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An Outline of the History
of the
Letchworth Central School District
Gainesville, New York

by Stephen J. Uebbing, 1981
Instructor of Social Studies
Letchworth Central School


     This work is a reduced version of a larger work on the history of the district.  Many people gave hours of their time to the author as research sources, editors and typists.  Recognition and thanks must be extended to Charles Little, Layton Vogel, Thomas Hance, Ronald V. Smith, Edalyn Everett, William Whitehall, Patricia Karner, Elen Uebbing and Gerry Haff, among others.
     Special recognition must be extended to dr. Harry Beck of S.U.N.Y Geneseo for his professional help and personal encouragement throughout the project.
     Finally, I must recognize the fine resources of the Castile Historical Society.  Our community is indeed fortunate to have the resources of Mrs. Barnes and the society at our disposal.


     With the opening of the Donald F. Lockwood Elementary School, the physical centralization of the Letchworth Central School District is complete, a process which spanned thirty-five years.  This is an outline of the events and personalities which have shaped the district as well as the story of management, commitment and sacrifice that created a single, viable, progressive system of education where there once stood thirty-seven distinct common and union free school districts.
     The first school of any kind within the boundaries of the district was built in 1816 about one mile northeast of the present village of Castile by the people living around the Whaley Tavern. The log structure had a single room, a dirt floor, two small windows and a door.  The children sat on a small piece of standing timber and used a higher piece as a writing surface.  Mr. Alonzo B, Rose was the first teacher.
     As more settlers arrived in the area, these small one-room schoolhouses increased in number.  By the time the Letchworth Central school District was organized in 1946, there were thirty-two of these common school districts and five union free school districts.  A map of the present district showing the locations of each of these districts and a list of the district names is included in appendix A.
     In 1812 the state education system was organized based on local taxation, state aid based on the census and the division of townships into school districts.  Unsalaried county school boards were created in 1839, but were soon replaced by county deputy superintendents assisted by town superintendents.  It is notable that A. S. Stevens of Attica, who served as the first Wyoming County superintendent, should be credited with calling the first county wide education conference in the history of New York State.  Held in October, 1843 in the village of Wethersfield springs, the conference was attended by each of the town superintendents and some seventy-five teachers.  The "teacher institute" was hailed as an important innovation throughout the state.  Colonel S. Young, New York State superintendent of schools, congratulated Stevens on his initiative and urged other counties to take the lead of Wyoming and establish institutes of their own.
     As population centers within the townships of the present district began to form, the need for secondary education became apparent.  On November 11, 1854, Miss Mariet Hardy and Miss Cynthia Eldridge opened the Gainesville Seminary with an enrollment of one hundred and sixty-four students.  The ladies had the building constructed entirely at their own expense and were almost ruined when the structure burned in 1861.  However, the townspeople rallied to their aid by contributing half of the rebuilding cost and the seminary was reopened with a student population of three hundred, the majority of whom were boarders.  In 1892 the seminary was closed due to declining enrollment, and the community formed the Gainesville Union Free school District with Silas C. Strivings as principal.  (It is noteworthy that Strivings' grandson, also Silas Strivings, has just retired after 26 years of teaching service to the district.)  Easily the most eminent product of the Gainesville system was the scholar David Starr Jordon who later became president of Stanford University.  The beautiful mosaic on the present school's north side is, in fact, a collection of symbols representing Jordon's life.  Architect John Erlich spent many hours of careful research in designing this striking feature of the 1966 addition.
     Other villages progressed at varying rates.  Castile formed the first union free school district in the present district in 1864, and was later recognized as the eighty-first public high school in New York State.  On May 6, 1925, the community approved a twenty-five thousand dollar expenditure for the building of the present Castile school.  In 1936, eighty-five thousand dollars were expended to provide a new wing to that building.
     The people of Bliss organized their union free district in 1917.  Classes were held in the local Grange Hall until the present building was opened in 1921.  Harold J. Harrison was engaged as the school's first principal.  Mr. Harrison taught a full schedule of classes, acted as principal and coached all the athletic teams.  In the years to come, H. J. Harrison was to become the primary personality behind the centralization of the Letchworth Central School District.  Meanwhile, the people of Silver Springs had organized their union free district and on January 4, 1928 voted to build their present building at a cost not to exceed ninety-five thousand dollars.
     Perhaps the key school district in terms of centralization was Pike.  In the early nineteenth century Pike was a promising new community located in the tiny Wiscoy Valley.  In 1856 the Genesee conference of Methodist Churches founded the Pike Seminary.  With state aid of thirty-four hundred dollars, a large wooden school building was erected.  The first academic year, under the direction of Reverend Zenus Hurd, saw two hundred and forty-eight students enrolled an five teachers employed.
     Unfortunately, the railroads bypased Pike, and while other communities grew, Pike became smaller.  The number of qualified Methodists to serve on the school board decreased rapidly and on July 23, 1859 control of the school passed to a group of Free will Baptists.  Despite continued declines in enrollment, the Pike Seminary survived by serving as a normal school for teacher training.  However financial difficulties eventually became overwhelming and in 1903 the Pike seminary transferred all funds to the Pike District #8 school and became the Pike Seminary Union Free School under Principal John T. McGurren.  It should be noted that McGurren later served as a Wyoming County superintendent of schools.  On December 4, 1904 the seminary building burned, but by a determined community effort, was replaced in exactly a year and a day.
     For the next forty-two years, the arrangement in Pike, Castile, Bliss, Silver Springs and Gainesville was about the same.  Elementary age children who lived in the countryside were educated in small common school districts, while those who lived in the village proper received their elementary education in the Union Free Schools.  Those who wanted to continue their education into high school did so through the five Union Free Schools.

