New Utrecht grads come back to Bensonhurst

September 23, 2011 Heather Chin
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As any of the over 100 graduates of New Utrecht High School’sClass of 1961 who returned to Brooklyn to mark their 50thanniversary reunion could tell you, there was a song for everymemory in the 1950s and 60s, and a dance, as well.

Those tunes, those memories and those moves were on full displaylast Saturday, September 17, as the alums gathered for tours of theschool, which has educated thousands of students at its 80th Streetand 16th Avenue location for nearly a century, and then dinner anddancing at long-time local catering hall, Sirico’s, on 13thAvenue.

For Sue Cherkiss and Bernice Dinnerstein, it was an opportunityto see one another in person after being friends since they werefour years old and sending birthday cards between Rockland Countyand New Jersey for 64 years.

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Our teachers were our role models. I became a math teacherbecause of her, said Cherkiss while perusing an old yearbook.This is home. You can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but never theBrooklyn out of the girl.

Cousin Brucie, aka WCBS-FM radio host Bruce Morrow, even gave anon-air shout-out to his one-time basketball rivals – his alma materwas James Madison High School.

I wanted to say hi to my cousins at New Utrecht High Schooltonight… I get a tremor and shiver just thinking about [youguys], said Morrow, who reminisced how Madison once lost the citychampionship to New Utrecht, 62-6. Of all the schools, you guyswere better, your gals were more beautiful, and [you had] SING!…New Utrecht High School, I salute you.

He then dedicated one of our top songs to the group: BobbyLewis’ Tossin’ and Turnin’, at which point everyone cheered andbegan kicking up their heels.

Besides basketball games, the teens at New Utrecht also had thebeach, front stoops and local hot spots like Chookie’s Luncheonette– which lasted for 35 years, until owners Seymour and Freda Cohenretired in 1984 — to hang out and romance one another at.

At least five couples who first met at New Utrecht High Schoolattended the reunion, after marrying, raising children andtraveling the world together.

Amidst all of the flowing spirits and good cheer, though, therewas the sense among some that this was their final opportunity fora last hurrah with old friends before old age kicks in. I came torelive and re-know, said Marsha Gustave, ’61. Who knows — itcould be our last reunion.

Hopefully, that won’t be the case as Norman Siegel, ’61, andseveral alums on the reunion planning committee are gearing up fora centennial celebration in 2015. In concert with that milestone,Siegel hopes to hold educational panels and other events at theBensonhurst school building, utilize graduates as mentors forcurrent public school students, and create a citywide alumniassociation.

A lot of us are joining in an effort to celebrate thisquintessential neighborhood high school, said Siegel, a notedlawyer who served as the director of the New York branch of theAmerican Civil Liberties Union. We all are who we are todaybecause of public education, which is now being challengedphilosophically and financially… Students today need that sameopportunity. We have to come back because not only is it valuablefor today, but for their future.

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