I had a lot of fun with that dream this morning about my lovely sixth grade English teacher. Phyllis Marsolan. I guess since it’s fresh on my mind, i’ll go back to those days at Arabi Park Middle, where I spent seven semesters of my school years, from October 1987 until June 1989.
I spent the first six years of my school days at St. Robert Bellarmine, the Catholic parish about a mile from my residence in Arabi, a suburb of New Orleans located in St. Bernard Parish (county), about 15 minutes east-southeast of New Orleans’ Central Business District. I had a lot of trouble at St. Robert’s in the fifth grade, and my parents were ready to pull me out and find another school.
First, though, there was the month detour to the child psychiatric ward at Tulane Medical Center. That’s painful memories I’ll save for another day.
The 1987-88 school year started while I was in the hospital. My parents initially sent me to some school for children with “special needs”. What it was was nothing more than a babysitting service for kids with real serious problems. I was not even 11 years old, by far the youngest kid there. Most were 15, 16.
After eight weeks, my parents finally wised up and sent me to Arabi Park Middle, the public school in the northwest corner of the community. I had trouble my first few weeks, but by the second week of December, I was switched into the honors classes, and it was there I would meet the people I would pretty much be in every class with until I left for Brother Martin.
The 1987-88 school year also marked the first time boys roamed the halls at Arabi Park. From 1969, when Arabi Park opened, through the spring of 1987, Arabi Park was the girls’ middle school for western St. Bernard Parish, while the boys went to Chalmette Middle, which was on St. Bernard Highway, across the road from the former Kaiser Aluminum plant, which shut down in January 1983.
I knew three people in the Arabi Park honors classes from earlier times.
One was Rosemarie Renz, who attended St. Robert’s with me from kindergarten through fourth grade. Rosemarie lived six blocks from my house at the corner of Perrin and Patricia streets with her grandparents. Another was Jason Malasovich, whom I played basketball with the previous winter. He lived closer to Judge Perez Drive off Center Street. Jason’s mom, Darlene, was the secretary at Arabi Park, and she had remarried. In fact, I ran into her on my last Fourth of July in Louisiana at the Walmart in Chalmette. The third was Jennifer Cancienne, whom I think I went to a summer program with. She lived south of Judge Perez on Rowley. I recall Jennifer was abducted from in front of her home when she was young. Very sad.
The only other person I recall who lived in Arabi who was in my classes at Arabi Park was none other than Stacie Dauterive (now Stacie Seube), who lived with her parents, sister Andree and brother Rene in a big house on Badger Drive, about 100 feet from St. Robert Bellarmine church. Before Hurricane Katrina, Stacie’s father was the owner of the best heating and plumbing service in St. Bernard Parish, and her mother was a longtime teacher in the St. Bernard school system, and it was apparent from the first time I met her in late 1987 that Stacie was destined to become a teacher, too. She has become a darn good one. I hope there are principal and superintendent positions in her future. Stacie now lives in the house with her husband Jeff Seube and their sons, one of whom sadly is autistic. My heart broke for her when I first heard. I miss Stacie an awful lot, maybe more so than anyone else from Louisiana. I”m overjoyed we’ve at least kept in touch on Facebook.
(After attempting to find some of my old Arabi Park classmates on Facebook, I discovered one who also lived in Arabi, the smartest student by far in our classes, Tammy Gilbert. Tammy ran laps around the rest of us academically. She was also a gifted flutist. –DNS 8/24)
Mrs. Marsolan was not popular among many of her students, which conversely drew me to really like her. I felt like she was the underdog and someone needed to support her. Of course, I got called teacher’s pet among other things. It stung a little then, but now, I look back and laugh. She was the first person who saw my potential in my writing. I wish I knew where she was. I would love to thank her for touching my life.
My science teacher in the sixth grade, Robert Daussat, knew who I was, too, since his daughter, JoAnn, went to St. Robert’s while I was there. He was the only male teacher I had at Arabi Park, and one of my favorites, probably second behind Mrs. Marsolan.
It also happened the seventh grade social studies teacher at Arabi Park, Lillian Gattuso, was a very good friend of my mother. She happened to babysit me when I was in my early days. I angered Mrs. Gattuso more than once when I wore a Kansas Jayhawks t-shirt to school. She called the Jayhawk “Tweety Bird” and even once pretended to spit upon it. I wasn’t too popular with my classmates for openly supporting KU, but I wanted to rub it in after the Jayhawks won the 1988 NCAA men’s basketball national championship. Of course, I had to swallow my pride when KU was hit with major probation for infractions committed by Larry Brown and his coaching staff, a penalty which kept KU out of the 1989 tournament, the last time March Madness has not proceeded with the boys from Lawrence.
