Veritatem QuaeriteÕs quest continued for me when I enrolled in Springfield College, September of 64. Why Springfield? Either as freshmen or sophomores Springfield CollegeÕs world acclaimed gymnastics troupe put on a show in WheatleyÕs gym. Do you remember that event? The gymnasts required Wheatley students and their parents volunteer to house them. Coach Davis and his staff twisted some arms, and I volunteered to house one of the gymnasts who impressed me and strongly influenced my decision to enroll in Springfield.
I hoped to become a physical education teacher, but like many of you, I did not stick with my original decision and changed majors within a month. Renowned for its physical education program many Springfield students went out for various sports including me for freshman football. Never being a particularly good athlete at Wheatley, I actually had my moments (a scattered few) on SpringfieldÕs freshman football team. It should be noted that Matt Sanzone, class of 1959, a great student athlete at Wheatley attained even greater fame at Springfield College where I often witnessed his remarkable achievements.
In any case, my collegiate athletic career after freshman football was short lived. I simply lost interest and fortunately found myself more in the library with my nose in a book. Unfortunately, they were often not textbooks but simply novels I felt like reading. Remember Jack Kerouac? Yes, he and others did get into me and although I did not become a hippie (yikes, I mean a beatnik) the early sixties found me appreciating solitude. Loneliness became a preference then, and if the truth be known, is now. Springfield College, in its own way, permitted me to do this, which I am grateful for. I often found myself trekking around the foothills of Western Massachusetts with a backpack, bottle of Chianti, some cheese, a notebook and bedroll. Ahhh the life of little responsibility! I enjoyed the early 60Õs and considered them to be an opportune time to be young and in college.
The cost of higher education was an interesting angle to my (our?) college days,. When I was accepted to Springfield my father and I sat down and discussed finances. In 1960, tuition, room and board was something like this-$1,800 a semester. He said Ken, I expect you to pay half, and I said fine. Caddying jobs at Wheatley Hills and Engineers Country Clubs were always available and the pay was more than fair. Part time jobs during semester breaks were easy to find as well. Fast forward to 28 years later when my eldest son also decided to attend Springfield College and the cost in 1988 was over $22,000 a year! It took my wife and me approximately 10 years to pay off the loan. Sound familiar?
I enjoyed college. Did I waste opportunities? Undoubtedly. Did it alter my character dramatically? I donÕt think so. Glancing back from my present perch, I found the Wheatley experience to be more profound, and for whatever reason it had more of an influence on me than college did. I dwell more on high school memories than college ones and have stayed closer to Wheatley friends than college acquaintances. A question presents itself-was this feeling due to simply growing up in that golden era of the Eisenhower years' innocence or was Wheatley special?
Upon graduation from Springfield in June of 1964 I accepted a commission in the Marine Corps. This led to a career that included 3 years of active duty and 25 years in the reserve. After marrying Cheryle Jane Comstock, becoming a Marine was the second most important decision I ever made. The Marine Corps intensely and irrevocably changed my personality and outlook on life, and I am eternally grateful for what it bestowed upon me.
I became an infantry officer and led a platoon of Marines in Vietnam. There were others from Wheatley who served in that unfortunate and unforgettable (for many of us) war. Pat BirkheadÕs brother, The Coffee brothers, John Moncure and Bob Merritt were among them, and I know I spoke with a few classmates in past reunions who also were there.
The Wheatley School had one graduate killed in Vietnam. His name was Billy Neubel. He was five years younger than us and lived three doors down from me on Wheatley Avenue. I did not know him. I wish I had, but in my own way I do know him, very well, if you can understand that.
As one of my friends, our age, a graduate of Floral Park and a Vietnam veteran, wrote some time ago-Vietnam was the watershed of our generation. So I believe. For me, there is not a day that goes by without a reminder of the abyss it brought me to. I venture there often and the memories, fear, camaraderie, laughter, effort, and tears that were created there will follow me to the grave.
