Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Most Likely to Succeed

What makes for success? How do you define it?
by Charlie Leck

I’ve just finished assembling and editing a commemorative booklet of approximately 90 pages for my high school graduating class. We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of our commencement in 1958.

This has been a terribly interesting task for me. It brought laughter and it brought some tears. How great to get reacquainted with so many of my old classmates again – both those who were buddies and those I just barely knew. It was joyful to see how well some of the kids preserved themselves. It was sad to see how some of us did not. I, and one of the classmates who helped me with this project, enjoyed looking at recent photographs and talking about those kids that we would recognize on the street, even today, if we were to meet them. There weren’t many, but there were a few – George List, Per Petterson, Al Kuelling, Denis O’Rourke, Marion Smith, Val Chew and Donald Schuld were easy to pick out. I think I might also recognize Dotty Simcox, Kenny Freund, Roger Lindemann and Carol Rademacher.

That’s a pretty good number of kids who have remained young and vigorous looking. Congratulations to them.

It was enjoyable to look at my classmates’ future prognostications; that is, who would be most likely to succeed and who would likely be publishing the 50th reunion booklet. Amazing that they picked me for the latter. Yes, amazing!

Nick Steneck and Peg Langdon were chosen the “most likely to succeed.” My classmates may have nailed that one, too; though, who really knows what success is and how some of our other classmates have done. Nick and Peg are definitely in the running, however.

They began a romance in high school and kept it going over the years. They’re still married and they, apparently still have a high degree of respect for one another and seem to be in this thing for the long-haul. They’ve got great jobs. They’ve made important contributions to our society. They travel a great deal and they still look great. Congratulations to them! At least, they didn’t take this projection about their futures and turn into abject failures.

Yet, here – in this blog – I’d like to reflect on just what success is. And, believe me, I don’t really know. I can only reflect. So, don’t expect to be taught anything.

Let me talk about a couple other of our classmates. You see, I’ve had this wonderful opportunity and advantage of talking to many of them, corresponding with others and getting biographical accounts from still others. We’ve had a lot of success out there in this class.

Right at the top, let’s dismiss financial success – that is, the gathering of wealth. I’ve never counted it as one of the great signs of success. And, this is not bad-mouthing because I’ve done all right in that regard. I just don’t think it tells you much about anyone!

I had a great time talking to Charlie Bates. A lot of guys called him “Chuckie” in school, but I didn’t. I’m a ‘Charles,’ too, and ‘Chuck’ or ‘Chuckie’ didn’t work for me. I always called him Charlie. I remember him really well. He was one of the nice guys. He wasn’t a ‘stud’ or an ‘academic’ or a ‘big talker’ but he was a nice guy. How did Charles do on the success monitor?

Charlie graduated and went right to work for Picatinny Arsenal after trying a few other jobs. The arsenal is a federal facility and provides the military with a great deal of its tools for defense. Charlie put in 25 years there and then took a pension. He also worked as a fire-fighter and as a messenger for one of the local school districts.

Now, his wife of many years is quite frail and ill. She’s confined to a wheel chair and needs constant attention. That’s Charlie’s job. He’s taken a job with a gardening center that is right across the street from his house. That way, he can work and keep a constant eye on how his wife is doing also.

“I can’t come to the big party. I’m so sorry. I need to be with my wife at night!”

Congratulations Charles Lester Bates. You’ve got your priorities right! I call that success.

Frankie Cautero has been successful, too. He put in 42 years at Picatinny. He’s got a great wife and still loves her madly. He’s young looking and his body is tight and strong. He’s had two kids and now he’s been “blessed” with five granddaughters.

“They call me Pops,” Frankie proudly informs us.

Just a few years ago, he took up playing the piano and he takes music classes at a community college.

Frankie Pasquale, you were one of my favorite guys in high school and I think you still are. You’ve tasted success and you’ve been blessed with it too.

One of the most popular kids in our class was Ed Edwards. Congratulations, Ed, because you get one of my awards for success, too. Ed’s in a massive battle with cancer right now. He’s made his plans a number of times, when the monster in his body subsided a bit, to make the 3,000 mile trip to the reunion. He’s canceled his plans a number of times, too. Now, he writes, finally, that he doesn’t know if he’ll able to make it; for the cancer has moved to his lungs and radiation is taking its toll on him. He’s not sure about the reunion. I’m a betting man and my money is on Ed being in New Jersey for the big party.

