Tuesday, April 17, 2018

NPHS Reunion Interview: Karen Von Tish Andronici, Class 1969

Karen Von Tish, yearbook photo
In 100 words or less, describe your career.  
I retired on July 1, 2013, after 40 years in education.  I taught in Lakewood, NJ, for seven years and then spent the rest of the time in Mount Laurel, NJ. I taught kindergarten, first and fifth grade and then moved into administration.  I was the district K-8 supervisor for Language Arts and then went to Central Administration, and retired as Director of Human Resources and Professional Development.  I truly believed I was where I was meant to be and loved teaching.

Where do you live now?  Where have you lived since graduating (name cities)?
After college in Connecticut, I moved back to New Jersey and have lived there ever since. I’m a real Jersey Girl.  I lived in Mount Holly, Medford and now am living in a log cabin in Medford Lakes, which is in Burlington County (southern part of New Jersey; population 4100).  It’s a very small town, like North Plainfield, and I’m very happy here trying to save my garden from the marauding deer.

What was your sense of community in your class/in the school at NPHS?  
I always had a great sense of belonging and community while I lived in North Plainfield.  The fact that the town was small and our class was only about 270 kids made it easy to get to know a lot of people. I was an “East Ender” but once we got to Junior High we all seemed to meld together no matter where we lived. My group included: Kathy Miller, Anne Proli, Emily Polskin, Eileen Thompson and Cathy Mary Reed.

I had the sense that the teachers really did care about us. Having my older brother and younger sister go through NPHS too gave a sense of continuity. This sense of community was most evident when my father died in February of our Junior year. I was blessed with the kindness and sympathy I received from friends and teachers alike.  I’ll never forget the two classmates – Tracy
In a time of need for the Von Tish
family, Tracy Sylvester and
Russell Pollack (shown here
at a student-government day)
 came through with a turkey dinner.  
Sylvester and Russell Pollack – who appeared at our front door within a few days of the funeral with a huge roasted turkey and the fixings to feed my family during this sad time. That summer our lawn was magically mowed by classmate Dave Mills who lived around the corner.  He would just appear, mow the lawn, and disappear.  It’s just one of the many reasons he will always have a special place in my heart.

What experiences in high school, positive or negative, helped to shape you as a person? 
Education was highly valued in my family.   There was often a discussion at the dinner table about how “getting a college degree will be your ticket to anywhere.”  Although we grew up at time when many young women weren’t encouraged to pursue their education beyond high school, it was a given that my sister Eileen and I would, and it was a must for my older brother, John.  With this expectation I worked hard at my studies and did well.  I learned that doing your best had positive outcomes and that I had some control over them based on my efforts.  I also volunteered to take on some extra responsibilities (like Prom Chairman or secretary of a club) and these provided me with some unique experiences and kept me involved in the school activities.   I continued to work hard and be involved beyond my job descriptions as I moved through my career. 

Do you have any regrets about your experiences during your high school years? 
I had a solid core group of friends in high school and I pretty much just stayed within this circle.  I regret that I didn’t spend more time with some of the other great people that shared classes and experience with me.  I meet people again at our reunions and realize how terrific they are and am sorry I didn’t have more contact with them as we were growing up.  I know they would have taught me a lot and I missed out on some additional memories that might have been made.  I am grateful that, even if it’s only every five years, I get to spend some time with them.  After every reunion I promise myself that I will be better at staying connected but life gets in the way as it does too often.

Karen Von Tish Andronici
Now, 50 years later, has your perspective on your high school years changed at all?  If so, how? 
No, my perspective on my years at NPHS hasn’t changed over the years.  I loved high school and growing up in North Plainfield.  If anything has changed it’s that I treasure the memories more now that I am older.   I had wonderful friends who enriched those days and brought laughter and support into my life. I had some great teachers who challenged me and helped me discover my potential.  I remember, too, the fun and the dramas with a smile on my face.  My high school years have a very special place in my heart because my father was part of it.  I know he was proud of me and I’ll always hold that thought close to my heart. I think of North Plainfield as home, in all the wonderful connotations inherent in that word.

