Anastasio cover sheet
Place of interview:#88 Route 126, Falls village, Ct.
Date of Interview:Oct. 15, 2012
Summary of talk:Family background, Hotchkiss in 1963, areas he taught, colleagues, major changes at the school while he was there, makeup of faculty, faculty run school,tradition school day, dramatic workshops and drama department development, audio-visual department development, unwritten retirement rule,
This is file # 33. Jean McMillen in interviewing George Anastasio, a former teacher at Hotchkiss School, at his home, #88 Route 126, Falls Village, Ct. The date is October 15, 2012.
JM: What is your full name?
GA: F. George Anastasio
JM: You birthplace?
GA: Waterbury, Ct.
JM: Your birthdate?
GA: May 8, 1930
JM: Your parents’ names?
GA: Mary Anastasio and Dominic Anastasio
JM: Do you have siblings?
GA: I have five, three brothers and two sisters, all older than I am. Their names are starting from the oldest and working down: Angelo, Richard, Mario, Olga, and Lida.
JM: What is your educational background?
GA: I have a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Connecticut in 1954, and a Master of Arts with a teaching degree from Wesleyan University in 1963, and a diploma for further study which I got at the same time.
JM: How did you come to this area?
GA: I was hired at Hotchkiss School to teach French. The French Department had started there in 1963, in the fall of 1963.
JM: Who hired you?
GA: Bill Olsen who was the Headmaster.
JM: What did you teach besides French?
GA: I taught French for a number of years, but then I later on taught Spanish as well. Then in 1973i moved over to the Drama Department and became Chairman of the Drama Department. I continued teaching one French course, but all the rest of my course were in the theater area.
JM: Who were some of the colleagues you remember?
GA: From the French Department? 2.
GA: There was David Demaray, Peter Beaumont, Carol Demaray, George De Schweinitz, Joseph Carreau were among the French language teachers with whom I taught. In the Drama Department there was Joel Brehm, Edward Lapine, Bill Ellis and Mark Godfrey were among colleagues there.
JM: Now when we were talking before where you told me several major policy changes that Bill Olsen introduced to the school. That is what I would like you to talk about now, please.
GA: Hotchkiss did undergo a number of changes during my years there. Some of them were some of the most important that took place at the school. One was going coeducational. That was something that was happening in other private schools in the country. It was done with a certain amount of trepidation on the part of some of the members of the faculty and the broader Hotchkiss community. They wondered how it would affect the programs that were so deeply institutionalized at Hotchkiss. One of the biggest concerns was what would it do to the big athletic program? But it was handled. The coed population was introduced in 1974 and was done with about 30 young girls came onto campus. The number of girls was eventually increased; it’s gotten to be about 50%. (Art Eddy’s daughter Sarah was in that first class of girls. See Tape #144 Ed.) It didn’t affect the athletic program anywhere near as much as they thought it would for a number of reasons. Not the least of which was the school population has grown quite a bit. Today there are probably almost as many boys, if not more that before it went coed. That was one of the big changes.
The second change was the size of the school. The number of students, the number of faculty has increased dramatically. A number of new dormitories had to be built, and they were.
There were changes also in the courses that were offered. Up until that time it was a great classical education for the students. They took four years of a foreign language, they also t0ok two years of a classical language, Greek or Latin. New courses were added through these years. Shortly before I got there they had added Russian, but then with the coming of the girls, the music department, which was always there, became much larger and more extensive. Today the drama department which didn’t exist when I got to Hotchkiss in the 1960’s did come into being shortly before the girls arrived about 1972. The arts program had existed prior to that time, but it had only one teacher. (See Bob Osborn’s tape #62 Ed.) Today they have several teachers. They have added a dance department. All these things can be attributed to the increase in school size and the addition of young ladies to the student body.
JM: Tell me about the faculty; the way the faculty was determined ethnically and how it has changed.
GA: Going back to before the time I was hired, the Hotchkiss faculty was about 40 members; today it is much larger. But those 40 people tended to be long time faculty members. Most of them had been there from their early years. By the time I got there many of them had been there for 15, 20, 30 years. Today there is much more of a turn over; young people come and stay maybe a year or two or three and then move on. Back then they tended to stay there. A lot of the faculty were independently wealthy; they came from wealthy families. They came to Hotchkiss as young people just getting out of college who didn’t have to work and didn’t have to have careers, but who liked to spend their years teaching.
JM: That is where the term” a dollar a year man” came.
GA: There were those among them who were “a dollar a year men”, yes. There were a number of them who were wealthy. Then there were people who were not wealthy, but they came to Hotchkiss during the Depression years and were quite satisfied to get a job at a minimum salary because they were provided housing and fringe benefits that were rather important.