He also writes that he moved to California after graduation and “met a wonderful girl and was married to her for 42 years.” He lost her to breast cancer. He also lost a daughter to breast cancer. Yet, his thoughts are mostly with us. “God bless you all,” he says. He had a great smile in high school. He still does.

“God bless you, Larry Edwards,” from all your classmates from good, old Roxbury ’58.

Gary Griffiths will be at the reunion also. He’s also on the success ladder and we can be proud of him. Right after graduating in June of ’58, he went right back to work for our wonderful, old high school in August of the same year and he’s still working there, taking care of the grounds and proudly putting down the lines for football, baseball and track. He cuts the lawns and removes the snow from the walkways in the winter. He’s single and has lived in the same house for 57 years.

Congratulations, Gary! You are a success. Have a great time at the reunion.

Al Kuelling has been very successful, too. It’s a bit complicated for me, but all my classmates should talk to him at the reunion and get the straight story. He was very responsible for developing night vision apparati. He left school with a very scientific bent. He was troubled by concepts of God because they didn’t fit in with his scientific experiences. Yet, he kept struggling, found out about metaphors, and kept searching. Now, he’s reconciled all that spiritual and scientific stuff and sees how they can all fit together.

He developed a lot of ideas about education and went to Indiana to try them out. He applied his knowledge of statistics and sociology to the problem of minority and low-income education. They worked extraordinarily well and testing results in Al’s little area in Indiana soared.

On top of all that, Al and his wife, Judy, just celebrated their 540th wedding anniversary – they celebrate monthly. And, as well, I’d still recognize Al in a dark alley. He’s taken good care of himself and looks young and fit.

You, Al, are a success!

I could go on and on about dozens of our classmates. Marion Smith spent her life as a teacher and educator. Judy O’Brien has devoted her life to the church. Gretchen Den Braven and George Fischer got married, both became Methodist ministers and have devoted their lives to serving their Lord. Doug Schimmel spends his life in the high mountains as a hunting guide. He has stories to tell that will become legends about him. How many of us has nailed a 450 pound mountain goat and hauled it down from 9,000 feet on his back? Janet Robinson also spent her life teaching and was named in the Who’s Who of Teaching! She’s traveled through all 50 states. Another winner! Liz Metzger has done it all. Teacher. Coach. Deli owner. Back into education. Now, she’s retired and devoted to volunteer work feeding the hungry, visiting the elderly and working in prisons. Liz, you were great as a kid and you’re a big success as an adult. Sandy Masino fed kids for 35 years as the cafeteria manager for the Hackettstown, New Jersey, school system. That’s steady. She also likes bird watching. That’s steady! And, that’s great. Congratulations on your wonderful success. Barb Christensen spent 35 years as a floral designer, traveling to conventions all over the place, teaching people this fine art and representing FTD and Teleflora. Wow! Anyone who loves flowers has a touch of greatness. She took the artistic techniques she learned at good, old Roxbury and translated them to wonderful success. Way to go, Barb!

How about Chuck Giffith devoting his life to fighting fires and serving the general public – 25 years as a Chief. That’s the way, Chuck!

Finally, I chatted for a while with John Levens. He graduated and joined the Marines. After that he put in a long time for Thomas’ English Muffins. He’s been married for 38 years. His health is shaky and he won’t make the reunion, but he still laughs and laughs about the good old days in high school.

You must be getting the idea. Just what is success?

I began editing this book as a chore. Now I realize that someone passed off to me a great gift. I couldn’t be prouder of my classmates. I should name you all, but I can’t. Nevertheless, Afferton, Dowe, Apgar, Apostolik, Chew…. and on and on, I am so proud of you all… Post, Ribe, Roesing, Seeger and Stanich… you’ve all done yourselves proud… List, Lawrey, Strohmeyer and O’Rourke… you did just great!

I must have been part of one of the finest high school graduating classes on earth. Three cheers for Roxbury… Roxbury High!

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