The Centralization Process

     By 1945, the Board of Regents was strongly advocating central education in rural areas.  The Rapp Commission had proposed district boundaries and a state aid formula highly advantageous to central districts.  H. J. Harrison, who had been appointed by the State Education Department as a county superintendent had apparently recognized the inevitability of centralization long before the Rapp Commission had concluded its study.  Throughout the war, and especially immediately after the war, Harrison conducted what appears to be a systematic crusade to create public opinion favorable to centralization.  Displaying a special ability to recognize influence, Harrison engaged individuals, who he perceived as community leaders, in frequent conversations concerning the merits of centralization.  These were all conducted in an informal and casual manner.  Using these individual conversations as a basis of support, Harrison then moved to address church and civic groups on an informational basis, and by the end of 1945, he had held such meetings with each of the union free school boards.
     Of course Harrison's background was one of solid commitment to rural area education. Born in Springville, New York on Christmas day in 1892, he was himself a product of a small rural school system. Upon graduation from normal school, hebegan a career as a rural school teacher which eventually brought him to Bliss as principal and ultimately a Wyoming County Superintendency. As superintendent, Harrison displayed an uncommon devotion to duty, taking an active role in the affairs of every school house in his district. Indeed, his contemporaries agree that there was not a single teacher in the entire district whose work was not familiar to H. J. Harrison. Throughout his tenure as superintendent, he made it a regular practice to attend as many union free and even common school board meetings as possible. He was popular with the various board members, and his mastery of facts and reputation for honesty and frankness made him a man of considerable influence. By the end of 1945, Harrison had utilized that influence to develop strong public sentiment for centralization.
     On January 3, 1946, an unofficial meeting of all board members and principals was held at Pike. The purpose of the meeting was two-fold; to instruct local boards as to the mechanics of centralization and to settle still existing fears, especially from Bliss and Pike residents. A number of "gentlemen's agreements" arose from the latter function that had a far reaching effect on the district. The local board members privately agreed that each of the villages should be represented on the central board, that village elementary schools should remain open and that the future site for a junior-senior high school would not benefit Castile and Silver Springs.
     Two weeks later, the Castile Union Free School District held the first formal centralization meeting. Chaired by local board president A. F. McTarnaghan and Castile Principal Layton Vogel, the meeting was notably uncontroversial, a tribute to the groundwork laid by Harrison. After receiving the proposed area of the new district and listening to Harrison's convincing presentation the sixty citizens at the meeting unanimously passed the following resolutions:
     "We the people of Castile Union Free School District, present, hereby wish to give our approval to the area included withing (sic) the lines drawn on the Rapp Commission Map for the future use of the said area if and when they desire a centralized school district. We also direct our Board of Education to cooperate with the trustees and Boards of Education of this area to that end."
     The people also unanimously passed resolutions promising not to enter into private agreements for a site selection with any other district and to keep the union free buildings open for elementary purposes. The three resolutions were sent with a cover letter to local assemblyman Harold C. Ostertag and Chairman Herbert A, Rapp. The cover letter accompanying the documents ended with the following statement: "We are expressing our desire for immediate centralization."
     The second and third resolutions offered by Castile that evening were actually an expression of the most obvious problem of the Letchworth Central School District and two of that problem's components. Before centralization, the various schools of the district were not cooperative entities, but bitter rivals. The most important athletic contests of the season were those that pitted the local schools against each other. There was a special fear among the more rural and western areas of Pike and Bliss that Castile and Silver Springs, which were more populous than the rest of the district would cooperate on the site selection. A site between Castile and Silver Springs would be as much as fifteen miles from the outlying parts of Bliss and as much as twelve miles from the outer fringes of Pike.
     The third resolution was a more common concern among all of the union free boards. Although they were willing to send their older children on a bus ride to a centralized school, they were not inclined to see their little ones transported out of the village. This was especially true of the people of Bliss whose isolated position within the new district destined them to be at least ten miles from the central school.
     Despite their problems, the communities of Bliss and Pike had a great deal to gain from centralization. Bliss was overcrowded with kindergarten classes held in the basement. Indeed, music teacher Fred Pearce found himself conducting lessons under the stairwell! The real catalyst to centralization, though, did not come from the initiative of Castile nor the needs of Bliss. On February 19, 1946 the Pike Seminary High School burned to the ground. No one could expect the people of Pike to build a new school when centralization seemed inevitable.
     One should not assume, however, that the people of the Letchworth Central School District consented to centralization because they had tc. The vast majority of the people made their decision, not merely on physical and financial considerations, but in order to provide for the educational needs of the students of the district. Obviously the fire at pike quelled some opposition, but the people of the district should net be indicted as a group grudgingly led to progress by a quirk of fate.
     On June 28, 1946, after due notice, a meeting of the voters was held at the Gainesville town hall. John Hickey, who was president of the Gainesville Board of Education, was elected chairman of the meeting. The following resolution was presented to the voters of the district for their consideration:
"Resolved:  That Central School District #1 of the towns of Castile, Eagle, Gainesville, Pike, Wethersfield, Genesee Falls and Warsaw, Wyoming County, Centerville and Hume, Allegany County and Mount Morris, Livingston County as described in the order of the Commission of Education now before this meeting, be organized and a central school for instruction in elementary or elementary and high school subjects be established."
     By the resounding vote of five hundred and twenty-nine for and eighty-five against with two spoiled ballots, the people approved the resolution. The expenditure of $186,121.92 was approved as an operating budget and in accord with the gentlemen's agreement worked out at Pike in January, the first organizational meeting of the school board was held. John Mickey was elected president by a vote of six to five. Charles Little, Principal at Bliss and later to become the key figure at Letchworth Central School for two decades, was appointed acting clerk. Other principals included George Brown from Silver Springs, who would later become Superintendent of Schools for the city of Gary, Indiana, Layton Vogel from Castile, Helena Bannister from Gainesville and Earle Wadsworth from Bliss. The initial board consisted of Thomas C. Hance and Floyd Lindsay from Castile, Merritt Broughton from Silver Springs, Leon Wilcox and Germaine Van Slyke from Pike, Dr. Floyd James and Kenneth Roberts from Bliss and David Mote from Gainesville. H. J. Harrison, the architect of the entire scheme, was also present.
     Mrs. Fred Barnes was asked to head a committee to select a name for the new district. At the first annual district meeting, oh August 27, 1946, the name Letchworth Central School, in honor of the local philanthropist and conservationist William Pryor Letchworth was chosen as the official district name, with 87 votes. Other names considered were Wiscoy Valley Central, Memorial Central, Mary Jemison Central, Gainesville Central, Genesee Valle Central, Forward Central and Wyoming Valley Central.

