To girls and women reading this, an advance apology is in order, although it was the custom of the era.
This entry is a boys’ only invitation as we go back to August 1923. Oneonta’s Rotary Club inaugurated a Back to School Campaign and invited schoolboys in the city from 12 to 15 years old for an afternoon of food and activities at Neahwa Park on Thursday, Aug. 23. Nearly 200 attended.
As The Oneonta Star previewed the event that day, “Bright and early this morning Ed Barnes will embark for the park with the famous Dell Kohn clambake outfit, for it’s going to be an honest to goodness clambake, with only the clams missing. The arrival of the cooking outfit at the park will be the signal for the start of the parade of ice cream trucks, soft drink wagons, grocery carts laden with sweet corn, sweet potatoes and what not, and market conveyances crammed with hot dogs. By the time the boys arrive the meal of the century will be ready to serve.”
The Star added, “If any arises from the table hungry it will be entirely his fault.” None did, in fact it was told how third helpings were the rule and several boys were noticed at the ice cream table five and six times.
When each boy had completed his fill, Jerry Wilson led in singing “America.” Accompaniment was furnished by Keeton’s Band, which also played during the meal.
After a feed like this, it was time for the boys to let the food settle in their stomachs. There was a purpose for this day, with a bit of a serious message, that of the importance of staying in school and getting a good education, as well as living a clean, moral life. Boys at that time were much more inclined to drop out of school than were girls.
The Rotarians had lined up three speakers for the early afternoon.
Professor E.W. Anibal, formerly of the Oneonta Normal School and still well-known in the community, spoke of his experience concerning the need for every boy to get all the education he could acquire. Anibal quoted statistics to prove how much better able high school graduates make progress than boys who drop out of school.
Al Bridwell, manager of Oneonta’s baseball team, spoke of the necessity of clean living and thinking for success in athletics or any venture. He told the boys that the best players were those who took care of themselves physically and morally. Bridwell spoke with regret that he hadn’t gone farther in school than he had.
City Judge Frank C. Huntington reiterated the value of education and advised the boys “to set a mark for themselves and to move straight forward to it.” He referred to the careers of men he’d known in college.
With the food having settled and speeches completed, the boys “disported themselves for two hours with athletic events which occasioned much rivalry and a tremendous amount of fun.” These included 50- and 75-yard dashes, standing broad jumps, sack races, a peanut race and a baseball throw. Winners in each contest received prizes.
Shortly after 4 p.m. the boys were ushered into the scheduled baseball game at Neahwa Park Field, today’s Damaschke Field. Members of Rotary and youngsters witnessed the game between the Oneonta Giants and Tannersville as guests of the Oneonta Athletic Association.
The Star had a recap of the day on Friday, Aug. 24, that stated, “You don’t need to take our word for it that the picnic was a success. Ask any boy who was there, or any Rotarian for that matter for the men enjoyed the affair just as much as their young guests. Maybe there’ll be another picnic next year. If so, it’s a safe bet that nothing short of an earthquake will keep a certain 160 boys away.”
By looking at names of some of the youngsters who were winners of the athletic contests, future leaders and businessmen of note attended this 1923 Back to School Picnic, including Earle P. Elmore, William H. Lunn, Ralph S. Wyckoff, Eugene L. Ward and Herbert C. Getman.
As Judge Huntington said, these boys set a mark for themselves and moved toward it.
Next weekend (The Daily Star will not be published Monday): Oneonta’s Federated Garden Club celebrates a milestone anniversary.
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 email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.