‘Golden days’ unforgettable at SUNY Fredonia
As I enter the winter of my years, I increasingly find myself taking long mental voyages down that river of no return called memories.
Today, I forgot to pick up the milk and bread but later remembered, in vivid detail, standing on the sidewalk in front of the student union on the campus of Fredonia State, eyes tearing, hand grasping that damnable blue-white beanie, watching my parents drive away into the distance. Never been away from home. A
lone. What the hell now? When my daydream ended, I wished that somehow I could be transported through time to those halcyon college days. Golden days — not only the happiest ones in my life, but also the most impactful.
My cousin and role model, Charlie Van Slyke, told me during a July Fourth celebration the summer before I left for the shores of old Lake Erie, “Jim, get ready for the best four years of your life.” He should have known having recently graduated from Oneonta State. But Nirvana took awhile.
Most of my first year proved difficult. I had three strikes against me. Basically, I was a loner. Didn’t make friends easily. Secondly, I was (still am relatively) helpless — actually mailed my laundry home. And thirdly, I wasn’t as good as I thought I was on the K-Modified imported Selmer trumpet my parents gifted me for graduating, and I quickly discovered that I was in the wrong curriculum. Ann Marie Lindsay’s theory class might as well been in Russian, Herbie Harp’s attempt to change my embouchure maddening and a 2.2 “accume” at year’s end discouraging. If it hadn’t been for one thing, I would have transferred.
Baseball. Baseball and Coach “Wild” Bill Ludwig saved me. The West Virginia native chose myself along with four other freshmen — Lynn Chapel, Norb Miller, Gerorge Mastrangelo and Bob Staffin — for the varsity. Farewell loneliness, hello friends — especially my catcher, Staffin. I had a reason for staying. After I became the “ace” following a 15 strikeout (tied the school record), four-for-four win over Buff State, I got to be better known around campus and by my junior year, my circle of friends had increased 10-fold. Those somewhat dark early days had become sunny and were about to turn golden.
One of my favorite movies, Romberg’s The Student Prince, features a scene in a beer garden where the student’s perform, steins in hand, a rousing version of “Drink, Drink.” From my Sophomore year until I departed from my beloved Fredonia-Dunkirk environs in the summer of ’66 after earning my graduate degree, that scene could have been me and the boys hoisting cold ones at the iconic Colonial Inn.
Switching to a piece-of-cake major, history, and acclimating to the “college way” (e.g. cleaning my duds in the dorm’s laundry room) provided me ample time to enjoy the thing that put the best into “the best years of your life” — PARTYING!
Beer hadn’t touched my lips until the fall of ’61 and when it did, well, never knew Michelob draughts — 12-ounce glass for a quarter) tasted so good. But drinking was just something to do while participating in the unmitigated joy of talking, singing and laughing with good friends-many of whom would remain so for decades. Smiley Jim McIntosh, Mike “Bear” Lepak, hometown bro Craig Loucks, Dunkirk residents Doug Krieder and Bill Lederer, Marvelous Marv Parker, Fredonia’s Chicken Polvino, Don “Flea” Galloway, Big Mike Stanton, etc., etc. How could I ever forget Loucksie banging out “Moody Blues” on the Inn’s piano or the countless games of shuffleboard bowling?
Proprietors Jack and Rose Nolan were surrogate parents. And then, of course, there were the girls.
Trudie, Claudia, Karin and Peg reminded me of what I missed in high school (never dated). And like cuz Chaz who met his wife Gloria in school, my ex Faye (Mertine ’68) and I met at the Colonial. Throw in off-stops at Gangi’s and the Henry Hotel (with “townie” Rick Murphy), road trips to Mark’s Subs in Dunkirk and the Point on Lake Erie and my definition of halcyon days is completed.
One more thing. Can’t thank Dean Bob Coon enough helping to bail me out after the panty raid I organized in Nixon Hall went haywire. Social probation was one helluva lot better than expulsion.
Describing these best years would not be complete without alluding to the academic. I taught more than 30 years at Herkimer County Community College history — American music and geography. Enjoyed every minute of a career highlighted by receiving the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Teaching. Everything I became as a teacher was due to Dan Roselle, Bill Chazanof, J. Murdoch Dawley, P.S. Akolekar and, most of all, Tom Hagan; the hearts and souls of the Social Science Department. They taught me how to teach, do research and love my subject matter.
The numerous articles and books I’ve published mostly dealt with Native Americans, Hagan’s specialty. My primary teaching objective, as was theirs, was to develop in each student an open mind along with the means to determine truth from fiction. One of my regrets is that later in life I never took the opportunity to personally thank them.
I’ll finish this trip down memory lane by telling you about Dunkirk native Suzanne “Polly” Parrot, Class of ’65. A few weeks ago a volunteer from the Richfield Springs food pantry called asking for some information about my Hunger Coalition (hchungercoalition.org.). Amazingly, that caller was Polly (married to Jim Renckens). We reminisced for an hour or so. As we discussed our lifetimes of volunteer-community activism, I was reminded where it all began. Omega Chi Beta. Fredonia State.
I’m eternally grateful for the six best years of my life at Freddy State and for the kindness shown to me over that period by the people of Fredonia and Dunkirk. “Golden Days, full of gaiety and full of truth. Looking back through memory’s eyes we will know that life has nothing sweeter than its springtime. Golden Days, when we’re young, Golden Days.”
Ray Lenarcic is a 1965 State University of New York at Fredonia graduate and is a resident of Herkimer.