By Jim Formato
Saturday, May 18 South Middle School (formerly known as South Junior High School) celebrated its 75th anniversary. Historically, the original building opened for the 1936-37 school year. Subsequent to this date, additions were built between 1957 and 1987.
Besides the grand opening in its inaugural year, the next major celebration occurred during the 1986-87 school year. The list of participants at this time included the late Honorable Hamilton C. Fish Sr., who was present at the grand opening; Theodore (Ted) Malinoswki, who gave the graduating address as President of the first graduating class; Mary Torrens, a member of the original faculty; and MaryKay Hollenbeck, an alumni of SJHS who was attending Mount Saint Mary College pursuing a degree in music. Hollenbeck led the celebration with her vocal rendition of the national anthem. This day also began the SJHS “Anniversary Run” which awarded first, second, and third place trophies to each of the winners in grades 7 through 9. Many local community groups participated in the static displays held in the cafeteria. Alumni from each decade spoke at services when a tree representing each decade was planted. One additional tree was planted for the “Future Students.” In addition to this service, a time capsule that included artifacts of the 50th celebration was buried beneath the stone marker in the courtyard, engraved with the following message: “Dedicated to those who served, are serving and will serve, Oct. 1987.” This message was meant for the faculty, staff, and administration of SJHS. Prior to the conclusion of the festivities, NY State Senator William Larkin, placed the “1987” cornerstone in the building’s addition. Members of the 156th FA, NYS National Guard saluted the laying of the cornerstone with the firing of their 155mm howitzer. The 50th anniversary celebration activities, including the initial Anniversary Run, were coordinated by James R. Formato, Assistant Principal of SJHS, also an alumnus.
Formato, who later was responsible for the design and implementation of the Engineering Technology House at SJHS with the United States Military Academy Physics Department, was the guest speaker at the 75th anniversary celebration on May 18. His comments included explanation of what was done for the 50th. The activities began with opening remarks made by Michael Ragusa, principal, and his introduction of MSGT MaryKay (Hollenbeck) Messenger, soloist for the USMA Band at West Point, and the alumna who sang at the 50th anniversary celebration. Following her rendition of the national anthem, the Anniversary Run took place. At its conclusion, Formato was introduced to speak about his reflections of the 50th and SJHS. Ragusa acknowledged and thanked Board of Education President Dawn Fucheck for attending and representing the Board. Ragusa applauded the efforts of the 75th Anniversary Committee and especially the contributions of the co-chairwomen, Theresa Trapani and Jonelle Formato-Santo. The latter is the daughter of James R. Formato. The principal was also quick to point out the tradition of the anniversary celebrations seems to be a family affair. Members of the committee are Theresa Trapani, Jonelle Formato-Santo, Nancy Faust, Paul Sheffield, Shari Franco, and Michael Sweetser.
The variety of activities throughout the day included Zumba, a bounce house, face painting, the “Dunk Tank” featuring Jen Grogan, the 75th Anniversary Students Dance, sack races, free hot dogs and hamburgers and drinks (water donated by Hannaford Supermarkets), Rita’s Ices, a DJ, and the “Fire Safety House Interactive Demonstration” by the Good-Will Fire Department.
Concluding the day’s events was a commentary by City of Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy, who spoke directly to the students by describing her personal background and the dreams she always wanted to achieve. She emphasized the need “to develop one’s dream for the future at this stage in their lives and never, never give up!”
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary, a Japanese Yew tree (signifying perseverance) will be planted in the courtyard several feet in front of where the time capsule will be reburied. According to the committee, the time capsule will not only include the artifacts of the 50th anniversary, but also a layer of memorabilia from the 75th. The actual burial ceremony will take place after the memorabilia has been gathered.