Back-to-School Retrospective

In celebration of what used to be my favorite event of the year as a parent, I thought it would be appropriate to talk a bit about Back-to-School. Labor Day is behind us, and once again I’m stuck behind school buses that are loading and unloading the little ones in the neighborhood. I certainly don’t mind since it means that Fall and Winter aren’t far behind.

My recollections of going back to school at Holy Name are still pretty vivid in my mind. I still remember the names and mannerisms of each of the nuns or teachers that taught my grade. I’d be curious if those who had these same educators when they attended Holy Name, share the same thoughts and recollections as me:

  • FIRST GRADE – Sister Incarnata -Young and very kind

    Sister Martin dePorres and Sister Agnes Eugene 1961

    Sister Martin dePorres and Sister Agnes Eugene 1961

  • SECOND GRADE – Sister Martin de Porres – Very friendly and always smiling
  • THIRD GRADE – Sister Emily – Stern and tough
  • FOURTH GRADE – Mrs. Smith – Nice, but tough. Giggly upper arms (isn’t that awful that that’s what I remember?)
  • FIFTH GRADE – Mrs. Juliana – My favorite. Younger, fun and creative
  • SIXTH GRADE – Sister Clementine – a clone of Sister Emily (see Third Grade!)
  • SEVENTH GRADE – Sister Mary Immaculate – Some kids loved her, some… not so much! Unfortunately, I think she felt the same way about her students…. loved some of them, others… not so much.
  • EIGHTH GRADE – Sister Mary Daniel – Principle of the School -What a wonderful person. Jolly, happy, and yet stern when she needed to be. Definitely my favorite religious educator.

Walking back into Holy Name each grade year was similar to any other school in Duquesne.Project1 Desks were lined up in perfect straight lines, polished and as shiny as any decades old piece of wood could be. The huge double hung windows were sparkling clean and that long pole that we used to hook the top windows to open them stood at attention and ready for service in the corner of the room.

There was a distinct smell of furniture polish, blackboard conditioner, window cleaner and
liquid cleaner that seemed to hang in the air for weeks after school began. The aroma became quite different when I was in the 2nd and 5th grade however. Both class rooms were directly above the cafeteria exhaust fans, and although our menu was never announced beforehand, by mid-morning we all knew what was being prepared for our lunch. There was no mistaking the aroma of spaghetti sauce or beef stew as it was being prepared down below.

All of our books were either on our desk or seat, or in the desk itself, all destined to be in our bookbags by the end of the day. Each book would be carefully covered at home that night with brown grocery bags cut and folded to perfectly fit each book.

All seats were assigned beforehand, taking into account each student’s history of behavior, which I’m sure was discussed each evening by the good sisters as they enjoyed their evening meal together. Above each blackboard, the letters of the alphabet, both printed and in cursive, were perfectly placed, adhered and ready for the school year.

CaptureI have so many memories of my grade school years in Duquesne! Just think about how many schools populated our hometown! All of the Parochial have closed. Today, there remains only one school, the former Duquesne High School building. There are approximately 350+/- students enrolled in grades K through 6. Its kind of hard to believe when compared to the graduating class of 1940 when 355 young men and women finished their senior year at Duquesne High! The good news is that there is a strong Recovery Plan for the Duquesne School District that will help to resolve current issues within the district. If you’d like to review the plan, you can access the full report by clicking HERE!

I am reposting something I wrote back in 2011 regarding the dreaded preparation time before returning to school. Also, I am also including an article from The Duquesne Times that specifies teacher assignments in the public schools for the 1956-57 school year. How many teacher do you remember??


 Now, my 2011 post: 

Well, it’s August 10th, and as a young boy growing up in the Duquesne area, the last thing on my mind would have been going back to school. In August, I was still thinking about playing outside all day, perhaps looking forward to a family vacation at Presque Isle, or at the very least, one more outing to Kennywood combined with a few more Volk Clan picnics.

During those swelteringly hot August days, my mom did manage to jolt my brother and me into realizing that school would be beginning soon, by subjecting us to one of my most dreaded activities…… trying on school clothes that had been packed away from the previous year. I still contend that this was a form of child abuse. Had Mom traded her secrets with the government, I’m confident that this form of torture could have been elevated to a point that would have surpassed waterboarding!

Early in August, Mom would always let my brother and I know that we would be trying on clothes at some point during the month. Once she had decided on a day, she would always count down the days and remind us each day that “IT” was approaching. I think it was to build the anxiety in Steve and me, and it worked.

Having no air conditioning in our home, Mom would somehow manage to pick the hottest day of the year to torture us. Of course, we had to do it during the daytime since she insisted that “the light was better” and she could “see how they fit.” We would be summoned up to our parent’s bedroom on the 2nd floor of our non-air-conditioned home. Since hot air rises, this made it an especially “toasty” experience.

The storage chest that contained all of the pack away clothes was in an area that we called the “cubby hole.” Now that I think of it, what an appropriate name. A perfect place for animals to hibernate during an ice-cold winter since it provided extra warmth. Our “cubby hole” was no exception. It was at least 20 degrees hotter in there than in the bedroom itself. Fortunately, Mom didn’t make us try the clothes on in the cubby hole. She did however, keep the door open so all that extra heat would pour out into the bedroom and raise the temperature even higher.

Now, the purpose of this entire exercise was to determine what still fit my older brother and what articles of clothing were now considered “hand-me-downs.” That was where I stepped in. I was the “hand-me-down” recipient! Lucky me.