What is your fondest memory of your years at NPHS?  
It’s hard to select one memory.  I have so many.  Canteens and dances, cheerleading at games and just giggling with friends.  I remember buying a pack of Tareyton cigarettes on a Friday after school and driving around with friends smoking them.  I thought I was really cool. Of course, I wasn’t and it took me several tries to quit as an adult.  

What was the craziest or stupidest thing you did in high school?  
Every Christmas season my father would receive loads of bottles of alcohol from colleagues at work and other companies with which he did business.  Neither of my parents were big drinkers so these bottles got stored in the old dining room hutch that lived in the cellar.  The night of our graduation I snitched two bottles of scotch out of this stash.  One was hidden in one of my best buddies’ sailboat for us.  The other was being sold to two of my guy friends for $10.  It was hidden in the stone wall that sat on our front yard for them to pick up.  As I sat on the front porch waiting for a ride to go out that night, my mother came out to tell me we had been robbed! I hadn’t left the scene of the crime as it had been which alerted my mother.  At that point I had to ‘fess up and retrieve the hidden bottles.   It was not my finest moment.

What was your proudest accomplishment in high school?  
I have vivid memories from the day I was inducted into National Honor Society. The day of the induction I put on a skirt that had a falling hem which I fixed with safety pins during breakfast.  I was certain that if I had made NHS my mother would make me go and change.  She didn’t.  Then, if your homeroom sat in the auditorium balcony and you were being inducted you got a pink slip from the office and they moved your seat to the lower section.  No pink slip for me.  So I was stunned when I saw my parents enter the balcony where the families were seated.  When they called my name, I made a mad dash down the stairs to the stage.  I can close my eyes and see the smiles and pride on my parents’ faces as we had juice and cookies after the ceremony.  That was the last day my Dad left the house except to go to the hospital two days later.  He died suddenly seven days after the induction.  And 50 years and a successful career later I still think of this as my greatest accomplishment.

Who was your favorite teacher? 
Hands down… Mr. McKenna.  I had him for Bio and Advanced Bio and loved both classes. He was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his subject it was contagious.  He challenged us to prove him wrong and if we did we’d get an A (or was it a 4?) for the marking period.  I’m proud to say I managed to do that!  I went to college planning on being a research biologist because of Mr. McKenna.  However, my college chemistry classes were nightmares for me so I changed my major and ended up teaching.  As a teacher I was still affected by Mr. McKenna and the way he respected his students and his preparation and deep understanding of content.  I tried to emulate this as I taught my students.

What was your worst class? 
It’s a tie between Chemistry with Mr. Albert or English with Miss O’Brien.  I had a mental block in Chemistry and just couldn’t understand it.  It would be my nemesis in college too. I loved the Great Books we read but hated the discussions in Miss O’Brien’s class.  She used those big reel-to-real recorders to capture every word and we got graded on our participation. I remember ending up crying in the session where I was the leader because the really smart boys ran away with the discussion. I thought Miss O’Brien was intimidating.

What is your most powerful or haunting memory during your years at NPHS?
Shortly after our Senior year started, I saw my little sister’s best friend walk into my advanced bio class. She had a note in her hand and had a quiet conversation with Mr. McKenna.  He looked up and said “Karen, take your books.  You’re needed.”  I left the class and was told that my sister had run out of her Sophomore English class in tears.  Her friend took me to the girls’ room and even before we got there I could hear the sobbing.  Opening the door, I found my sister curled in a ball on the floor in the corner.  She was inconsolable.  It turned out that they had been studying the poem “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne.  With our father’s death being only six months earlier, it brought Eileen’s sorrow to the surface.  Her poor teacher, a brand new one, didn’t know her history and felt just awful.  I sent Eileen’s friend to collect Ei’s things and went to the main office.  After explaining the situation, I just announced that I was taking my sister home… no please may I … just that I was. I can still hear the echo of her crying.

How did growing up at a child of the 60s – and all the social baggage and impact that it may have entailed – impact you at the time and in your young adult years? 
I hate to admit it but I was pretty naive during high school. My friends looked like me and lived like me.  It wasn’t until the Plainfield riots that anything beyond my happy life penetrated my awareness.

