Jon Breen letter to MVHS 4-19-04

The Jon Breen Memorial Fund

 Mount Vernon High School

100 California Road

Mount Vernon, NY 10552


April 19, 2004


Dear Friends and Classmates,


Hello from warming New York. I hope that you are all filled with great anticipation over the specter of an early spring. Thankfully here in the northeast the past four or so weeks have been a welcome departure from the ravages of mid December and January. But, alas, like the fickle lady she is, Mother Nature can still spring surprises like a few weeks ago. Unlike last March when we were all contemplating the coming of our fortieth reunion, the death of JFK, and the passing of our innocence, this year we are focusing on the long hard political campaign ahead. Unlike last year at this time when we were beginning to engage in an unknown adventure in Iraq, we are mostly fed up with the expense in blood and treasure and the futility of trying to bring some kind of normality to that divided and cursed region. This year, not unlike others in our long history we are experiencing our newest chapter in our quadrennial election cycle. In that vein one only has to look back at the old newspapers of those bygone high school years and see similar headlines barking familiar themes, of age old concerns regarding deficits, civil and human rights, foreign conflict, unemployment, interest rates, and of course taxes. In other words, what else is new under the sun? So in the year since last March much has happened, as it has always happened, and other then the change of names, history has a tendency to repeats itself.


From my own parochial perspective, I am still giving lectures on FDR, 20th Century conflicts and political analysis. I am trying to put together a radio show, called the “Advocates,” if all goes well, on a local station WVOX to air this April. You’ll hear more from me if I need some sponsors, to justify my verbal existence. Besides all that speculative silliness, I have continued to be occupied in the workings of local government in the Town of Greenburgh, as both a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and a Deputy Town Supervisor who assists the Supervisor on political and public policy matters. I am also still in the insurance business, specializing in long term care and benefits for businesses and their owners.


Again, the time for the Jon Breen Memorial Fund Essay has come upon us, and the students of Mount Vernon H.S. This year, because of a countywide interest in the 50th anniversary of the landmark ruling, Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, we have chosen the topic “Has the spirit of the landmark US Supreme Court decision been realized?” With regards to this topic, I have delivered a lecture to AP history and government students at MVHS regarding my impressions of how this ruling affected our class of 1963 and the years after. The title of my paper is MVHS Change and Legacy 1963-2003. If you want an electronic copy, you can e-mail me at my new address, Meanwhile in looking through our old yearbook, I was able to discern these facts; the class had 633 students; 297 males, 46.9%, 336 females, 53.1%. Among the 633 students were 537 white and 96 non-white individuals. With regards to ethnic breakdowns, there were 173 Italian surnames, 27.3%, 177 assumed Jewish affiliation, 28%, 187 white non-ethnics, 29.54%, 92 American African-Americans, 14.5%, and 3 Hispanics and one Asian. Of course this “eye ball” social inventory was and is not perfect. But I would think that the “relative error” is quite small.


Meanwhile my sense is that Mount Vernon High School was probably not much different in 1963 then it was in 1953 or 1943. I was working, for a short time at Mount Vernon High School in 1967 and 1968 and by that time, dramatic national events overshadowed the impact of the Brown decision. The ongoing draft, the unpopular war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggles around the nation, the fractious political campaign, the withdrawal of Lyndon Johnson from the race for the Presidency, the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Paris peace talks, and the stock market undulations all started to shake the “Old Order.” I can vividly recall the protests in the schools, the takeovers of buildings, the daily bomb scares, the change in dress standards and the attitudinal shift of the students regarding authority. In other words “the times were a-changing.”  Of course all that today is ancient history to most of us and we were long out of high school when most of the social change hit our society. As for today’s news, Mount Vernon’s school system suffers like many of its lower Westchester neighbors. Education, in general, has been under pressure all over the country. Westchester County has a mixture of rich and poor school districts, and Mount Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle, and even White Plains all suffer from the problems of bilingualism, multi-culturalism, and family instability. It is not something that will ever be easily resolved. But, all in all there are many good and dedicated educators, and students are students the same all over. But, on a good note, Mount Vernon basketball remains supreme. Not only did the MVHS Knights, under the astute leadership of Bob Cimmino, a nephew of our classmate Paul Cimmino, win the Section I title for the 5th straight year, but also they won the NY State and Federation titles. Besides all of that, former MV great Ben Gordon led UCONN to the NCAA basketball title.


Again, as all of you know, many of us got together in August for our last reunion, and I personally was able to meet anew many old friends that had not attended any of our events or any of the recent ones. I had the distinct and unique advantage of living across the road from the Westchester Marriot and therefore I was able to practically take residence at the reunion. Of course, time has a way of flying by, and eight months have already passed into history.

The reunion was great, all who attended seem to have a great time, and hopefully we’ll all be available for the next one.


In the ten years since Jon Breen’s untimely passing the Fund has raised over $20,000 primarily from his friends in the Class of 1963. This money has been used to sponsor the Jon Breen Memorial Essay Contest and, of recent date, the Henry M. Littlefield History prize. Over the last two years our awards procedure has changed. In the past I always read all the essays and selected the top three. In the last two years I have been selecting the four finalists. These finalists read their essays in front of an assembly comprised of fellow student essayists. We have a panel composed of educators, administrators and elected officials, who participate with the audience and the essayists and in turn contribute their perspectives on the subject under consideration. The panel chooses the order of finish, and the program is videotaped and shown on local access cable. If you wish to make a donation to the Fund, please make it out to the John Breen Fund and send it to me at the below address or to Mount Vernon HS c/o Ms. Kim Omologu.





Richard J. Garfunkel







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