April 6, 2011

Oh brother, Mr. Coates was the model for future Levittown teacher Dewain Lanfear

click on photo to enlarge

Mr. Lanfear taught at Division Avenue High School for 18 years and a total of 32 in Levittown. This photo is from the 1975 yearbook.

By Dewain Lanfear, 1960

This is about a man who influenced me more than anyone else did at Division Avenue High School, but was probably unknown to just about everyone in my class, Mr, Coates.

When I first met him I was in the seventh grade living in the Bronx. I went to a Catholic grammar school that used lay teachers and nuns up to the seventh grade, and then used Brothers (like priests but without the "power" to say mass) for the boys in grades seven and eight.

My teacher that year was Brother Leonard, an energetic, task oriented, athletic man. He was an excellent teacher who managed to explain the mysteries of math to me. There was no nonsense in his classroom, but after school, he changed out of his robe and showed up on our ball fields and played basketball and softball with us. He had such a good time and so did we with him.

I decided then that I wanted to be like him, a Brother and teacher. I was unhappy to leave his class when we moved to Levittown in January of 1955, although I was thrilled to see the ball fields and pools (as I've written before).

Early in the eighth grade I was walking through our halls and saw "Brother Leonard" walking toward me. I greeted him loudly, being surprised and thrilled to see him, and he quieted me and said he was Mr. Coates now. He had left the Brothers and was a "civilian" now. He taught at Division after that, but stayed in the junior high level, so I never had him in class.

When we were juniors he married the honors class's social studies teacher Miss Smith (remember when there were three of them!? Can you name them?) After that, he and she coached me for two years in the American Legion oratorical contest. I remember vividly how hard they worked to rid me of my New Yawk accent. My friends at Boston College and here in South Carolina would say they weren't very successful, but what do they know? I enjoyed working with him and cheered him on in faculty basketball games. As a couple they took several of us on a college visit to Washington, DC in their own car - a one day trip. Unthinkable today for sure.

By the time I came back to teach, they had both moved to Suffolk County and taught there. I saw them twice after that, but both times I missed the chance to tell him just how much he meant to me. He was my model as a teacher. I know how much those words mean to a teacher, and I'm sorry I never said them to him. Anyway, that's the story. If anyone else had some interactions with Mr. Coates, I'd like to read them.


Thank you to Larry Loewy '75 for providing the photo


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Dewain for sharing your remembrances of times past. It is always such a pleasure to read them. I hope there will be many more. Pat McD

Anonymous said...

I do't remember Mr. Coates, but I really remember his wife. She taught my children, and my husband who was a teacher taught with her in 3 Village. I saw her many times during my girl's childhoods.
Joan Bartels Signorelli '62