Oldest Lincoln grad remembered Alma Mater
For The Madera Tribune
Anthony “Tony” Poletti is shown here in 1961, in the Poletti Department Store. He owned 10 other thriving Madera businesses.
America was at war. The Thurman Sash and Door Factory had just closed its doors in a labor dispute. The Madera Chamber of Commerce was fighting over a plan to turn Courthouse Park into a truck farm, and Tony Poletti was graduating from the eighth grade.
Lincoln School, his Alma Mater, had been in operation for five years, having opened its doors in 1912, the same year in which Tony had come to Madera from Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 12.
He had immigrated with his family from his native Italy when he was just five and landed in America knowing no English. Now he was going to get his coveted diploma as a member of the Lincoln School class of 1917. It had taken quite an effort for Tony and his colleagues; school hadn’t been easy, but the young scholars had prevailed. Now, on Saturday, June 2, they were receiving their due.
The house was packed that night, as parents and friends filled the school auditorium on West Yosemite Avenue. Unlike some modern graduation exercises, the community came to pay its respects to the students, and decorum was the order of the evening.
J.E. Squires, Miss Mayme Saunders, and Miss Lydia Hosler, all teachers at the school, had prepared a pageant, “Miss Columbia,” and the audience eagerly awaited its commencement.
The extravaganza opened with the singing of “Hail Columbia,” by Vivian McCabe, Gertrude Brown, and Ethel Amerine. Then, as the curtains parted, Miss Columbia, portrayed by Doris Snyder, stood in all her glory before the appreciative crowd. At the conclusion of the song, Miss Columbia told the story of the coming of the different nations to America, and she named them. Children representing each country took their places on the stage.
The first to be introduced were the French, complete with costumes. Then came the Irish, “dancing in a very quaint way.”
Following these were the Japanese, “with their little trot,” and then the Spanish, keeping rhythm with their tambourines. “These were followed in quick succession by the Scotch, the African-Americans, and the Native Americans. Finally, the Boy Scouts made their appearance with a martial “tread.”
As the student representatives of these diverse groups came on stage, they surrounded Miss Columbia and sang the Star Spangled Banner. The performance brought down the house.
Following the pageant, “Professor” James Healey favored the audience with a piano solo, which was also warmly received.
Next came a duet by Marie Moor and Elvira White — a recitation by Thomas Philpot — and “Mistress Mary’s Garden Dance,” performed by the Girls Glee Club.
Elinor Vance gave a “very pretty little dance, which was full of grace,” and then the march of the graduates took place. Once they found their places on stage, they sang a spring song, after which W.L. Williams gave the principal address and presented the diplomas. The program closed with everyone singing “America,” and then congratulating the graduates.
Along with Tony Poletti, the Lincoln graduating class of 1917, included Dora Yenne, Thomas Philpot, Edna Acton, Minnie Adams, Dolores Barry, Gladys Brickey, Alma Briggs, Maude Conkling, Edith Crow, Myrtle Flum, Beatrice Franklin, Geneva Gibbs, Ruth Gretlein, Winifred Hallen, Finis Jett, Clair Jones, Will O’Donnell, Shirley Osborn, Lawrence Petty, Jack Porter, Pearl Ross, Jacob Schmitz, Winifred Smith, Doris Synder, Maurice Thede, Teddy Tolliday, Curtis Walling, Elvira White, Merle Wilhoite, Fern Wilson, Harvey Knowles, Helen Longatti, Hubert Lynch, Elton Macon, Ben Matthews, Aileen Metz, Tores Tashjian, James Webster, Victor Valenzuela, Wm. Betters, Allen Nesbit, and Marie Moore.
It had been a great night in 1917, and Tony Poletti had a special reason to remember that evening so long ago. On May 14, 1994, the old Lincoln School had a reunion at the new Lincoln School on Liberty Lane in Madera, and at the age of 94, Tony was its oldest alumnus.
It was a time for longtime friends and former classmates to reminiscence as they gathered around old photographs and other memorabilia and shared lunch. Talk, no doubt, centered around the good old days as they placed a monument from the first Lincoln School and rededicated it at the new Lincoln School.
Tony lived another seven years after the reunion, passing away in 2001. He died with a storehouse of memories, and I am sure they included those halcyon days when graduation was more than an exercise and school activities were community events.