Ormonde Francis Scism

(Contributed by Joan Scism Stark Lowther.)

Ormonde Francis Scism was born in Lake George, New York on February 2, 1906, the son and oldest child of Harvey Edgar Scism, a Delaware and Hudson trainman, and Evelyn Vadney Scism, a housewife and factory worker, aged 17. Later, he had two younger sisters, Vera and Evelyn.

In that decade, the young family built a home at 11 Adams Street, Whitehall, New York which remained the family homestead until Evelyn Scism's death in 1966. Harvey Scism was killed about 1944 when it proved impossible to stop the locomotive engine he was driving before it crashed into several box cars that had become detached from a train ahead. The accident happened near Oneonta, New York.

Young Ormonde attended schools in Whitehall, New York, first the Adams Street school, directly across from his home, and then Whitehall High School where he achieved some notice as a football player. A young man 6 feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds, he was sought after for college football and subsequently enrolled on an athletic scholarship at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. At St. Lawrence, he was a fraternity member as well as a football player and there is some evidence that social affairs took precedence over scholarly ones. After dropping out of college for a semester, Orm returned to St. Lawrence and graduated with honors, majoring in sciences and spending at least part of his time as a teaching assistant in geology. After or just before graduation, he spent some time working on a ship and thus traveled briefly to France.

His graduation from college came just after the start of the Depression (1929), when jobs were scarce and getting more so. He spent some time at temporary or short-term jobs, including one with the Aluminum Company of America and one delivering milk. During this period of time (November 15, 1930) he married Myrtle Margaret Kirkey, a student at Potsdam Normal School who lived at home on her parent's farm in Potsdam. Because normal school students were expelled if they married, the two eloped with the knowledge of their parents and revealed their marriage after Myrtle's graduation and certification as a primary level teacher.

In the early 1930's, Orm found a position as principal and head teacher at Rossman Elementary School in Columbiaville, New York, just north of the small city of Hudson. The school was small, perhaps 30 pupils and six to seven teachers but had its own local Board of Education. Orm taught eighth grade as well as being principal. In 1937, a daughter, Joan Carol, was born. During the summers, Orm worked for Rasbach Photo Studios of Ogdensburg, New York, selling contracts to principals for annual photos of school children. Since his sales territory covered New England and New York, the family traveled in a small trailer during the summers. During the school year, they resided in Stottville, and then in Stockport, in rented houses. During this time, Orm was leader of a Boy Scout troop.

In the early 1940's World War II had begun and Orm was disappointed to be declared ineligible for the service, both because of his weight and because his position as an educator was deemed essential. During summers, because of gas rationing, he and Myrtle could no longer travel to sell the photos so they worked at defense operations in the Pittsfield, Massachusetts plant of General Electric. He then had aspirations to become principal of a larger school, possibly a high school and began to explore job opportunities throughout New York State. In fall 1944, he became principal of Fultonville Elementary and High School in Fultonville, New York ``for the duration.'' The ``duration'' meant that the regular principal was in the armed service and held the option to resume his position should he be discharged. The Scism family moved to a rented home in Fultonville. Among many other duties of a principal at a small school, Orm also coached the soccer team. The regular principal who was away at war was well liked, Orm tended to stand on his own principles and policies very strongly, and there was immediate overt prejudice against a Catholic school principal in this almost solely Protestant town. The academic year was a tense one for the family, and at its conclusion, they moved to Schenectady, New York, where both Orm and Myrtle took positions working in defense operations of General Electric Company. During this period there was talk of adopting a second child since none had made an appearance. Orm's hobby was flower gardening and he grew a large plot of gladiolus bulbs.

Only two months later, the war ended (August 1945) and it became clear that General Electric would have massive lay-offs. Orm then accepted a position teaching general science in Lockport, New York at Emmet Belknap Junior High School. Myrtle and Joan remained in Schenectady, joining him in Lockport in November. The family lived in Lockport for two years and during this time Myrtle began teaching first grade as a permanent substitute for a teacher who resigned or became ill during the year. By the time the family moved from Lockport, a second child was expected. During this period, Orm was President of the Holy Name Society at St. John's Catholic Church in Lockport.

Next, in fall 1947, Orm took a position as high school science teacher in Nunda, New York. In this position at Nunda Central School, he taught seventh and eighth grade science in alternating semesters, and general science, chemistry, physics, and sometimes earth science on a year-round basis. He also served several classes as senior class advisor, supervising their constant money-making activities, and created and supervised an audio-visual program and projection squad. The various homes in Nunda (first rented ones on State Road and Fair Street, and later a purchased one on Massachusettts Street) all had substantial acreage where Orm could cultivate and improve his many varieties of gladiolus bulbs. Another hobby was reading murder mysteries and he often read far into the night and was slow to arise in the morning. As a result of his extensive reading and active memory, he was always able to answer all the questions on the TV quiz shows, work crossword puzzles successfully, and be generally more knowledgeable than most people.

In December 1947, when Orm was in his mid-forties, a second daughter, Paula, was born. In 1949, the family bought a very old house with a large plot of land but minimal niceties such as plumbing and electricity. Orm worked most of the year to redo the house to make it more habitable. He also enjoyed hunting for deer and pheasant in the area around Nunda. Each year when visiting Myrtle's parents in Massena, he enjoyed fishing in the St. Lawrence River.

During the years 1947 to 1957 in Nunda, Orm used his natural leadership capacities in many ways. As senior class adviser, he constantly invented new ways for the students to earn money for their annual senior trip to Washington. These activities included serving dinners in the school cafeteria, selling magazines, and the like. Sensing little in a quiet farm community for youngsters to do in the evening, he began a once weekly local recreation club in the high school gym, dubbed ``Club-51'' (and later Club-52, 53, etc. depending on its sponsoring class). He was a key mover in an annual Halloween party in the school gym to keep the children off the streets. Feeling the need for some symbolic activities that involved underclass students near commencement time, he initiated the annual Moving Up Day ceremony where each high school class dressed in a common color and ``moved up'' to its new place in the school auditorium. Always a perfectionist and ``neatnik,'' he worked at arranging his science laboratory so that every clamp and hose was in a neatly labeled box. Usually having ideas far ahead of his time (and sometimes insisting more strongly on their correctness than some would have liked), he was president of the local and county teacher's associations and a representative to the New York State Teacher's House of Delegates. He was an excellent and humorous public speaker.

During the years 1950 to 1955, Orm was plagued by occasional blurred vision and dizziness while teaching his classes. During 1955 to 1957 while Joan was at college and Paula in her early elementary school years, Orm exhibited periods of disorientation rendering him unable to teach, and reported occasional numbness in his limbs which seemed to elude medical detection and identification. In June 1957, at age 51, he suffered an extensive stroke which left him unable to speak or use his right hand. He was obliged to take a disability pension and retire from teaching. Gradually, he regained some of his speech and learned to do many tasks with his left hand. He could drive a car, and for a short period, he drove 22 miles each day to Dansville to work as a temporary science laboratory supervisor in the high school there. He had to give up his beloved garden and his hunting and fishing hobbies. It frustrated him that he could no longer express himself verbally. He spent much of his free time watching television and he could still answer most of the quiz show questions correctly.

The school in Nunda missed him. A yearbook issue was dedicated to him. Former students stopped in to visit him. When he died suddenly of a heart attack in November 1965, schools throughout the county were dismissed for the day of the funeral and members of the county teacher's association formed an honor guard escort for the casket. Annually, a prize is given in his honor to the outstanding science student, at the moving up day he instituted.