May 5, 2011

Was Division Avenue's class of 1960 at the right school at the right time? Early alums share their opinions and memories.

Cowgirl Jane Alexander and cowboy Bob Cotter '64 (right) play with two friends on a summer's day in 1956 Levittown. Bob wrote, "All the kids were great, we were originals, products of a grand experiment that did not go awry."

Some of our blog readers were asked to comment on the following written by Sandy Kelly Mincher, class of 1961.

Sandy wrote:
This blog always has interesting points of view but Dewain Lanfear's story "Division Avenue's class of 1960 was at the right school at the right time" really strikes a chord with me. I have often thought of this right time, right place idea.

Even though I followed the class of 1960 four-year seniors by a year, the idea that we were not the usual school rings true to me. There was something created in Levittown that was different from other towns. To me it was that there was no class system previously established, no "good section" of town or divisions by ethnicity or religion that occurred in many places during that era. The playing field was even.

I was never even aware such things existed until I moved away from Levittown.


Arnie Galeota '61
What Sandy has stated is so true. The economic status of the residents was never an issue. The fact seems to be that while some people probably had higher incomes than others, it was not obvious or even important. I don't think it mattered to anyone.

We seemed to be equal partners in a terrific place to grow up. No jealousies, no competitions, just a good daily life where neighbors spent quality time together and the family unit was still important. We ate together, went on trips together, the parents attended school functions, especially sports.

I remember for my junior prom the parents put together a beautiful breakfast spread at the Division Avenue High School gymnasium, decorated it, so when we got back from the dance we had entertainment for the rest of the night and breakfast was served by our parents before we went home that morning. Can you imagine any school these days doing that?

It's too bad no one documented on video the many great things that Levittown and our school had to offer. We can tell our kids and grandkids, but they could never really understand how good things were and that's why so many succeeded rather than going to jail, or overdosing. We will never see such a time and place like that again.

Jack Jacobsen '62
I agree that Levittown did not have a class system and that we were all equals. I didn't realize that there were different levels of society until the ninth grade when I was on the cross country team and we had a meet at Great Neck North during half-time of the football game. Their students had MGs, Triumphs, and other foreign cars in their parking lot. Plus their school was a campus compared to ours. It was always great to beat them in their own backyard.

Bob Cotter '64
A lot of what has been said has had a lot to do with memories that could have come from anyone's youth. But Levittown was unique. There was no "across the tracks"; there wasn't anyone from the "other side of town", and there wasn't the wealthy family who lived up on the hill ...we were all in the same boat.

There was no downtown. We had "The Stores"....the strip anchored by Whelan's on one end and later Mays department store at the other end. We had the Village Greens...all the same on the outside, but each had its own personality and character. Remember the Cane Lounge?....very dark and mysterious to me.

Hempstead Turnpike was Main Street...I remember drag racing GTOs from light to light on my Triumph motorcycle (Joe Detore was my idol...the original Fonz)....Levittown was one of, if not the first, fully planned community; the first official, organized pursuit of the post-war American Dream. Our parents came from all backgrounds, and we as their offspring, started our lives literally living in the same house, well, some lived in ranches, some in capes, but the same nonetheless. All the kids were great, we were originals, products of a grand experiment that did not go awry.

Marilyn Monsrud Frese '63
Levittown still has no "class system" differential. Everyone still makes a mid-level salary so most neighbors are on equal footing there. There are no religious divisions in town...all live peaceably and happily side by side.

We've had a recent influx of Middle Eastern homeowners, but for the most part, they are peaceful, respectful good neighbors. Teenagers are no different here than in many smallish towns. Again, since there is so little difference in household earnings, there are really no "haves" vs. "have-nots" among the kids or the parents.

Honestly, it's amazing how Levittown is still very much the same as it was six decades ago. Sure, there are more drugs around now than there had been in the early years, and houses do get robbed occasionally, but it is mostly minor and most of the time the perpetrator is from another town. The only competition between "classes" here is Division Avenue vs. MacArthur High School. There is a sports rivalry here just as there was when Division and Levittown Memorial competed many years ago. .

We moved to Levittown in 1949, and except for seven years that I lived in Massapequa as a newly wed (a whole three miles from Levittown) I've had my roots firmly planted right here. And since we were so adamant about not leaving Levittown, three of our children live within three miles of us with our six grandkids. This is home to me, and always will be.

Patricia Kraft McDonald '60
The class system was established in Levittown from Day One and everyone was treated equally because everyone was the same. Do I still remember Levittown fondly? More than I can say. Was it a wonderful place to grow up in? Absolutely! When you eventually moved on were you well prepared for the world that would greet you next? Not really.

