No narrative about David Schein would be complete without including some words about Cora Lattanzio, his right-hand person. In the first couple of years in the new building, both Dave and Harley Dingman, the District Superintendent, had their offices on the second floor of BBHS. This meant, in 1970’s parlance Dave’s “secretary” (Cora) and Harley’s “secretary” (Susan Arkawy)had desks outside the doorways to the Administrators offices --- a veritable Cerberus of quick wit and intelligence (in every sense of the word) protecting the bosses. Susie and Cora were a terrific team --- ridiculously efficient (we all believed both could have had their boss’s job!), clever, and wise --- with senses of humor for days. Indeed, we were sad when Susie (and Harley) moved back to Ridge Street (where the District Offices now, rightly, bear her name) before we graduated a class. But we soldiered on and Cora became the sole gate-keeper in the Main Office and, without question, nothing happened in that school without Cora’s approval and/or knowledge. She was, in essence, Dave’s First Officer.
Recollections from those who were there are the best way to capture what Cora meant to BBHS in those early years. Here’s Roger Smith’s story about Cora and the early days.
So much chaos. It wasn’t entirely clear (to me at least) which teachers were going to move to the high school, who was going to stay behind, and who was going to divide time between both schools. It was here that I first met and fell in love with Cora Lattanzio, David’s secretary and the best mom that I or the school could have. The combination of Jewish David and Italian Cora provided the one-two punch that united a high school community that hadn’t yet established an identity.
Cora and Al Lattanzio’s, is where we were fed more Northern Italian food than you can imagine. I don’t know how Cora and Al could afford to raise three daughters and feed the number of teachers who stopped in on a regular basis, but they did it joyously.
Sal Corda’s take on Cora --- and the Lattanzio household --- provides some more insight.
What can anyone say about Cora (and Al)! Apart from being very good at her job, she mothered us all. Parties at their house, refuge when there was a storm and the Hutch was flooded, and the Hilltop on payday. For me, who lived on Long Island until 1977, it was home away from home since I stayed at her house whenever there was a Board meeting. She fed me before (that woman could cook!) and treated me like a son. After the Board meetings, Al and I would watch the end of Monday night football, drinking Johnny Walker Red. End of the year parties at their house were the best! Ted Reed made his chowder, Cora would announce her Rookie of the Year selection (Roger, the only two-time winner!) and the laughter flowed.
And the best, insider view, comes from Cora’s daughter, Carol.
My mother was known for her entertaining skills. But it usually revolved around family and her and my father‘s friends --- but after working at Blind Brook, her entertaining went to a new level. After the first year of classes my mother decided to open up our house for an end of school party. She invited all the faculty including custodial staff, cafeteria staff, administration and teachers. I got home from college just in time to be her sous chef. She pulled out all stops. Cars would be parked up and down Fairlawn Pkwy, spilling into the side streets, loud music, lots of young party goers - people thought I was having a party, not my mother.
This party was an annual event, yet there were concerns every year that it would rain. My mother never worried after all she was G.O.D of the Blind Brook School District. She even had mail addressed to her as G.O.D. (General Office Delivery) It wouldn’t dare to rain on an event hosted by G.O.D. and it never did. Boy, did she milk that G.O.D.
It wasn’t just the year end event that my mother hosted. An unexpected snow storm often found our house overflowing with guests. She would open up the freezer and all the homemade ravioli that my sisters and I spent hours helping make, were cooked up for the snow bound travelers. She never ran out of food and my father was always the jovial host offering drinks to all.
Then there was my mother’s boss, Dave. I did mention that my father was a bit conservative, we rarely heard my parents swearing when we were growing up, then along came Dave. My mother would take dictation from him and then come home with stories, often quoting Dave, who, according to my mother, used the word ‘fuck’ every other word. She would cleanup what he dictated as she typed it up but she thought it was hilarious. Sure enough my mothers vocabulary also started to change - not as colorful as Dave’s but at first my sisters and I were a little shocked (I think my father might have been too).
Sadly, Cora passed away on December 8, 2016 --- the same day as the Astronaut/Senator John Glenn. I was writing a daily blog at that time and I think recollections about Cora express what she meant to the Blind Brook community --- not only in those early years but throughout her tenure at the school (1973 to 1996). Here’s that piece.
Heroes can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. America lost a hero this week in John Glenn. The pioneering astronaut entered my life at age 13 when he became the first American to orbit the Earth. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the heroism (the pure balls it took to sit on all that rocket fuel igniting underneath you, etc.) as much as thinking we were catching up to the Russians --- who had already sent Yuri Gargarin into space almost a year earlier. Glenn’s service to our country, as a Marine, a test pilot, an astronaut, and a Senator is impressive across the board. His return to space at age 77 was nothing less than remarkable and revealed, again, the courage of the individual. So, we lost John Glenn this week and a true American hero has left the scene.
