Lawrence Lasker served as a paratrooper in the Korean War
By FRANK BARNING
I didn't really know my teachers at Division Avenue High School and I doubt that many of my classmates did either. Because we saw them nearly every day during a particular school year, we might have thought we knew them, but I am certain that I never asked my teachers about their lives outside of school.
Sadly, I have learned details about the lives of some of them while doing research for my blog. The information was contained in their obituaries, which were found thanks to a Google search. You can assume that very few of our teachers from the 1950s and early 1960s are still living. The same goes for parents of our Division Avenue schoolmates.
A while ago, a blog story included a baseball team photo from 1960. Robert Simes, a well-remembered math teacher, was the team's coach. His obituary was found online and we learned that he had passed away at age 80 in 2002. But probably few or none of his students knew that he was "A World War II veteran of the Army, attaining the rank of sergeant, he served from 1943 to 1946." Also, he had a daughter and two grandchildren and was a Catholic. The religion of our teachers was hardly ever mentioned.
Upon reading obituary information in the blog, a few classmates have written that they had no idea about some of the personal aspects of their teachers' lives. The bulk of the comments concerned military service and World War II and Korea. In those days, veterans hardly shared their war-time experiences with their own families, much less their students.
I knew the sons of two of our coaches. Jim Amen, a revered early Division Avenue teacher, had a son Jim Jr. who was about the same age as we were. Occasionally, Jim Jr. would attend his dad's games or hang out in the gym with us playing basketball. Another coach, Mr. DiMaggio, occasionally would bring his young son to Saturday baseball practices. So some of us did have a personal connection.
There have been more than 525 stories posted since this blog began in July 2010. Precious few have included intimate details of a teacher's past. The June 26, 2011 story written by Kathy Stahlman Zinn, class of 1963, was quite personal. She wrote about Ben Murphy, a Summit Lane School teacher who she had for two school years, 1955-57.
Kathy wrote: "We knew a lot about him, because, like most Irishmen (he was a Brooklyn Irishman), he loved to talk. He had left high school a few months before graduation, lied about his age and entered WW II as a Seabee in 1944. He spoke often of his war experiences, but never with any horror or bitterness."
Among the most popular Division Avenue teachers, and later an administrator, was Lawrence Lasker who passed away in February 2011. His obituary was included here and we learned: "A U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War, he had served as a paratrooper and was very proud to have served as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery." Not many of his students knew this about the man affectionately known as "Uncle Larry".
Some students were aware of his military background. Following Mr. Lasker's passing, Marilyn Monsrud Frese, class of 1963, commented: "He loved to tell old war stories."
Among my most non-academic contacts with teachers were those who, like me, were avid baseball fans. Maybe they would mention in class last night's Yankees or Dodgers game, so I got the idea that we shared a common interest and would chat them up.
More than a half century later, it is with regret that I do not know more about the Division Avenue teachers who had so strongly impacted our lives. At the same time, I regret not asking my parents and grandparents more about our family history.