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   From the Editor

    In 1961, I was in 6th grade with a kid named Kevin Benya. This was at McKinley School on Tunxis Hill in Fairfield.

    In the mid-1930s, Tunxis Hill had gone from being an onion field to a neighborhood of modest homes that housed mainly the families of men who worked at the Sikorsky aircraft plant in Stratford. The workers were all immigrants and all Catholic, from Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.  Across from McKinley School were Pope Street, Vesper Street, and Cardinal Street. My family were Jews from New York City; we came to the neighborhood from a housing project in Queens.

   Kevin Benya is vivid in my memory not because of his tragic end, though that fits into it, but because ever since I’d known him, from the third grade, he was the first individual outside my family I had felt compelled to analyze. Up to the time I met Kevin, I was either friends with other boys or not right off the bat.

    Kevin, at a very young age, was experiencing what you would call a premature adolescence.  By the time he was ten he was extraordinarily popular with both the boys and the girls in our class while my fan club was somewhat restricted.  Most of the time, Kevin was very friendly to me;  but, when he got in one of his moods, he would go out of his way to humiliate me in front of as many kids as he could. As I said, I was forced to ponder my relationship with him even to the point of trying to put myself in his place.

    One cold, cloudy Monday morning in April 1961, we had all hung up our jackets and sat down at our desks when our teacher told us there was about to be an important announcement coming over the public address system. The brown and black box which held the speaker hung from the ceiling to the right of our teacher’s desk. We stared at the speaker expectantly. There was a moment of spontaneous silence which was rare in our class.

   When the speaker crackled to life, it was the voice of our principal, Alfred L. Bowes. He announced that he was speaking to the entire school. He explained to us that our schoolmate, Kevin Benya, was no more. Kevin had taken a rowboat out into the Long Island Sound on Saturday, had been swamped by high waves, and drowned. His body had been recovered on Sunday. I suppose I could reconstruct what else he said, but it would be a pale shadow of what he actually said and how he said it. It was Alfred L. Bowes, in the most urbane and heartfelt manner, laying out the realities of life and death to his young charges. It went on for over five minutes; and, at the end of it, I was looking at the next row down and three over to the right at Kevin’s empty chair and desk, thinking hard about all the happiness I had known on the Long Island Sound and my mixed experience with Kevin.

    Alfred L. Bowes was very tall and thin. He was one of those educators, not uncommon in Connecticut at the time, who were dedicated to a philosophical tradition that went back through John Dewey, who connected Ralph Waldo Emerson to the twentieth century, back to the Federal Age of Timothy Dwight. In the late 1790s, before he became President of Yale, Dwight had a progressive school in Fairfield he named “Greenfield Hill.” Of the varied backgrounds of his students, he had written “one extended class embraces all, all mingling, as the rainbow’s beauty blends.” This is the tradition Alfred L. Bowes dedicated his life to. To help him in his mission, he had as teachers, at McKinley School, an enthusiastic group of old-maid, Robert Frost groupies. Bowes really was a sort of George Washington to most of the kids at McKinley School.

    This being Connecticut, there has to be a quirky angle to this—and there was. Let me just say that the most electric thrill available to a boy at McKinley School was, if not mouthing the words, merely listening to the shocking song that floated around the boy’s lavatories and the playground:

                  Who’s that walking down the street
                  Two big, black shovels on his feet?
                  Two big, black eyes and a pointy nose--
                  Who’s that man?
                 That’s Alfie Bowes!

    No doubt there are men of advancing age spread all across Connecticut and the world who find themselves hearing in their minds sometimes:

                 Who’s that man?
                 That’s Alfie Bowes!

   Beyond the kid stuff, what we most remember about Principal Bowes is that he taught us what it meant to be part of the family of man.

                                                                                           Max H. Peters

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