Halos and Horns Given to Newsmakers


The Art Deco building that now houses Sun Chemical on Lower South Street, formerly the Mearl Corporation.

By Sally Bentley

“Back in the Day” the editors of the Peekskill Herald started a tradition of awarding “ Halos and Horns” to area newsmakers. They introduced the idea in late April 1992, by writing “As part of its ongoing tradition of issuing pats on the back for work well done and D- minuses for other matters, the Herald hereby doles out halos and horns to current newsmakers. 

One of the first halos was awarded to the City Of Peekskill School District for exploring the concept of creating magnet schools in the district. Proposals for creating a science, math or writing mecca in the Oakside elementary school were being investigated and the newspaper considered the plan a win-win situation, should it be adopted. However in the months following this proposal, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Sal Corda, proposed bringing the Princeton plan to Peekskill, which would change the school district structure from having neighborhood elementary schools to having each school target one or two grades of children from across the district.

Besides arguing that having a concentration of a few grades in each school was educationally sound, members of the school board and the superintendent also lauded the cost saving that such a change could make for the school budget. Suddenly the school district was alive with parents debating this issue and pleading to maintain the neighborhood school plan. Dr. Corda pressed on to convince parents that their children would benefit from the changes and he worked hard to win over the voters and convince them that there would be ongoing economic benefits for taxpayers. 

Within a few years, the school district was re-configured and families settled down to the new school experiences. Today the elementary schools in Peekskill give students and parents a real sense of belonging and pride. Now when you visit any of these schools there is a feeling of unity and team membership within, from the hallways displaying student artwork to the books on display in the classrooms and library. The staff and atmosphere are all targeted towards the needs and potential of youngsters within a small age range.

The grades are concentrated as follows: Uriah Hill for the pre-K children, Woodside Elementary for kindergarten and first grade, Oakside Elementary for second and third grade, Hillcrest Elementary for fourth and fifth grade, and the Peekskill Middle School with sixth, seventh and eighth graders. It’s possible that today many people don’t even know what the definition is of a “neighborhood school” and they are happy to have their youngsters in a school that is targeted completely for the learning and social needs of their child or children. It’s now nearly 30 years since the implementation and current local news headlines show that other school districts in the area are just working on their plans to reorganize their districts following the Princeton Plan. Let’s give the City of Peekskill School District a new halo for making this reorganization plan such a long lasting success and presenting a vibrant example to the surrounding communities.

 Another halo that was awarded in 1992 went to “All the community groups attempting to mark Earth Day this weekend with appropriate celebrations.” Earth Day was still a relatively new concept, but the newspaper was full of stories of park cleanup information, Arbor Day tree planting, recycling initiatives and info about the upcoming Peekskill Garden Club Plant Sale.

Many new halos could be awarded for our Earth Day activities in 2022. The Conservation Advisory Council, along with Peekskill’s Parks and Recreation Department, have certainly earned their haloes with the wonderful sunlight ceremony they held last Saturday in Depew Park at the conclusion of the Parks Clean Up Day. Coordinated by Parks and Rec Supervisor, Cathy Montaldo, and CAC members Kay Barthelmes and Elaine Caccoma, it was set up with Lake Mitchell as a backdrop and a crowd of nearly 100 people listened as proclamations designated Peekskill a member of Tree City USA. 

Crowd gathers as the sycamore tree in Depew Park gets an green heritage award ribbon.

Other haloes would certainly go to each of the 13 teens who performed with the Peekskill High school jazz group, Peekskill City Singers, and their teacher, Kevin Larsen. Their rendition of “Blue Skies” was pitch perfect, with the jazzy interpretation sparkling in the sunshine and floating up to the beautiful blue skies above the setting. After their performance everyone in attendance walked over to the edge of the ballfield, to a well loved Sycamore tree, which was adorned with a green Tree City USA ribbon. Then the group strolled to the other end of the track near the pool fence where Chappy Manzer was all set to plant two trees in honor of Arbor Day. Surely another halo should be on Chappy’s head, as he once again used his landscaping expertise to beautify our city.

