×

At Hatfield gathering, former Center School students swap memories as an era nears its end



Monday, April 06, 2015
HATFIELD — From first detentions to long-lasting words of wisdom, memories of the soon-to-be demolished Center School echoed through multiple generations of graduates this weekend.

On Saturday, the Hatfield Historical Society held a Center School remembrance in the town senior center for residents, former classmates, and others who wanted to reminisce and learn about the history of the 100-year-old building.

A special Town Meeting vote on Oct. 21, 2014, approved spending $300,000 to demolish the structure at 58 Main St., which a consultant said would need more than $4 million in repairs to bring it up to code.

Saturday’s gathering featured old photographs, recorded interviews, and memorabilia such as games and report cards. Hatfield Historical Museum curator Kathie Gow said she estimates a total of around 40 people came through during the afternoon event.

“People seem to be engaging and remembering a lot of stories,” she said.

As best friends Donna Paddock and Susan Kugler took turns taking pictures of each other in front of the majestic brick building with Donna’s brother, Dean Paddock, they laughed as Kugler remembered getting her first detention in second grade. The two had met and become friends while attending elementary and junior high in the school in the 1960s.

Their teacher had put Kugler’s name on the board after she caught her talking to Paddock during class. Then, when she caught her again, she put a check mark next to her name. When she caught her a third time, she gave her detention.

Donna Paddock would go on to become a teacher at the school. Her classroom was in the basement, right near the boiler room, and she was frequently asked to check the fuses and reset the circuit breaker when experiments in science classes went awry.

Paddock still lives in Hatfield, and her brother in Hadley. Kugler divides her time between Hatfield and New York City.

“It’s very sad,” Kugler said of the planned demolition. “But it seems like the only viable answer.”

Many former students recalled how both the playground and the school entrances were segregated by gender — boys entered the building on one side, girls on the other.

Inside the senior center, John Pease of North Hatfield Road proudly showed off his report card from when he attended junior high in the Center School in 1966-67. His grades were mostly A’s, B’s and C’s, with one D in reading.

“A typo,” he said with a laugh, since the grades were hand-written.

Edwin Pelis, of Main Street, pored over a sepia-toned picture of Smith Academy’s class of 1938 that included his father, Sylvester Pelis, who was class president. The younger Pelis attended second grade at the Center School in 1959 and graduated from Smith Academy in 1970 — he too, as president of his class.

Pease’s mother, Nellie Waskiewicz, graduated with Pelis’ father.

Edwin Pelis also pointed out a picture of himself as a member of the School Committee in 1972, when he was 20 years old. He was elected chairman at age 23, he noted. Pictured with the School Committee was then-principal Dorothy Breor, who is fondly remembered by many former students.

“It had incredible faculty,” Pelis said of the Center School. “And Dorothy Breor was an exceptional leader.”

Tom and Carol Doktor, a married couple who live on Straits Road, recalled the fierce rivalry between Hatfield and Hadley sports teams. Tom had grown up in Hatfield, Carol in Hadley.

“One would come to the other school, and then there would be a rumble after,” Carol Doktor said.

The couple met on a blind date set up by Carol’s sister, and the rest, she said, is history.

“Love surpasses all,” Carol Doktor said with a smile.

Patricia Cady, Hatfield Historical Society president and the town’s first female police officer, said she still remembers the words of her fifth-grade teacher at the Center School, Ms. Mullaney. She had written the word “can’t” on the chalkboard, Cady recalled, then erased the “t” and apostrophe to make it “can.”

Ms. Mullaney then told the class, “I’m telling all of you students, you can do anything you want to do,” Cady said, noting that this was back in the 1940s.

“It meant something to me,” Cady said.

Also in attendance was Christopher Smith, of Prospect Street, who was gathering signatures on a petition asking voters to rescind the special Town Meeting vote to dismantle the school and to rescind all associated funding except for the portion that pertains to removing asbestos. Smith, who owns Hatfield Printing & Publishing, delivered the town books to the school from 1975 until 1980, the last time children attended school there, then delivered materials to the building when it was occupied by the Western Massachusetts Regional Library. The structure has been vacant for the past decade.

“I’ve lived in town for 40 years,” Smith said. “I just always admired the historic qualities of Main Street. I couldn’t believe the people would let it go.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.