Memoirs – Chapter 12
EARLY FAMILY AND COMMUNITY ACTIVITES 1953-1968
During the time when I was so busy at Servo Joan was learning to walk and talk. Then, in 1953, Clare was pregnant with Cathie, and she was born in the same month that we formed the Trio partnership. After Cathie arrived I was busy working days at Servomechanisms, Inc and nights at Trio Laboratories (see next chapter), so it left little time for me to be helpful to Clare with the babies. It wasn’t until I started working days at Trio that I was able to really spend time with Joan and Cathie, when they were 4 and almost 2.
From that time on I tried to be home by dinnertime, and on weekends. Life started getting less hectic. Joan started school and Cathie would soon be in nursery school. Clare’s aunt gave us her 1938 Chevrolet, which meant that Clare had a car full time.
My community activities were minimal, whereas Clare was involved right from the start. She participated in the Committee to End Discrimination in Levittown, while we were still in Cove Lane, leaving it when it became too left-wing. She joined the Young Democrats and worked hard on Adlai Stevenson’s second campaign for the presidency, driving around in the ’38 Chevy with a public address system on top, and three-year-old Cathie riding shotgun.
During the period covered by this chapter, from the birth of Cathie until my retirement from Trio, we did three major expansions of our home. In 1957 we added a Florida Room at the back of our house and added a bathroom upstairs. In 1960 we added a dining room in the area that had been a carport, expanded the living room and had a second story addition above it, winterized the Florida Room, and added heat upstairs. In 1966 we added a large family room behind the dining room. After I left Trio we expanded the kitchen and added a wooden patio deck in the rear garden. We now had a big house, suitable for parties and political meetings, and when Joan and Cathie were in high school we had a large family room, with a separate entrance that was suitable for gatherings with their friends.
As soon as Joan started school Clare began her PTA activities as a Co-chairman for Room Representatives, and soon moved on to legislation at the local, county, and state levels. She then served on the boards of many non-profit organizations.
In 1957 Sputnik was launched by the Russians and there was pressure to teach more about science in the schools. A group of parents started “Science Pops” who would teach some fundamentals of science to the elementary school students on Saturday mornings. I chose to explain the physics of levers, and how one could use them to weigh objects. It was really the first chance that I had to get to know some of the Levittown fathers, and years later I was reminded of our meeting at Science Pops by a computer buddy, Lenny Freud.
At one point, while our daughters were in elementary school, the Board of Education decided that the children were being exploited by the commercial class photographers and discontinued their access to the Levittown schools. Clare then offered to take the class pictures and I agreed to print the pictures in our bathroom-darkroom. With Joan and Cathie helping, I printed copies of the pictures for every student in their classes. A few years later the Board rescinded their decision and they again had a professional photographer, replacing Clare and me.
Gradually I got more involved in community activities, at first related to the Levittown Public School System, serving on several school board advisory committees, for budgets, and vocational education. During the several years on the District Vocational Advisory Committee I participated in proposals for including computer training in our vocational program and was gratified when the district received a grant for the program (see description in letter). Coincidentally, the person from the State Education Department who was coordinating our program was my high school physics and radio teacher, Francis Almstead.
When the battles were going on in the school boards Clare spent many nights with a group trying to understand the two sides’ philosophies, and I participated (representing the Levittown Property owners Association or the District 5 Education Association) in the Community Education Council, where opposing sides tried to find mutual agreement. Most of our friendships in Levittown were made during those years of school battles.
Since rental or purchase of Levitt houses was limited to World War II veterans many of the Levittown residents were participants in the GI Bill that provided free college education. Some were in their homes while they were attending college and some had graduated. When the first residents moved to Levittown the school district had just one school and few students. The veterans (and their spouses) took an active interest in the development of quality schools so they offered many suggestions on the improvement of schools.
Quickly the District 5 Education Association was founded and was very active in helping the school district formulate it’s curricula and plan its expansion. In 1957, as a fundraising activity, it established the annual Levittown House Tours where people would pay a fee and be allowed to go to as many as ten selected houses to see what modifications had been made. In 1961 our house was on the tour.
For many years this was the activity that sustained the Education Association. For most of the last years that we had the house tours I photographed the houses, sent out press releases for the tours with photos that I had printed in our home darkroom, and prepared instructions for our “house sitters.” Lester Feldman designed, and I had printed, tickets for visitors that described the houses and their locations. The house tours continued until 1976 and in 1980 I gave a set of those descriptive tickets to the Levittown Library for its historical archives. I was President of the District 5 Education Association for several of its final years.
In June 1962 the U.S. Supreme Court banned the recitation of prayers in the public schools, and when the new school year started, in September, the conservative Levittown school board replaced the daily prayer with a requirement to start the school day with a reading of a section of the bible. On September 12 I sent a letter to the president of the school board requesting that the board reconsider its action. They failed to change the policy and on September 24, 1962 I (with 11 other parents) petitioned the Commissioner of Education to void the actions of the school board. On July 26, 1963 the Commissioner of Education ordered the school board to refrain from any religious exercises in the Levittown schools.
