Wolcott Historical Society History for April 2015
By Florence Goodman
Shoveling snow or working in my perennial gardens gives me time to reflect on many things; some are personal in nature while others concern local history. As I shoveled yet another substantial amount of snow from our property this past February, I was mulling over an issue that dealt with lack of compassion towards others and how some people have so much compassion and others have none. My thoughts brought me back to Mr. Augustus Keane who was the superintendent of schools in Wolcott from 1958 until 1968. His quiet yet caring nature had a huge influence on my becoming a teacher in our town. This month I will discuss the development of our school system from the mid1950s through the late 1960s and the two superintendents that guided our educational system during that time period. I will also share my personal reflections about Mr. Augustus Keane.
Early Annual Town Reports are very helpful research tools; not only do they detail the yearly town budget, but also include a report from the superintendent of schools. As I perused these reports I learned that prior to December of 1954 our superintendent was part of the Rural Supervisory Service of the Connecticut State Department of Education and we had a supervising principal from town that assisted him.
In January of 1955 our school population grew to the point where we no longer qualified to use the Rural Supervisory Service. The town was now responsible to provide their own superintendent. Carl Hempel was hired as the new superintendent of schools. He came to Wolcott as a principal in 1948 and went on to become our first assistant superintendent and finally superintendent. During his term as superintendent, Wolcott's enrollment rose from 906 elementary students to 1258. The town was growing rapidly and the school system had to meet these demands by adding more schools. By June of 1958 Wolcott had four elementary schools: Alcott, Frisbie, Lewis and Woodtick, a high school building project, forty-nine teachers and three principals. Carl Hempel along with the Board of Education had met these growing needs head on and done well. To show appreciation to Mr. Hempel for his ten years of service to the town, the road leading into Wakelee School was named Hempel Drive in his honor.
Our second full time superintendent of schools was Mr. Augustus Keane. He moved his family from Massachusetts to Wolcott in 1958 to accept this position. The major problem facing him as superintendent was a rapidly growing student population, which was continually causing a shortage of space. When school opened in September elementary enrollment was at a new high of 1,381 pupils and classes were forced to go on double sessions until the new high school opened. It wasn't until November 1958 that 8th grade students from Frisbie were transferred to partially completed rooms at the high school. By late fall of 1959 grades 7-10 inclusive were attending Wolcott High School.
A rapidly growing enrollment still plagued the town and by December of 1960 a new twenty-six-room Robert A. Wakelee School opened its doors; it was the first time in six years that all students were on full session. This new school was not the end of school building projects, but the beginning since enrollment was expected to reach 3,113 by 1965. So in the 1960-61 school year a 20-room addition to the high school was approved and plans for another new elementary school were in the making. It wasn't until the 1964-65 school year that Tyrrell Elementary School opened its doors. This was the fourth school construction project in seven years. We now had five elementary schools (Alcott, Frisbie, Lewis, Tyrrell, Wakelee) and one high school. The town was still facing increasing enrollment problems and more double sessions so a recommendation was made to add classrooms to Alcott School. The town accepted the addition proposal and another building project began; it was completed in January of 1969.
Mr. Augustus Keane served our town as Superintendent of Schools from the spring of 1958 to the spring of 1968. It was during that time period that I completed my education in Wolcott, went to college and signed my first contract to teach school in our town. It was also during that time period that my father who worked for the school system as head of the maintenance department was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. As his boss, Mr. Keane was compassionate and empathetic in the way that he dealt with my dad during the years that he could work. He also guided me, a high school student who was dealing with the fear of not being able to attend college because of financial needs. He even took time out of his busy schedule to seek me out and question me about my college applications.
By June of 1964 I knew I would be attending Danbury State College, but then my dad's condition worsened causing him to stop work. I was ready to forget college and find a job as my older sister had done when Mr. Keane informed me that someone was loaning me money for my first year of college. My parents and I visited the Law Offices of Mr. Frederick Murolo where they signed a "promissory note to borrow $400 from John Doe." I never thought about whom John Doe was, I was just thankful to know I was going to college. Before I left for college Mr. Keane wished me well and told me he would hire me when I graduated.
In February of 1968 I signed my teaching contract with Mr. Keane to teach school that following school year in Wolcott. My father's struggle with his brain tumor lasted for ten years, but he lived long enough to see me begin my teaching career at Wakelee School in September 1968. I had only taught three days when he passed away, but I knew he had waited just long enough to see me begin my teaching.
When the time came for me to repay the loan, I was told by Mr. Murolo that John Doe did not want to be repaid. When I asked him who John Doe was, he just laughed and said, "you think about it." I really knew from that first day that it had been Mr. Keane; he helped me to get to college to become a teacher. My payback to him was to be the best teacher I could be, and for 34 years, I strived to do just that.
(Information for this article was taken from The Town of Wolcott Annual Reports from 1947-1969 and my personal recollections of growing up in Wolcott, Connecticut)
Mrs. Helen Dunlap with her students at Amos B. Alcott School, 1949-50.
Students playing baseball at Alcott School in the lower field.
Boarding school bus at Alcott School, 1950.
Kite flying contest at Alcott School, 1953.
A cooperative venture at Alcott School, 1950.
Beginning construction of Judah Frisbie School, 1950.
Robert A. Wakelee School opened in 1960 on Hempel Drive.
The new Wolcott High School,1958-59. The first class graduated from WHS in 1962.
Mr. Augustus Keane, 1964.
Mr. Keane with the Board of Education, 1964.
A 20-room addition to Wolcott High School was needed by 1960.
An addition to Amos B. Alcott School was completed in 1969.
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