I remember lying in bed at night with the windows open (no AC back then) and counting gun shots.  But, it was the killings at Kent State that really shook me.  I was at the University of Connecticut at the time and remember attending rallies and sit-ins protesting the Viet Nam war.  I was more involved in politics then because the war had become more real to me since the deaths of men that I knew - a NPHS classmate’s brother and a fraternity brother of John’s. It was a time of idealism for me and I had high hopes that our generation was going to make significant, positive changes in the world.  I wish we had accomplished more.

You were pretty well known for sporting around North Plainfield in a distinctive Ford Mustang convertible.  Tell us how that came about.
A 1968 Mustang convertible, similar
to the car Karen Von Tish drove.
A few months before my father died, he bought a huge Ford Country Squire station wagon.  He died in February and in May I turned 17 and got my license. I was the only driver in the family who was home so I became the family chauffeur.  My mother traded in the big car and let me choose a 1968 Ford Mustang convertible – navy blue with white interior.  It was the coolest.  Once my family duties were done I was able to use the car for myself.  I can't count the number of times I wished I still had my 'Stang.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

NPHS Reunion Interview: Roberta Meiser Specht, Class of 1968

Bobbi Sprecht, 2015.  
Describe your career.  
My nursing degree afforded me many rewarding opportunities.  My career started at Overlook Hospital in the Operating Room as a surgical nurse.  Over the 40 plus years I found myself working in OB/GYN, a rehabilitation hospital in the traumatic brain injury unit onto a orthopedic practice and surgery center.  All exciting experiences.
I retired in April 2016.  No regrets!

Where did you leave since leaving North Plainfield?
Leaving North Plainfield in 1970 took me to Elizabethtown, PA, and then Lancaster, PA.  A big move in 1977 to Palo Alto, CA.  My husband and I settled in Truckee, CA (northeast of Sacramento near the Nevada border) in 1980.  We have been here for over 37 years. It is home and my love for the Sierra Nevada Mountains makes it easy to stay put.

What was your sense of community in your class/in the school at NPHS?  
Wow....that is a difficult question.  I remember being a bit of an outlier.  Not really in any one group or feeling a sense of community.  I know it was there, I just did not access it.

What experiences in high school, positive or negative, helped to shape you as a person? 
Being a follower in high school had its consequences.  I no longer follow...I have learned to be a Leader.

Do you have any regrets about your experiences during your high school years? 
Of course...let’s leave it there.
Now, 50 years later, has your perspective on your high school years changed at all?  If so, how? 
I am more realistic of my NPHS days.  Not all good and certainly not all bad.  Take what you like and leave the rest!

What is your fondest memory of your years at NPHS?  
I loved the Saturday night dances, weekend sporting events and the theatre opportunities.  I am fortunate to have benefited from a few really great teacher student conversations.  Loved the insight into myself that a caring teacher brought to light.

What was the craziest or stupidest thing you did in high school?  
Who in their right mind would disclose that?!  I am sure there were more than one event that was dumb.  Hard to say which one gets the prize.

What was your proudest accomplishment in high school?  
Turning it around and being accepted into Nursing School.

Who was your favorite teacher? 
Katie Gordon, English
Antwerp, Belgium, 2011.
What was your worst class? 
Mr. Justus, German

What is your most powerful or haunting memory during your years at NPHS?
Two deaths that occurred. A teacher took her own life.  A student was hit by a school bus.  That was the first time I experienced the death of a young individual.  Very difficult to understand the finality as a teenager.

I have no idea how our current school students recover from the devastation of a school shooting.  A tragic unacceptable event that needs to end.

How did growing up at a child of the 60s – and all the social baggage and impact that it may have entailed – impact you at the time and in your young adult years? 
I loved the 60s.  The music and feeling of freedom that was emerging was awesome.  The impact, for me, was I was willing to take a few risks that maybe were not in my best interest.  I survived and brought all those experiences into my adult life.  It helped me to be an understanding and better parent to three boys.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The NPHS Reunion Essay: By Cesare Cardi, Class of 1968

Cesare and MaryAnn Cardi
Like most of those who have been gracious to share their stories, I feel blessed to have grown up in North Plainfield and gone to NPHS. I’ve got good memories like most, like time spent with those on our awesome soccer team, many personal hours with Albert T.; Kathy, my first real girlfriend; the high school dances; the guidance and love Mrs. Abrams had for all of us; and the life-changing support that Coach Rikstad gave me that got me to the Naval Academy followed by 31 years of active service to the Marines and another 15 years of educating the next generation of young Marines.  In June 2018, it will be 50 years since I first put on a military uniform and so, I figure it’s time to fully retire and do something else. I was remarried to MaryAnn in 2010 and baptized that same year. I have learned to live a life that honors my parents and God. I’m no fanatic. I’m still that young Italian boy, but with a fresh outlook on what’s important in life.

