There are not many Mineola residents who clearly recall when Girls’ Week activities were important at Mineola High School or when a place called Pepper’s was a popular hangout.
But those who do - as well as many others - will appreciate the efforts of two Mineola seniors who have revived nostalgia about what things were like over the past five decades with a visual and verbal history presented in the high school’s 50th anniversary year.
“My main idea was to put something together for the school and the community,” said Mineola High School senior Joseph Massaro.
The senior project, a collection of artifacts and alumni photos, biographies and recollections, was on display in the high school activities room last week.
Massaro said last year’s homecoming parade provided the inspiration for his senior project. He knew assembling a presentation of the school’s first 50 years would be a large task, so he enlisted his friend Nick Rutigliano to collaborate on the project.
“I knew it was going to be a lot for one person,” Massaro said.
The two seniors interviewed 18 alumni - including 16 members of the Mineola High School faculty - and assembled a striking collection of artifacts with the help of the Mineola Historical Society.
One of the alums they interviewed is Massaro father’s Frank, who teaches mathematics at the high school. He suggested that the seniors organize the material in a time line featuring students from each decade with text about them, their high school memories and their pictures.
The alumni featured in the project included Village of Mineola Trustee Paul Cusato (class of ‘66), who recalled Pepper’s, and Mineola Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira (class of ‘89), who teaches history at the high school.
Art teacher Gina Mehling - who was voted most artistic when she graduated in 1988 - was also included, along with high school teachers Mary Ruguseo (now Collins), Maureen Connolly, Mark Miller and Thomas Oswald, a permanent substitute teacher and a junior varsity lacrosse teacher.
“This is pretty neat,” Pereira said. “I’m glad they did this because I was concerned that the 50th anniversary wouldn’t be acknowledged.”
The artifacts included varsity sports jackets - including those of Massaro and Pereira - and Massaro’s lacrosse stick, a ‘60s vintage cheerleader jumper, high school band uniforms along with a saxophone and drum, and a stylized mustang, the school mascot, that hung on the high school wall in the ‘60s.
Prefiguring the project, the younger Massaro retrieved a segment of the old gym floor when it was replaced a few years ago bearing the mustang image. (It had been discarded in a dumpster.)
Other photos filled the walls of the display room, including a collage of shots when the high school was under construction in 1962 - and the trowel used to lay the cornerstone.
Images of Girls’ Week - which included dance and costume competitions in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the days before girls team sports took root - also filled one wall of the room. A display of covers reproduced from old football programs is also part of the collection.
“It’s cool to look back and see how things have changed,” Oswald said.
Famous alumni are also featured in the display, including actors Stephen Lawrence Schwartz, and Haywood Nelson, Navy lacrosse coach Richie Meade and Army lacrosse coach Jack Emmer, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy.
Massaro credited his advisor on the project, social studies and special education teacher Nancy Regan, for assisting he and Rutigliano. Regan, in turn, gives full credit to Massaro for the concept and the work that went into the project.
“This was just amazing. Joe had a vision in his head of what he wanted it to be and it came true,” Regan said. “His life is Mineola.”
Massaro said he and Rutigliano started working on the interviews and sorting through artifacts during February break. The display took two days to prepare for an alumni reception last Wednesday night.
His life after Mineola High School will revolve around attending Sacred Heart College next fall, where the three-letter athlete plans to go out for lacrosse.
Meanwhile, his legacy is likely to live on at the high school, where the 50th anniversary project will remain on semi-permanent display.