By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — As promised last week, we head into the 1980s at Trott Vocational High School. But first I received a phone call about a former student. Marie Parkhill told me her husband Bennett Parkhill, who grew up around 10th and Niagara streets, graduated from Trott Vocational in 1956. He chose the electrical shop course during his Trott years and received the coveted instructor “George Thorn Award” upon graduation. This meant automatic acceptance into the apprenticeship program for the next five years with the IBEW Local 237. (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). Upon successful completion and gaining journeyman status, a guaranteed position awaited him within the union ranks. Bennett was also well known for his prowess at “shot-put while he was on the track team at Trott. I admitted I knew next to nothing about this sport and thanks to Wikipedia and Mrs. Parkhill I now do.
On June 7, 1980, Victoria Ketch received a $300 scholarship named for Villo Vintes from the Kiwanis Club of north Niagara Falls. In December of that year a student was stabbed by another student, the culmination of an ongoing conflict between the two. Several area pastors met with the school board in a closed-door session to discuss racial tensions and issues. Most students were shocked and unaware of this incident stating that “This is a small school. People know each other here.” Another stated, “We’re one big happy family here.” Appropriate disciplinary actions were taken. The school board again rejected merging Trott with BOCES asking for further studies into the option of closing Trott and having two comprehensive schools.
Cosmetology students were entered in a Hairstyling Competition at Trott in 1982 with first place going to Susan Montagna, second place to Rhonda Bradberry and third place to Janet Miller. It was an annual event and other students volunteered as “customers.” And, Stephen Polniak retired as principal of Trott on April 24 after 11 years with much regret expressed among both faculty members and students.
In March of 1983, Trott Vice-Principal Lillie Stephens was named vice chair of the National Committee for School Desegregation. Nassea Hodge who was appointed as principal in 1982 and retired in December 1984 with a “recommendation of keeping the school open as enrollment remained the same at Trott while other schools declined during April 1983 through December 1984.” Trott kept looking into the future as they became the first Niagara County secondary school to enter the computer age in June of 1984 and Frank Orfano became the new principal.
During September of 1985 Trott was given only conditional state registration with objections of sex equity and racial discrimination, health hazards and lack of access for the handicapped as the reasons. Board discussion centered on the future of Trott Vocational and several options were studied such as renovation to meet required needs, merge with BOCES and rent the building to them or relocate the occupational education program to the other two high schools. On June 21, 1985, the school board voted to close Trott in June of 1988 and relocate its programs to LaSalle Senior High School and Niagara Falls High School. State aid would reimburse 47 to 55 percent of the renovation costs. The decision was based on opening the programs to more students and the declining enrollment at the three combined schools. It was a dark day at Trott.
Moving into February 1986, the school planned many events to honor National Vocational Education Week led by former student and now carpentry instructor Art Garabedian hosting demonstrations at the Summit Mall. About 100 students took part with 25 instructors featuring nursing students taking blood pressure, cosmetology student doing manicures and carpenter and food service students raffled off their work projects.
Ground-breaking was held at the $9 million occupational education project at LaSalle High School on Jan. 29, 1987. Although the new school was 90 percent complete at this time, school life went on and in March of 1987 Rod Page was honored as high scorer in the Section VI Class C basketball finals. Trott advanced to the Regional Championships and won the New York State Class C Title. Empty school syndrome began creeping into life at Trott Vocational near the end of school year in 1987. School alumni began making plans for an open house to be held in May of 1988 and a dinner dance that same year on July 31.
A carpentry instructor for 23 years, Garabedian seemed pleased with the new LaSalle facility but his mixed feelings showed when he commented that “everyone in my house graduated from Trott except my wife,” his daughter from the nursing course, one son from food service and the other under his own tutelage in the carpentry class.
Next week the former students close their school in style.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.