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April 1, 2013

Future city historian kept family busy for Easter and April 1958

The Daily Star

---- — Easter weekend was finally sunny and pleasant after a late wintry weather stretch. “Satchmo” Armstrong came to play at Hartwick College. Local traffic issues were debated and a fourth-grade teacher of 46 years reflected on her career in Oneonta. These were just some of the local happenings in our area during April 1958.

“Old Sol beamed yesterday. So did Easter shoppers and the merchants,” reported The Oneonta Star of Saturday, April 5. “Everyone was radiant. It was not only Good Friday, it was a wonderful day.

“The warmth and brightness of yesterday, Thursday and preceding days made up for a lot of snowed-in drabness.”

Weatherwise, Saturday was pretty nice, too. The second annual WDOS Easter Egg Hunt was held that morning at the Sixth Ward Booster Club Playground. I’m sure my older brother Bob, then 5, wanted to go, and Dad might’ve taken him. Mom was probably sleeping in the maternity ward at A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital, after I was ushered into the “real world” during the pre-dawn hours. Husbands generally weren’t “birthing coaches” in those days, so Dad and my grandparents likely kept my antsy brother busy.

Satchmo plays Hartwick College

Dad loved Big Band music, and something tells me he would’ve probably enjoyed going to see Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong when he appeared at Hartwick College on Thursday, April 17. Between work and probably less-than-full-night sleeps at the Simonson household, courtesy of you know who, Dad couldn’t.

Armstrong played at what was then the Hartwick Fieldhouse, a wooden structure built after World War II. There was a dinner before the concert, and Armstrong was given a citation for his good-will work, or what was called “patriotic service in intercultural education toward a better understanding of the American way of life.”

The trumpet-blowing ambassador said he’d like to go to Russia to play.

“I know they’d like it,” Armstrong said. “Why, when I was playing in Berlin on tour, thousands of those cats from the Iron Curtain countries slipped over to hear me play. Music is music … that’s a universal language.”

As he walked up to the fieldhouse from dinner, many yelled “Hey Louie.” His only reply was a broad grin, slight wave and a throaty “yeahhhhh.”

Talk of traffic

Dad didn’t have to take Mom far to the hospital, as we lived nearby, so there were no wild scenes of Dad speeding in the car to get Mom to the delivery room on time. Probably a good thing, as it was reported Thursday, April 3, that an electromatic radar speed reader was brought into local use for the first time the day before by State Police Troop C.

The first meter was set up in Rockdale, north of Sidney. Several arrests had been made by late Wednesday afternoon.

Downtown Oneonta motorists had no such worries of speeding or getting caught that month, as much of the time there was plenty of traffic congestion. It was long before Interstate 88 existed, but discussions of building such a traffic by-pass were becoming frequent.

Downtown merchants invited a founder of the Downtown Idea Exchange of New York City, Laurence A. Alexander, to Oneonta on Tuesday, April 22, to help retailers and business services cope with recession problems of the time. Alexander had analyzed problems and suggested solutions facing downtown business districts in many cities.

This was a workshop held at the Elks Club on Chestnut Street. Alexander stressed how in studies where by-passes were constructed, it helped keep business downtown. It would help keep downtown appealing, along with other promotions and retail planning.

“If you don’t,” Laurence warned, “it could mean location of a shopping center out of town, drawing from the many customers who should be downtown creating foot traffic in and out of stores.”

Ready to retire

Forty-six years of being an educator provides a good span of time to judge whether children had changed over the years.

For Iva S. Shutts, approaching the end of her career in teaching, she was asked if children of 1958 were different than those of years ago.

“They certainly are. They are more genuine … not as stubborn … you don’t have to make them do things … they want to cooperate … they are more friendly,” Shutts told The Star.

On April 16, Shutts submitted her resignation to the Oneonta Board of Education, ready for retirement. She began teaching locally in 1911 at the former East End School, where the Oneonta Veterinary Hospital is found today, at 525 Main St. This was after she graduated from Oneonta High School, attended the Oneonta Normal School, and first taught for two years on Long Island.

In addition to teaching grade school at East End, she was music supervisor in the Oneonta School System, so she met many students at other schools. At time of her retirement, she not only taught but also was principal of both the former River Street and Mitchell Street Schools.

This weekend: Mrs. Shutts probably also remembered when Oneonta went “dry” in April 1918.

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 His website is His columns can be found at