The cool guys scurried to get the most popular girls as the tune countdown ticked away. I was the last girl left. Left footed, Lainey. Yep. Giff chuckled a little, looked at the two boys left as they backed into the wall like frightened wallflower turtles.
Move their feet to the beat of a George Giffin Memorial Fund is exactly what Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) alumni, in partnership with high school’s Education Foundation, have done. The foundation was created to honor and advance the passions of the iconic longtime RFH biology and dance teacher.
George, or “Giff,” as his students affectionately called him, garnered iconic status in his 35 years, from 1956 to 1991, at RFH. The Class of 1991, the last class for which Giff taught, dedicated its senior yearbook to him.
For a stint during his RFH tenure, Giff served as chairman of the high school’s Science Department. He also taught an elective ballroom dance class at RFH that quickly became a must and was known to keep students on their toes, dancing with class in any social setting. Post high school, Giff showed up at many an RFH reunion or wedding to get the dance party started and going all night. If you saw him around the towns in his retired years, he’d gladly tell you all about the joy that dancing in and out of those high school years gave him. And he wasn’t alone. For RFH alumni, a dancing Giff appearance always made the celebration complete at any event.
For that reason, the money raised for the new George Giffin Memorial Fund will be used to support RFH programs for which Giff held a deep commitment — those with which he aimed to empower students at RFH to achieve their goals and develop a true love of learning and living.
Remembered by countless students for his quirky, enigmatic personality, Giff was known to pepper his lessons with a lot of laughter, cheer, soft-shoe steps and jokes in and out of the classroom.
In addition to teaching, Giff was, at different times, both the girls’ and boys’ basketball coach as well as the RFH Golf Team coach. Known as always the fearless pioneer, while looking for an opportunity decades ago for girls to be more involved in school activities, Giff created and directed the RFH Girls’ Drill Team.
The girls on the team practiced twirling rifles Giff-choreographed routines at football halftimes. At one time, the team was comprised of 100 girls; and, in addition to football game performances, marched, for years, in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in NYC.
Word among RFH alumni spread recently when members of the RFH Class of 1973 spearheaded the effort to create the memorial fund in Giff’s honor.
“We had many outstanding teachers at RFH,” said Class of ’73 grad Bill Davidson. “Mr. Giffin was not only an outstanding teacher but an energetic, spirited, and talented individual who was admired and remembered by so many.
“Giff taught students over four decades which saw so much change but he never lost his ability to connect with students over those years! He was a gift!”
Classmate Cindy Sherman elaborated, saying, “George Giffin saw something in me that I did not see in myself … for that, I am forever grateful.”
Along with Davidson and Sherman, Steve Farely and Ellen Spears comprise the four-member Steering Committee for the Fund.
The RFH Education Foundation, a charitable organization with the mission of enriching the high school curriculum by funding projects and grants that fall outside of the school system’s mainstream budget.
George Giffin died in 2014 at the age of 85. He was a longtime Fair Haven resident. His wife, Marcia, a former Knollwood School English teacher, still lives in Fair Haven. Prior to his time at RFH, he served as a captain with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. A 1951 graduate of Colby College in Waterville, ME, he earned a master’s degree from Colby as well as from the University of Vermont.
Outside of the RFH halls and grounds, Giff was an active member of various local religious, social and charitable groups. He was a founder of the Fair Haven Fields Committee and the director of the Fair Haven Recreation Commission for several years.
This is a classic that’s been seen before, but warrants another look, considering the timing …
The RFH junior prom was on Friday night. And the prom is all about dressing up, coupling up and dancing. Well, that’s most of what it’s all about, anyway. No teacher in RFH history loved to dance more than RFH science teacher of days gone by, George Giffin. He taught ballroom dance, he danced all over the place and he was even known to show up at many a student’s wedding and several reunions to make sure everyone remembered how it’s done on the dance floor.
With this howling chill in the air lately, people are pretty primed for the arrival of spring. In fact, you could say that they may even be doing cartwheels over it.