The Site

     On February 17, 1947, the board voted to invite a representative of the State Education Department Building and Grounds Department to meet with the board. This initiated a process in which sectionalism was to become the dominant issue. None of the buildings available in 1946 was nearly large enough to serve as a central school in itself. The village school buildings therefore remained in operation for grades kindergarten thru twelve with additional school houses being maintained at Lament and Hermitage. The former Kingsley school house in Castile was utilized as a central office and a meeting place for the Board of Education. H. J. Harrison maintained his office within this building as well. The situation was an administrative and educational nightmare demanding a building program.
     In response to a request of the board. The State Education Depart ment assigned Mr. Carl Payne who, beginning on April 14, 1947, became the advisor to the building project. The State Education Department had devised a measuring instrument known as the "School Site Scorecard." It allowed the board to consider such variables as drainage, student .population center, site preparation and other important factors in evaluating prospective sites. Payne instructed the board as to the use of the "School Site Scorecard" and the board was very adamant in its application. It was in this selection process that the leadership of Thomas C. Hance was paramount.
     T. C. Hance is a man of varied experience, still alive and functioning as of this writing, at eighty-six years of age. Hance first became interested in local school affairs when he replaced Dr. W. B. Bartlett on the Castile Board of Education in 19 35. By that time, Hance, at 39 years of age, was a man of confidence and accomplishment. He had served in France and Germany in World War I, graduated as a civil engineer from Union College, and worked in the wilds of the state of Wyoming. in 1929 he was hired by the State of New York as an engineer at Letchworth State Park. He later became the General Superintendent of the Civilian Conservation Corps at both Letchworth and Hamlin State Parks.
     Hance was a man of integrity and persuasion. He had been involved in centralization from the beginning and had long ago agreed that the building site should favor no single village and should be as close to the center of student population as possible. He also saw the special role of agricultural education in the district and was particularly insistent  that the proposed site be conducive to that end. Of course, T. C. Hance was not a man to wait for a site fitting this criteria to be proposed. Hance went out and found his own site, He drew a two mile radius around the center of student population and began looking for a site that was beyond the walking distance of any single village, large enough to conduct extensive agricultural education programs and suitable enough to score highly on the "School Site Scorecard." He finally settled on the one hundred and seventy-two acre Burton Smith Farm. (See map in appendix A)
     On May 3, 1948 the board voted to buy options on four sites at fifty dollars each. Each of the sites would be subjected to the criteria of measurement established by the "School Site Scorecard" under the supervision of Building and Grounds architect Frank C. Gilsen. However there were those who felt that the options were not wide enough. Seven days later, the board read a letter from the Silver Springs Civics Club, an organization of leading Silver Springs resident: committed to the future of their village. The Civics Club wished to suggest its own site - the John Blaszak farm. The Blaszak farm, they argued, was merely a mile from the Smith site, but directly accessible to village water and generally a better site. Hance immediately saw this proposition as an attempt by Silver Springs to establish itself in a position of dominance within the district. The Blaszak site was less than a mile from the village limits, allowing some Silver Springs children to walk to school. Furthermore, he could see the eventuality of homeowners closing that gap by building between the school and the village makinq the school an extension of the village. The site would further compound the problems of sectionalism by alienating residents of Pike and Bliss. He was convinced that the future of the district lay in the selection of a geographically central site and devoted a great deal of his efforts over the next two months to that end.
     Hance faced two formidable obstacles. The first was that the board members themselves had differing views as to the best site location. John Hickey favored a site only one-half of a mile from Gainesville. There were two sites proposed in Lamont. The Smith site, though the largest, was, at twenty thousand dollars, twice as expensive as any other sites being formally considered by the board and five thousand more than the Blaszak site. But as an engineer, Hance had not carelessly chosen his site. He had a working understanding of the "School Site Scorecard" and realized that the only competitive site on that basis was the Gainesville site proposed by Hickey. As that site gave special advantage to Gainesville, it was easily defeated. The Blaszak site, though, presented special problems. Almost unanimously supported in Silver Springs, the site was also popular in Castile, as it was two miles closer than the Smith site. The Silver Springs Civics Club was well organized and fully determined to prevail.
     Hance recognized that the greatest engineering weakness of the Blaszak site was that it was located on a hill, thus incurring high development costs. To that end, he had the board request a professional estimate on site development. The board secured the services of a professional engineer, Mr. George Wellmore, to document what Hance already knew, that Blaszak hill would be an expensive site to develop.
     On July 29, 1948 two separate documents were published in the Letchworth Central School District. The first was entitled "Selection of a Site for Letchworth Central School" and it was distributed by the Board of Education. It contained the rationale and defense of the Smith site and the resolution which the voters would consider. The second document was of a notably less objective nature and it was published, by the Silver Springs Civics Club. It was entitled "Is This America or Red Russia?" In addition to condemning the Smith site and expounding the virtues of the Blaszak farm, the Civics Club contended that:
"The Cat is out of the Bag! We are soon to be asked to close these (local) Buildings and send all the children to a single school located on the potato flats of the East Koy!"
     These two documents, both well read throughout the district, served to heighten public interest in the controversy. On August 20, 1948, 1286 citizens voted on a site for a Letchworth Central School Building. The polls closed at 9:00 P.M. and a large group of people waited at the Gainesville Village Hall to hear the results, which were not tabulated until 10:00 P.M. The results proved crucial to the future of the building program. Although the site was approved by a vote of 697-588, 45.7% of the voters were unhappy. A significant number of these people would not get over their bitterness for years to come, a bitterness that could be displayed by a negative vote on any proposition to put a building on the Smith site.

