January 14, 2011

Part 1: Dewain Lanfear shares his priceless Levittown memories

Old Levittown golfing buddies were reunited in 2008. Left to right are Ken Plass, Dewain Lanfear, Richie Humbert and Russ Green.

By Dewain Lanfear '60

Living and teaching in Levittown were priceless experiences and I have fond memories of being a member of Division Avenue High School's pioneer class of 1960.

We moved to Levittown in January of the seventh grade, so that was 1955. I remember walking to school the first day in the snow. My first class was phys ed and Mr. Aiello was the teacher. Little did I know then that we would work together until he retired some 30 years later - that we would play golf in our teachers' league and share coffee in the faculty room and he would always be such a kind gentleman.

That first day in class, I was just lost. I came from a Catholic school in Parkchester in the Bronx. I had been trained to stand when I answered questions, and although it was obvious that this was not the rule at Division Avenue High School, it still took me a couple of weeks to break the habit. Talk about "training!"

I remember being thrilled at the sight of the baseball fields around town, especially the Jerusalem Avenue complex. In the Bronx, I played softball on an asphalt playground, and our Little League field was a backstop on a bare soccer field. Levittown was like heaven and I couldn't wait until spring to come and baseball season to arrive. I was astonished that the fields sat there empty and I could get some friends together and play anytime.

Mr. Reichert (Jerry's dad) and Mr. Greengold (Allie's dad) were my coaches in Little League. I don't recall the other players, I'm sorry to say, but it was a dream for me. The whole baseball program in the town was excellent, and is to this day, which is why Division and MacArthur are such powers.

Later on I played for Jack MacDonald who became a fantastic coach at Clarke HS, and of course Joe DiMaggio at Division. I played on the freshman team at Boston College and by then I could see that I had peaked baseball wise and I didn't play after that. That I stopped playing then is one of my few regrets. It led to my emphasizing to my students that their regrets ought to be things they did, not things left undone. Although it's early in this narrative, let me say that taking lessons learned in my own life into the classroom was my style throughout my teaching career.

I remember that Ken Plass was a very early friend and remains a friend to this day. The same can be said of Russ Green and Rich Humbert. Steve Tuck and I shared an interest in music. I played baseball on Jerusalem Avenue fields with Jerry Reichert, Jeff Swain (moved away early) and others along Blacksmith Road. There was a lot of table tennis (called "ping pong" then - now much classier) at Russ's house. Ken and I as we got older and he could drive, would play summer basketball in Massapequa. Ken got taller - me not so much. We were a good team though and played with some future college stars.

Ken himself went on to be a force in California and as an adult in national AAU circles. Rich and I lifted weights in my backyard using picnic benches for our bench presses and he was a very successful wrestler. The four of us "learned" to play golf at Bethpage State Park before it became famous as the US Open venue. We have played together the last few years and things haven't changed that much swing wise. I think that the formation of lifelong friendships is typical of our classmates. I am grateful to have these people in my life and others who haven't appeared yet in this narrative.

Baseball was my sport and I was lucky enough to be in Levittown, a place that had a great program. The youth leagues were well run and supported by adults in the community. They fed the high school programs and these programs were successful thanks to the stream of young talent. I remember lots of wins, a few losses, but mostly I remember the coaching of Jack MacDonald in the youth leagues and Joe DiMaggio at DAHS. They were good men who knew the game and liked their players.

I recall with fondness teammates: the late Pete Cybriwsky, Gary Parker, Mike Caldararo, John Shibilo, Jerry Reichert, John Koehler, Jim Urban, Ernie Villatore, Bill Stanley and Ron Albaum ( who went on to be a successful coach at Brentwood HS). We endured the miserable early season weather together and won a lot of games. I can't listen to Springsteen's "Glory Days" without thinking of Pete and tearing up a bit. What I took from baseball was a feeling that I could do something well, and that gave me confidence to do other things.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful memories enclosed in terrific prose. I'm looking forward to part 2 tomorrow. Regards, Dewain. Pat McD

Marilyn Monsrud Frese said...

Can't wait to read the rest of your story!! I worked at DAHS in the Athletic Dept. for AD Sally Brown for 15 years and then 1 year for Jim Amen Jr. when Sally left DAHS. That was from 1980 - 1986. I believe I left at the end of the school year in June, 1986. I wonder if you were at DAHS before I left??? From there I went to work at Hofstra U. I will always remember you from DAHS- I was a freshman dating Russ for a while...and you were so nice to little old freshman me.

Jim Urban said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Urban said...

A great piece, Dewain. Beautifully written too. I will always remember you as one of the nicest guys I've ever known. I'm certain that, had I had you as a teacher, you would have been a favorite of mine.

I'm waiting for Part II.

Anonymous said...

great job Dewain. It seemed like you thought Levittown was an idyllic place just like I did. It was a fantastic place for kids to grow up. Lots to do and lots of kids. Looking forward to part 2 - Lilette

Sue V said...

You and Ernie seem to have followed the same path, with maybe a detour here and there.You were both, great high school athletes, super students, and successful educators of the brightest kids, and commendable coaches. Sounds like you also ended up basically in the same place, enjoying life and golf. Or is it GOLF with life. See you in key west. sorry i will be the representative from our family...