JM: Were there a lot of married couples when you came or were they mostly bachelor faculty?
GA: No, when I came I would say there was fairly large number of bachelors, but many of the old timers were married and had rather small families. A family of more than two was considered large to the Hotchkiss faculty. Also the changes that took place during my years were the kind of people that were hired to teach at Hotchkiss, more and more they were not from wealthy families, they were not from people who had graduated themselves from private schools but it was a more diverse faculty body and my understanding is that I was the first southern European person, the first person of southern European descent to teach at Hotchkiss. Mostly up to that time they had been northern European, and all white, and they were all Protestant. So the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant …
JM: It was very well represented. I think you told me that it was a faculty run school. Would you discuss that?
GA: The tradition at Hotchkiss was that all important school matters were determined by the faculty. However a strong headmaster pretty much managed to guide and control that things went as he thought they should. It was true with Bill Olsen and it was also true of George Van Santvoord who was the headmaster from 1925 to 1955. A strong headmaster would bring up issues that he thought were important and if he thought some changes were necessary, he would often suggest them or he would have them suggested by someone else. They would hash it out at rather lengthy meetings. If there was a great deal of dissent on the part of the faculty, I was told by the old timers that George Van Santvoord would just put off having a vote until maybe 10:30 or 11:00, or 11:30 or 12:00 at night at which time they would be pretty well have beaten down the opposition. Knowing the way he preferred the voting to go, they would finally give in, and he would get his way. A strong headmaster not only had a fairly good hold on the faculty, but also a fairly good hold on the trustees. If they trusted him and believed that he was hewing the right course for the school, they would support him. The idea of a faculty run school was more in theory, rather than practice and in the perception of it. For example going coed I think the majority of the faculty was not in favor for various reasons, but eventually when these reasons were made known and before the actual question was brought to the faculty, many of the objections were resolved one way or another. The passage of this transition was more acceptable.
JM: Was there heavy emphasis on sports?
GA: This is true of most of the traditional private schools; yes a very heavy emphasis on sports. One of the old time faculty members was saying that ”At Hotchkiss we have traditional students study hard, mornings they go to class and evenings they go to their study halls and in the afternoon they played hard on the athletic fields.” So it is athletics and studies and that was pretty much what the student’s day was.
JM: That covers most of it. When you were working at Hotchkiss, you had the dramatics workshops. Tell me a little bit about how the workshops were different from the other part of the Dramatic Department.
GA: Initially there was no Dramatic Department; it was the Hotchkiss Dramatic Association. It encouraged activity, but it was run by the faculty member who directed the plays or the members. They had 2 people taking turns directing plays. They put on 3 major productions a year: a fall, winter, and spring play. When I moved into the position of Director of Drama for the Hotchkiss Dramatic Association, there were so many students who tried out for plays, and when you are doing a major play, you pick the best people. They had try outs and you pick your bet for the roles. Many good people who were interested and some kids whom you think are talented, they never got a chance to be in plays until maybe the better students or the ones who were older had graduated, and then some of them would move up.
At one point there were so many tried out that I decided that I would try to have a sub group and I called it “The Drama Workshop”. It would be students whom I had brought in and gave them some instruction on acting and little things that were handy if you are going to be in a play so if a director says, ”Come in from stage left, or center right.” They would know exactly what the director was talking about. Or “assume a quarter left position” to the other people with whom you are acting, they would know exactly what to do, I was teaching them the vernacular of the stage and also I gave them little skits to do. At one point we were doing skits for the Thurber Carnival, and they were so involved and they were doing so well that I actually produces two plays that winter term. The second one was done by the workshop group. It was very well received and they did a beautiful job. My idea was to keep the workshop on going and hopefully I could talk the school into having a drama department where I could actually do away with the workshop group and do things with my drama students that were equivalent and more extensive. I had the school talked into the idea of a drama department before I left to go on sabbatical in 1970. I was half promised that we would have a Drama Department, and when I came back, I could start getting it going. But when I came back, the situation had changed. The person who had replaced me during the year I was gone couldn’t handle both groups. He turned one over to a faculty wife who was very interested in theater. She took over the drama workshop; she talked herself into the position of keeping that group when I returned. There were two separate entities: one working with that person and the second working with the HDA with me. That wasn’t working out too well because it became two competing groups so I decided to withdraw from the situation. That person took over both groups and ran it. She was allowed to start a Drama Department which was a good idea.