In 1965 the local public TV station, Channel 13, started running a series of programs, designed by the Foreign Policy Association, called Great Decisions. Once a week for eight weeks the station broadcast a one-hour program, each program on one current foreign policy problem, for example, Red China, or South Africa. The program covered all sides of the topics and provided questions suitable for discussion. We had a group of our friends who would watch the program and then we would get together in one of our homes for a discussion on the topic of the week. The group included: Sora and Aaron Frankel, Newman and Helga Baum, George and Marcia Mann, Marge and Bill Gioseffi, Joe and Bobby Stim, George and Polly Nager, Ivy and Ed Bottini, and Sy and Esther Levine.
Some of us had seen the movie “The Great Race” with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Natalie Wood, about a race of early cars over three continents. In the movie the stars kept changing their clothes and eating picnic style with elegant dinnerware and glassware. We decided to have a Great Race with our group. One weekend George Mann and George Nager researched and took a drive through lower New England and determined the race route. The weekend journey started at the Howard Johnson’s near the Wantagh Parkway in Hicksville. We had the elegant picnic in Kent Falls State Park in Connecticut and ended at a hotel on Lake Waramaug. The challenge was to find the most unusual item along the way. Some of us found a junk shop and bought things (I bought an FDR campaign button) but the prize winner was a dead frog that Newman found along the road.
We continued the discussion group for about 5 years until the arguments about the Vietnam War got too intensive. But we remained friends with all of the group, despite our differences of opinions, as one by one most of them died off.
We were fortunate that my family was nearby and willing to take charge of our children when we needed a summer break. In their youngest years Joan and Cathie would stay with my parents in North Merrick, and later, after we had expanded our house, my brother Bob would bring his family to our house to “baby sit” while they all enjoyed Jones Beach. During these breaks, if we didn’t travel abroad, we would vacation for a week at The Beachcomber, a motel in Montauk.
Although Trio Laboratories had started as a partnership in Ed Hoffart’s basement it had grown rapidly. We moved from the basement to a small store, then a larger building, and by 1958 we had a building constructed for us in Plainview. We were earning good salaries but I was still thinking as if I were in poverty. Jay, who was seeing a psychiatrist in New York, suggested I see his psychiatrist to get over by my spending barrier. By 1959 I was willing to spend money on travel and we took a vacation in Europe with Jay and Fran. We were in London together, separated while we visited friends and relatives in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and then joined up again in Paris. While we were in London we had the opportunity to meet, for the first time, our cousins from Hungary, the Iglois family… from grandma Ilona to Gabi, the youngest.
After that first trip abroad we started traveling abroad regularly. We went on many Caribbean cruises, sometimes with Joan and Cathie, and sometimes not. One of those cruises was on the Bergen Line’s Meteor, a small ship that had a capacity of only 135 passengers, and stopped in at least one port every day for a week.
One summer they went to summer camp in East Hampton and I concluded we could have taken them to Europe for less than the cost of a camp in the U.S. We set about planning for a vacation excursion to Europe. I could only take three weeks for vacation but it seemed to be worthwhile for Clare and the girls to go to Europe for a longer period. Therefore, in June 1962 they flew to Copenhagen and rented a car to see some of Denmark and a little of Sweden. I flew over a week later, after Clare had dropped them off at an English-speaking camp in Denmark. For about 2 weeks we went on a tour of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Then we met the girls in Tivoli park the night before we got them from camp and flew to Brussels. After 3 days in Belgium we took a helicopter to Paris for lunch and flew to London for supper. Two days later I flew back to the U.S. while they stayed in London for sightseeing and then took the train to Southampton and sailed home on the SS America.
We repeated the scheme three years later with Germany and Switzerland as the focus and the girls went to camp near Geneva. That summer they took the Holland American line ships both ways.
In 1960 we saw an article in Today’s Living (Newsday) that wrote about the pleasures of having visits from foreign students; we thought about it for a while, and started to get involved. First we contacted American Friends Service Committee and International House at Columbia University and had a few college students for weekends, including Yoshiko and Akira Shigematsu from Japan. We have had the Shigematsus at our house several times and have visited them in their home in Japan as well as seeing them in England when they were attending Cambridge University.
In 1963 we helped found the Levittown Chapter of American Field Service, bringing foreign students here for a year. Levittown’s first AFS student was Chakrapand (Jack) Wongburanavart who came from a small town in Thailand and stayed across the street with Aaron and Sora Frankel. He was introduced to the community at a meeting Clare co-organized in the Levittown Library one evening in October 1963, a meeting which was a fundraiser for Channel 13 our new PBS station. Jack lived with the Frankels for nine months, until he graduated and left for the AFS bus trip across the country. Along the way he met President Johnson (at an AFS conclave in Williamsburg, VA) and President Truman (in his home/office in Independence, MO).
Jack earned his doctorate at the University of Mississippi and wed his Thai bride in the Frankel’s house, returning to Thailand to eventually become Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Chiang Mai University. They have several children all who have spent time in the US, practicing their English during summer visits to the Frankels and attending college here. In 1996 and 2009 Jack met with Hillary Clinton (as First Lady and Secretary of State) to discuss the problem of Child Prostitution and the progress that had been made in Thailand.