While stationed at Quantico, Virginia I went on a blind date (very blind-a pint of Scotch and a 6-pack) and met the woman who became my wife. At the time she was a senior at Mary Washington College, which is the same college that I believe John MoncureÕs sister attended. We were married in 1965. In 1967 upon discharge from the Marine Corps we settled in San Diego. It was a comfortable time to reside in that lovely city as it was still relatively small and its future phenomenal growth had not yet occurred. I enrolled in San Diego State University where I eventually received an MBA. A noteworthy aside for me was how much more serious one took education as a 28-year old father as opposed to a na•ve, 18-year old, arrested adolescent.
In 1970, while still in graduate school, my wife gave birth to our fist child, and my life underwent one of those monumental and magnificent passages. I feel confident that those reading this who are parents know what I speak of. Is there any larger blessing than that of being a parent? None that I know of.
With a baby, the laid back Southern California lifestyle so appealing to young, childless newlyweds lost its charm and we began a nomadic lifestyle of completely moving back East for a year and then back to California and with the birth of our second child in 1976, finally moving and settling in upstate New York. We chose Boonville, NY, a small town in the snowbelt, 30 miles north of Utica where my retired parents lived. During our college days in the 60Õs eleven Wheatleyites spent a memorable weekend there. And sometime in the late 70Õs we had a mini reunion of graduates in Boonville. That was a great weekend and it was, incidentally, the last time I saw George Howell.
I became a high school teacher in a nearby town. That job left much to be desired, and I was about ready to leave education when I had a call from the Dean of Business at SUNY Institute of Technology. I interviewed and was offered a position teaching marketing courses. It developed into the best job I ever had.
The school was the only upper division one in the SUNY system. What that meant is that it only had juniors, seniors and a graduate students. If you were a graduate of a junior college, our school would give full credit for the 64 units comprising an associates degree. Thus, incoming students would not lose any credits when transferring, and they could get their bachelorÕs degree in two years. Therefore, all of my students were older, more mature and quite motivated. Over the years I became very close to many students and to this day remain in communication with them.
The schoolÕs administration liked to have faculty out in the field practicing business. Over the years I had started numerous businesses that went nowhere. One had a modicum of success. That business imported cloisonnˇ jewelry from Taiwan and then from China. The business, while still in existence, is not terribly profitable.
In 1989 we founded The Lodging Kit Company, a house ware and linen distribution business. We sell to timeshares, resorts, and extended stay hotels. It has done OK. One grateful angle is that both of our sons, after they served seven years as Marine officers, are in the business, and it has made what was already a close relationship, even closer. We speak three or four times a day as they run the New York office while I am in the Florida one, and we often travel around the country together doing sales calls and trade shows. Wonderful!
In 2002 we opened a branch office in Florida. The warehouse is in Edgewater, Florida. Our home is in New Smyrna Beach, an easy-going, quiet, artistic enclave approximately 15 miles south of Daytona Beach. We like it and split our time between New York and Florida. There is a nice guesthouse on the property, which would welcome any Wheatleyites needing a mini-vacation.
I gained a new title in 2000: ŅPapa.Ó Whoa!!! All who are fortunate to be grandparents understand this intense, overwhelming love. We now have four grandchildren ranging from nine years to eight months. It keeps my wife and me separated for five months out of the year, as she would rather be with them than with me. Can you imagine that? I can and donÕt blame her a bit.
In conclusion, where did it go, this race from 17 to 67 yearsÉin no time flat? I certainly canÕt answer that but I do know the kind Lord has blessed me far more often than I deserve and am grateful for so many things-family, friends, jobs and truly the wonderful years I experienced in the late 50Õs at the Wheatley School. I recently wrote a very brief eulogy in memory of my friend, Tom Kull, class of 61 and said this-memories never die. I believe that and thank the class of 1960 for so many of them. And finally my friends, as I age, know that my struggles continue in the ever more necessary pursuit of Veritatem Quaerite.