Bas Relief in Selectmen’s Room  
Thursday, November 25, 2010

A 1955 photo shows, from left, Anthony J. Sitkowski, principal of Bartlett High School; George A. Sellig, superintendent of schools; and alumnus and sculptor Warren Wheelock standing by Mr. Wheelock bas relief in the former high school library.
Anthony J. Sitkowski, at left in the photo, was principal of Bartlett High School and George A. Sellig superintendent of schools when sculptor Warren Wheelock visited the high school library in 1955.

A photograph in a town weekly, captioned “BHS class of 1955 reunion,” identified 35 people who gathered for a 55-years-after-1955 party. It was not date or place specific.

People in the class were about town maybe a month earlier, and I met a couple of them. Cliff Kos became a linotype operator, got his union card through the Worcester Telegram, and subsequently worked for different newspapers in some of the nation’s major cities, mostly in the western part of the country, he reported as we stood together in Dr. Stephen Lorkiewicz’s Webster dental office. Cliff was probably in junior high school when he accompanied his late father, Joseph Kos, on visits to the Webster Times, where I first worked. Joe Kos, a linotype supervisor in Worcester, was friends with Bill Koupas, who managed the composing room at the weekly plant.

Then, a couple breakfasted that Saturday in Lic’s Restaurant. We were in an adjoining booth. He looked familiar, but Leonard Dutram was quicker to the “aren’t you” line. Platters were carted from the kitchen, so dialogue was limited to pleasantries. Mr. Dutram went from ’55 Bartlett to ’59 WPI, and a significant career in aerospace engineering, from what I understand.

The big thing about Bartlett 1955 harkens to a visit to the school that year by Warren Wheelock, described in the class yearbook, the Chronicle, as an alumnus and “the famous sculptor who carved the treasured bas relief that surmounts the fireplace in the library.” A native of Sutton, Mr. Wheelock probably lived in New York City at the time. Besides Bartlett, his municipal connection was to Company K, the Southbridge area group that served in the Spanish-American War.

The inscription under the bas relief — “Love wisdom, and seek her out from thy youth,” done in capital letters — became the theme for the 1955 Chronicle. Among other things, it read: “We offer you occasion for reminiscences … of your own school years and the means by which Bartlett in 1955 helped us to ‘LOVE WISDOM AND SEEK HER OUT FROM (OUR) YOUTH.’ ”

Pretty powerful stuff.

But love, wisdom and youth got lost in expediency and politics in more recent times, so the bas relief resides now in the Webster Board of Selectmen’s Town Hall meeting room.

This happened because a school committee declared the former high school — where the bas relief was installed around 1932 and decades before the school was renamed the Anthony J. Sitkowski elementary school — as surplus property, no longer of value to the school department. The school board skipped over significance of the bas relief. It remained in the empty school.

There was talk from the school side last year about restoring the carving to its rightful place, the library in the existing Bartlett High School. But selectmen had control of the Wheelock art and had it installed earlier in their meeting room. They also skipped something: The marble faux fir place over which it had been installed.

People aren’t going to go to the Board of Selectmen’s meeting room in search of love, wisdom and youth. The bas relief is out of place. These days anyone approaching the town’s top board will be lucky if they can get a streetlight turned back on!

Al Gabor e-mailed Nov. 11 from Oak Harbor, Wash., the city in which he has lived since leaving the U.S. Navy.

“Regina Hederman was my 9th grade teacher at Dudley Junior High School,” said Al, a native of Dudley’s Jericho section.

“Capt. (Thomas Henry) Hederman was in charge of the Recruit Training Command at Newport, R.I., in 1951, when I was in the Navy boot camp.”

The double reference to the Hedermans was Mr. Gabor’s way of alerting me to an error in my ways that day: I misspelled a distinguished Dudley name, using the Quinebaug version represented by the popular James Hetherman family.

By the way, Oak Harbor is on the 40th largest island in the United States, about 30 miles north of Seattle. My read says it’s a great place to live.

For another addendum, baseball historian Dixie Tourangeau, a nationally known figure in sports research circles, is compiling a history on Rear Adm. Hederman’s (his retirement rank) baseball history. He was quite an athlete, a four-year starter at Bartlett High School, left field as a 13-year-old freshman and shortstop and captain of the Bartlett team in 1918. He was captain of the Naval Academy baseballers in 1923.

Mr. Tourangeau, raised in Webster’s Birch Island neighborhood, lives and works in Boston.

Jeanne and I were at the 9 o’clock Mass in St. Louis Church Nov. 14. Albert and Karen Tetreault and their four children occupied the rest of the pew. Al stood at the aisle and let his family pass on ahead at communion. He remained fast as we came along. “We’re separating you from your family,” I whispered. “No,” he picked up on the quiet. “We’re all family.” What a wonderful thought!

Linda and Mike Branniff, both researchers of Dudley history, and Louise Wieloch, president of the Dudley Historical Commission, attended a Preservation Massachusetts meeting in Boston Dec. 10.

Preservation President James W. Igoe reported that Dudley’s Rev. Abiel Williams house on Dudley-Oxford Road has been placed on the 2010 list of Most Endangered historical properties. Said Mr. Branniff, “To participate in and interact with this inspired group was a great pleasure.”

For an aside, Linda Branniff authored a weekly piece about Webster’s 1890s attempts to annex Dudley a couple of weeks ago. It reminded me of an old cause-and-effect story. What is now the French River, the dividing line between Webster and Dudley, was known early on as the Maanexit River. Noting this, an old editor said the name, “Ma(y)-annex-it” grew discord but the current name, French River, calmed the waters.

Seriously, my read of the proposal saw it as survival for both towns. Webster was too small to compete with major industrial places in the region and Dudley was too rural to withstand urban development.

-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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