After 66 years, Bulkeley School remains in the memory of alumni

Waterford — Kenneth Halpern, 84, called on his classmates of the former Bulkeley School to try a chorus of the alma mater.

"Would you stand up? Even if you're in a wheelchair, stand up," Halpern said. Dozens of men, mostly in their 80s, stood in the dining room of Langley's Restaurant in Waterford and sang.

The 65 former students gathered there for the annual Bulkeley Boys reunion, which in past years has been held at Ocean Beach Park in New London.

Bulkeley School opened in 1873 as an all-boys high school in New London and closed in 1951. It never had more than 300 students, but built a reputation as a college preparatory school, won state championships in football and basketball and graduated students who went on to become doctors, lawyers and generals in the military.

"We're all old guys now, you know, enjoying our retirement," said Michael Sherb, 81, of Niantic. Sherb's father, Jacob Sherb, also went to Bulkeley, graduated in 1914, and was head of the school's alumni association the year Michael Sherb was born. His brother also attended the school.

"You're always a Bulkeley boy, even if you're 80 or 90," Sherb said.

Bulkeley closed after New London High School opened, so its students transferred to the city school. The former Bulkeley school building now houses the Regional Multicultural Magnet School.

But even alumni who attended Bulkeley for as little as two years remember it.

"It was almost like a prep school because 80 or 90 percent of the kids went on to college," which was not the norm, Sherb said. He still knows the full name of each teacher from 1951.

Despite the number of students who went to college, pretension was noticeably absent from the school, alumni said. Bud O'Connor, 87, said he sat beside the city manager's son. But O'Connor didn't know until later; his classmate never said who his father was, and no one asked.

Students also excelled in athletics. O'Connor recalled how the coach of Hillhouse High School in New Haven visited Bulkeley after the school won the basketball championship in 1951.

The coach arrived to present the trophy, then looked around at the small audience.

"He said, 'It's too bad the rest of the school can't be here to see the trophy given,'" O'Connor, of Oakdale, recalled. "And everybody started laughing and said, 'This is us. This is all of us.'"

In some ways, the school was an equalizer of opportunity, alumni said.

"I grew up on Bank Street and the kids sitting next to me were doctors' sons," said Bill Mountzoures, 87, of Niantic. "Never made a difference. We were all Bulkeley boys."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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