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Columns

June 9, 2012

First education degrees given at Oneonta State Teachers College in 1942

The Class of 1942 at the Oneonta State Teachers College was a unique group compared to all others who had passed through its academic halls since 1889.

This graduating class consisted of 90 people, 84 of whom were women.

One of the male graduates was named George D. Pataki of Peekskill.

As it turns out, he was a relative of New York's former governor from the same town. One woman graduate was from Otego and had perfect attendance in her four years of study to become a teacher.

Also unique to the class was that it was the first to earn degrees from the State Teachers College, having been renamed recently from the Oneonta Normal School. Although the name change wasn't official until the next year, the school began the transition during the academic year.

Graduation was held on Sunday, June 7.

Women far outnumbered the men in this class because the men had enlisted or were already fighting overseas in World War II.

"This is a great day for you and a great day for me," said Dr. Ernest E. Cole, president of what was then called the University of the State of New York, and Commissioner of Education. "For four years you have been working and struggling for this day. For 16 years I have been working and struggling for this day … I confer on you the degree of bachelor of education, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto."

The graduation speaker was the Rev. Dr. Frank Halliday Ferris, pastor of the Fairmount Presbyterian Church, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Ferris spoke of education as, "What you have left when you have lost everything that can be taken away."

"In the first place," Ferris said, "education includes the ability to adjust oneself to any situation in a helpful way. The finest of all fine arts is the art of getting along with people."

After the exercises, the teachers remained in the lower hall to greet the parents of the graduates.

Eight Oneonta women were shown in Monday's Oneonta Star as receiving their degrees, including: Ellen Edmunds, Charla Felter, Anna Frederick, Betty Friery, Helen Hallenbeck, Barbara Higgs, Alba (Cope) Hubbell and Margaret George. An Otego woman, Frances V. Dieball, was among four graduates given credit for perfect attendance at classes since their freshman year.

Dr. Charles Hunt also presided over the graduation ceremony, his last as principal of the Oneonta State Normal School. His title became president, and the school became officially known as Oneonta State Teachers College just days after graduation, July 1, 1942.

To mark that official change, the college held a celebration at the first assembly of students for the summer session at 10:45 a.m. that day in Alumni Hall. That was the auditorium of Old Main, which once stood at the top of Maple Street, where the Maple Arms Apartments are today.

The Hon. Chester A. Miller, a 1903 graduate of the Oneonta Normal School, told faculty and students that the continuity and success of the school could be largely credited to the long service of its faculty members.

Miller recalled that three retired teachers, Miss Florence Matteson, Dr. Charles A. Schumacher and Arthur M. Curtis, had taught more than 40 years each, and that the late Dr. Percy I. Bugbee, principal, had served the school for almost as long.

Faculty, students and friends gathered again that afternoon at the college's social hall, to make sewing kits for the men who were set to leave Oneonta on July 7 for Army service. A social hour with refreshments followed at 4:30 p.m.

On Monday: A kidnapping and subsequent killing rocked Greene in June 1977.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www. oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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