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Big Chuck

July 18, 2011

I Was Just Thinking: St. Mary's was part of Oneonta life

One of the longest-running chapters of Oneonta history just came to an end. Officially.

My daughters, Frances and Katie, attended St. Mary's School. And if you had a kid at St. Mary's, well, you basically attended it, too. Parental involvement was obligatory. My time with the school was the "Walnut Street Era." The events, pageants, concerts, spelling bees, PTO meetings, pancake breakfasts, after-school meetings and much more made me feel as if I were going to school there, too!

The nurturing care that my little girls received at the school took a back seat to none. The teachers were above excellent. My kids loved their teachers at St. Mary's and can still name them all, even though those little girls are now well into their 20s. Mrs. Townsend, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Endries, Mrs. English, Mrs. Tausta, Mrs. Lyall, Mrs. Miller, the venerable Irene Curley and so many more that I better stop now before I leave out other favorites.

Sister Maureen with her downstate no-nonsense aura barely masking a soft and caring heart. Sister Mary Christopher trying to stop lawbreakers by launching herself across the front windshields of cars passing the parked buses out front of the school. Father Roman roamin' the school halls knowing the first and last names of all the students. The efficient Mrs. Fox in the front office keeping it all together.

I loved the place.

Two memories come to the forefront when I pass the "Thanks for the Memories" sign in front of the school today.

I have done hundreds of remote broadcasts, appearances, hosting jobs and more over my 23 years at WDOS radio. But above all, my favorite annual gig was to emcee the St. Mary's Talent Show during Catholic Schools Week. I did it for more than 15 years.

I really felt like Ed Sullivan on these days. Dancers who stepped on toes, singers who futilely chased the high notes, jugglers who missed more balls than they caught, comedians who forgot punch lines. They were all magnificent in their own way. It really was my favorite hosting event of the year. And Marilyn Roper calmly corralled all the young stars into a charming vaudevillian review. I really looked forward to each year's show.

Perhaps the clearest memory I have of something to do with St. Mary's School happened without me even being there.

In 1994, New York State Trooper Ricky Parisian, a St. Mary's alumnus, was killed while attempting to break up a robbery at a local grocery store. His death sent Oneonta into a tailspin. Trooper Parisian's funeral was perhaps the largest Oneonta has ever seen. We carried it live on WDOS. I was back at the studio bringing in reports from our on-air personnel around the city.

More than 2,000 police officers came to Oneonta for the funeral. Gov. Mario Cuomo helicoptered into the city to lead the mourners. Walnut Street was closed. It was a tense and sad day on the radio.

I "went to" one of the reporters in the crowd at the church for a live report. It was Dolly Hecox, our news director in the early 1990s. As she started to paint a picture of the mournful pageant playing out in Center City, I took off my headphones and sat back and listened to her intently from our studios on Southside Oneonta.

I remember it like it was yesterday. She said: "One of the most moving things I am witnessing right now is the sight of ranks of gray uniforms down the street as far as the eye can see. Huge crowds have thronged the entrance to the church as the service is about to begin. But from my vantage point, I can see across the street in all the windows of St. Mary's elementary school the little faces and hands of rows and rows of the kids watching from their classrooms. I am sure what they are seeing is something they will never forget."

At that moment it dawned on me. Two of those "little faces" were Katie, my second-grader, and Frances, my sixth-grader. I conjured their image in my mind. I imagined them standing at the street-side windows of their classrooms in their blue-and-white plaid uniforms and saddle shoes, eyes wide open. And in the silence of their rooms I just knew that the gentle voices of their teachers were guiding them through this emotional and traumatic moment in their very young lives. I imagined the sound of the voices of a hundred children whispering, "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. ... "

Thank you, St. Mary's. You served us well.

I'll catch you in two ...

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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