The Junior-Senior High School

     On March 28, 1949, the Board of Education chose to award the architectural contract for the central school building to John C. Erlich of Geneva, New York. Erlich was considered to be a superior architect with an impressive record of central school designs. The greater task, however, would not be the designing of a building, but the designing of the conditions which would allow the passage of the necessary bond issue.
To a great extent, the Board's battle for a central school building had three distinct fronts. The first was against the bitterness of the opponents of the Smith site. There was no real organized opposition against the building, but there was among an alarmingly large number of people a feeling of alienation from the central district. Those who had fought the board and lost had acquired an "us and them" attitude toward the board. It is doubtful that many would vote in favor of any building program.
     The second front was, of course, inflation. When the board first inquired into building costs, on September 27, 1948, they received an estimate of $ .725 per cubic foot. By the time Erlich began his preliminary plans, eight months later, that cost had shot to $ .80 per cubic foot. People were also aware that the inflation which followed World War I had been temporary, and there was a widespread belief that if the district were patient, prices would surely drop.
     The third front was the staggering size of the construction cost. The first building proposed would cost $1,675,000. The Silver Springs Civics Club had criticized the Smith site as a poor place for putting a building that may cost "upwards of a half a million dollars!" The idea of $1,675,000 to be spent on anything in the district was staggering, and eventually unacceptable. The assessed tax value of the entire district was $7,337,395. People simply could not imagine spending almost twenty-three per cent of their total tax value on a school house!
     To complicate matters, a simple majority vote would not pass the issue. New York law required a two-third plurality any time a bond issue exceeded ten per cent of the tax base. If the task of getting such a large bond issue through seems insurmountable in retrospect, it may not have seemed so at the time. School budget votes were passed almost unanimously through 1951. The Board of Education, whose members represented every section of the district, demonstrated a tremendous sense of unity on matters concerning both the building program and the dissolution of old common school houses. It should be noted that the engineer of this unity was President John Hickey. Adopting Henry Clay as a personal hero, Hickey saw his role as that of compromiser. His quiet, personal leadership was largely responsible for the board's ability to consistently see above local issues and adopt a district wide viewpoint.
     Mr. Ray Whitter was hired as Supervising Principal on July 29, 1949 and given the difficult task of unifying the large central district and rallying it around the building project. H. J. Harrison, though still county Superintendent of Schools, was not to play the key role of compromiser and persuader that he had in the centralization process, Now approaching sixty, Harrison was experiencing continually failing health, a condition his contemporaries agree was the result of the unceasing effort he gave to his profession. Whitter's strength lay in his charismatic leadership qualities and superior speaking and writing skills. He prepared an elaborate brochure outlining the proposed building, defending its need, and arguing for its financial soundness. The building itself was one of the most educationally and technically advanced being considered in Western New York at that time. It was a stainless steel and masonry structure containing all of the facilities a large central school should have -There was a large auditorium and gym, fully equipped agricultural and industrial area, eight elementary classrooms in addition to junior-senior high school rooms, and a central kitchen serving separate elementary and secondary cafeterias. The building contained a recording area, team locker rooms, ample office space, an outdoor paved area for dances and concerts, complete homemaking, art and music facilities and a large library. Future areas were designated for additional elementary rooms and an elementary library, two bowling alleys and a pool. In short, it was the answer to the total centralization process of Letchworth Central School.
     Certainly the board could expect passage. There was no organized opposition and the board felt that it was presenting a find building sorely needed by the district. As T. C. Hance emerged from the voting booth on December 4, 1950, he was confident. He told Edalyn Everett, who was to later serve as elementary principal, that this day would mark the completion of the centralization of the district. He was wrong. The voters voted 792-688 against the building. The issue was crushed, almost three hundred short of the 986 votes it would need to constitute a two-thirds majority.
     Reasons for voter rejection are numerous and varied and require analysis. Though the overall cost was a factor, it does not seem to be the only reason for the building's failure Due to a very favorable state aid plan and some savings in shared costs, assessment levels had dropped sharply at the time of centralization from an average of about S19 per thousand to just over $10 per thousand. The building would have resulted in an average assessment of about $17 per thousand, still $2 below pre-centralization levels. Contemporaries agree that the cost factor alone cannot be viewed as the cause of the bond rejection.
     There were still many unwilling to accept the Smith s ite as the location for the central district and this was probably the most critical factor in the resolution's defeat. Other voters were unhappy with the notion of bussing elementary children out of the villages. Still others were skeptical concerning the building design. Many questioned the decision to build a single story structure while wondering about the wisdom of using stainless steel as an outdoor construction material.
     Whatever combination of factors defeated the building, the board felt compelled to offer the voters another bond issue as soon as possible. They ordered Erlich to prepare another design eliminating the auditorium and the elementary area. They also had him use brick and masonry instead of stainless steel. However, if cost was the key, the board was almost without hope. Inflation was one of the great national issues of 1951 and was especially high in construction. The result was that the board was forced to ask the voters to approve a smaller, more poorly equipped building for a price substantially above the one they had turned down. On June 29, 1951, the voters rejected a second bond issue of $1,900,000
     The following year the board voted not to offer Supervising Principal Witter tenure at Letchworth Central School. To some small degree, this may have been a result of the district's stalled building program. Most board members, however, insisted that Witter did not offer the central district the varied administrative background that the board felt was needed to lead the district into the 50 's. Whatever the cause of Ray Witter's forced resignation, his contributions were significant and far-reaching. He must be given credit, along with Coaches Smith and Lockwood, for building Letch-worth's interscholastic sports program despite the overwhelming transportation problems. Of course, this was a pleasurable task for Ray Witter. He was a standout as a collegiate football player and later was a member of the old Pittsburg Steelers. In 1950, using some discarded equipment from Alfred University, he brought football to Letchworth.
     Witter should also be credited with the breakdown of many of the sectional barriers which existed within the district. Such things as a common class ring, district wide assembly programs and, of course, interscholastic sports did much to create a feeling of unity among the once bitter rural villages.