Peekskill City Singers preparing for their rendition of Blue Skies.

A few more haloes were awarded in April 1992. One was to the employees of the Mearl Corporation on Lower South Street “for their intensive recycling,” and a second “to the firm itself granting work time for the save-the-earth effort.”  I hope Mearl didn’t suffer from its environmental efforts, since the property subsequently changed to Engelhard Corporation and is now Sun Chemical. It is still one of the larger employers in our area.  

The last and perhaps most prescient haloes went to three members of the Common Council.  The Councilmen George Johansen, William Johnson and Lawrence Gomez were singled out “for suggesting the city should look carefully at its role in an office project that might sap the downtown of business and energy. The proposed office park on Route 6 needs careful thought. Any further exodus of offices from the central business district could prove fatal.” 

The background of these haloes was an office building project which was proposed for the lot between the current Forest View and Society Hill housing developments on Main Street.  The consideration that these councilmen undertook helped avoid a project which would have crowded the nearby housing developments, added congestion to an already busy route and most likely weakened our already fragile downtown business area.  Thirty years after this action, the area in question is the well established and bountiful Peekskill Community Garden. Today my own home looks down on this section of Main Street and I am so grateful to be looking at greening garden plots and not parking lots and boxy office buildings. I suggest that we award each of those former councilmen another halo!

In reading through the old newspaper issues, I discovered an oversight in the awarding of the haloes.  There were photos of Sister Ann Michael, the principal of the Assumption School, surrounded by many of her students and reaching out to stroke a yellow lab, who was sprawled lazily on the floor.  The dog had been named “Ruffian” by the student body and spent the previous 16 months in Sister Ann Michael’s care and visited the school daily.  

I knew all these details, without reading the paper, since Sister and Ruffian had made a few stops at the Field Library, where I worked.  They even appeared together in an after school program in the Children’s Library, so that kids of all ages could learn all about the Guiding Eyes organization and the dogs that they train on the streets of Peekskill.  These last photos of Ruffian were taken, just before he left Sister Ann Michael’s care and became a student of the Guiding Eyes, with his next stop on the journey to become a working guide dog for someone with limited eyesight.  Ruffian and Sister Ann Michael certainly earned at least one halo each!  

Guiding Eyes for the Blind Ruffian saying farewell to his ‘foster family’ at Assumption School.

Today the Assumption Church might still earn some haloes, since for the past year Fr. Esteban Sanchez has shared the joy of raising Santi and Kike, massive twin dogs with his parishoners.  Santi and Kike were parented by a German Shepherd and a St. Bernard, so their future was looking big.  When Fr. Esteban went to adopt “a dog” he was confronted by the idea of separating “the twins.”  Consequently, when he arrived back at the rectory, he had not one dog, but two. Although the dogs belong to Fr. Esteban, many of the parishioners look on them as church mascots.  And a friend who lives nearby says that they make a lively and entertaining sight, when they are walked in the neighborhood.   

Fr. Estaban with Kike and Santi.

“Back in the Day” when I would pick up the latest issue of the original print version of the Peekskill Herald I would browse first to see if any halos and horns were being awarded.  They didn’t feature the idea in every issue, but it was fun to read it when it did appear.  We’re a pretty opinionated  gentry here in Peekskill and I suspect that I was not the only reader who would judge the awards and take a stand as to the worthiness of the reasons given for the awards.  

These days Facebook groups may serve the need for this “criticism forum”, but revisiting the old issues of the Herald has put me in touch with what the appeal was for me.  I love the idea of the “pat on the back,” of offering a cheer of encouragement, of reinforcing a good move or a personal achievement by saying something positive and showing its importance.  I’m not much on looking for worthy horn recipients. But giving out halos, now that’s another matter. We should all give it a try. Find someone or something that seems admirable and share your admiration. Chances are pretty good that you’ll be feeling more optimistic and ready to extend yourself in a cheerful fashion. You’ll end up being the Herald of Good News.