Bisonalities Revisited - Then and Now
by Joe Leech, Waterford High School, Class of '56
Class Secretary - Bisonalities Editor 1955-56
It was a momentous July 2016, made even more so by the 60th Reunion of the Class of '56. Note the "byline"... WATERFORD High School. Truly so; we were the last class to graduate from that esteemed institution and those who still have their class rings will note the crest as such...not Fort LeBoeuf High School...although we did occupy that new building our final year. True, our diplomas read "Fort LeBoeuf High School"...but let our rings speak for us! But if you still want to attach some significance to the very special nature of this esteemed group, then we'll also claim the distinction of being the FIRST class to graduate from “FLBHS”.
As I penned this commentary, I wanted to elaborate and confirm my memories of Waterford High School, and a search of the internet on Google under various search terms tailed to turn anything up.
Bob Catlin, long time editor of Bisonalities Again has done a very commendable job of recording so much history of our town, as has the late Lewis "Lou" Dove.
My recollection from the teachings of Ellen Johnson (English teacher), "It rains on the just and the unjust"...and how can we forget her!...did a presentation (or so I seem to remember) that once we were a premier and residential academy, even out ranking educational schools and institutions in Erie. If anyone has a history source of Waterford High School, please pass it on to "Cat".
For now, I'd like to focus a moment on "Bisonalities Again" and our title. Let's step back to 1954, 1955, 1956. There was a "Bisonalities" then, and it was primarily the work of the students in the Home Ec and Typing Classes. Production was by manual typewriter, and copies made on the old Mimeograph machine.
Content had a mixture of news and a whole lot of gossip and innuendo as to who was fraternizing with who; "Did you know that xxxxxxxxx did?...or was recently seen with….. "
Copies were "sold" to class members until 1956 at the cost of three cents; then in 1956, it was raised to a nickle. As editor, I remember this well because I was the recipient of notes even from parents about the outlandish price increase.
Oh yes, we also had an occasional editorial, supposed to be run through faculty advisor "Miss Malone"...but yours truly slipped one by her. Seems as if the school boards were trying to decide to become a "joint" or "consolidated" school board. One type (probably most efficient) would have a member from each of the old school boards that were making up the new board; the other would be a conglomeration of many (if not all) people from all of the boards. This was a popular choice, and I recall clearly about writing an editorial... that appeared in the first copy that cost a nickle...and saying it should be the smaller version. Those wanting the "big version" were more interested in their "position" and their egos, rather than working in the best interests of the educational process.
Calls to me were not only about the raise from 3 cents to 5 cents, and I was not the only one to get calls. Mr. Dingle (our principal and later supertindent of schools) did too, and apparently was questioned as to why he did not maintain better control of his students.. I was called into his office and "requested" (make that TOLD) to write an apology and retraction. It was one of my first confrontations with an "authority" figure and I asked him what was wrong with the "smaller board" idea. He said nothing, but the way I put it was offensive, wrong, etc.
I refused, and was given a three day suspension. Won't ever forget that either!
Graduation 1956 came, and for the most part, I put Fort LeBoeuf behind me as it was off to college. About the same time, Mom and Herb sold "The Sugar Bowl", now named "Herb and Helen's" and the family moved to Erie, and nine months of the year I was away at college. (Allegheny, Meadviille). Well..not completely "away"; Ruth Ann was a year behind me, and I made it back to Waterford frequently, but saw little of classmates and virtually nothing of the school.
I think I did make a couple early reunions...Culberson County Club comes back as did a nice one at the Riverside in Cambridge Springs..
Graduation from college and thanks to a little course with only four letters, “R.O.T.C.”, I was off to assignments on bases around the country and world, but I recall making a reunion, I think in or around 1976. That would have made sense.
When I came home, I got to reflect on the past and school...and Bisonalities, and thought how nice it might be if we could revive it in an alumni edition. Now keep in mind, at this time there was virtually no internet and few computers. But in 1978, still thinking of this, I obtained my first computer...a Commodore 64, then shortly thereafter, upgraded to a Commodore 128, and even got a printer!
The big advances in printers then...could you get one with true decenders! Wow! High Tech stuff.
I had been discharged from the Air Force sine 1970 and was living in Pittsburgh, which gave me easy driving access to Erie.
I contacted some of our classmates to see if they thought the re-birthing of Bisonalities would be a good idea, and most agreed, and I was given a mailing list.
Some classmates agreed to be writers/contributors sharing memories, and one of the most avid was Herb Walden. Our own Will Rogers or Garrison Keilor.
The paper was going to be expensive to produce, so the idea of having paid ads made sense, and Phyllis Doolittle was approached with the idea that many of us were now out of school, probably earning decent money, and ready to replace our "first generation" of furniture, which in many cases was probably "hand me downs". Who better to come to for our furniture needs. A name we all knew.
Phyllis responded favorably, and the next couple issues, the printing costs (paper mainly) and postage were paid for by Russell Furniture, along with smaller ads from other Waterford businesses. (Nope, we never got anything from Curlys or either the Eagle or Waterford Hotel...and the rink and Showboat had long since been closed).