     In Castile, where Witter lived, his departure was loudly protested by parents and students alike. On May 28, 1952, over two hundred people staged a demonstration march in downtown Castile in support of Witter and gym teacher John Clark, who was also refused tenure. Witter himself was not happy with his forced resignation and delivered a stinging address at the 1952 commencement exercises.
     By the fall of 1952, the Letchworth Central School District was not in a promising state of affairs. The building needs of the district remained abundantly clear, yet they continued to be hampered by animosity over the site selection and endangered by the continuous inflation plaguing the construction industry. The Board of Education was now facing discontent in Castile, having forced the resignation of a popular supervising principal. A citizens' committee, set up by Witter after the second defeat of the bond issue, decided its first business would be to investigate the possibilities of decentralization.
     However, the district eventually went on to maturity. Educational opportunity at Letchworth Central School District progressed to parity with other districts not burdened by Letchworth's critical sectional problems. To be sure, a loyal faculty, able board members and committed citizens are all to be congratulated. But the force most notable in establishing order and progression was the personal leadership of the district's new supervising principal, Mr. Charles Little, a 1936 graduate of Michigan State University. After nine years of teaching science at Arcade High School, he accepted the principalship of the Bliss Branch of Letchworth Central School. During his six years at Bliss, Little demonstrated a remarkable blend of ability and unceasing effort. He is credited with supervising an effective, progressive educational system in often inadequate facilities.
     Of course the most pressing problem facing the new supervising principal was the need for a junior-senior high school building. Bliss was so overcrowded that space had to be rented to house some pupils. Programs in agriculture, industrial arts and homemaking were severely hampered by the general lack of cohesion and in some instances these programs were non-existent. On August 17, 1951, at the annual district meeting, a citizens' committee was formed to advise the Board of Education. It was to act as a liaison between the community and the board and especially collect input concerning the building program. Mr. Avery DeGolyer of Castile was elected the committee's chairman.
     Obviously the committee's task was formidable. As pointed out earlier, the committee's first action was to investigate decentralization, an option they rejected when they learned that any area withdrawing from a central district was liable to the district for any money spent in that area since centralization. Both Little and DeGolyer, however, recognized the potential influence of a united, working citizens' committee. The members of the committee were community leaders of some influence. More significantly, some were individuals who had traditionally voiced opposition to the building projects.
     The committee's first positive action was to collect information through a district wide questionnaire. To no one's surprise, they found that the single critical issue remained the site selection. Of 1601 questionnaires returned, 684 voiced a continued opposition to the site. However, opponents must have taken note that a solid 917 re-affirmed their support for the site. Certainly this contributed to the acceptance of the Smith site.
     The involvement of the citizens' committee was not the only force now acting upon the building program. On March 19, 1951, Harry Gilson, Associate Commissioner of Education, directed all junior high schools to provide satisfactory programs in science, music, art, homemaking and industrial arts by September 1, 1956, or lose state aid for the junior high school pupils, By the end of 1952, the threat posed by this directive was beginning to be perceived as increasingly serious by some members of the school community.
     Throughout the fall of 1952, Little, the board and the citizens' committee prepared for another bond vote. John Hickey, who resigned from the board presidency during the summer of 1953, was succeeded by Paul Shaffner, a Bliss resident who owned a commercial printing company in Buffalo. Shaffner quickly became a driving force for progressive programs in the Letchworth District. Articulate and aggressive , Shaffner ordinarily stayed in Buffalo during the week and came home to Bliss only on weekends. As President, Shaffner commuted to countless meetings, often in inclement weather, to perform his duties.
     On January 31, 1953, the voters were asked to vote on a $1,680,000 bond issue for the construction of a new building and some improvements to existing facilities. The building reflected the desires of the community as surmised by the citizens' committee. It was to be a two story structure of standard brick and masonry construction, housing only grades seven through twelve. It included all of the standard features of a junior-senior high school, including a six hundred seat auditorium. To the dismay of all who had worked so hard, the bond issue was narrowly defeated. Needing 820 of the 1,245 votes cast to reach the two-thirds margin required by law, the issue fell short by 57 votes. However, the board saw potential for victory. It decided to intensify its public relations efforts and resubmit the issue to the voters on February 28, 1953. Unfortunately the issue was defeated on this date by a slightly larger margin.
     On March 9, 1953, the board took the decisive action that would result in a junior-senior high school building. They instructed Charles Little to inquire of the State Education Department the maximum bond issue the voters of the district could pass with a simple majority vote. When that information was furnished, Erlich was instructed to plan a building that would fall within the SI-3 million bond issue as outlined by the State Education Department.
     The arguments supporting Erlich's new design were overwhelming. The bond issue called for a tax increase of only two dollars per thousand, more than fifty per cent less than the four dollars and twenty-five cents called for in the previous design. In addition, the Gilsen directive, if not met, would cost local taxpayers almost one dollar and fifty cents per thousand in lost state aid. The building, compared to the original proposal, was spartan. Only the perceived basic requirements of junior-senior high school were included in the plan. The auditorium was eliminated, and other construction costs were cut producing a bond issue of $1,270,000; S410,000 less than its predecessor. It should be noted that $100,000 of that earlier bond issue, which had been slated for improvements to existing schools, was not included in the later issue. Given the strength of the arguments supporting the building, the voters passed the bond issue be a vote of 886-479.
     The Letchworth Central School, junior-senior high school, remains a tribute to the superior architectural skills of John Erlich. Despite limited funds, the lobby boasts the richness of marble on both the floors and walls. All of the original corridor floors are marble as well. Physical education, shop and agriculture classes are set well apart from the academic areas, creating an ideal educational setting.
     It is unfortunate that the auditorium in the original design was never to be. The board re-submitted it to the voters with the site development plans, but it was easily defeated.
It is especially sad that Harold J. Harrison did not live to see the completion of the building. He died on March 8, 1954 of heart failure. His had been the most critical contributions in the birth of the district. In recognition of his lifetime of dedication, the board approved an expenditure of seven hundred dollars for a bronze plaque bearing his likeness and the district's words of tribute. It still hangs in the junior-senior high school library. From the perspective of the historian, it is clear that Harold J. Harrison was the father of the district.

