Alumni return to share memories of their teenage years
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Judith Gordon, Elaine Fisher and Maxine Krantz were strolling through the corridors of Fort Hamilton High School on Saturday afternoon smiling and reminiscing about what it was like to be students there in the 1950s.
The ladies agreed that one of their favorite memories was hanging out on Shore Road. “They used to let us outside for 15-minute breaks to go smoke. They knew the kids smoked,” Fisher (Class of 1953) told the Brooklyn Eagle.
It’s hard to imagine high school administrators today giving students a cigarette break.
Fisher, Gordon (Class of 1959) and Krantz (Class of 1951) were all at Fort Hamilton High School to attend the school’s big 75th anniversary celebration. They also remembered how much fun it was to be on Shore Road and watch the Queen Mary luxury liner float by.
Located at 8301 Shore Road in Bay Ridge, the school opened on Sept. 8, 1941.
On Saturday, Principal Kaye Houlihan threw open the doors to welcome back alumni and members of the Bay Ridge community. There were singers, bands, dance performances and treasure troves of old pictures, yearbooks and videos for visitors to peruse.
Current students offered alumni tours of the building. Fisher, Gordon and Krantz were escorted by Nicholas Accettura, a friendly junior who gave them a guided tour of the school they graduated from long ago.
There was also a ceremony in the auditorium where Houlihan, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Councilmember Vincent Gentile (Class of 1977) all offered congratulations on the school’s milestone anniversary.
Fort Hamilton was built on the site of the old Crescent Athletic Club. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia laid the cornerstone on Sept. 23, 1940. During construction, the Eagle sponsored a “Name the School” contest. But ultimately, the Board of Education decided to name it after the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton, located nearby.
The anniversary celebration offered many memorable sights and sounds.
Lisa Lynch (Class of 1981) enjoyed thumbing through her yearbook with Gentile in the school’s entranceway. Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) was student government president. Surely, it was a sign of things to come for him.
Stella Mitchell (Class of 1962) said the years passed by so quickly. “Too fast!” she told the Eagle. Frank Grassi (Class of 1960) recalled that he was in school plays and was a member of the radio club.
Dr. Alice Farkouh, who served as Fort Hamilton’s principal from 1989 to 1999, had a ball walking the halls and greeting former students.
In the boys’ gym, photo displays of students from various years were set up along the walls and on tables to give alumni the chance to see pictures of their younger selves. There was also a video featuring Janet Yellen, chairperson of the Federal Reserve, congratulating the school on its big anniversary. Yellen is a 1963 graduate of the school.
At another table, Alumni Association President Valerie Hodgson and Vice President Mary Beth Alexander (both Class of 1973) greeted fellow alums.
The girls’ gym was decorated with balloons in the shapes of sevens and fives to signify the 75th anniversary. Chicken wraps, spinach wraps, nuts and cake were served by students.
At one point, Jesenia Badillo (Class of 1997) and her daughter, Jacqueline Ortiz, approached Muriel Anderson (Class of 1950) in the girls’ gym and asked if they could chat with her. “My daughter thinks you’re beautiful, and she wanted to meet you,” Badillo told Anderson.
Anderson and Badillo had fond memories of their days at Fort Hamilton. Anderson loved the teachers. Badillo remembered that the school’s then-new indoor pool was a big deal when she was a student.
During the welcoming ceremony in the auditorium, Houlihan told the audience that her goal was to “balance the history and the present” and to celebrate the past while at the same time honoring what Fort Hamilton has become.
Fariña revealed that she would have attended Fort Hamilton as a student, but that her parents wanted her to attend an all-girls high school. She wound up going to Saint Michael High School, a Catholic school in Manhattan. She sounded wistful.
Fort Hamilton now has a student enrollment of 4,600. In the 1940s, there were a small handful of extra-curricular activities. Today, the school boasts more than 60 clubs and 32 sports teams.