CAPTION: Pictured clockwise from left: Clyde Barnhart, Romeo Parent, Larry Witmer, Jim Lanigan and Gerry Blazetich. All but Lanigan are retired principals. Lanigan , the plumber they shared, is a regular attendee at the luncheons. (Photo by Joe Barkovich)
By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
Long retired from careers in public elementary schools, “class” is still in one day a week for a tight-knit group of former principals.
They meet, most Thursdays, for lunch in the King’s Inn dining room at The Rex on King Street, which doubles as their study hall. No textbook learning here, the three R’s are replaced by the three C’s – camaraderie, companionship and commiserating as their core subjects.
Though members have come and gone as years graduated into decades, the tradition continues, kept alive by a handful of diehards who know a good thing when they see it.
Romeo Parent is one. His membership roots go back to the beginning, 1958, he says. Meetings have been held on a regular basis since that time on.
“I got a call from Joe Mocsan. I was a teacher back then, Joe was a consultant. He says to me on the phone: ‘You want to go to lunch?’”
Another well-known name from the Who’s Who of Welland public school academics and also one of the original members was Frank Seykoczky, said Parent, who is the last of the three organizers. Others now gone are also missed, Hector Beauparlant who was principal at Vanier School, being one of them on Parent’s list.
The group also has “younger blood”, like that of John Mastroianni whose principalships included schools in Welland and Ridgeway until his recent retirement. He was at one of the luncheon meetings at The Rex, but I could not be there that particular day.
Over the years, the principals made their mark on several local businesses.
Their original meeting place was the Atlas Hotel on Southworth Street.
“It’s gone now,” Parent said. “We went to the Reeta Hotel coffee shop – gone now, the Dexter – gone now; the Barclay – gone too. Now we are here at The Rex most Thursdays except the first Thursday when we go to San Marcos in Port Colborne. The owner, Monica, is part of the Carusetta family and we got to know her when she was here. We are loyal customers to these good people.”
Lunch is light and so is the banter. On one Thursday, toasted westerns with salad or fries, soup, gnocchi and a Rex staple, pizza, were ordered up by the half dozen or so members in attendance. Parent, ever the principal, made mental notes of who was – and who wasn’t there. The only thing lacking was the attendance sheet with the names of the missing.
Parent, 83, who saw duty at Riverview, Queen Street, First Street and Princess Elizabeth schools in Welland, said he’s missed only a handful of meetings over the years and even that could be an exaggeration.
The gang follows the school year calendar for their meetings, taking a break during holiday periods like Christmas and summer.
Said Gerry Blazetich, 73: “We were close as principals in Welland. There was a bond there, it’s hard to define, you had to be one of us.” During his career, Blazetich was principal at Mathews, Welland South, Elmwood, Humberstone and Greendale (Niagara Falls) schools.
Another former principal, Clyde Barnhart, remembered: “Welland is where the camaraderie existed. We helped each other out. That was the beauty of teaching those days.”
The principals had a team in the Crowland Softball League from the late 1950s to mid 1960s, Parent said. The team was sponsored by Sunnyside Dairy, whose owner Allan Pietz “was so proud to do this” and who stopped by to watch some of the games.
“I think I came into the group in the late ‘60s,” said Jack Gray, 87, whose last school before retirement almost 30 years ago was Gordon on Thorold Road. “You had to be invited, you know.”
Gray and Parent both recalled the esprit de corps for which the group was known, far and wide.
To some, they were known as “the Welland Mafia” Parent said with Gray agreeing in earnest, stressing their loyalty to one another.
And Larry Witmer, who retired in 1994 after postings at various local schools, remembers it as being “a good sounding board for ideas.”
Now, meetings provide opportunity “for rehashing events of the past, enjoying good times and just getting together with people you worked with over the years and respect,” he said.
There’s no saying how long this group will carry on, noted Parent.
“I think time will be the deciding factor.”
(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City.)