Memories of Mepham, the Choir, and Caroling

by James J. Taratunio - Class of 1971

Of all my schooling years, my fondest and most vivid memories are those of my high school.

I was brought up by parents who, in the 50's, moved out of the city to suburbia to buy a house and raise a family. Green grass, trees, open spaces and detached freestanding houses... with yards to play in. I was born in 1953 and by the time high school rolled around for me in 1968, we had moved into a house in North Bellmore, New York.

My high school didn't have a number, as in the city, "PS whatever", nor was it named after the town, like Valley Stream Memorial High School or a street, like Division Avenue High School. It was named after a man who had contributed much to the educational system in the area. He had an odd name though, since it had a "ph" in it that was not pronounced "f". The "p" was pronounced at the end of the first syllable, and the "h" with the last. Mep - ham. The name was always mispronounced by all unfamiliar with the school. Until 2003. Now everybody is pronouncing the school name correctly, Wellington C. Mep-ham.

The high school had been built in the 30's as a project of the WPA, strong and sturdy. It was built in the shape of a square "U". Three floors, with a bell tower in the front. I was told that with the money allotted for the school, they had to choose between building a swimming pool in the school or a bell tower. They opted for a bell tower. I would have rather had the pool, personally, but what the heck. The school has a large arena style auditorium with a huge map of Long Island on the left wall from back to front.

In 1964, they added a north section that made the "U" into a squared off "O", so you could get directly from the Northeast corner to the Northwest corner in a straight line. An extension of the Northeast corner protruded east. That was where they had a couple of "Shop" classrooms and at the very end, the Choir Room. That is where I spent most of my social life in my high school days and where some of my fondest remembrances were formed.

We made great music at Mepham High School. They had a few choral groups, Girls Chorus, Mixed Chorus. But the chorus every singer strove to make was the A Capella Choir. A Capella in Latin means without accompaniment. I was accepted into this choir my first year eligible, sophomore year, 10th grade. And we were one of the most skilled choirs on Long Island. We were very well trained by our director, Edwin E.(Ted) Snyder. We memorized all our music and we packed that auditorium every concert. It was a wonderful time in my life.

Mepham's music department had a number of traditions that extended beyond the walls of the school. We would perform at the old Elks Club in Freeport once or twice a year. Occasionally a small group would sing at a wedding ceremony or a funeral of a friend or family member of the choir. But one of the favorite times that brings back the old town warmth and charm each year happens around this time. We would Christmas carol at Circle Drive, in Bellmore.

Circle Drive is a wide street that has a large central island or "circle" at the end. There is a huge tree on the island that the neighbors decorate each year with a Nativity scene and festive lights and ornaments. We don't know exactly for sure when it started, but have been told it was during the time of Mr. Alderfer, the choir teacher prior to Ted Snyder. The lore goes that a teacher at Mepham, Mrs. Waters, lived on Circle Drive and made the request around the Christmas of 1946, that the Mepham chorus members lead a group of Christmas carolers around the area and finish up at Circle Drive. There they encircled the center island with the decorated tree and the Nativity scene. All the neighbors came out and brought the carolers hot chocolate and baked goods. Real Americana. Warm and wonderful.

This past year, Mepham has been hit hard with a scandal that has been in the news since August. As a result, people around the country have looked at Mepham as a black spot on the map of American education. Various radical and hate groups have called and come from around the country to protest the disgusting and immoral school known as Mep-ham. I am not going to comment on anything that has been said in the news about what happened to bring this all about. Others have said enough. I do want to highlight the side of Mepham that has not been written about. The good side of Mepham. The side that represents all those good students and people of Mepham that you do not hear about in the headlines. The parts that make you proud of your school. And I am proud, obviously. But that's not interesting enough to be in the news.

But, if this does get into the news, I am extending an invitation to all of you who read and are touched by this article.

On Friday, December 5th at 7 pm, The Bellmore Chamber of Commerce has once again requested the Mepham Alumni Choir carol for the tree-lighting ceremony. They will be joined by Mepham's new choir teacher, Lyne Genaway, and her choral students. It will start at the Veteran's Memorial, located at the Bellmore train station, at 6:45 PM. After which, in keeping with almost 50 years of tradition, we will then go and carol at Circle Drive. Thankfully, the residents will be serving us hot chocolate and donuts once again.

So if you want to see the other side of a wonderful school community... the good side... join me on December 5th. But even if you cannot make it, celebrate the goodness of Wellington C. Mepham High School.