Focus on history: Special memories for Amsterdam class of 1949

The reunion season has been in high gear, and Amsterdam High School class of 1949 observed their 60t

The reunion season has been in high gear, and Amsterdam High School class of 1949 observed their 60th this month at Rolling Hills Golf Course in Fort Johnson.

In 1949, that golf course was called the Antlers. It was founded in 1901 by industrialists and professionals who quietly purchased the 90 acres for the course in separate transactions to keep landowners from raising their prices.

The original Antlers clubhouse had a large veranda with a spectacular view of the Mohawk Valley. In 1965, the old clubhouse burned down and was replaced by the current building. In recent years the name was changed to Rolling Hills.

Class of 1949 football center Daniel Donohue of Granville and Port Saint Lucie, Fla., recalled that Amsterdam or Wilbur H. Lynch High School entered Class A football in 1949. The team won the title that year, an early example of a competitive sports tradition that continues to this day.

In 1949 the New York Yankees came to Amsterdam, according to sources I have seen, although Donohue recalled the Yankee visit was the year before. With Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra on the team, the Yankees defeated their farm team the Rugmakers 9 to 2 before more than 4,000 fans at Mohawk Mills Park. This year, the Amsterdam Mohawks attracted a crowd of more than 5,000 with their special events Fourth of July at the ball field, today named Herbert Shuttleworth Park in honor of a former president of Mohawk Carpet.

In 1949, an Amsterdam downtown movie theater, the Tryon, opened on Main Street. The first feature film was “Champion,” city native Kirk Douglas’ breakout movie about a conflicted boxer.

Also in 1949, 14-year-old Arlene Fontana was appearing in variety shows directed by class of 1949 member Bert DeRose in Amsterdam. Fontana began performing on WRGB television that year in the new local talent program Teen Age Barn. Fontana went on to a career as a singer and dancer on Broadway, television and nightclubs. She was best known for her work as Linda Low with her signature song “I Enjoy Being a Girl” in the national company of “Flower Drum Song.” She died in 1990.

DeRose and the late Bill Levine produced several Amsterdam variety shows while in high school. DeRose and Levine persuaded the football team to dress as cheerleaders for a musical number that brought down the house. But today Donohue recalled that he and fellow football standout James Martin only mouthed the words during the performance. DeRose said if he had known that, he would have got out the hook.

DeRose went on to a career as a local drama teacher and ultimately became principal of Amsterdam High. He came up with the idea of making the ram the symbol of the school when it moved from its old location on Brandt Place to Miami Avenue in the town of Amsterdam.

One member of the class of 1949 is my cousin Betty Segen Pronk, who grew up in the town of Amsterdam. When Betty was in high school, she was a waitress for Margaret Bennett at the Tower restaurant on Route 5 in Cranesville. Today the restaurant is Valentino’s.

Mrs. Bennett, as she was known, was prominent in Republican politics and a friend of Gov. Thomas Dewey, almost elected president in 1948. When that election approached, Mrs. Bennett wondered if my cousin Betty’s parents — Peter and Jane Segen — would vote for Dewey. Betty said her mom would but her father couldn’t, as he wasn’t a citizen, lacking papers from when he came from Ukraine. Mrs. Bennett somehow fixed it so Peter Segen became a citizen and could vote for Dewey.

Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact Bob Cudmore at 346-6657 or [email protected] Read Cudmore’s history blog on

Categories: Schenectady County

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