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Posts Tagged ‘rippowam’

I’ve written about all kinds of community anchors that come and go.

Last week it was banks. In previous installments we’ve hit stores (like Gimbels and E.J. Korvette), movie theaters, churches, and too many restaurants to list.

I’m pretty sure we’ve never hit schools. Indeed, the schools attended by the Blumenau family of Hope Street, Stamford, have shown admirable staying power.

Springdale Elementary School — just up the street from 1107 Hope Street, and a place where I used to walk with my dad and brother for some open-field exercise — is still in business. So is my dad’s alma mater, Stamford High School, on the wonderfully named Strawberry Hill Avenue.

(Now that I think of it, I did once write about my dad’s old junior high, Dolan. That’s still around too.)

While those schools have lasted, other schools come and go — sometimes much quicker than anyone imagined they would.

This week finds my grandpa dropping off his recycling at a school that went from community institution to closed within a quarter-century’s time.

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February 6, 1971. The expansion Buffalo Sabres, in their first season, are outperforming the established Detroit Red Wings.

My dad, a member of Stamford High’s Class of 1961, attended double sessions at the school all three years he was there because of overcrowding. My mom spent her first year of high school in double sessions at Stamford High as well.

As it happened, the city of Stamford had a plan in place to respond to its teenage population boom. In the fall of 1961, the city opened its second public high school, Rippowam High School, on High Ridge Road.

The Hope Street Blumenaus’ younger child, my Aunt Elaine, graduated from Rip. So did the young woman who would later become my mother. And so did her younger brother, my Uncle T.J.

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These pix of Rippowam High’s football team (I think they’re in dark) were taken by my other (maternal) grandpa. My Uncle T.J. is almost certainly on the field somewhere. Rippowam’s most famous football player is not pictured, as he was 12 at the time; he did not take the field for Rip until later in the Sixties.

Rippowam High — named for a Native American tribe, which also lent its name to a local river — primarily drew students from the more affluent northern half of Stamford, while Stamford High drew from the city’s middle-to-working-class lower half.

(This seems to have been a common social pattern. When I lived in Framingham, Mass., 20 years ago, there was a Framingham North High School serving the leafy suburban parts, and a Framingham South serving the grittier southern parts where the freight trains ran through.)

In 1971, when my grandpa took his empty bottles there, Rip would have been settled in as a regular part of the city’s daily fabric.

But that didn’t last.

This New York Times article, despite its melodramatic lede, tells the story: As birth rates declined, the city of Stamford didn’t need Rippowam as much as it did in the early Sixties. Rippowam was closed following the 1982-83 school year. According to the Grey Lady, that was part of a larger trend: Stamford’s public school district declined from 24 schools in fall 1971 to 16 in fall 1983.

A third public high school in the northern part of town, Westhill High School, opened in 1972. Since Westhill was newer, Rip might have lost out to it when city officials were deciding what to close.

(A few of my cousins are Westhill grads and grew up in a house that backs up to the school’s property. Once in the late ’80s, when my brother and I were on our high school track team, we were visiting my cousins in Stamford and decided to sneak over to Westhill for a track workout. I jogged some laps while my brother — who won a New York State championship in indoor track around this same time — lit up a bunch of 400-meter intervals. The Westhill team was watching from the sidelines by the time we were done, wondering if the speedy stranger was a friend or a foe. They never found out for sure, because we never talked to them; when we were done, we just left. My brother had a flair for the dramatic during his competitive years, and leaving a bunch of kids asking each other, “Who the hell was that?,” was one of his great moments in that regard. This has nothing to do with Rippowam High or the patterns of Stamford’s teenage population. It was just a fun moment, and a favorite story of mine. And you get to hear it too.)

Anyway, the Rippowam building was used for alternative education programs, adult education, and for a science and technology magnet school.

Then, with enrollment on the rise again around the year 2000, it was pressed back into service as Rippowam Middle School, and remains in that use today.

Perhaps, fifty-plus years after its opening, Rippowam has finally found its permanent educational niche.

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Among the curios to be found on Neil Young’s 1980 album Hawks & Doves is a song called “Union Man.”

Brief and country-tinged, it sketches a musician’s union meeting in droll detail:

Every fourth Friday at 10 am
There’s a local meeting
of the A F of M, yeah!

This meeting will now come to order
Is there any new business?

Yeah, I think ‘Live music are better’
Bumper stickers should be issued.

What was that?

‘Live music is better’ bumper stickers
Should be issued

The gentleman says
‘Live music is better’ bumper stickers
Should be issued
All in favor of what he said
Signify by sayin’ “aye”

Aye! *

What does this tell us?

Well, for one thing, it told anyone who was listening at the time that the Eighties would be a weird and unpredictable ride for Neil Young, even by his prodigious standards.

It also tells us that live music — which really means local music, to read between Neil’s lines — is indeed better, and the people who make it are justifiably proud to promote it.

I wrote last week about my grandparents (and maybe my great-grandma) going to see Benny Goodman at a Stamford-area high school. And I wrote some time ago about them going to see Count Basie in a similar setting.

This week finds them metaphorically slapping a “Live Music Are Better” bumper sticker on their Ford Fairlane and going out to support a regional musician I’d never heard of:

March 9, 1968.

March 9, 1968.

There are no Fred Dearborn videos on YouTube, nor are any Fred Dearborn tour itineraries waiting to be discovered through Google.

But I’ve pieced together the Fred Dearborn story, thanks to my dad’s memory and a little deft web-searching.

According to my dad, my grandpa was friendly with a Dearborn family while growing up in Springfield, Mass., in the 1920s and ’30s.

The Dearborns were among the families who used to gather with my grandfather for summer getaways at Lake George — not the big one in New York, but a smaller one near the Massachusetts-Connecticut border.

My grandfather and the Dearborn family shared musical as well as personal ties, my dad says.

I very vaguely recall that one of the Dearborns was a musician, and that my father once actually played a couple paying gigs with him on violin (I once saw a song list in Pop’s writing) in the late 1920s or early 1930s. 

(I’ve dug up a lot of family oddments over the course of this blog … but a set list in my grandpa’s hand? Wouldn’t that be something. Wonder what was on it, and what became of it.)

You might notice the period after “Fred” on my grandpa’s calendar entry, indicating that “Fred” was an abbreviation for something — presumably Frederick.

A Google search for Frederick Dearborn turns up a Hartford Courant obituary for a man who grew up in Springfield and sang in professional bands. Sounds like he could have been part of the family my dad remembers.

After leaving a touring musician’s life behind, Fred Dearborn taught music in the West Hartford public schools from the 1940s to the late 1970s. In retirement, he played in no fewer than three towns’ senior citizen bands.

(He would still have been teaching in March 1968. I’m not sure what brought him all the way down to Stamford to perform. I also don’t know whether he was the headline performer or part of a larger group; I’m guessing the latter.)

In a charming gesture, Fred Dearborn apparently held a dance and reception for his students well after his retirement, to thank them for “being so nice to me.”

The obit also indicates that he outlived my grandfather by about five months, dying in West Hartford in July 2001.

My grandpa and Fred Dearborn apparently did not stay that close into adulthood. My dad has no recollection of him visiting the family home when my dad was a kid.

So this concert could well have been the last time the locally beloved music teacher ever crossed paths with his former violin-sideman-turned-draftsman.

I’d like to think they spent a couple minutes shooting the breeze after the concert. The approachability of the performers is one of the most enjoyable things about local music, whether you’re a new fan or an old friend.

It’s one reason why — however you phrase it — live music is/are better.

* Neil Young lyrics copyright 1980, Silver Fiddle Music (ASCAP.)

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