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Columns

March 15, 2014

Teacher developed Oneonta's science fairs in the late 1930s

(Continued)

“So successful was the gathering,” the Herald continued, “that Oneonta was officially designated as a scientific center to represent the American institute of the City of New York, an organization which now carries on work throughout the state, and tentative plans were laid for an all-day gathering of a similar nature next year, with other sciences, as well as chemistry, to have places on the program.”

The 1940 edition of this event was renamed to Science Congress, and moved to a later date, Saturday, April 13. Once again the OHS Chem Squad worked with Mrs. Coutant to make the event bigger and better.

It turned out to be good planning by moving the event to what was then the Oneonta Junior High building, also on Academy Street, remembered by many as the “South Building” in later years. The gymnasium had bleachers and more floor space, and it was certainly needed as nearly 500 attended the daylong event, which included a noontime luncheon served in the school’s “homemaking” building.

The Star reported on Monday, April 15, that William North White, a 14-year-old freshman at Walton High School, took the grand prize of the day.

“White’s exhibit of dyes earned him a trip to the World’s fair at New York with all expenses paid by the institute, also a day at Schenectady as guest of the General Electric Co. In the latter city he will take part in the science forum broadcast Thursday, May 2.” These programs aired on WGY radio from 1936-1949, according to Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette’s book, “Science On the Air.”

Oneonta’s Science Congress continued under Mrs. Coutant’s direction until 1952 even though she had moved on to become a professor of chemistry at Hartwick College in 1946. She took a job with the state Education Department in 1952.

Coutant was remembered for many other local contributions upon her passing away in November 1989. Among them she was one of the founders and a charter member in 1940 of the Oneonta branch of the American Association of University Women, and was executive director of the Susquehanna Manpower Corp. in Oneonta, similar to the national Job Corps.

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