Publication continued, and each one had a nice "memory" piece along with a small amount of Waterford news... and somewhere along the way, the internet took birth, and again, in a process that skip my mind.. Bob “Cat” Catlin stepped up to the plate and for probably 30 or more years has continued the tradition, far better than I could ever have imagined it.
If you are a fairly new reader to "Bisonalities Again", you owe it to yourself to take a weekend and read through the many archive copies, and we all will forever be indebted to “Cat” for his work.
Attending 60th reunion just reinforced something I have known all along: Fort LeBoeuf High School or Waterford High School, however you want to think of it, was in it's time, a very special place, and I'd guess from reading some review's it still is.
We may not have had the teachers with PhDs and from all the highest ranked colleges; we may not have had the highest paid teachers in the county or state, but I don't think anyone ever had teachers more dedicated to their students, and interested in them. The interest went well beyond our academic interest.
If you were in an agricultural or "trade" field, Charlie Bowman was not only your teacher, but your friend.
If you were in "home Ec", Davie was your mentor, your friend.
Music.. McCubbin took many aside and helped them hone techniques.
My personal man of all times...Coach Carm Bonito. He could have been the model Joe Paterno followed in developing not only athletes, but men of character.
The list goes on: You engineers will never forget Ed Carnahan and his special technique of teaching math.
Jake Russell can never be forgotten, but I don't know if this medium will let me say for what!
Some of us were closer to each other than others...there were "townies" and there were those who had to go work on the farm, and some of the social events were not really on their radar. Sports was a great bond.
But in addition to our bonds with fellow classmates, which I know I really felt at the 60th reunion, there were the bonds with our teachers... and even over time, for those of you who could not make it, you need to know our own "Lois Byers" showed up. How much we appreciated that! She spoke for, and represented what her peers did for us all.
Now communications mediums have changed. Cat doesn't have the time to keep us all posted on what we each are doing and I 'm not sure how many classmates read "Bisonalilties Again" I hope each member of each graduating class gets a complimentary subscription. And I hope that anyone with a little interest in history and our heritage will step up and tell "Cat", I'd like to mentor under you so that when you time to retire comes, I can continue the tradition.
While this "little" commentary has become close to "mini book" length, it won't be me. But someone much younger than my 78 years of age.
In the meantime, with new communications of this era, I'd like to propose this. Each of us with internet capability should have a blog, and many do. Please pass your blog URL to "Cat", and hopefully he can include his in a "Bisonalities Again" site. This way, we can keep up with each other and especially those who we know. (My blog, for starters, is http://joeleech.us/).
Getting articles and contributors for Bisonalities Again has always been a challenge, and now that our readership spans maybe 10 or more generations, what one of us writes about our class may not resonate in any way with a younger or older generation. The blog will do that as you'll be in touch with your friends.
May I close with just a couple other thoughts, observations, and questions?
Obviously times change.. it's a progression of life. Some things change for the better; some things don't. I am sad for many of the things I see in Waterford. First, our main street and stores don't seem to have kept up with the times. Why? Maybe we can't complete with the Walmart under 10 miles away at Borodin.
Maybe our storefronts will never allow us to have in town something we had in the late 50s when Walker Pontiac was the leading Pontiac car dealership in all of Erie County. CVS, Wallgreeens, etc., make an independent pharmacy nearly 100% unable to compete... and let's face it, it wasn't just the prices that brought us to Heards...it was the totally unique caring of Merle Heard, complete with cigar (never seen lit, by the way).
We have the assets and history people crave for in our heritage and which can be transformed to a destination town people will come to.
Then sharing one of the saddest observations when I came to town for the reunion. What ever happened to Porter Park and our lakefront? The bridge is blocked off (and I remember when the wooden bridge was replaced when a Sanida milk truck crashed through it on the way to deliver to Brieitwisers). The park that I camped , in a "pup tent" along with fellow scouts is fenced and overgrown. At one time the boro built a picnic shelter.. and it's standing but filled with weeds. No more little stand "at the beach" and no place there to rent a rowboat or canoe; no dock for the boats. No pontoon to swim out to and while it was a hot summer day, no swimmers. Of course not...it was not inviting to that activity.
In our high school days when "mom and dad" owned the Sugar Bowl, I know we had tourists in Waterford renting cabins. People would let us know they would be there and ask for us to supply the Pittsburgh Press, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and even the New York Times.
People will go to quiet , well kept places for a vacation. They can enjoy our history. Our own people can enjoy the lake. Probably catch record muskies and bass.
What happened? Is it a false belief that people today would appreciate this resource if available? If so, I apologies for the musings of "an old man"... even though in no way do I identify with that label. I think certain things transcend age, and quality of life has some constants.
If you have read through this entire “commentary” (2187 words, give or take), I hope it has made some sense. I hope the calls to action (at least the blog; contributing to the current Bisonalities Now) hit a note of resonance Thanks for your reading and possible comments.