In September a group of people in their early seventies met for lunch at an Astoria restaurant. Most had either attended Public School 5 or Junior High School 126 in the neighborhood together, back in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. There were 24 “kids” from those schools at the gathering, along with 16 spouses or friends. There were hugs and shouts of delight. Some had not seen each other for over fifty years. Since June 23, 1954 to be exact.
Alfred Holzman organized the reunion. His Slovakia-born parents had moved into 34-03 30th Avenue in 1944. They ran a store called Grand Paint Supply Company downstairs from their apartment, which is now Prime Design and Printing. In 1945 Alfred entered Public School 5.
The school was at 30-11 29th Street, just off 30th Avenue. The site is still a school – PS 234 – but the PS 5 building is no longer there: in 1967 an eight year-old boy playing with a match in a student clothing closet triggered a fire that burned the building to the ground.
Alfred and his classmates were devoted to one of their teachers, Mrs. Evelyn R. Benton. She had recently started teaching at the school after serving with the US navy during World War II as a “WAVE” (an acronym for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Many years later, in 2005, Alfred decided to get a small group of “Mrs. Benton’s kids” back together again for a reunion.
Since that initial gathering in South Florida the group has mushroomed as Alfred has been able to track down more and more of their classmates. Many live within New York State or New Jersey. Some though had flown in for the Astoria reunion from Florida and were making the occasion into a vacation. One woman arrived a little late having driven for seven hours straight from Vermont.
The reunion bubbled with reminiscences and summaries of lifetimes. How to update someone on the last fifty years of your life? It tended to boil down to love, work and health. There may be big differences between the specific paths Mrs. Benton’s pupils took but those basic ingredients, in various formulations, are there.
Among the group is an actress, an artist who taught at Fashion Institute of Technology, and a wall-street investor-turned marine-turned firefighter who also played the bugle in a band during the half-times of New York Giants games. One of the guests had married his childhood sweetheart. Another was there with his second wife. Alfred married his wife Lucy when he was in his fifties.
Clyde Locke, one of the guests, remembers the mix of origins of the kids along his block and still has the accents to prove it. He can switch effortlessly from Irish- to Scottish- to English- to German- to Italian-accented English. He says arriving at college where most kids had grown up in rural American towns was a culture shock – their experience having been so different from his city life. Frank went on to be an ophthalmologist in Astoria and the Director of eye surgery at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. He fixed two detached retinas for one of his PS 5 kindergarten classmates, Rosemarri Roth, who stood up at the reunion to thank him.
While Astoria was mixed when Mrs Benton’s kids were young, most of its residents were of European origins. As Alfred described it, “we all came from working class immigrant families, whether Hungarian, German, Slovak, Greek, or Italian-American.”
The guests brought photos and mementos. Among them was a faded PS 5 banking book. Each student contributed to his or her student bank account every Monday morning. It could be a dime, a quarter, even a dollar, whatever their parents could afford at the time. At the end of sixth grade when they graduated from PS 5, the children received a regular bank book. In that way they learned to save.
The best memories though didn’t need a prop. Evelyn Strang (raised on 30th Street between Newtown Avenue and Astoria Boulevard) and Frank Jankech (31st Avenue and 32nd Street) reminisced about a date they had gone on when they were young. It was Evelyn’s first time going to a Broadway show. She recalls her mother telling her to dress up nice and wear gloves. “I remember you were always smiling, always happy,” she said of Frank.
Miss Anna E. Burns, the PS 5 long-time principal, cropped up in the conversations. The girls at the school liked her, the boys loathed her. One recalled his delight at discovering how to open a high window in the corridor followed by the dread of sensing her approaching behind him.
There were also insights into how 30th Avenue has changed. Near where Key Foods supermarket is now located there was a grand mansion: Evelyn’s father tended the gardens there. Most of the Avenue consisted of small shops, like now, but very few of the shops from the time have survived. On practically every corner there was a pharmacy: from 29th Street to Steinway there were seven.
Off the Avenue, kids would take over whole blocks with street games, like stick ball for which they used manhole covers and auto fenders as bases. And many remembered the jubilant street parties on V-J day in Spring 1945, when they were impressionable five year-olds.
Guests were given a questionnaire that they browsed during the meal, with questions about PS 5 and the neighborhood. Some had specific answers. “An important invention was made in Astoria in a garage on 37th Street, what was it?” (Answer: xerography, i.e. a dry photocopy, which soon became the essence of the Xerox corporation).
