One House, Two Families, 75 Years
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.
Thor A. Larsen
5/18/2013 10:00:48 am
As a fellow classmate at Jamaica High School, I still cherish the excellent education I receive there from 1952-1956. I was fortunate to have devoted and fully engaged teachers in math,science, and liberal arts subjects that provided me a very smooth transition to a physics major in Queens College and subsequently, Columbia University. The friendly competition with other, very bright students pushed me to work extra hard. There was also a very strong sense of school spirit fostered by people like Jean and yourself, George.
5/18/2013 02:25:39 pm
Jamaica HS class of 1973. I received a wonderful education. Took me to Queens College and then The New School. It is a failure of our education system that in a short period of time my wonderful HS was closed. I learned how to think and how to challenge myself at Jamaca. Would live to see the old Hilltopers.
5/19/2013 04:43:29 am
5/19/2013 11:14:28 am
Alan, thanks. I think they have one more year, a senior class. The building is being used for some of these mini-schools. How teen-agers negotiate all these little novelties is beyond me. GV
5/20/2013 01:19:21 am
Models of education are always changing and the real loss is when we fail to understand the good parts of the old and how they are impacted by new thinking. So, I'm interested in the interviews with the kids in Jamaica and how they are sorting through what they miss and what they like. They are the consumers that matter to us.
5/20/2013 01:35:05 pm
Thank you all for the comments. The editorial page in the NYT dealt with education today.
5/21/2013 12:58:08 am
NYC schools are a tough nut to crack. Woody Allen dreamt up the destruction of the world when "a man named Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead."
5/20/2013 02:14:34 am
Thank you for capturing the magical day that my brother and I visited our old neighborhood and stopped by "our old house." It is great that Jackie and her family live in our house and are able to continue the Jamacia High School tradition.
5/21/2013 02:44:47 am
Thanks for this posting, George, and thanks for the shout out. I,too, am full of warm nostalgia for JHS as it was way back when. I was there for only two years (1953-55) but they were rich and memorable years, both academically and socially. (My beau was Billy Wellens, Captain of the basketball team during the Alan Seiden period, and long deceased.) I learned to write in journalism class. My by-line appeared in print for the first time in the Hillltopper, a thrill I remember to this day. (It was only a two-name by-line back then!) I've never had another writing class since, but I went on to be a professional writer, and I credit the JHS journalism teacher with having grounded me in the craft Wish I could remember his name. It disappeared from my brain about twenty years ago.
5/21/2013 05:50:37 am
What Letty Cottin Pogrebin failed to mention was she lived around the corner from me on 167 th Street. I remember her by a different name, Bunny Cotton.
5/21/2013 01:59:01 pm
Letty, thanks for the response. You might be referring to Henry Shaw, who was the advisor to the Hilltopper and taught the class. I did not take the course, and sort of lucked my way onto the paper. I'll ask Wally Schwartz and Larry Sills...I caught up with them last year:
Letty Cottin Pogrebin
5/22/2013 07:39:16 am
Exactly! Mr. Shaw! Thank you, George. As Gloria Steinem once said, "At this age, remembering something is as good as an orgasm."
5/21/2013 02:00:32 pm
Jean, you and Letty were grown women among some goofy young boys I could name.....Thanks for your input, GV
5/21/2013 02:43:17 pm
Letty - You had one more journalism class at Jamaica High than George, which disproves something or other. We're all proud of both of you. Henry Shaw was the journalism teacher and faculty advisor of the Hilltopper, greatly responsible for its medalist rating in the state competition. He taught us the rudiments of high school journalism: who, what, when, where, why and how, and many of the subtleties, too. But when I tried just a few innovations as editor-in-chief, he abruptly suspended me from the paper and broke my 17-year old heart. I became a lawyer and local judge instead of a journalist, so I'm unsure what I owe to him, but good grammar and sentence structure, accuracy, source checking, strength of character, fortitude, independence, and George's friendship, are certainly some things I learned as a result, and I'm proud to have once had a piece published in The Times and a couple more elsewhere. I've been back to Jamaica High many times and have loyally supported its continuance. I'm also an historian and on June 27, I'm leading a tour of the old Valencia movie theatre, that spectacular John Eberson palace on Jamaica Avenue, now a Pentacostal church. Letty, we haven't seen your pony tail rushing by in nearly 60 years, although Jean, George and I have hosted a dozen class reunions in the interim. Want to come along and get reunited! We'd be pleased to have you.
5/22/2013 07:44:33 am
What a great idea, Wally! If I can possibly arrange it, I would love to join your tour of the Valencia, the scene of many of my adolescent make-out sessions, as well as some fine movie-going. You're so sweet to remember my pony tail, which still materializes occasionally on the back of my head. Please send details of the June 27th adventure.
Joan (Weissman) Lipton
5/21/2013 03:10:49 pm
I'm so glad that Wally forwarded these writings to me. Reading about Henry Shaw and The Hilltopper takes me back nostalgically to my always rewarding thoughts about JHS. I was editor-in-chief right before Wally's tenure, a position that gave me constant satisfaction, excellent journalistic training and, like Wally, a traumatic suspension from the paper for what seemed like a decade when I was just "doing my investigating and reporting job." And, like Wally, I rose above the undeserved castigation by having MY paper win the Columbia Scholastic medal and by earning compliments at last from Henry Shaw whom I otherwise admired!
7/22/2013 04:26:16 pm
I really like your blog. Always been very informational. It's rare to see a nice blog like this one today.
3/15/2014 07:14:09 pm
What exactly recommended, Wally! Only can sometimes organise that, We sooo want to enroll in the excursion of the Valencia, the scene of numerous associated with my personal teen make-out sessions, along with several okay movie-going. You happen to be therefore lovely to remember my personal horse trail, which still materializes at times around the returning associated with my personal brain. You need to deliver details of the August 27th experience.
4/9/2014 02:18:27 am
What exactly a great idea, Wally! Basically may possibly organize that, When i so want to sign up for ones trip on the Valencia, your picture of countless connected with my people make-out consultations, along with some great movie-going. You will be and so special to not forget my pony pursue, that even now materializes at times about the returning connected with my brain. You need to mail information on your 06 27th venture.
5/18/2015 09:14:09 pm
Great post, you have pointed out some excellent points, I as well believe this is a very superb website.
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.