One thing I’ve learned over the years, though, is that someone who is a great role model for others can be quite heroic in a less gaudy or headline grabbing fashion. Most kids, when asked who their heroes are, often cite a parent or grandparent --- and rightly so. Someone who lives life admirably, in a fashion that sets a great example we’d all like to emulate, can be heroic in his/her own way. In that sense, the passing of Cora Lattanzio at age 86 on December 8th marked the passing of another heroic person for me --- one who is lesser known to the general public, publicity-wise, but extremely well-known to average folks who have someone in their family, or at the their job, or in their community, who represents the best of who we all can be, day-in and day-out, without looking for public recognition or accolades.
Cora Lattanzio was the secretary to the Principal at Blind Brook High School from 1973 through 1996 and was, without a doubt, the glue that held the school together over those years. In 1973 Blind Brook Junior/Senior High School was brand new, with only grades 7, 8, 9, and 10. A new building was finishing construction that September (with a new, “open” --- read “no interior walls” --- concept) in Rye Brook, a tiny unincorporated village on the border of Greenwich, Connecticut and New York State. David Schein was the first Principal and responsible for staffing the new high school. As luck would have it, I was hired to teach at BBHS and, in the spring of 1973, I first got to know Cora Lattanzio. Traveling down to Rye Brook (I was finishing my Master’s at Colgate in upstate Hamilton, NY) for my interview with Dave, I had a brief, but a very positive, meeting with Cora, who was extremely pleased to learn my mother was Italian-American! Within a week, Cora was the one who called to let me know I had gotten the job --- and also informed me that there was a small carriage house on the property of the district’s lone elementary school that was available for rent: would I be interested? So, Cora became my real estate agent and I lived in that house for the eleven years I worked at Blind Brook. When Cora called again, several days later, to inform me that my contract and my lease were ready to sign, my roommate, Steve Jones, answered the phone. He asked Cora if there were any other jobs openings at Blind Brook for September and Cora told him there was an English position, arranging an interview for Steve before I even got on the phone --- Cora was also Dave Schein’s job placement officer. The rest, as they say, was history.
Steve got the job and we began working at Blind Brook in September, 1973. Cora and Dave, in the front office, were the perfect team for a young staff of energetic, idealistic teachers. Serving as Dave’s gatekeeper, Cora knew who to let in when and who to turn away from Dave’s door. She made each of us feel as though we were her favorite teacher on the staff without incurring any jealousy or rivalry --- and getting the maximum production from the group. In a school district that was about 65% Jewish and 35% Italian, having David Schein and Cora Lattanzio as the “face of the franchise” was straight out of central casting.
If you have not been involved in a school start-up you have no idea how crazy it is. Just as most people don’t really understand how complex and complicated schools are, as institutions, even fewer have any clue as to how difficult it is to establish that institution! But we had a real vision about what we wanted Blind Brook to be and Dave, as Principal, and Cora, as First Officer, set the course perfectly. Cora, as a member of the community who had voted to create the school (her older daughters, Carol & Lynn, had commuted to high schools outside the village --- her youngest daughter, Joyce, was our student), was able to provide Dave with all the intel he needed about the community at all times. What we created was an incredible school that reflected a set of values about students being at the center of the process. When we were first accredited, five years into our existence, the Committee described Blind Brook Junior/Senior High School as a “House of Joy.” And it was --- and Cora Lattanzio, who left us this week --- was the heart of that House.
I was on our school’s Steering Committee for that first Accreditation and we spent long hours meeting and putting together reports and trying to make sure we had all our “I’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed correctly. There were countless dinners at the Lattanzio household during that time with Al, Cora’s husband of 62 years who passed away just a couple of years ago, serving as the most gracious host you could imagine. Because of Joyce’s involvement in the music program at Blind Brook Cora and Al hosted all kinds of events for our beloved music director, George Trautwein, and his choirs and choruses over the years. The warmth and generosity of Cora and Al seemed boundless and, for a young Blind Brook teaching staff (many of us started in our early/mid 20’s), she was clearly a surrogate Mom --- and a wonderful role model, heroic in stature, to be sure.
So, John Glenn passed away to great fanfare this week --- all of it well deserved. But in my corner of the world, the passing of Cora Lattanzio is a far greater loss. Cora loved life and lived it to the max, with a beautiful smile and a caring heart always. She was not above zinging you with a quick barb, too, which was always fun because you knew, beneath it all, she really loved the people around her. Cora, who devoted her life, love, and energy to Al, to the girls, and to all of us, will be missed for sure, but left us all a great model to live up to. Cora Lattanzio, R.I.P.
Creating a new school is a huge endeavor and for a new one to be successful requires careful planning, high energy, and exceptional people at every level. We were fortunate, in those early days, to have David Schein as our principal (along with Harley Dingman and Susie Arkawy in the District Superintendent’s Office) and Cora Lattanzio as his First Officer. It’s hard to imagine Blind Brook creating its energetic, “house of joy” culture without them.