January 17, 2011
Elementary school friends share childhood memories and common interests dating back to 1948 in Forest Hills, New York
By Frank Barning
I can't think of anyone with whom I am still in touch on a regular basis who has known me as long as John Sterbenz. We met in the first grade at P.S. 101 in Forest Hills, New York in 1948 and were in the same class every year through sixth grade.
Our bond was a mutual passion for playing softball in the cement school yard and our love for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Gil Hodges. We both played in the initial season of the Forest Hills Little League in 1954. He is the only person I have ever known who batted cross handed. Hank Aaron reportedly began his baseball career batting that way but never did so in the major leagues.
John has saved just about everything that has been important in his life. Recently he emailed me a scan of an autograph book page (see above) that I had written on 56-years ago. Amazingly, my handwriting hasn't changed according to my wife.
My family moved to Levittown in late 1954. And over the years, John became a distant memory most easily recalled when I looked at the annual class pictures in the Barning family album.
In 1981, I received a letter postmarked in Michigan from Sterbenz. He was a baseball card collector and I was editor of Baseball Hobby News, a national publication that he had picked up at a sports memorabilia show in the Detroit area.
John asked if I was the same Frank Barning who went to P.S. 101. After a gap of nearly four decades, we were back in touch. At least five times we have seen each other since then, including twice in the past few years here in Las Vegas. We share so many memories of our childhood and our discussions have awakened much of the joy of my pre-Levittown days.
In 1954 I wrote that I hoped he would make the Dodgers. Well, that didn't happen but he graduated from New York Tech, became a successful engineer, worked at the Kennedy Space Center for NASA on the Apollo Program (1966-69) until the United States landed a man on the moon.
Then he moved to Michigan to work for the Ford Motor Company Safety Laboratory as a Test Engineer (1969-1999). Even at age 68, John is still an active participant in sports, including the Senior Olympics.
“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart”. I found this quote online. John Sterbenz has left a big footprint.