Not everyone remembers their high school years with joy — but then, not everyone had the same wonderful experience as Roz and Larry Goodman.
In a conversation marked by smiles, laughter, and fond memories, the Franklin Lakes couple — formerly of Fair Lawn, where they lived for some 35 years — recalled a happy time and wonderful classmates.
“We have fabulous memories,” Larry said. “There was only one high school [in Passaic] so everybody went there — the rich from Passaic Park and the poor from Market Street. We were all together.”
Roz Charish and Larry Goodman met when they were 11 years old. They both graduated from high school in 1957, and they recently attended the school’s 60th anniversary celebration, which also was their class’s 60th reunion.
A word of explanation. The school’s first graduating class, in 1873, was made up of eight students, who went to the Acquackanonk District School. The first Passaic High School was built in 1886–87 and stood at the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue (now Broadway). The district’s second high school was built in 1910, across the street from the original building on Lafayette Avenue. The present high school on Paulison Avenue was completed in May 1957. The Goodmans were the first class to graduate from the high school’s new building on Paulison Ave.
Roz Goodman remembers that not only was the school itself fully integrated, but that the mixing of races and economic groups carried through outside of school as well.
“We played together,” she said. “We had a good time.” Indeed, Larry recalled, “It didn’t matter what race you were. The school president was black.”
Roz, as Larry pointed out, was a “pompom girl,” waving her pompoms and cheering for the school teams. A glance at her yearbook reminded her that she was also a member of the Spanish, math, and psychology clubs; worked on the yearbook and high school play; served as secretary of the history club, and was a representative to the student council.
Larry joked that he shared leadership positions in his class with two other students. “We would get together and split up the presidencies,” he said.
His own activities included membership in the Key Club (it’s Kiwanis for high school — although in his later life he wound up joining the Rotary Club), physics and chemistry clubs (called Psychem, of which he was president), and the German, history, and dramatics clubs. He also was his class representative to the student council, worked on the senior play, and played basketball. He quit after his junior year because he wasn’t tall enough. He just couldn’t keep up.
Participating in school activities was important, Larry said. “That’s why we were able to enjoy it so much.”
But the best part of school was their fellow students, both said, and they still keep up with many of them. “Roz’s best friend today went to the school,” Larry said.
The recent reunion drew alumni from California, Florida, Georgia, and other points around the country. “There were about 80 people,” Larry said. He spoke about a military airplane that crashed in 1961, killing the draftees aboard, including more than a few from their class. “They did a memorial in Passaic for them,” he said. “There was money in the kitty from our last reunion.”
Both Goodmans raved about the school’s academic standards. “It had a good reputation and excellent teachers,” Roz said. “We had a great math department. Classes were not easy.”
As for the students, “they were not sweathogs,” laughed Larry, referring to the long-ago sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter.”
“Everyone got along with everyone else and helped each other,” Roz said. While both Goodmans acknowledged that some bullying existed, “It wasn’t obvious or consistent,” Larry said, although there may have been an occasional fight in the locker room.
Both Roz and Larry feel that students today don’t have as much respect for teachers as they once had. When students went home and complained to parents, their parents would say, “It’s not your teacher’s fault.” And nobody had knives or guns.
What did they take away from the school?
“I learned how to be a leader,” Larry said.
He had planned to become an engineer, but instead he went on to become a CPA. “In the 50s, the time of Sputnik, you were supposed to become an engineer,” he said. “But I didn’t have the talent for that.”
Larry earned his undergraduate degree at Seton Hall University, and then he went to Fairleigh Dickinson University for graduate studies. Roz received both of her degrees at Montclair State University. “I always enjoyed being with children, so I became a teacher,” she said.
The reunion — held at the Brownstone in Paterson in June — saw a good deal of joy, hugging, and celebration. “We really communicated with each other,” Larry said. “I knew most of the people,” he added, noting that of the entire group, he knew all but 15 of them.
And how did their classmates look, 60 years later?
“Some looked the same; some I didn’t recognize,” Roz said. Certainly, clothing styles have changed. “When we were in high school, male teachers wore shirts and ties, and women wore dresses. You didn’t wear slacks.” In the winter, however, she recalled wearing heavy leggings beneath her own dresses and skirts.
But as important as friendship was to the couple, they came away with other values as well.
“We learned respect, not just for teachers but for each other,” Roz said. “That’s the kind of school it was.”