The Addition

     Throughout the late 1950's and early 1960's the district progressed without unusual incident. Charles Little proved to be a highly capable and effective administrator. His devotion to duty may be illustrated by a friendly battle he waged with the Board of Education. On June 8, 19 56, the board voted Little a raise and inserted into the motion the following: "it is desirous of the board that Mr. Little take a two week vacation."  Apparently the board was not satisfied with Little's response to this request and on Apri1 14, 1958, when the board gave him his annual raise they required him to take a two week vacation. Now Little was always known to carry out board policy, but in this regard he may have been guilty of insubordination, for on April 24, 1961, the board voted Little a $400 raise with the stipulation that $200 be refunded back to the district if he did not take a two week vacation. Though he maintains that he took at least that man days off throughout the year, T. C. Hance doubts if Little took that many days off throughout his twenty-five years.
     The fact is that Little gave most of his working life to Letchworth Central School. He built his home across the street from the junior-senior high school. On snowy days he would be out at 5:00 A.M. to personally inspect road conditions throughout the district. He was always at his desk by 8:00 A.M. and never left before 5:00 P.M. He made it his business to attend every official function of the school, whether it be a school board meeting, a high school dance, or a sporting event. An amateur photographer of some ability, he even took the yearbook pictures.
     Little's intense devotion and formidable abilities produced an era of good feeling within the school and the community. The sectionalism which had threatened the district earlier was greatly diminished. The faculty sensed his genuine commitment to education and looked to him as a leader instead of a threat.
     Curriculum development especially flourished under Little's leadership. With the exceptional administrative assistance of High School Principal Layton Vogel, Elementary Supervisor Edalyn Everett and a dedicated faculty, Letchworth progressed from a chaotic collection of village school houses to a system that offered a progressive, quality educational experience to its students.
     If Little is to be remembered for any single accomplishment, however, it is for devising a sorely needed building program that left the district in a state of considerable wealth. By 196 3, the student population of Letchworth Central School had risen sharply. The junior-senior high school, which housed 476 students in 1955 was accommodating 672 regular students and 711 students when the children of migrant farmworkers were in attendance. The capacity of the building was 585. Elementary education at Gainesville, Lamont, Hermitage and Pike had long been impractical due to poor facilities and limited enrollment. Little was always aware that the 1954 building was inadequate to meet the district's needs. It was, however, abundantly clear that the voters were not anxious to commit themselves to lengthy debt service. Little, therefore, suggested to the board to build a large fund balance into the budget each year beginning in 1956. It is a tribute to both the board and the community that they could exercise such farsightedness and accept Little's controversial proposal. 3y 1963, this fund was in excess of $237,000.
In the fall of 1964, John Erlich began preliminary sketch of an addition to the junior-senior high school. The final plans called for classrooms capable of housing all of the Gainesville, Hermitage, Pike and Lamont elementary children, all of the district's sixth grade, additional secondary classrooms , a large cafeteria, a lecture room and a pool. Given the history of the building program, the chances of the district supporting a luxury addition costing almost as much as the entire junior-senior high school may have seemed remote. However, on January 18, 1964, the bond issue was passed by a wide margin.
     Little's success was in his unique approach to the financing of the building. He was aware that the state would aid building programs at 77% of the cost with aid payment occurring the year following expenditure. With this in mind, he proposed funding the building through one-year capital notes instead of through a multi-year bond issue. Basically the plan had three components:
     1)    Pay all preliminary fees, about 552,000, with funds from the building fund balance.
     2)    Borrow the rest of the construction costs, $1,098,000 on capital notes
                 in the school year 1964-1965.
     3)    Repay the notes in the school year 1965-1966 as follows:
           a) state aid of 77% on the notes and interest $872,363
           b) state aid of 75% on preliminary fees........       39,000
           c) remaining balance of building fund.........       185,000
           d) interest earned on building fund............           10,000
           e) local tax levy..............................                          25,825
                                                                              Total 1,132,940
     Therefore Little and the Board were able to offer the community a first rate building with an almost negligible tax increase that would be completely paid for in a single year, saving thousands in interest. But the good news was just beginning.
     The 1966 session of the state legislature passed a state aid formula with a very special advantage to Letchworth Central School. Frequently the legislature inserts a "save harmless" clause into the state aid package insuring that no school district will receive less aid than they did the previous year. In the history of New York State, Letchworth was the first central district to ever pay for a large building program in a single year, thus receiving all of the state aid the following year. But the legislature did not take this into account when devising their state aid package. The result was that there was no special provision covering the $908,333 additional aid paid on the building program. Thus that amount was again paid to the district during 1966-1967. By 1967, Letchworth Central School had a fund balance in excess of one million dollars!
     Little himself sees this as "more the result of good luck than good management." However, the facts clearly show that it was Little's good management and a progressive, farsighted Board of Education that put the district in the position to reap the good luck. As his personal specialty was school law, Little realized the potential for double payment well before the bond issue was approved. As soon as the Governor signed the 1966 school aid package again containing the "save-harmless" feature, he went to work to make sure the letter of the law was followed allowing Letchworth to receive the double payment.
     Throughout this process, Little enjoyed the strong support of the Board of Education. Paul Shaffner's driving leadership gave way to the quietly effective Howard Sattler. An electrical engineer, Sattler was influential in rallying the board around the large building fund which Little sought to put into the budget. Sattler was succeeded by Urlin Broughton, a Lamont area farmer whose special ability to draw out the best efforts of those under him, further united the board.
     And so the district was left with the enviable problem of what to do with an extra million dollars! Actually there were few options open to the district as to how the money could be spent. The State Department of Education would not permit the district to maintain so large a fund balance. Though the money could have been used to continue the building program and construct an auditorium and expand the elementary area, there was very little support for any further building. The final decision was to fiIter the money into the budget over a period of years, maintaining a relatively steady tax rate and offsetting additional costs with the reserve fund. Although this option was technically unacceptable to the State Education Department, the feeling was that the taxpayer complaints needed to invoke state action would not materialize as long as taxes were kept down. It was this option that Little and the board chose. From 1967-1971, tax increases were held to 10% in the Letchworth School District. As the accompanying chart shows, however, the reserve fund contribution usually was larger than the tax contribution. Though the district had by far the lowest school taxes in the area, the tax increases necessitated at the end of the reserve fund and by the eventual building program would be alarmingly large.





     In 1971, Little retired, leaving a very healthy balance of $146,504.64. Throughout the seven preceeding years, educational costs had shot up at a shocking rate, yet the district had been shielded from all but a very small portion of those costs. The era of good feelings, which had been fostered by Charles Little's superb leadership and insured by incredibly low taxes, was about to end.