Other questions began with “Do you remember…?”. For example, “Do you remember ‘inspection’ each week?” (when the class had to stand in a row and have their hands and fingernails inspected for cleanliness and display their handkerchiefs). And: “Do you remember the basement lunch room (can you smell the tomato soup) ?”
The atmosphere at the reunion ranged from lighthearted to emotional. As Alfred said when he addressed the group: “It’s just a kick, a great feeling, to see someone again.”
I am very grateful to Alfred Holzman for inviting me to join this reunion.
For more on how 30th Avenue was in the past, see: the interview with Bob Singleton of the Greater Astoria Historical Society; a conversation with a group of Astoria old-timers at Corner Delights café; and the post about 30th Avenue’s former ice cream parlors.
19 replies on “Astoria kids of the 1940s reunite”
I was just surfing looking for my past. I grew up on 29th St. Went to PS 5 from kindergarten till 4 grade. I believe that would work out from 1950 to 1956. I moved to California the summer of 1956. I remember of few names of people who lived in my apartment house. Bob and Richard Foster, Peter Masceli, Gene Duffy and Patricia Bochicchio Forgive me if I have the spelling wrong.
I went to P.S.126 in the 40’s. I lived on 30th Road and walked to school everyday untilI was I was 11 years old then we moved to Bayside . I will always remember my wonderful school.
My name is Margaret Capuano people know me as “maggie” I was born in Astoria queens I lived at 30-08 14th St. I was born there in 1932.. My best friend was friend was Theresa Bott.. My school was PS-126 one of my many teachers was Miss Higgins . I wish I could have been at your reunion but I have no idea that it took place. I would love to talk with anyone who grew up in my surrounding area. Thank you, Margaret From Astoria !
I have great memories of PS 5. I attended it from 1959 to 1965. It had great teachers and was a great place to learn. Then I attended JHS 126 until 1968 JHS 126 to me it was the worse school ever a horrible place to learn anything. still to this day the I have nothing but bad memories of the school especially mr reardon what a bully he was. I then went on to the best high school ever L.I.C from 1968 to 1972.
I lived on 21st & 30th ave in Astoria. We enjoyed Astoria pool in the summers and I went to the Boys Club on 21st. In 1967 my sister in kindergarten and myself 2nd grade were at PS 5 when it went up in flames. I do remember Bartels “Sweet shop” on 30th ave and the candy store by PS 5. I remember Rizzo’s Pizza in the 1960’s. By 1971 we moved to Hollis Queens.
I was in second grade. I was a monitor and was delivering a note to the 6th floor when the fire started.I remember leaving the building and looking up and glass was flying out the windows. Very scary. Did you go to the school on Steinway street after the fire?Patricia
Wonderful story! I was born in 1955 and lived at 29-38-30th ave. I guess in 1960 I attended kindergarten there. My sister and I were then sent to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. We have fond memories of those days. We lived right on corner and our back yard had a wall that abutted right up to the schoolyard. We lived on the 3rd floor , my grandparents the O’Neills lived on the second floor. Oh the benefits of extended family!! The first floor was The Henry’s furniture store and next to that was a candy store. I thought I was the luckiest kid to live above the candy store even though we were only allowed a treat once in a while. Occasionally my grandfather would sneak us a few cents to get some penny candies. Wonderful memories!! Thanks so much for this article. Warmed my heart!
We have very similar stories. I too was born in 1955 and lived on 29th st. and 30th Drive. I also went to P.S. 5 from 1960 to 1965 and then transferred to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. My Mom was the School Crossing Guard on your corner, by the candy store. She pulled the fire alarm, when the fire started there.
My teachers at P.S. 5 were Miss Marshall, Mrs. Curcio, Miss Scanlon, Mrs. Quigley and Miss Thompkins. Were we in any classes together?
Is anybody familiar with this address?
28-48 49th street, Queens, Astoria
My grandparents lived there and I was wondering if anybody had photos of that street?
Does anyone have a photo of PS-5
Yes I have several photo postcards of PS 5. I also have a photo of the school that was originally on that site it was a very large plantation style building with 4 very large columns.
I do have photos of ps 5 if you’re interesred contact me at email@example.com I will gladly sent you copies.