Keep your memories as I do mine, but I do believe it was a slice of Smallville we were tasting all those years. Dewain, you may have been a catcher, but you're batting 1.000 with your essays.

Kathy Stahlman Zinn '63
I agree, especially for our time. This is what I was saying on this blog, in part, about my religious experience in Levittown. Sandy is right about their being no "right side of town", or other artificial separations. Although teenagers will always find ways to distinguish ourselves, and we did have, "prep", jocks, smart kids, greasers, etc., but no one was the rich kid or the poor kid. I don't think this was always the case later on.

I think our egalitarian attitude was largely due to our parents and teachers just having survived WW II, where they learned a lot about themselves, the wider world, and what democracy truly means. They wanted to live that way and raise and teach their children in that kind of environment.

Michelle Fromm-Lewis '63
When my family moved to Woodcock Lane in November of 1949 I had just turned four. Our street pretty much constituted my world since I hadn't yet branched out to the world of school. Our street, by happenstance, had a goodly number of Jewish families, including ours, as well as Christian families of many different denominations.

Our street was a community within the greater community, everyone knowing each other, looking out for one another, and even sharing family traditions. Fond early memories include my family visiting many neighbors on Christmas Eve bring with us little gifts, and a neighbor dressing up as Santa and visiting homes (including ours) bearing small gifts for the children.

In 2010 while visiting a Christian neighbor whose sons I babysat for as a "tween", I was presented with a tin of homemade rugelach (a Jewish pastry). She told me my mother taught her to make them and she used my mother's recipe. We respected our differences and shared our traditions.

I really like Sandy's words, "no class system", " no good section of town or divisions by ethnicity or religion".

Lillian Smith '62
Interesting thought about the Levittown neighborhood's lack of stereotypical divides. I think there were no ethnic or religious divisions, per se, because Levittown was still relatively new, originally built without preconceptions of race, religion or nationality. It embraced the post-depression "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (to borrow a phrase from Emma Lazarus), and seemed to be a mixed composition, without prejudice or forgone ethnic bias.

Statistically, the longer an area is established, the more it tends to become divided along those lines, and patterns become established. Like they say, birds of a feather flock together. It's too bad, really.

David Amster '63
Sandy is right, in so many ways. My parents moved to Levittown, 35 Woodcock Lane, when I was four in 1949. As part of the Class of 1963 I was really the younger kid until I became a senior. I lived in a cocoon and was watched over by parents and teachers and even other parents. I truly was naive about life outside of Levittown until maybe my junior year.

My family belonged to a synagogue in Westbury, Beth Avodah, where I was learning about Jewish life. I was Bar Mitzvahed there and was now joining in the social world by being part of the teenage group. We had events with other groups from towns all over Long Island. It was then that I realized how sheltered a life I had in Levittown. Personally this was great for me, as I was not the outgoing person I developed into many years after high school. It was good to be sheltered and cared for by this town.

I was never afraid to go anywhere or do anything. When I went by car or bus to other congregations for weekend events or parties I did not have this secure feeling, even though I knew these kids.

When I got my license and began to drive all over Long Island did I see the differences that were not in Levittown? I saw poor and rundown areas, wealthy areas, even some undeveloped areas. At Jones Beach we mingled with people from “the city” and saw the wide variety of people and backgrounds. Somehow, even though Levittown had people from all backgrounds as well, it was not as obvious since we all “blended” so well. Being at Azalea Road Pool was soooo different than when we went to Jones Beach.

Frankly I must agree, we were in the right place at the right time. I cannot think of why I would trade it for any other upbringing. When I met people later in life and “where are you from” came up, I was always so proud to say LEVITTOWN.

Wally Linder '61
The fall of 1960 and the spring of 1961, was a major turning point in the history of the United States.

The election of John Kennedy and the defeat of Richard Nixon signifies a major change and turning point in the political and social history of the United States. Kennedy's election was a bigger change then Obama's election is today. It felt like the "old guys", Eisenhower and Nixon, were being replaced by the "young guys", Kennedy and his brothers.

Look at all the change that happened in the 60's and 70's. Women, Blacks and minorities rebelled against their previous cast status in society. Sitting in John Fitzsimmons's living room, election night, in 1960, you could feel that something great was about to happen. There were a bunch of us who stayed up all night waiting for the election results.

I felt that going out into the world in June 1961 was the start of an exciting adventure. I did feel that I was in the right place at the right time.

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