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The “Old School”: PYA in the 1930s

Yates Past - May 2008

NOTE: A few issues back, we encouraged YCGHS members to write about their memories of “days gone by” in Yates County.
This article is an excellent example of what we were looking for.

In the mid 1930's, the young men of Penn Yan Academy enjoyed and eagerly looked forward to the ceremony of dressing up for the spring formal dances-The Junior Prom and The Hi-Y Dinner Dance. Indeed, it could safely be said without exception that they favored the white linen suit kept in its pristine condition by the mother who could only pray and trust that she had complete control of her iron at all times as she leaned and labored over the board, ever fearful of an interruption such as the ringing of the phone or a rap upon the door, causing her to leave a frightful scorch mark in some strategic spot to be eyed by anyone who mattered, and anybody in their right mind knew that meant the whole school.

The lad had a choice of color for his shirt and white was not one of them. He was given the option of two colors, navy blue or chocolate brown, and even those with only a limited understanding of fashion (fortunately most of us were gifted in that area) knew that only a white necktie would do. While white shoes were naturally the choice of all and white socks were preferred by the purist, it was really only a petty detail because nobody could see them anyway.

For weeks in advance the white linen suit was displayed prominently, front and center, in the windows of the gentlemen's stores downtown. The Platman, Wallace and Boyd store on the corner, The Donaldson-Hess store, The Mallory and Draper store-all vying for the custom of the young man while keeping the fingers crossed during these days of the great depression, hoping that he might have outgrown his suit from last year and be in the market for a new one this year.

In groups of threes or fours the boys gathered telling each other what they would be wearing, who they were taking, and perhaps most importantly, how they were going to get there! Mr. Chauncey, the Principal, frowned upon these assemblages, using the word "loitering" of which he vocally disapproved and immediately dispensed with a clapping of the hands, but fortunately with no lasting effect as the young men quickly reassembled within seconds after he had vanished into his office.

There was no question that the young fellow had a great deal on his mind for not only must he plan his costume for the approaching gala but perhaps even more importantly, would the "Old Man" let him have the car? Sadly to admit, this was not one of the father's shinier moments, being reluctant to turn over the keys. It was not until he realized his wife had turned against him siding with the boy that in reality he had no choice but to give in. Having been forced into this position he spelled out the ground rules in no uncertain terms, and they were tough. Beginning with "A CAR IS NOT A TOY" delivered in capital letters, followed by "MY CAR WAS BUILT TO CARRY NO MORE THAN FOUR AT A TIME" and lastly "T0 BE HOME AND IN THE HOUSE NO LATER THAN ONE HOUR AFTER THE BAND STOPPED PLAYING". And then the final admonition, or threat if you will, "I'LL BE UP WAITING"!

The son knew it could have been worse, no mention was made of careening down North Main Street past the hospital, crossing North Avenue at breakneck speed nor driving two abreast on Clinton Street Hill. It shall come as no surprise that the young man recklessly agreed to anything, as who wouldn't? Vigorously nodding his head, he promised there was no one in the whole of Yates County, if not the world in fact who would be more careful than he behind the wheel. He was captain of his ship, master of his own domain, ever alert, stopping at all intersections he must pass through, avoiding any mud puddles that might splatter the spotless, shiny finish that his father spent every night after work and all weekend cleaning and polishing. Finally the clincher, the crown jewel so to speak, he promised never ever to surpass the speed limit and was truly beginning to believe every word coming out of his mouth, and furthermore was envisioning himself as the poster boy of all teenage drivers.

These problems overcome and put behind him, there was the corsage to be considered. Fortunately this was in the domain of the mother who was happy to offer her expertise but did suggest he inquire into the shade of the lady's gown so that, God forbid there be no color clashings. He was glad she had although naturally he didn't tell her so even though it hadn't occurred to him to do so.

It was a busy busy time for a young man as opposed to Miss PYA who had only to sit around dreaming about and waiting for an invitation, planning what she would wear and hoping to be asked in plenty of time to get it! The Lynch-Robertson Shop was one of the more prominent ones selling only ladies apparel. After crossing Maiden Lane one found it housed just past the Arcade, the last store on that business block. It had two windows for display purposes and one entered the store by way of a door between the two windows. The proprietors were sisters, the lady named "Lynch" seemed to be single as opposed to the one named "Robertson" who was noted mainly by the high school contingent for her two handsome sons. There was a third sister who was chairbound and did the alterations. She rarely spoke but it wasn't necessary, for the other two "oh'd" and "ah'd" and clapped their hands at every customer "try-on", even volunteering to remove something from the window should it strike the young lady's fancy.

In the spring of that year the windows were draped with long summer gowns in all the lovely pastel shades, the pinks, the blues, the yellows, the greens and lavenders. The materials varied, organdy, dotted swiss, chiffon and tulle. There were the long sleeves and the short, there were the elbow length and there were those no sleeves at all. Some had high necklines, others favored the "vee", and for the daring, the "very low". Somewhat bewildering indeed, as the ladies gathered in
their own little groups keeping an eye out for Mr. Chauncey.

The History A, the History B, the History C, the Algebra and Geometry all must take a back seat when formal dance time had descended upon the school. Only the teachers were left standing, striving to maintain the original purpose for which school had been invented, i.e. education.

The Hi-Y Dinner Dance was held at Alley's Inn not far from Keuka College. It was not the usual habitat for the average teenager but it was extra special because of the meal that was included on this special occasion. The Inn bordered the lake and set back a ways with a gently sloping lawn leading to the water. The young men set loose in these bucolic surroundings raced among themselves to see who could first reach the water's edge and many among them fell to their white linen knees as their leather soled shoes skidded on the grass.

The author, Peggy Warfield and Mr. Chauncey (circa 1936)
Alley's Inn was located on Brandy Bay near Keuka College. Strong Apartments are now in this location.

When Mr. Chauncey dimmed the lights signaling the end of the festivities the young must then hasten to the Keuka Restaurant for light refreshment. The hosts of that establishment stayed open throughout the whole long evening only to serve the giddy revelers a cup of hot chocolate topped with a dash of whipped cream and two saltines resting upon the saucers. The booths were full with many waiting in line to take their seat when the last drop of the cocoa had been downed. These were the young men and women who unknowingly in these carefree days were to become a part of the World War II generation and without a doubt were able to cope in part from their association with Mr. Chauncey and his dedicated staff. Many thanks to those who ruled the hallways, the stairways and the classrooms of the Penn Yan Academy.

"Cheer for old Penn Yan, Penn Yan must win Fight to the finish, never give in.
All play your best boys, we'll do the rest boys Fight for the victory Rah, rah, rah?"

by Peggy Norris Warfield (PYA: Class of ’36)

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