Like I was as a kid, I’m modest and hate the thought of someone thinking I was bragging but I think this blog is about catching up, and offering what we’ve done with our lives, so here it goes. I took my sweet time shedding the shenanigans of my youth at the Naval Academy and nearly got thrown out by my sophomore year, but with some rather firm guidance from my Marine Corps advisor, I made up lost ground in the last two years to finish with my honor intact J.  I joined the Marines instead of the Navy, because, frankly, I still could not swim well and wanted to be as far away from the water as possible. Little did I know that all major Marine Corps bases are near the ocean.  Well, I’m here to tell my story, so I survived drowning.  I chose the armor field and was a tank commander, leading organizations of five to 70 tanks. (Hey, I was just thinking that the last tank model I commanded of the three generations of tanks, was called the Abrams tank.  Maybe after Ethel?  Nah!) I had the opportunity with my assignments to be stationed in several continents and I don’t know how many countries. Sounds wonderful huh? Well, honestly, assignments such as Marines get don’t equate to cultural tours of wonderful places you see in National Geographic. As the leader of the free world, I don’t agree with Trump’s use of language, but there are SH’s on this planet and I’ve been to a half-dozen or more of them.  I fought in Desert Shield/Storm as an armor commander of 1500 men and tanks, and came out free of scars.  I’ve been involved in other operations in our southern hemisphere that have been ongoing since Reagan’s time or before that, and were very different than my experiences with tanks.  I helped close down our presence in Panama after we left between 1999 and 2002 and had the opportunity to be the mosquito on the wall when we planned and set up the containment facilities in Guantanamo. A short visit there in the early days was an eye-opening experience. I came to love education because I know for certain that it was the opportunities given to our family from this great country and the remarkable education I have been afforded from high school to college that have made me who I am and allowed me privileges that I would otherwise not have. So, I was also the Director (like a Chancellor) of a few of our military schools in between assignments with tank units.  After 31 years, I reached the maximum time in military service and had to retire from the military so I did not participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and operations in Afghanistan.  One of the coolest things that happened in my time was that the ship I was stationed on for nearly a year in the 70’s was sunk as a reef off the coast of Key Largo, Florida, and when my daughter went on a middle school trip in 2003, they snorkeled and organized dive on to the same ship I sailed on many years earlier. She even had a blurry photo shot of the ship with its name…..USS Spiegel Grove LSD 32.

I have (had) three wonderful children, Jason, now 42, Jaime Marie whom I lost to a car accident at the age of 16, and an awesome daughter Kathryn, whom we adopted at birth and is now 26 and recently married.  Between MaryAnn and me, we have three girls and one boy, and eight grandchildren living between Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  For now, we live in North Carolina since I’m still working but retirement will take us elsewhere.

Growing up as a child of the 60’s was no big deal to me.  The peace movement never got to NPHS and after graduation, I was shielded from all that by a military environment.  The closest I ever got to mimicking the social surroundings was when “Saturday Night Fever” came out, I figured I had to be as cool as Travolta so I invested in the clothes and danced like a fool J.  Great times frankly.  Wish I had pictures of me back then. It would make for a great laugh.

I’m not sure why I’ve stayed away from reunions. I haven’t attended those at the Academy either and am still unsure if I’ll get to our 50th. I just recently re-connected with Albert after many-many years so I guess I’m just not great at keeping in touch. I don’t do social media either. Never had the time or inclination to put my life online but I do love interacting with people the old school way; face to face.  So even this writing is a stretch for me.   I’ll close by saying I have many of my classmates in my heart. Every 10 years or so I open my 1968 yearbook and think about the friendships.  I feel blessed that of all places we could have settled when we emigrated from Italy, we ended up in North Plainfield.  God Bless this country.