January 18, 2011

Q & A with Diane McDonnell, Class of 1960; guidance people told her to not take an academic course in high school

Where did you live in Levittown, when did you move there and where had you lived before:

I lived on Sycamore and Locustwood, just a block off Summit Lane, very close to the school, which helped when I was racing down to the side door, late as usual. Mr. Hennelly, my junior or senior year home room teacher, would look out the window and mark me as present.

We had lived in a fourth floor walkup apartment in the Fordham section of the Bronx. We moved to Levittown in June of 1955, and stayed until December 1960, five very important and memorable years.

What were some of your earliest memories of Levittown:

In the Bronx, everyone clamored to mind my sister (10 years younger than I). I was shocked to learn that too many cohorts on Sycamore had their own younger siblings to care for and were not a whit interested in that chore.

Who were some of your first friends:

Gads, there are so many, At first I was friends with Susan Kenny, John Gentleman, Jackie Ellerkamp and Gary DeCastillia (they all lived on Sycamore Lane). This group wound up including Terry Tagano and Judy Bowen. Then I became tight with Linda Kenley and the friends I still see from time to time to this day, most notably, Kathy O’Brien, along with Phyllis Hirsch, Marian Wetzel and Jackie Lamb. The whole group was quite large and included many others, if I listed them it would be at least 25 percent of our yearbook and a decent percentage from the class of 1959 at Levittown Memorial.

Was attending Division Avenue High School a good experience, any teachers you really enjoyed:

I was initially afraid of Division since I was coming from a parochial school, but I liked Division, even when I was going there (not just the memories). I remember many of the teachers: Mr. Keating (what co-ed didn’t have a teeny crush on him?); Mr. Hennelly (from above, not counting me late daily); George Smith, (I hated his World History class, but always liked him); Mrs. Sileo (I was a business major); Mrs. Drumm (I was her “secretary” for a couple of years); I also always got a big kick out of Mr. Graf. I felt sorry, even as a high school student, for poor Mr. Sullins. He was so sweet, but not an effective math teacher.

Diane, I remember you writing to me a few years ago that you were discouraged by school administrators (guidance department) from taking academic courses. I even remember the reason given, "You will get married and have kids and will not finish college anyway." What are you thoughts about this and tell us how it worked out in the long run:

They told me not to spend six years getting my MSW (Masters in Social Work) and then wind up getting married. So I took business courses and became a secretary. Did office work for many years, at many different levels, and never wound up getting married after all. Then a friend convinced me I should go to school and become a social worker. And the rest is history. At age 50, I started six-years-in-four: undergrad at Lehman College (which turned out to be a pretty good school) and my graduate work at Fordham University. Did social work until I retired last June. Really enjoyed those years.

A highlight of your high school years:

Many memorable moments, for example, Mr. Aiello turning down our request to get an afternoon off from school to go to American Bandstand; the volunteer work a bunch of us did with Johnny Cochran (not O.J. Simpson's attorney) with the mentally retarded at Laurel Lane School and the boys orphanage in Syosset; the senior prom of course; Azalea Road pool and Jones Beach; the roller rink; recreation in the gym(s) after school and/or in the evenings; sock hops; all the parties we all walked to and from without any fear; the friends; romances, (some continue to this day); the zillion crushes, the unrequited love; the suitor I couldn’t get away from fast enough.

What did you do immediately after high school?

As suggested by my guidance counselors, I became a secretary at IBM. I got bored easily and changed jobs often. Worked at a TV ad agency, a consultant firm (Booz, Allen), Bide-a-Wee (loved that job), Blythedale Children’s Hospital, to name a few that were full-time permanent. Now if I started listing the temporary jobs I had – just mention a business – I probably did a stint there. Maybe I had Adult ADD – if I did – not any more! Retirement is wonderful.

You are retired, so what do you do keep busy:

I don’t have to “keep busy,” I just am. I wonder how I worked and did these things and can only figure that a lot of them I just didn’t do. I take things easy, spread chores out, socialize more, talk on the phone more, I’m on the computer more (love Spider and Scrabble). I still have my ‘to do’ list and will eventually get to that, for example, organizing my on-line photos, volunteer work and vacations.

Something that your old schoolmates would be surprised to learn about you:

That I did very well in college, probably because I went back as an adult and enjoyed the learning process. That would probably shock some of my teachers and a few fellow students who understandably thought I was a big ditz. One thing hasn’t changed. I’m still a chatterbox.

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