Published in the Delaware County’s Daily Newspaper Monday, March 22, 2021
By Joseph Batory, Times Columnist
During my lengthy tenure as Upper Darby’s superintendent of schools (1984-1999), Teresa Furey, the legendary president of the Upper Darby School Board, often lifted my spirits by telling me to “always keep believing in angels.”
In fact, I did become a believer in angels. And here is why!
An example of an angelic incident: It occurred in response to a destructive fire. It ended with a miraculous conclusion! On a New Year’s Day (Friday) while I was superintendent of schools, an accidental blaze in the middle of the night burned up the boiler room at the Bywood School. Upper Darby’s fire department heroically curtailed the fire before the entire school was enveloped, but two boilers (the heaters for the building) were wrecked and there was enormous smoke damage everywhere in all the classrooms and offices. This was a nightmare. 800 kids were due back in that school shortly after the holidays.
I met with my maintenance staff leaders. The two new boilers that were needed had been quickly ordered from the Midwest but would not arrive for a while. We all sat quietly. But then, suddenly, the group defiantly vowed (perhaps a bit naively) to create “the impossible,” and have the Bywood School ready to open on or near schedule after holiday vacation. But how?
Well, this miracle did in fact happen because these caring and determined school district maintenance men worked day and night on the weekend after New Year’s Day amidst grime and soot trying to mechanically “band-aid” the burned boilers. And somehow (??paper clips, rubber bands, duct tape??), they managed to get one of the burned-out boilers up and running!
Meanwhile, another army of volunteers—teachers, principals and support staff, parents, and community residents—along with necessary contractors scrubbed and disinfected the many classrooms and student gathering areas on the upper floors which had been smoked up by the fire.
The Bywood School lost only one school day and was able to open with one “bandaged” boiler temporarily keeping the children warm in early January’s weather!!!! I lit lots of candles and prayed. And within a few days, the two new boilers arrived and were quickly installed over the next weekend.
For those of you who have never seen a real miracle and maybe even think that there is no such thing as a miracle, I can just tell you that “this was truly one of them!”
Another angelic happening: It involved the Upper Darby High School’s Mendenhall-Tyson Scholarship, named for two former Upper Darby School District superintendents (Hendrickson Mendenhall and John Tyson), dates back to 1928.
Since 1984, I have been a member of the Mendenhall-Tyson Scholarship Foundation Board. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, thousands of dollars donated in memoriam for these two deceased superintendents had been invested and the interest used to fund one annual scholarship for a top-rated Upper Darby High School graduate.
But then in 1998, the Mendenhall Tyson Scholarship foundation funds were greatly enhanced through the generous bequest of more than one half million dollars from a former Upper Darby School District educator Janice Guiesinger.
This has changed everything! As a result of this generosity, every year, there are now 16 Upper Darby High School grads studying at an array of high-powered universities, each utilizing a four-year total of $28,000.00 for his/her Mendenhall-Tyson Scholarship award. Touched by angelic intervention, the Mendenhall Tyson Scholarship is bigger and better than ever these days, launching many careers of greatness for Upper Darby grads.
Yet another example of angelic activity: As a young superintendent of schools, I became aware that there were many pupils with significant financial needs.
There were heartbreaking stories of Upper Darby kids who were not able to participate in nominal cost extra-curricular activities because of economic circumstances at home. There were young people who could not afford the price of the SAT exam or any academic enrichment activities that involved fees. Some students could not pay the cost of educational field trips or other related school activities like yearbooks or the senior prom. There were pupils who needed clothing and others with health needs unattended simply because they were poor.
I began thinking of establishing a Superintendent’s Student Assistance Fund to be used for kids with such needs. I had no idea how to make this happen. I was ready to give up. Over a pasta and red wine dinner at the Overbrook Italian Club, I despondently told some Italian friends about the demise of this worthwhile project.
Two days later when I arrived at work in the Administration Building, I found a plain white envelope on my desktop. The lettering on the envelope read: For the Superintendent’s Assistance Fund for Needy Kids. Inside the envelope, there was $1000 in $10 bills. I asked no questions. The Superintendent’s Student Assistance Fund was now a reality!
As time went on, word quietly spread through the Upper Darby School District community regarding the Superintendent’s Student Assistance Fund. Fresh donations then came in periodically from Upper Darby High alumni, teachers, administrators, School Board members, community residents, area business owners, and others.
One community resident, an Upper Darby High grad who wished to remain anonymous, came to my office with a check for $10,000.00. And, over many years, thousands of additional dollars were gifted to the Superintendent’s Student Assistance Fund, all of it distributed where most needed.
I was now able to dole out assistance for worthwhile educational and enrichment activities and family and personal needs to Upper Darby students who could not afford them.
So, there you have it. Just some of the angelic interventions influencing my many years as a school superintendent. Caring and loving people, not seeking any credit, donating money and expertise and personal time to create a positive difference to help others, going the extra mile for others, caring and giving of themselves unselfishly!
Of course, I believe in them! How could I not?
Joseph Batory, a former superintendent of schools in Upper Darby, was honored with the Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of School Administrators in 2000.