Retro Youth Center P.M. Kindergarten Class Act

There’s been a lot of townie talk these days about: Fair Haven’s little tykes transitioning from third to fourth grade; a bike procession up Third Street in pandemic times; first days in and out of classrooms; fixing up Fisk Street Chapel; and prospects of tearing down what was the borough’s former segregated schoolhouse and integrated kindergarten, now the police station, to make way for updated facilities.

In light of all that talk, we are reprising a 2015 Retro Pic of the Day and reflection on what was the segregated schoolhouse that was transformed into an integrated kindergarten and the kids in the classroom in 1965-66 not long after segregation stopped. This was the last class to go to kindergarten at the Youth Center, now police station and Community Center.

Back in the day — OK, waaaaay back in the day — there was a third school in Fair Haven for kindergarten. It was the Youth Center. People now know it better as the Fair Haven Police Station and by its newly adopted name that hasn’t quite caught on yet, and may never for “older” folks still in town — Fair Haven Community Center. Phooey to that. Some things just need to keep a name for nostalgic purposes alone.

That and it’s just a matter of what sounds like home to you. For instance, my very nice grandmother, a Matawan native, was pretty hostile about the “new” Aberdeen split and name. Paid it no mind. And if forced, said it with “blah, blah, blah” contempt. Back to the Community Center … There, I said it.

Well, the community stuff all happens downstairs, like sports sign-ups and senior activities. But, upstairs, where now only the cops conduct business behind closed doors, is where there was once a huge open room with lots of pastel kiddie decorations, tall windows and a high ceiling. Well, everything seems tall and unattainable to a a kid who stands barely 3-foot squat. And there was one of those accordion dividers and a kindergarten class plopped on either side.

Yes, that’s where kindergarten was held in the 1960s. The Youth Center for the youth. We walked there on a rope, led by an official looking woman in uniform. But, that’s a whole different story you’ve already heard, or read, or not.

Today, let’s get back to the kindergarten class throwback. Yes, there was an open classroom with wooden desks — I think. Well, they sat us at something. It may have been a circle of chairs at times.

There were what seemed to be ominous stairs that, in a child’s eyes were akin to those in a mansion or a grand ballroom. They seemed very Gone With the Wind-like. They weren’t. They’re actually pretty normal.

And then there was the scary notion that if you had to go to the bathroom, there was really no such thing as bathroom buddies back then — and the bathroom was in the basement with the boogeyman.

Yeah, it was a given that that was where he probably lived — in that dark, dank basement … behind the door … or under the toilet seat. Oh, but he was there. We were sure of it. OK, maybe it was just me.

I doubt many of us in that class of Mrs. Oliverson’s (to us, she never had a first name, anyway) remember much of what went on during the average Fair Haven kindergarten day in that big ol’ room that was probably pretty small.

I do remember always being told to pay attention and be quiet. And, if we had to go to the bathroom, we had to raise our hands and patiently wait, even if it hurt, to be called on to ask permission. I also recall a few accidents due to that rule.

But, picture day was a different story, probably because the whole production started at home and ended up with that one moment and snapshot that lasted a lifetime. And, well, here it is again to haunt us.

The outfit was picked out and pressed the night before. As you can see, the boys had stiff bow ties and some renegades had sweater vests and ties. The smiles were slightly rehearsed at home. There was a box full of combs to get those stray hairs in place … places … aaaaaand “Cheese!” to the man behind the huge Brownie camera and flash.

This is a class full of familiar faces that many still may see around town — if you recognize us. This fearful editor is front right of center in green, pale-faced, plastered, practiced grin, crooked bangs and hands behind the back? Everyone else was obviously told to hold clasp hands in the front and hold the polite pose. Never noticed that I, and a couple of other dare devils, did the opposite until now. Obviously, the aversion to status quo started early.

While I can’t recite all the names, I remember many. As a matter of fact at a recent party, three of us from this very kindergarten class were together again. That would be Calvin Williams (back row, grey sweater), Jim Scanlon (back row, red tie) and moi.

Ted Sidun (bottom left — ooooooh, no tie!), is still seen around the towns, especially at funerals, as he is a proprietor of John E. Day Funeral Home. Then there are other memorable little faces: Bobby McLellan, Susan Golden, Claire Henry, Jim Hull (?), Betsy Green, Beth Seldin, Sarah Brown, Helen Heath, and … I’m at a bit of a loss over the last few.

Anyone?

Where did you attend kindergarten in Fair Haven or Rumson? I’ll bet it didn’t serve up quite the experience that the Youth Center and that rope walk there did. OK, Transition Day is very cool, but I still think it would be cooler with a rope reprise. Anyone else?

And I still think that boogeyman is somewhere in that basement. Maybe he ate the a.m. class? That’s next.

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management