Mrs. Gattuso let me work on an independent research paper on Watergate late in my seventh grade year. I was fascinated by all that went on and I’ve been big on it ever since.
FYI, I also angered my classmates by wearing a Kansas State shirt, too. I wanted to wear it for a field trip to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in February 1989, but stupid me wore it the night before and got it dirty. My mother would not fire up the washing machine to wash only that shirt, so my dad and I went to the bathtub and washed it by hand. Luckily for me, it was dry the next morning and I wore it. It had the old Willie the Wildcat logo, because the Powercat was still under development by the new football coach, a guy named Bill Snyder.
Lucky for me, none of my Arabi Park classmates knew just how bad K-State was in football at the time. I never would have heard the end of it.
Stacie, Jason, Rosemarie, Jennifer and I were all in the band, where we were very fortunate to fall under the direction of a brilliant teacher named Janet Crow. The Arabi Park band consistently won awards at concert festivals and parades, and were named the winner of the Battle of the Bands at the 1988 Shangri-La parade, which I never will forget because it was 25 degrees that night and the wind made the chill factor closer to 10. I had thermal underwear underneath a heavy band uniform and I was still colder than heck. I played clarinet in fourth and fifth grade at St. Robert’s and continued it into sixth grade at Arabi Park, and Stacie and I both made the honor band, as did Jason on trumpet. Ms. Crow convinced me to switch to trumpet in the seventh grade because there was an abundance of clarinet players, but I was nowhere near as good as Jason, who stuck with it and was in the band both at Chalmette High and LSU. My band days were numbered, and finished off for good when Bob Conlin asked me to do his football statistics at Brother Martin.
Two flute players in the band still stand out to this day. One was a short girl, Toni LaRocca, who hit her growth spurt late and really blossomed. I saw her in 2000 working at Hooters in Metairie, a large suburb in Jefferson Parish west of the city, and she was gorgeous. The other flutist was Nicole Meyer, who hit her spurt early and was taller than anyone in the class, and that included the boys. Her uncle, Cliff Moon, happened to work with my dad at Air Products and Chemicals.
Stacie’s best friend, Allison Richardson, played saxophone in the band. Two girls who were not in the band, Lara Doyle and Juli Wahl, were downright stunners. There was a redhead, Vanessa Condra, who was very sweet. Vanessa moved into the honors classes in seventh grade, as did Shandy de St. Germain and Dayna Siebenkittel.
Christi Rehage was a huge football fan, and with good reason. Her older brother, Steve, played at LSU for Bill Arnsparger on two Sugar Bowl teams in the mid-1980s.
One huge regret was I wasn’t nicer and I didn’t get to spend more than one year with Michelle Woodland, who came to Arabi Park in the seventh grade from Houston. She really treated me well and took a liking to me, although I was sometimes stubborn.
Notice all the girls in the honors classes. As I recall, there may have been only 10 boys at most. The ones I remember beside Jason were Shawn O’Neil, who could match sports wits with me; Jared Couture, an outstanding athlete who would go on to start for Archbishop Hannan’s basketball team for three years; Jack Bastoe, who teamed with Allison to give the band to great saxophonists; and Brandon Miller.
Arabi Park helped me get into Brother Martin, too.
When I first got to Arabi Park, Anne Rando was a math teacher. The next year she was named assistant principal when Tommie Powell, a friend of my mother’s from their teaching days together before I was born, was named principal at Chalmette Middle. Mrs. Rando happened to be the sister-in-law of Greg Rando, who was the admissions director at Brother Martin at the time. Mrs. Rando suggested I go to Brother Martin’s open house in November 1988, and my parents and I came away mighty impressed. I already had experience with Brother Martin since that’s where honor band held its practices in 1987 and 1988, so I knew the lay of the land somewhat. Sure enough, in February 1989, I was accepted into Brother Martin for my eighth grade year, with a huge assist from Anne and Greg. Greg , who went to Brother Martin and graduated in 1977, is now principal at his alma mater.
I took tremendous ribbing for going to Brother Martin from a public school. I know I was the first person from Arabi Park to attend one of the prestigious all-male Catholic high schools, and I was one of the few from St. Bernard who did not attend Holy Cross, which at that time was in the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans buttressed against the Mississippi River, only 10 minutes from my home and at most 20 from the vast majority of St. Bernard’s population.
If I’ve bored you, I apologize. It’s just when I get wistful, I sometimes tend to ramble on. But I hope you’ve really enjoyed the trip down memory lane. If you’ve got any memories you want to add, e-mail them to me at email@example.com, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter (@davidsteinle).