The Genereux Years

     On May 28, 1971, the Board of Education chose Calvin Genereux to succeed Charles Little as the school's Chief District Administrator. Genereux was a World War II Navy veteran, having seen action as a Lieutenant Senior Grade in both the Pacific and European Theaters of Operation. After the war, he entered and graduated from Ithaca College as a physical education teacher. He began his administrative career at Huntington Station/ New York as Assistant Director of Athletics and Assistant Elementary Principal. From that post, he was appointed successively as supervising principal at Genoa, deRuyter, Warrensburg and finally Letchworth.
     To be sure, Genereux was not coming into an enviable situation. He was replacing a man whose popularity was unparalleled throughout the district. Through good management, Charles Little had been able to Keep taxes well below those of neighboring communities. This was traditionally true, not only after the unexpectedly large fund balance had materialized, but throughout the fifties and sixties as well. Although Genereux found a very large fund balance of $146,503.64 when he made up his first Letchworth budget, he was not able to expend $373,949 in reserve funds as Charles Little had in his final budget. For the 1971-72 school year, Little submitted a budget of $2,308,895 calling for a tax levy of $380,000.
     In Generaux's first year, he was forced to ask the voters to approve a budget of $2,386,701, showing a very small increase of less than $80,000. However, the tax levy shot up an unprecedented 67% to $633,625. For the first time in the history of the district, a budget was not approved, the vote being tied one twenty-eight to one twenty-eight. Genereux finally did get a budget of $2,350,730 approved with a reduction in the tax levy to $566,604.
     Of course, Calvin Genereux faced other problems through out his administration that Charles Little never had to deal with. The New York State United Teachers were expounding increasingly militant ideas to the once dormant Letchworth Central Teachers' Association. In 1972, the teachers utilized a professional negotiator for the first time. In 1973, both the board and the teachers utilized professional negotiators resulting in an impasse in negotiations that lasted until October, 1974. it is noteworthy that only when the professional negotiators were dismissed were negotiations settled quickly and amiably.
Charles Little led his district into a building program under the best of circumstances. He offered the people a popular program financed over a one year period which, in essence, was the product of seven years planning. Genereux had no such luxury. By 1977, physical facilities at the Bliss school were so inferior to state mandated requirements that its renovation costs were close to what the district's share would be cf a new building. The septic system at Castile was a public health problem, and had the district not taken steps to build a new school, the building would have been condemned. This leads to the most lasting contribution of Genereux's administration to the school district, the Donald F. Lockwood Elementary School. Although the name suggests that Genereux was not the key individual in the development of the building program, he certainly was an important factor.
     After the addition to the building opened in 1966, all of the Gainesville, Lamont, Pike and Hermitage elementary children attended the central building. By February of 1975, enrollment had declined enough at Silver Springs and Castile to permit all of the kindergarten thru fourth grade children attending the central building to be bussed to Silver Springs and Castile, while bussing all the district's fifth grades to the central building. In other words, Silver Springs and Castile gained the central school' s kindergarten thru fourth population while losing their fifth grade. Bliss lost its fifth grade and gained nothing. The people of Bliss were convinced that this was a preliminary step to the closing of their building. Almost immediately petitions were circulated demanding that the school be kept open. The Eagle Town Board, which contains the village of Bliss, also passed a resolution demanding that the school remain open. In response to this outcry, the board held a public meeting at Bliss. It was at this meeting that Elementary Principal Donald F. Lockwood emerged as the spokesman for what would become the successful campaign to build a new elementary complex.
     Donald F. Lockwood came to Letchworth Central School in 1949 as a physical education teacher and head basketball coach. Throughout the fifties and sixties, Lockwood and Ron Smith were the mainstays of the Letchworth coaching staff. Lockwood' decision to leave physical education and enter administration in December of 1966 was largely affected by his rather poor health, stemming from a critical World War II wound, Lockwood was assigned as part of the Marine detachment to plant the flag at the top of Suribachi hill at Iwo Jima. However, he was hit by a snipers bullet that barely missed his heart. The wound severely affected the rest of Lockwood's life. Indeed, those closest to him believe that he was in almost constant pain throughout his life.
     Lockwood's particular strength as an administrator was his ability to transmit a feeling of sincerity and genuine concern to all those with whom he came in contact. This resulted in an intense loyalty and deep devotion from his teachers and the unshakable trust and admiration of the community. When explaining why she was so in favor of naming the new elementary school after Lockwood, Audrey Sylor, then President of the Letchworth Central Teachers' Association, commented, "Don was more than just a good administrator. Don loved our school, and we loved him." Of course, Lockwood's personality alone did not make him an able administrator.  Since 1967, serving as principal at Bliss and Silver Springs, Lockwood had demonstrated a high level of efficiency, organization and innovation. Thus when he spoke at the Bliss open Board of Education meeting, he spoke from a position of trust and respect.
     The Bliss meeting was tense. There were numerous accusations that the board was trying to covertly close the Bliss school. The board partially soothed the animosity of the crowd by passing a resolution that no school building would be closed without a popular vote. Lockwood, who had made the recommendation to move the fifth graders to the central campus, answered most of the people's questions , easily defending the move on educational and financial grounds. He concluded his presentation by expressing a genuine affection for the village elementary school arrangement. It was clear to many, however, that the same arguments used to justify moving the fifth graders to the central campus were convincing arguments for moving the entire educational operation to a central campus.
     By 1977, the board had sufficient motivation to investigate those possibilities. Rapidly rising energy costs and declining enrollment diverted an increasingly disproportionate amount of school funds to the elementary schools, especially Bliss. As mentioned earlier, Castile could have been closed by the Board of Health at any time, and all of the elementary buildings were seriously so deficient by the state building codes that some state aid could have been withheld. By the spring of 1977, the board had engaged the architectural firm of Sargent, Webster, Crenshaw and Folley to make long term recommendations concerning the district's building needs.
     Lockwood realized that the architects would have to recommend that the village buildings be closed and all elementary education be consolidated in the central campus. He had seen four unsuccessful bond votes, and was keenly aware of the elements required for a successful vote. These included an aggressive public relations effort to convince the voters that the bond issue was the most financially sound solution to the needs of the district. He was also well aware of the role an active, independent citizens committee could play in the critical areas of public relations and voter education. He recognized the DeGolyer committee of the 1950' s as one of the keys in the eventual passage of the bond issue as well as the latent function of allowing potential opposition leaders to arrive at their own conclusions after an intensive review of the facts. To this end, Lockwood asked and received permission from the board to form a citizens long-range planning committee, He included in it several highly respected defenders of the village schools. The committee was never presented as a building committee, but as a fact finding and advisory committee set up to investigate the problems posed by the elementary situation and the district's options in dealing with those problems. To be sure, Lockwood felt confident that the committee would reach the conclusion that the continuance of the village schools was not feasible. However, he made certain that all options were introduced and studied, resulting in an entirely objective recommendation.
     The committee was to go about its task judiciously. Though Don Lockwood should be credited with the organization of the group, Edalyn Everett may be looked upon as the administrator of the group. in a low-keyed fashion, Miss Everett gave the group a sense of direction, and in that sense played a role equal to Lockwood's.
     Albert Marsh, a Bliss dairy farmer, served as chairman of the committee. Marsh had a reputation of frugality and had sometimes appeared as an outspoken critic of the school. The fact that he served as chairman, and eventually advised to build a new addition, gave the group significant credibility in Bliss.
     Every community was represented on the committee by at least two well respected citizens. Some played especially important roles in the affairs of the group. Bill Reed of Bliss, who possessed engineering skills, furnished the group with an abundance of technical information. Bob Kirsch of Hermitage, Anna Mae Balmas of Castile, Don Tallman of Silver Springs, Frank Gillette of Pike and Bob Stoddard of the Letchworth faculty each made important contributions of time and expertise.  Of course, the group did reach the same conclusions that the architects did, and en February 7, 1973 recommended to the board a new elementary addition. Between March 14 and April 25, 1978, seven local meetings v/ere held to explain the building to the people. In addition, Lockwood and several members of the committee spoke to numerous community groups and the Teachers' Association. The result of this comprehensive public relations effort was a three to one voter approval on April 21, 1978 for a $2.5 million bond.