At that same Levittown Library meeting we invited other foreign students including Subin Banharnsupavat who was attending Columbia and living at International House. Subin visited us for many years, while he studied for his doctorate in the U.S., until he returned to Thailand. In 1969, while he was still here, we took a lengthy trip to Asia and visited his family in Bangkok.
AFS was a big part of our lives at that point, more so for us the adults than for Joan and Cathie. They had an AFS chapter in school and we had an AFS committee for adults. The students organized activities with other AFS chapters on Long Island and helped raise funds and the adults interviewed families to host the foreign students, interviewed students to go on the AFS program that sent American students abroad, helped raise funds, and organized host homes for the bus loads of students who would arrive for several days in the summer. The summer bus group would often be 40 or 50 students and chaperones for whom we would have to find 30 to 40 host families.
After Mom died in 1966 Dad still lived a block away from us and came to our house for dinner most nights. He partcipated in all the AFS activities and when there was a gathering of AFSer, either from other Long Island communities or on the bus trips, he was right there, being Grandpa to them, especially the girls. He corresponded with several of them for years.
During one of the AFS bus trips we met Puri Subramaniam, who was staying at another family’s house, and got to know him more than most of the other bus trip AFSers. Later, when we were traveling in Asia, we visited Puri’s parents in Malaysia and his brother in Singapore. We attended his wedding in Washington, DC and, at various times, we have seen him and his family after they settled there.
The chapter needed to raise nearly $1,000 to pay for the incoming student (transportation and AFS headquarters costs.) My main activity with AFS was in a fundraising project I created (my usual nuts-and-bolts preference). I designed a decal that the AFS chapter students could sell in the community for $1.00, drew up maps with territories for them to cover, wrote a script for them that would get community residents to respond with a purchase, and helped coordinate the one-day sales activity. When AFS changed their logo I changed the decal to reflect it. Then I decided that we could make even more money by selling the decals to other AFS chapters around the country, so I designed an ad and placed it in AFS’s national magazine. Between the local and national sales we raised enough money to pay for the student.
Will Greenfield was the AFS chapter president, and he and his wife Lenore, and Clare were the main leaders of the chapter. At one point, I believe it was after the Greenfields moved to Brooklyn, I was chapter president for a short time.
From the time that we had our first foreign students, Sora and Aaron Frankel were the most enthusiastic participants in foreign student activities. We were often called by AFS to find a placement for a student who had problems with their host family, and the Frankels were always eager to take them in, whether it was for a few days or a semester.
They also participated in other student programs, especially a group that brought Greek students here for college educations. The first one they had was Basil, in 1966, and in 1967 the Director of the Greek group asked whether we would help acclimate Stelios Papadopoulos to the U.S. We picked him up at the airport and he stayed with us for a week before we drove him to his college in Bethany, West Virginia. First thing, he wanted to call his mother in Greece to say he arrived safely. On the weekend we had a party at which he met many of our Levittown friends and when he got settled in Bethany he sent us a note to thank us, and our guests, whom he listed by name. Impressive!
Stelios has been our friend, and “son” ever since. We saw him on his college breaks, he brought Essie to meet us when they were dating, invited us to their wedding and the baptism of their first daughter. We watched his family grow with their three children. We see then regularly, generally about once a year. When we went to Greece in 1967, we went to Thesaloniki to meet his mother and grandmother (Yaya) and saw them again when they came to America.
Then we had our own AFS student, Hilde Traavik who stayed with us for her 1967-68 senior year at MacArthur High School, when Joan was a junior in high school and Cathie was in her last year in Salk Junior High.
The year was filled with activities. AFS had numerous weekend get togethers with other AFS students on Long Island, often with parties at our house… Halloween, Christmas tree decorating, etc. Hilde would sometimes wear her national costume when she went to public meetings. She made a life-long friendship with Sue Lazarus and, during most of her school year here, Hilde dated Paul Greenfield, and went to her prom with him.
We took trips to Manhattan, and Coney Island and during Christmas break we went to Florida to visit Clare’s family. That was the year when Joan was to look at colleges so, during Easter break, we drove around through numerous states, going from the District of Columbia to Niagara Falls. We stopped in Bethany, West Virginia where we saw Stelios Papadopoulos and Delaware, Ohio where we were shown around Ohio Wesleyan University by Puri Subramaniam. Later, both Joan and Cathie attended Ohio Wesleyan.
We’ve seen our Norwegian daughter many times since, when we have gone to Norway or when she visited here the year of our 50th anniversary and went on a trip to Vermont with Joan and us.
After the success of the AFS fundraising with decal sales I suggested a similar program to Jim Edmondson of the Youth Direction Council and then I planned a similar program for them, with students in the Wisdom Avenue area soliciting contributions and giving a “supporter card” as a receipt.
After Hilde graduated in June 1968, and left on her bus tour and flight home, life started to change at Trio. My partner Bob Corby died of cancer. The industry was changing as integrated circuits were being introduced into measuring instruments and our business was falling off. By November I left the company, so now is the time to tell the story of Trio Laboratories… in the next chapter.
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