August 2 , 2008
Letters touch former teacher
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bill Neufang of Baldwinsville was a student teacher at Parker School in 1956-57. His students that year sent him letters of appreciation which he kept and discovered recently. He is now trying to return them to his former students.
Evelyn Clemens, a teacher at Parker School in 1956, gave her sixth-grade students a special writing assignment on Halloween that year.
No, it wasn’t about what spook or goblin they would transform themselves into that evening. It was simply a letter about what student teacher William Neufang — Mr. Neufang to them — did and how they felt about the man who was about to leave.
Fifty-two years later those letters are back home, so to speak. Neufang, 78, was cleaning out a cellar and came across them.
In a phone interview, he said he had put them in a file cabinet with other material he thought he might use later in his teaching career.
“About a month ago I found them,” said Neufang, who retired in 1987 from a 30-year career teaching social studies in Baldwinsville.
“I reread them all and started crying,” he said.
He found out Stephen Watrous, one of his Parker students who lives just outside Moravia, handles reunion information for the class of 1963. Neufang called Watrous and sent the letters to his home.
Watrous, a retired Army National Guard major who still works some in his own engineering design consulting firm, said he did not remember writing a letter.
“It came as a surprise to me when he called,” he said.
Watrous’ letter reads: “I think you have taught more about countries in S.S. (social studies) than any other teacher I’v ever had. You have made arithmtic a lot more fun. You have tried very hard to help me in spelling, but I didn’t study the words enough.”
While he does not remember writing the letter, he does remember Neufang, the student teacher.
“In addition to teaching, he coached a sixth-grade football team. I remember I bit my tongue once and bled all over,” said Watrous, recalling Neufang’s concern over not only the injury, but also getting in trouble himself because it happened.
Neufang went on to coach football in Baldwinsville. He said he does not consider his 30-year teaching career as work because it was something he enjoyed so much. He received his master’s degree at SUNY Cortland, then known as the State Teacher’s College at Cortland, on the GI Bill.
Watrous said classmate Rhoda Fertig “wrote a letter that was very adult.” He said she was very intelligent and graduated early. Her letter read, in part, “I am very sure that we have all profited from your teaching. Everything that you have taught us has been taught well. I hope I have learned as much as possible in these nine weeks from your teaching.”
Most of the students signed their letters with, “Your friend.”
“All of them expressed that they had learned from me and were happy they had met me,” Neufang said. “Compared with young boys and girls now, they had extremely fine handwriting.”
Watrous said he has posted the letters on his Web site, www.stevewatrous.com. There are 24 letters posted there with a corresponding picture of the student taken when they were in sixth grade added to the letter. To access the letters, click on the white “Cortland High School Class of 1963” banner, then “New Stuff,” and then onto the Parker letters.
“It’s gotten to be a lot of fun posting things on the Web,” Neufang said. He said he would like to get a picture of Neufang from the 1950s to post, too.
Neufang’s Internet skills are not up to par.
“I’m not real good at that,” he said, noting that his grandchildren are better at using the Internet.
The class of 1963 celebrates its 45th reunion from 4 to 11 p.m. Aug. 9 at Uncle Louis Backyard on Tompkins Street. The class will also gather at this restaurant the evening before at 6 p.m. Watrous said about 150 students were in his graduating class and around 50 are planning to attend the reunion. He said 12 or 13 classmates have died.
Watrous said he does not plan to bring the letters to his reunion fearing they might get damaged while the class parties. He said three or four of his classmates will attend and he will print out a copy for them.
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