Well, in light of that excitement to spring into the warmer season, the Retro Pic of the Day gives a glimpse back to a beloved teacher who danced and, yes, did cartwheels over any exciting event — or just for plain old fun.
That teacher was George Giffin, otherwise referred to as Giff. He was a science teacher and was particularly famous for his ballroom dance class. And, boy, could the man dance!
The RFH community lost Giff on May 15, 2014; and, to ask just about any RFH grad or member of the community, it was a tremendous loss.
Last time this editor caught up with Mr. Giffin, he was grabbing some lunch at Fairwinds Deli. In his 80s, he was still dancing and actually launched into a little routine right there with a little cha-cha-cha and “When you get that beat, you gotta mooooove your feet!”
Who will dance or do a cartwheel when spring arrives in memory of Mr. Giffin? Oh, and send us your pics if you do!
Fair Haven Day is Saturday. It was a few years ago that the first Fair Haven Day took place on the borough’s centennial celebration.
Since then, the borough has lost some of its longtime residents who everyone knew in one capacity or another. They were some of the faces of Fair Haven.
So, the Retro Pic(s) of the Day honors two of those people who were there on the first Fair Haven Day, proud longtime Fair Havenites and icons: Life member of the Fair Haven Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary, Pat Topfer; and ever-popular RFH science and dance teacher extraordinaire, George Giffin.
The featured photo on the Fair Haven Day event announcement today included a popular longtime resident and friend to the borough, Ben Hamilton.
Since the first, on Fair Haven’s Centennial Celebration in 2012, the day has become a borough tradition.
On that first Fair Haven Day, a couple of local celebrities, longtime Fair Havenites, were there and all jazzed up with love of their hometowns to celebrate.
Since then, these two have passed: RFH teacher and dancer extraordinaire, George Giffin; and longtime Fair Haven Fire Department Ladies’ Auxiliary member Pat Topfer.
So, today, with our Retro Pic(s) of the Day, we take a look back at those smiling faces, remember what these two did for their beloved borough and its people, thank them and remember the sincerity of their giving, neighborly hearts.
RIP George Giffin and Pat Topfer. May future generations of Fair Havenites carry on with spirits as generous and caring as yours!
The popular Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School science and dance teacher and coach passed away last year. In finding a fitting way to memorialize him and garner some money for Monmouth Day Care Center, his daughter Debra Schluter and a committed group of volunteers set the dance-a-thin in motion — literally.
Take a look at the slideshow above for a glimpse into the event, and remember George Giffin.
“When you get that beat, you have to moooove your feet!” — George Giffin.
The time is drawing near for all Rumson-Fair Haven area people to remember, honor and dance in the name of RFH’s ever-famous George Giffin, science and dance teacher extraordinaire who died last year.
The George Giffin Memorial Dance-a-thon is set for next week — Saturday, April 18 from 5 to 10 p.m. in the RFH gym.
With proceeds benefitting the Monmouth Day Care Center, people, in the name of Mr. Giffin, are invited to dance or just be a spectator at the event, which is being sponsored by the RFH Dance Troupe.
So, in preparation of the event and to remember the magic that was George Giffin, the Retro Pic(s) of the Day gives a glimpse into the last day this editor saw Mr. Giffin dance.
It was 2012 and he was at Fairwinds Deli in Fair Haven. It didn’t take much for Mr. Giffin, or Giff, as he was called, to launch into a routine no matter where it was.
He talked about how he loved to still show up at RFH grads’ weddings and teach them a few steps. He also said he was not too fond of the way in which the English language has been slaughtered “these days.” We agree.
Brown paper sandwich bag in hand, Giff then rhythmically chanted, “When you get that beat, you’ve got to move your feet!” as he did his own little dance right in the deli line.
What a treat.
There were popular teachers at RFH, all cherished, but George Giffin just had what theater professionals call “it” — personality, stage presence, that special something that makes people’s eyes twinkle when they’re around.
