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Saturday, November 24, 2007

A trip back to Bennett High School

By Dick Hirsch

I graduated from Bennett High School but it is none of your business exactly what year that milestone occurred. I can tell you this much, though: my class included at least 10 of the smartest kids in all of Western New York and I surely wasn’t one of them.

I’ve always admired the building. It’s impressive, up on a rise, looming over Main Street, a kind of gatekeeper for North Buffalo and the University District. Buffalo has some great looking high schools; my other favorites have always been Lafayette, Grover Cleveland and what was once Fosdick-Masten, but is now City Honors. The architecture of the older high school buildings made a strong statement. I have driven by Bennett thousands of times over the years and always felt some fleeting nostalgia, but never toured the school until recently.

I lived just two blocks away and while I was still in elementary school I could hear the cheers reverberating from All-High Stadium on Saturday afternoons during during football season. And I could look out the window and see some of the Bennett students walking to school each morning. I always anticipated the day when the time would come when I would join that cavalcade, walking toward Main Street and across and up the broad steps to Bennett. The parents of some of my schoolmates made other choices, sending their children to places like St. Joe’s, Nichols, the Buffalo Seminary or Canisius. With those exceptions, most of the 8th graders from my school eagerly headed for Bennett the September after graduation. Optima Futura was (and remains) the slogan of the school---The best is yet to be---and most of us probably felt that way when we crossed the threshold as freshmen.

After all the years, what drew me back to Bennett? It was a major event in the history of the school, the rededication of Bennett after a major expansion and upgrade as part of the city’s multi-million dollar school construction program. The work is done. The school is worth bragging about, so on a recent Sunday afternoon the doors were flung open to alumni, friends, and others to see how the place looks.


The school is older than it looks. It opened in the fall of 1925, after being built on land donated by the family of Lewis J. Bennett, a businessman and Central Park developer, at a cost of about $1.5 million. At the rededication, School Supt. James Williams said some $8 million was spent on the upgrade and expansion of the building as well as the reconstruction of All-High Stadium.

There were about 200 persons at the ceremony, but as I walked through the corridors it was strangely quiet, nothing comparable to the din that pervaded the place as bells rang, locker doors clanged and students ran shouting down the halls between periods, as well as before and after school. I walked through the gym, which somehow appeared smaller than I remembered, and looked in room 206, which was the primary senior boys’ homeroom, presided over by Miss Sherman. She was a woman very capable of maintaining order with a piercing look and an intimidating whisper. She also taught me Spanish and I remember enough to ask the location of the men’s room if I am ever in Spain.

The auditorium didn’t require many visible enhancements. I don’t believe I ever before realized the elegance of the auditorium. The student body has changed considerably and the students have approved the adoption of uniforms which Mrs. Ramona Reynolds, the principal, cited as a very positive step. The cost of some uniforms is being paid by the Bennett High School Alumni Association, which has some remarkable achievements in a few short years. Its presidents, Philip Brothman, Wayne Reilly and Dr. Leonard Katz, have led the alumni in raising over $60,000 which will be used for various worthy purposes.

It was a phase of my life I remember more with ambivalence than with enthusiasm. I was quiet and shy, a late bloomer, but I always was glad I went to Bennett. It is strange what is remembered when walking a once familiar route. As I passed the chemistry lab I recalled the day Mr. Snow, frustrated with a certain student, asked him the following question:

“William, can you tell us what are the three words most often used by Bennett students?”

William shrugged and shuffled in place, flustered and embarrassed. Finally he responded:

“I don’t know.”

“Correct,” said Mr. Snow, beaming.



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