I was surfing, looking for articles about Astoria and PS 5 and was shocked to see this. I attended K-6 1952-9, and then, with 3 other classmates, moved on to HCHS instead of PS 126. I have lots of memories Es and still remember names. I hope someone contacts me via email!
Greetings, Audrey, Back in Astoria I was Ruth Fitterman, now Ruth Cazden. I remember you and your brother Steve and would love to re-connect. I live in El Cerrito, Ca (near SF) and have retired from a career as a casualty consultant to municipalities. I have a wonderful picture of you at my 6th birthday party. Hope to hear from you soon.
I have often thought about my days at PS 5. Though we left Astoria in 1950 to move to Flushing, I remember very well the great school and greater teachers we had then.
The teachers had our utmost respect in those days – our parents insisted that we respect our teachers as we respected our parents; no less.
I began PS 5 in 1947. My first grade teacher was Mrs Fullerton – what a delightful lady she was.
In second grade, I had Mrs Sawyer, probably not my favorite. In reality, she dispelled the myth of Santa Claus for me – she was the first ever to tell me that Santa Claus is NOT real. I remember being broken hearted about that news and I remember my mother going down to the school and confronting Mrs Sawyer and in today’s vernacular “ripping her a new one”.
Third grade brought me to Miss Pearlstein, another lovely individual and smart teacher. I remember her often speaking about her up and coming marriage. It was a pleasure listening to her.
The olny children I can now recall were John Tobacco and a new Spanish boy named Louis.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended PS 5 and was dismayed to hear it no longer stands, but as time marches onward, so must we.
I am now retired and have been living in Florida for the past 23 years, but my formative days growing up in Astoria just after the war ended will forever be inscribed indelibly in my mind.
So sorry to have missed the reunion; it sounds like it was a great time to reminisce on days of yore.
Dem were da days!
I attended P.S. 5 from 1946 to 1952. I lived on 28 Rd. (between 31St & 33St.)
I would walk up to the 30 Ave elevated subway and walk across so not to cross the busy 31 St., but their was always a Police Officer their to help with crossing the street.
Some of the teachers I had were Mrs. Benton, Mrs. DRose. Some of my class mates
I remember were Larry DiBona, Johnny Robinson, Vito Mondello.
If I remember correctly Thursday was Auditorium day, and the boys wore white shirts with red ties. Mrs. Burns was the Principle. I also remember the school bank account.
P.S. 5 was a great school, I felt bad went it burnt down. After graduating P.S. 5
I then went to J.H. 126 my room teacher was Mr. Thornton, I then went to
William Cull Bryant High School and my home room teacher was Mrs. Marshall.
This site brought back a lot of memories. Thanks so much.
Annabel, March 30th 2013. Just received an E-Mail from Al on your October article. What a warm and sincere writing about our last reunion. I didn’t realize you were taking so many notes during the luncheon. Al Holzman has done a superb job in getting us “old kids” together after so many years. Astoria was a great place to grow up in. We all have terrific memories which, thank god, are still with us. I can easily represent that we are all looking forward to our next Al Holzman get together production. Hope you can make it with us wherever it is in the future. Best wishes and thanks again for a great article. Frank T. Jankech, Jackson, New Jersey
Thank you so much for the lovely pictures you posted and the description of the time spent in Astoria.
I remember many of my former classmates and it was so nice to see them before and after! Wish I could have been there, maybe next time.
Thank you, Janica
It was beyond my wildest expectations to have such a joyful time at the Reunion. I saw my junior high school friends (126) and others like Alfred who have kept up friendships for decades. Some of us had attended P.S. 126 and knew each other from kindergarten and then joined up with the P.S. 5 crew and the P.S. 166 crew when we all started J.H.S. 126 (housed in the same building as P.S. 126). Confused?
Astoria was a special place for us as children and teenagers (Astoria Park,Rainey Park,a variety of houses of worship, many movie houses and ice cream parlors) It was a well-kept secret from the rest of the world. It took ten-fifteen minutes to get into Manhattan on the BMT. Our environment was multi-cultural and multi-ethnic from the get-go. We lived in harmony and respected one another’s similarities and differences. We shared the richness of our backgrounds. I, too, have heart-felt memories of growing up here. And… I still live here in Astoria!
Many thanks to Alfred and Lucy for planning the reunion.It took much time and effort for them to plan long distance from Florida. Thanks to Anabel Short for the article which should inspire all non-attendees to think about the next reunion. Be well everyone and let’s hear from you.
Keep in touch!