The clothing had been stored in a huge green trunk that my dad had gotten from someone. It was so large, that you could fit a small nation of children in it comfortably. Since hunkys would never throw anything out until it had exhausted all practical use, it contained layers and layers of clothing that would be reused at some point in my childhood.

To add insult to injury, Mom believed in protecting the clothing from being eaten by moths. Seriously, you and I both know that moths are attracted to wool. Considering that the majority of items in the trunk were either corduroy, flannel or cotton, no self-respecting moth would even consider dining in our trunk. Nonetheless, Mom protected the clothing “just in case” by hermetically sealing the clothing in the trunk each season along with a VERY liberal sprinkling of moth balls and moth crystals. By the time these garments had been stored in a virtual vacuum of naphthalene for at least 6 months in a room that reached temperatures that could melt soft metals, let’s just say the odor was rather… “heady” to say the very least.

In order to find out what still fit my older brother Steve and what items would become his fashion leftovers, a.k.a. hand-me-downs, Steve and I had the pleasure of stripping down to our tighty whities and trying on item, after item, after item in the sweltering hot 2nd floor bedroom that was teeming with the smell of mothballs and sweat.

Steve as always the first to try on any item. After all, his size was the determinant by which an article of clothing would be reused or handed down. For him, it was a quick try on, an inspection by Mom, and then he was on to the next item. For me, the process was a bit more arduous. If a pair of pants or a shirt appeared to be both too tight and beyond the point of being altered to fit Steve once again, it became a hand-me-down. It was at that point that I stepped into the picture in my tighty whities. For my mom to decide if a newly created hand-me-down would be used during the upcoming school year, I had to try the item on. Nothing felt worse than being told to try on an article of clothing that had just come off of another person’s sweaty body (sorry Steve, I still love ya), AND then have to wait for Mom to inspect and decide on the fate of said item. I used to pray that each shirt, jacket or pair of pants would fit. Not because I liked it, but because it meant that I could quickly remove it and expedite the end to this torture. You see, IF an item fit but was too long, I would have to wait while Mom would pin the hem each pants leg or perhaps mark how much an item had to be taken-in for it to fit. I loved my mom, but she was no Ernie Plastino when it came to her sewing abilities. As a result, the measuring and pinning procedure seemed to last forever.

When we had gotten to this stage, the whole process was most like a form of torture that could be used at Guantanamo. To make my point, consider all of the finer points of this picture:

• A 6 year old boy and an 8 year old boy forced to give up a day of playing outside with their friends

• An extraordinarily hot second floor bedroom in August

• Bright and hot sunlight beating down through the windows adding to the steaminess

• The pungent odor of mothballs filling the air

• A young mother being forced to control her two fidgety sons without yelling since her mouth was busy holding onto straight pins for the task at hand

• The six year old standing perfectly still, dressed only in his underwear and a heavy corduroy jacket that reeked of mothballs and damp with his brother’s perspiration and his mother trying to determine and pin the perfect sleeve length.


Yes, I believe my mom could have eventually broken Bin Laden if given the opportunity. Thanks for those special memories Mom!!

Each year, The Duquesne Times would publish the upcoming school year’s list of teacher assignments. Interestingly, the lists contained not only the school and grade assignment, but also included their individual salaries as well. I am posting the lists from the 1948-1949 school year for your enjoyment. I would think that you might recognize some your favorite teachers and further realize that compared to the national average of $4300 to $7400, Duquesne’s teachers were truely on the low end of the scale.

1948-1949 Teacher’s List

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11 Responses to Back-to-School Retrospective

  1. Cliff Warner says:

    At St. Joe’s we used to get the brown paper book covers from one of the local banks vs. using brown paper bags. I still can remember the smells you mentioned, must have been the same in all the schools.

  2. Joe Haver says:

    EXCELLANT post, recognize many names of teachers. Went to St Joe’s and joined public school in 56, many teachers were there. Proud grad of DHS class of 1960. Thanks again.

    • Ken Denne (55) says:

      Hi Joe,
      Hope you are doing well. Graduated DHS 1955. Started teaching at DHS in 1959…$4000.
      Hi to Ed..

  3. Sam Gizzi says:

    Thanks for this post. Enjoyed seeing the list of many of my former teachers at the Junior and Senior high schools. I attended Holy Name School from 1945 to 1954 and graduated from DHS in 1957.

  4. Anne Petry says:

    My favorite aunt who was born in 1899 was Cecelia McGowan. She was the principal at Crawford School. I really enjoyed seeing her name in the newspaper articles…what a special treat for me.
    Thank you!
    Anne Fox Petry

    • Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

      Hi Anne,
      You can see a picture of Mrs. McGowan in Jim’s post from January, 2014 –
      Warm Memories, Cold Weather, picture #11.

    • Polly Pirl Artuso says:

      She was the principal at Libengood School where I went from 1st to 5th grade. It was acrodd the street from the Jr. High. Then Libengood was closed and we went to the Jr. Hi Elementary. I remember her (Miss or Mrs.? McKowan) so well, even things that were in her office. I did not realize that she had gone to Crawford until I read the blog, which I loved.

  5. Rose says:

    Awesome post! Brought back memories of school preparation of yester-year!

  6. Jean Welty says:

    Thank you for this list of teacher assignments. Reading the names of my high school teachers brought back some memories! I graduated in the class of 1958. We got a good education back then and Duquesne High School was one of the best. Jean Kwietinskas Welty

    Sent from my iPad


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