8, 2015 History Project Celebration Photo Album
View History Project Slide Show on YouTube