Always equipped with a passel of jokes, a smile and a “five, six, five six, seven, eight and one, two, cha, cha, cha” it’s a sure bet that he’d love to marathon dance at this event.
Though we’re not sure if he would be out teaching some classic ballroom dance moves, try a few of the newer moves or both, but we know he’d at least give it a “cha, cha, cha, dip, twirl” and maybe a cartwheel … just to throw people off — or not.
Dancers for the event must be 12 and up. Cost to dance is $50, while admission is $10 for spectators, and $5 for spectators age 12 and under.
Happy Monday, Rumson-Fair Haven area friends and fans!
OK, so spring has not exactly sprung as we would have liked quite yet, but it looks like there’s hope of some sort, soggy as it may be, for a rise in temps as the week progresses. Please!
In the meantime, it’s a chilly start to the week today.
There are Borough Council meetings in both Rumson and Fair Haven this week. Fair Haven’s meeting is Monday night at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall. Click here for the agenda. Rumson’s meeting is Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. at Borough Hall. Click here for that agenda.
Taking a look back at last week, here are some tidbits from the notebook the likes of which your editor is going to start sharing on a weekly basis:
It seemed to happen an awful lot in 2014 — the death of people whose faces and lives we’ve grown accustomed to being woven into the fabric of Rumson-Fair Haven area life.
There were times it seemed that the fine people manning the Fair Haven Firehouse marquee couldn’t even keep up. It’s the place in the area where the news of loss is often spread.
In 2014 it seemed that there were all too frequent tiny gasps and self-mutterings of “Oh, no!” as a ride by the firehouse revealed yet another passing. It all seemed to echo as yet another familiar face flashed and a memory was evoked.
We said it in the memorial tribute to Mimi Hughes. We, at Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect, are dedicated to remembering those who have passed.
Why? Because, as the line in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel put it, “As long as one person on Earth remembers you, it’s not over.”
Well, it’s not over for them or us. These people, in one way or another, contributed to life in the area and were part of our lives.
We honor them with a photo and a token of remembrance.
Take the journey with us …
George Giffin, 85, longtime RFH science teacher and dance instructor extraordinaire, May 15
This true area icon could get Attila the Hun to crack a smile.
The man, known for his true appreciation of dance, would pretty much break into a routine wherever he was.
This editor ran into him a couple of times in the recent past — at the Fair Haven centennial and Fairwinds Deli in Fair Haven.
He never forgot a face, either. He knew who I was from 30-something years past in high school when he taught me ballroom dance and I was abysmal.
I asked him then what advice he had for the many teens he taught to dance. He told me he still made appearances at RFH grads’ and their kids’ weddings to get them through the festivities with his special blend of dance instruction.
His motto, he said at the time: “When you get that beat, you gotta move your feet.”
Keep dancing, Mr. Giffin, and rest in peace when and if you take a break.
Pat Topfer, 77, Fair Haven, Oct. 26
Pat, also known in the past as Mrs. Cook, was a 52-year resident of Fair Haven and an 50-year Fair Haven Fire Department Ladies’ Auxiliary member.
She always had a great smile and zest for life. Her daughters, all RFH grads, inherited her beautiful face and smile.
She shared many a crumb cake and cup of coffee with this editor’s mom. Many years past my teens, she saw me at Marine Park in Red Bank. I was pregnant with my son. She gushed with joy and support and insisted upon snapping a picture of my friend and me. She made sure she got it to me. I still have it — that any many good memories of her friendly demeanor and smile.
Last I saw Pat, she was at the Fair Haven centennial celebration, gussied up in festive red, white and blue sparkles for the occasion.
She was more than happy to pose for my photo of her as a longtime, proud Fair Havenite.
Rest in Peace, Pat.
Lois Brett, formerly of Fair Haven, longtime teacher, Oct. 29
Lois Brett was a teacher in the Fair Haven School District for many years.