When she left after four years, I moved back into that slot and angled myself into the situation where I was chairman of the Drama Department. It worked out rather well for the next 20 years which was how I maintained it. We had some cases where one or two people worked with me. The school was easily talked into having one person run the technical side of the theater because that aspect can be difficult to run in that you are working with power tools, power machine saws, and working up in the flies which are 20 feet above the stage. It can be dangerous. You need an experienced adult running it. That worked out rather well. As a matter of fact what precipitated that was the last year that the other person was running drama, they had a rather serious accident in the theater. Incidentally it was an accident which I had predicted, and I had tried to talk the administration into hiring someone to run the tech side because I said that students working unsupervised was just an accident waiting to happen which did occur. Then it became possible to hire a drama technical person and to do much more with our productions. I think the drama department did a rather good job.
JM: In that four years that you were not technically involved in the drama, did you start an audio-visual department?
GA: No I didn’t. Well, yes. There was a teacher that was in charge of audio-visual equipment, but he was not all that interested in doing it. When I left the drama area, he suggested that I take over and I actually formed a group of students who could run all of the equipment, the movie projectors, tape recorders and I talked the school into buying a very early black and white video camera. It was the most primitive of equipment; I even formed a group that put out a weekly video news show which was quite successful. I had a lot of students involved in it. Yes, I did work with audio visuals.
JM: That was “The Week in Review”?
GA: yes, it was called “The Week in Review”.
JM: With your background in journalism, you got the kids to write a script? How did that get put together?
GA: We would begin with news assignments, and in some cases with the assignment they would go out with the video camera. They would actually interview people or they would get an event that was taking place, maybe a sports event, or a main speaker coming in to address the students. We would also gather news of what was going on, what club activities were happening, and we would write a news script for it. Then every Sunday we used to spend about 5 or 6 hours up at the main building putting this together. It was very difficult because there were not such things as machines that allowed us to get film clips and put them together into one continuous show. We found ways of doing things that is amazing when I think about it. I actually have to give the kids some credit because they were the ones who came up with all these incredible ideas. It was quite a production thing that we did.
JM: Now one of the other things that you told me about was an unwritten rule about retiring at age 65. Would you like to tell me about that, please?
GA: Hotchkiss always had the rule, but it was an unwritten rule, it was never stated when you were hired or when you were working there, but as a person approached his 65th year, then I guess the way it happened as it happened with a number of people I know is that they would call a faculty member in and say, ”Well, you know you are going to be 65 this year, so of course you will be retiring at the end of the year.” People always went along with that and retired. I think that the rule made sense to some people; there were some people who were burned out, not only at 65 but in some cases at 60 or 55 and really should not have continued to teach, but they were allowed to teach until they were 65. So it didn’t really address the question of teacher burn out in any way. To keep a burned out teacher for 4 or 5 or 10 years beyond the point where he should think about getting out of teaching, but he couldn’t because that is how he earns his living. It didn’t change things; on the other hand there were teachers I felt that really had two, three or five or more years of good teaching left to give to the school who were forced to retire. Some of them didn’t want to. There was one teacher who was the most outstanding teacher on the faculty who had incredible success in the area that he taught, and to this day there are many graduates who attested to the fact that that was the course that absolutely prepared them for life in a way that no other course did. To see him leave when he did not want to leave, he was a bachelor, he enjoyed teaching, he enjoyed the students, and I thought it was short sighted to say the least. When my turn came, they called me in and said the same thing,” You’ll be 65, and you’ll be retiring of course.” I said to the headmaster at the time was Mr. O’Dene, I said, “No, I don’t plan to retire.” He was taken aback completely. He just looked at me; the Dean of Faculty was sitting with him. She in turn looked at him. They made no answer, and they never brought up the subject again. The next day nothing happened. I went beyond 65. The next year Mr. O’Dene had left, and perhaps why he did not make a major issue of it. He was going; he knew it but nobody else did. He was leaving and I guess he figured that it was of no great concern to him. The replacement Headmaster who was a long time faculty member and had been an administrative member of the school came in to replace Mr. Odene until they could find a permanent Headmaster. He called me in and said, “You know you are long beyond the retirement age.” I pretended ignorance and said, ”What’s that?” He said, “Well, there is an unwritten rule that you have to retire at 65.” “Oh really? This was never pointed out to me before. I had heard about this from scuttlebutt from retired people, but they had never formally announced this rule to me. It seems to me that that is not really legal. It seems to me that there are laws that prevent age discrimination.” Well, that sort of stymied him. So anyway I did retire that year, but only because I chose to for various reasons.
The voice recorder died at this point.
Property of the Oral History Project: The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct.