July 31, 2013
Bighearted principal honored
Ceremony Saturday at CHS recognizing John Gee
At 6-foot-9, John Gee was a presence when he walked into a room.
His height served him well as a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Giants, a center for the Syracuse Nationals (moved to Philadelphia as the 76ers in 1963) and perhaps best as Cortland High School’s principal from 1960 to 1977.
In honor of his tenure, Cortland High School’s class of 1968 is hosting a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday at the high school to christen the John A. Gee Main Office.
“We have strong roots in Cortland, and very fond memories of our youth there,” said Gee’s son, John, who now lives in Ohio. “My siblings and I think it’s (dedication) awesome. It’s something that we really appreciate.”
After six seasons of on-again-off-again pitching for the Pirates and the Giants because of arm trouble, and a brief stretch playing basketball with the Nats, Gee settled into teaching. He taught at Waterloo High School from 1945 to 1960 before finally coming to Cortland where he finished his career as principal.
A baseball field at the high school originally bore Gee’s name, but when the field was replaced with tennis courts, all traces of Gee were gone from the school, prompting his former students to look for another venue to carry his name.
“We thought it would be very fitting,” said John Woodward, a 1968 alumnus of Cortland High School who helped plan the upcoming dedication. “Our class fared well under his stewardship and we thought a lot of him. We all looked up to him.”
Students remember Gee as a man with a deep dedication to his students, who commanded admiration and respect.
“He was a no-nonsense kind of guy,” said Bill Kulikowsky, a 1968 alumnus who spearheaded the dedication. “But it felt like he was there in your best interest.”
“He was bigger than life,” Woodward said. “But he was also gentle; he understood the kids.”
“He took to heart his students,” said Linda Kline, a 1968 alumna who worked on the dedication. “Those who were lost or didn’t have a direction, he was there to guide and to help them.”
Gee is also remembered as a stern force who could command the silence of an uncouth cheering section with little more than a look and his own intimidating stature.
“If he saw that raucous behavior, all he had to do was look up at the student section with his hands on his hips and it was done,” Kulikowsky said. “No more booing.”
“If you got out of line, you would be sweating in school the next day,” Kline said. “He would find you and let you know what you did.”
Kulikowsky recalled the aftermath of an incident he participated in, involving water balloons, shaving cream and eggs.
“There were 35 of us packed into his office,” Kulikowsky said of Gee’s discipline in the wake of the water balloon barrage. “Some guys had only been a part of the thing for a minute or two, but he knew. That’s what we were all thinking. How did he know?”
Gee died in 1988, and although he has been gone for over 20 years, people still seem to know the name John Gee.
“No matter who you talk to, if they knew him or not, their eyes light up when you talk about John Gee,” Kulikowsky said.
“As big as he stood, his heart was even bigger,” said Kline. “He was a wonderful principal.”
Saturday’s dedication ceremony is free and open to the public, with former students and members of Gee’s family expected to attend.
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