The link is Jamaica High School, built to last forever, high on a glacial hill.
The White family moved into the house in 1938. Jean White was our class president for 1956, a born leader. President for Life, we call her.
Jean was captain of the cheerleaders when her boy friend Eddie Grenning played for Brooklyn Tech against Jamaica, in the PSAL semifinals in 1955. Then she led the cheers for Alan Seiden and Artie Benoit as Jamaica won the title.
When Eddie passed, way too young, Jean sought out adventures, getting air-lifted onto a remote island in Alaska, where she spent a winter working as a community liaison. Now she lives on another island, called Manhattan.
A few weeks ago, Jean White Grenning was in the old neighborhood and decided to take a look at her childhood home, which the Whites had sold to the Forrestals in 1977. Jackie Forrestal sent her daughter Kathy to Jamaica High, where she worked on the school paper, the Hilltopper, and loved her time there.
On this spring day, Jackie and Kathy were both gardening in the front yard when Jean dropped by. So much history in that meeting. Jackie has become a leading activist, sticking up for the legacy of Jamaica High, as the city, in a fit of Pol Pot nihilism, has sought to destroy the landmark high schools. Jamaica High is being phased out, with the gorgeous indestructible building turned over to the new fad in education, boutique mini-schools.
In its time, Jamaica nurtured Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat from Houston, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Stephen Jay Gould, Bob Beamon, epic Olympic long-jumper, Paul Bowles, Sid Davidoff and Herb London. Four friends of mine, who lived a few blocks from each other, became doctors, some still working.
The last legal hopes for Jamaica High are stalled somewhere in the court system; Jackie Forrestal goes to meetings, reminding people that her daughter Kathy had a great time in Jamaica not so long ago. Jackie has come to be the caretaker for bound issues of the Hilltopper, our school paper, and other treasures, just in case the school somehow emerges from this dark age.
A few weeks ago, Jean White Grenning and her brother Stuart White took the subway to Parsons Blvd and walked up 164th St., visiting their old church, the First Methodist Church of Jamaica. “The minister graciously showed us around the church and explained that he would be leaving for another church in South Jamaica. In general, he said, church attendance is down all over.”
They stopped in the old candy store, now a deli, and talked to new owner who has been there six years. Then they visited their old house, a few blocks from Jamaica High, and Jackie showed them around the house “which looks the same to us. We then walked to Union Turnpike stopped in another deli (now Korean) and peeked into the windows of Dante's which did not open until 4 o'clock.” (Back in the day, Dante’s was a mere pizzeria, where everybody went after the basketball games.)
Jean and her brother walked up 168th St. to Jamaica High, where they chatted with a few boys in one science-oriented mini-school. “They were unsure if they liked the smaller school and thought maybe they would like a bigger school,” she said.
The neighborhood has changed; there is a bustling mosque on 168th St. A few years ago, I had a great time visiting some classes at the old school; I felt Jamaica High was still producing strong people like the Whites and the Forrestals.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.