The daughter of Lester and Esther England, she graduated from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School. “She refused to limit her teaching to the classroom, but rather passed on her knowledge, wisdom, and joy of life, learning, love, and knitting to all those she knew however briefly,” according to her obituary.
Mrs. Brett was a friend of my mom’s. She was known for her kind nature and knack for making those Christmas cookies. There was nary a Christmas in our house without some of Lois Brett’s cookies.
Rest in peace, Lois Brett.
Mary Welling Hunnewell, 54, RFH graduate, Class of 1978, Oct. 17
Mary was a gymnast, equestrian, skier, and just all-around nice girl.
She grew up in Fair Haven and graduated from RFH. She had a soft voice, tiny stature and gentle demeanor.
As high school friend Devon Martin put it, “We shared many great times between Gillespie and DeNormandie…on my dad’s little sunfish…having to be rescued! Through middle school and high school. Gymnastics. She was a sweet, kind, generous and beautiful person. I am glad to have been her friend. She will truly be missed on this earth.”
Rest in peace, Mary.
Nina DeSesa, 88, formerly of Fair Haven, Nov. 23
Nina and her husband Michael raised their family, children Blaise and Stephanie, in Fair Haven.
Both were Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School graduates. Stephanie died unexpectedly in 2011 at 50. In the interest of full disclosure, she was this editor’s best friend.
Nina, known lovingly as “the bull” to friends, was a force to be reckoned with when it came to her family and convictions. She was also pretty darn funny and astute.
She loved the opera, her husband and children more than anything in life.
Many saw Nina as quite a stern character, nonetheless fabulous cook, with a mission to play Bridge and MaJong. But, she was much more than that.
She had a great heart. This is my chance to say thank you to a woman who, though many times criticized me mercilessly, was always there for her daughter and me — front and center at both my parents’ funerals.
I have a few things to say to Nina:
Thank you for that artichoke pie, the best baby shower ever, the beautiful blanket you knitted for Cole, all the fabulous dinners and trips into the city to cool out-of-the-way restaurants, the scoldings, that Gilbert O’Sullivan sweater you knitted for Steph (that we fought over).
And, most of all, thank you, Nina, for moving to Fair Haven in 1967 and bringing Steph into my life. I hope you are together again. Oh, and … Step away from the stuffed stork!
Rest in peace, Nina DeSesa.
Silvio Fabbri, 59, owner of Fair Haven’s Umberto’s and friend to many, Nov. 26
Fabbri died very suddenly; and his death saddened a community very accustomed to hearing his anecdotes and knowing that he knew who they were, what was going on in their lives and what they liked to eat.
It could be months that Silvio didn’t see you, yet he’d remember everything about you when you walked in the door.
I got yelled at for not coming around enough, but he remembered my favorite special sub.
Rest in peace, Silvio, and “hanga loose.”
Fair Haven Councilman Jerome Koch, 63, Nov. 30
Jerome Koch died as the result of a tragic Nov. 29 bicycle accident on River Road in Fair Haven.
Koch was known for his sardonic wit and keen sense of humor while sitting on the dais of the Fair Haven Borough Council for nine years.
On Nov. 29, the councilman took what was described by Mayor Ben Lucarelli as his characteristic bike ride around town. The mayor, an avid cyclist, was out for a ride that day as well. He said that when he had passed Koch, he was doing his customary scouting for errant garbage and tidying up.
Not much longer after that, the councilman was hit by a car not too far from his home on River Road and flown to Jersey Shore Medical Center Trauma Unit. He remained in the hospital’s intensive care unit and, sadly, died the next day.
Rest in peace, Councilman Koch.
Mimi Hughes, 83, Rumson resident and 26-year RFH English teacher
Mimi Hughes, who taught English at RFH for 26 years and acted and sang in many a production in the area, died on Dec. 20 surrounded by her loving family.
This is a tough one for this editor. Mrs. Hughes and her family were like family.