Into the 80's

     Calvin Genereux retired at mid-semester of the 1978-79 school year. Many felt that Genereux had been treated unfairly by public opinion and that the Genereux years actually were years of significant accomplishment. After all, Genereux left the district with a successful bond vote on the new elementary addition. Contract negotiations with the teachers were done on a personal basis and a three-year agreement had been worked out, eliminating the need for yearly negotiations. He had apparently mastered cost control and was able to submit a budget for 1978-79 calling for no tax increases. There was a line of thinking at his retirement dinner that, although Genereux was not an inspirational leader, he was the kind of leader the district had needed through the seventies.
     On November 27, 1978, the Board of Education hired Dr. William E. Whitehall as the new Superintendent of Schools. Whitehill possessed a strong combination of academic and practical experience with exceptional knowledge in the area of school law and finance. A 196 2 graduate of The State University College at Oneonta, he taught in elementary, high school and college, served as the director of a federal education project, earned his doctorate in educational administration from Washington State University and served for six years as Chief District Administrator of Charlotte Valley Central School. Whitehill was anxious to come to Letchworth, for he viewed it as a district with a commitment to its ultimate building program, and without financial difficulties. He saw Letchworth as an opportunity to utilize the skills he had developed in curriculum development without being constantly bogged down by budgeting considerations. He was to be disappointed.
     Two days after Whitehill assumed his post at Letchworth, the bids for construction on the elementary addition were opened. To the shock of all involved, they were $627,340 over the bond issue. Of course, the shock should not have been too great. The bids were opened on January 11, 1979, almost nine full months after the proposition had been approved by the voters. Inflation had been raging at an incredible rate, especially in the construction industry. The architects were apparently low in their estimates and somewhat slow in sending out the bids. On February 19, 1979, Whitehall recommended that the board reject all bids and resubmit the proposition to the voters. This reinstituted the process of public meetings which were held almost at the same time a year earlier. With the continued support of the citizens committee and the Board of Education, Whitehill Lockwood and Everett crusaded for a $2.8 million dollar bond to construct a no frills facility. The original bond issue of $2.5 million had included $200,000 for energy-saving renovations to the main building. This amount was not included in the second proposition.
     Considering the history of the area regarding building votes, the size of the bond and unhappiness with the bid rejection, few felt overly confident about the possibilities of passage. However on April 25, 19 79, two days before the anniversary of the first proposition's passage, the voters passed the new issue by a better than three to two margin.
     There was a singular and obvious reason for the success of the proposition. The committee work and meeting presentations clearly pointed out the financial advantages of construction. It must be assumed that the organization and effort of all involved, especially Lockwood and Everett, succeeded in educating the community. Letchworth parents always had shown that once they were convinced that a proposition represented the best possible educational step for the least possible cost, they would support it.
Some made extra certain not only to vote, but to turn out as large a majority as possible, in tribute to their friend Don Lockwood. On Easter Sunday, April 15, Don Lockwood died in his sleep. It is especially unfortunate that such a fine human being was denied the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of his splendid leadership.
     By this time, one would expect that some of the intense pressures working on the new Superintendent of Schools would begin to ease. However, Whitehall had already realized that he would have to again go to the voters and ask them to sacrifice for their school district.  Two critical mistakes were made in preparing the 1978-79 budget. It was estimated that a fund balance of about $70,000 was available to be entered into the budget. However, this amount was actually only $21,607. Thus almost $50,000 was appropriated which simply did not exist. In addition, the budget was based on state aid figures proposed by the Governor, which are traditionally lower than those actually later passed by the legislature. For 1978-79 however, the legislature's final aid plan was well below the Governor's figures, resulting in state aid of almost $100,000 less than the budget presumed. Thus Letchworth Central School, which had started the decade with a fund balance of almost one million dollars, finished the seventies with a deficit of $80,015.12. it is illegal for any school district to carry a deficit fund balance. Whitehill was forced to design a budget that would make up the entire gap in a single year and begin to rebuild the fund balance.
     Dr. Whitehill approached the budget in the same manner that he approached the building program. Local meetings were held throughout the district in which the budget was presented to the people as the most spartan possible. A foreign language position, an English position, the audio-visual specialist and two elementary positions were cut. In addition, driver-education and inter-scholastic sports were presented as separate propositions. Yet, the budget and the two propositions together would still mean a twenty-four per cent increase in taxes. For most homeowners, that meant an excess of twenty dollars per thousand.
    Whitehill impressed' his new community with his businesslike attitude, frankness and mastery of fact. In turn, he was impressed when his new community accepted this costly budget by a three to two majority and passed the two accompanying propositions, though by a narrower margin.


     And so, Letchworth Central started the 80's with new challenges and new circumstances. The raging inflation pushed taxes up again in 80-81 and again the district supported its school. Kindergarten enrollment tumbled in the last years of the seventies and reached an all-time low of 87 in 1980. Though many expect this trend to reverse itself, it is a clear indication that the growth which was so prevalent in the 1950 ' s and 60's is over.
     The 1970 's continued to witness excellent Boards of Education serving the Letchworth District. Burdett Randall and Edna Mehlenbacher both gave the board steady, competent leadership as presidents. James Lonsberry became the district' second high school principal in 1972, upon the retirement of Layton Vogel. Vogel, who had been principal at Castile, gave an entire life of consistently capable leadership to the district.
     Edalyn Everett, who is the last active teacher in the district who taught at Castile before centralization will retire after 1981. In tribute to her fine leadership, the Board of Education has dedicated the elementary library in her honor. Equally fitting is the board's dedication of the elementary wing to Donald Lockwood, who worked so hard to make it a reality.
     Letchworth Central has been the recipient of many fine professional lives. Numerous excellent faculty members, administrators, board members and support personnel have given much more than could be expected to the Letchworth District. The result is a system which has matured, despite extraordinary circumstances, to an educational level equal to any in its area. Letchworth's future will be a product of the commitment of those that support the district with their tax dollars and those that serve the district with their skills. As of this writing, that commitment seems as strong as it was on June 28, 1946, when the district was born.


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