WWII photos to hang in Teaneck High School lobby
By Megan Burrow, Managing Editor
Teaneck Suburbanite, March 13, 2014, page 3
One of Bonnie Morrow’s lasting memories from 1946, shortly after her family moved to Teaneck, is of standing in the lobby of the high school listening as her father and the other members of the Teaneck Symphony tuned their instruments for rehearsal.
At four years old, she was fascinated by the faces hanging in the lobby opposite the auditorium doors, black and white photos of young men, their lives cut short in World War II.
"I recall spending time in the lobby, being very captivated by these photos," she remembered. "During intermission, I’d go out and look at them with my mom, and I didn’t know who they were, but my mother must’ve explained something to me."
Years later, as a seventh grader, Morrow attended Teaneck High School, which then held grades seven through 12. The principal at the time, Helen B. Hill, used to tell the students to "take a pause and look at these photos," explaining the sacrifice each of the soldiers made for the country. The men were graduates of THS who had served and died during World War II.
"She used to refer to them as ‘her boys.’ She was very fond of them, and very devoted to their memory. She wanted us to reflect on what they had done for us," said Morrow.
When Morrow began to organize reunions for her graduating class, Class of 1960, she noticed the photos were no longer displayed in the lobby.
"In 2000, when I was planning our 40th reunion, I took note that they were missing and it really concerned me, because I realized maybe those photos were lost completely," she said. Morrow began to ask around, and Walter Stoll, a classmate of Morrow’s who serves on the Teaneck Athletic Hall of Fame Committee, would raise the issue whenever he was at the high school for a meeting.
After some digging, Principal Dennis Heck found the 65 8-inch by 10-inch photographs last year, in a neat stack in the high school’s safe. He had been looking for old copies of the high school paper for the newspaper club, and there, under the papers were the photos, without their mats and frames, but in otherwise remarkably good condition.
Sometime while the high school was undergoing renovations, the photos were taken down and never put back up. Heck said he was unsure of when the photos were taken down. They were not displayed on the wall in the years since he began working there in 1987. But as principal, each time he gave reunion tours, alumni would ask what happened to the photographs, particularly the classes spanning the 1950s through the early 60s.
When she heard the photos were found, Morrow got in touch with Heck to discuss a plan to restore the pictures. She began working with her graduating class, to start raising money to refurbish the photos and get them professionally framed. The American Legion and other graduating classes soon got involved and worked together to raise the funds.
After all the hard work and dedication, the photos will hang once again in the high school lobby across from the auditorium that now bears the former principal Helen B. Hill’s name. The photos will be unveiled and rededicated at a May 21 ceremony at the high school.
Among the speakers at the program will be retired General Peter Pace, a 1963 graduate of Teaneck High School who served as the 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; state Sen. Loretta Weinberg; retired navy Admiral James A. Lyons, Jr.; Frank Hall, a retired Corporal with the Marine Corps and former Teaneck mayor; retired Navy Lt. Commander Emmett Francois, class of 1957; retired Army Colonel Arthur S. Brown, class of 1958; and Joseph Cervino, a retired Army Sergeant and World War II veteran who taught and coached at Teaneck High School for 35 years.
Ja'Neil Humphrey, a sophomore who sang at the U.S. Open in 2009 and 2010, will open the program with the National Anthem.
The event will honor the contributions and sacrifice of all veterans, said Morrow, and students studying United States history will attend, as part of an effort led by social studies teacher Jared Meli to incorporate the program and the photos into the history curriculum.
Tying the event to what the students are learning is particularly meaningful to Morrow, whose mother, the late Priscilla Firmunn wrote "… And Bring the Family" published by the Teaneck Board of Education 60 years ago, a book of historical places in the New York metropolitan area. It was used as part of the fifth grade social studies curriculum to help students visualize what they were learning in class through field trips and other enrichment programs.
It is all the more important now, when the numbers of World War II veterans are diminishing, to tell their stories and remind people too young to remember just how much they sacrificed, Morrow said.
"These men volunteered to serve their country. They had to postpone promising careers, postpone starting a family. They missed out on the excitement of what happens after you graduate high school," said Morrow. "What I’m trying to do is sustain the memory of these heroes and remind people of what they did to bring about the freedoms that we enjoy. These are 65 real people who walked the same halls and sat in the same classrooms as students today, and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country."