Incredible Connections to Our R-H Past
Jack Gaffney was our personal touchstone to nearly 200 years of local education history. We remember Jack, who died in March 2022, by sharing some fascinating facts from a speech given at the naming of the John R. “Jack” Gaffney West Henrietta Education Building in 2019.
Our school community might be a different place today had Jack’s brother, Jim, not gotten sick seven decades ago. The year was 1951. Jack was accepted at Ithaca College and looked forward to studying business administration. When his brother fell ill, his family asked Jack to stay home and help run the farm.To supplement his income, he started as a substitute driver in the district in 1957. Jack grew the family’s dairy operation until 1964, when doctors said he needed to make a decision. Carolyn, a 1953 Rush-Henrietta graduate, suffered with allergies and asthma, and farm animals and their dander were making her condition worse. Jack took a full-time job with the district's transportation department.
Looking back, the world was a far different place when Jack began school in 1939. That year, World War II started. A postage stamp cost three cents. The unemployment rate was 17 percent. Gone With the Wind premiered in theaters. And Jack’s favorite baseball team - the New York Yankees - won the World Series.
Life here at home was quite different, too. At that time, the Rush-Henrietta Central School District did not exist! Jack began attending school seven years before our district was formed. He and his peers attended some of the 17 small, independent schools scattered throughout our community.In the days before centralization, Jack attended first and second grades at the Rush Town Hall. There was no kindergarten then. In those days, more students lived in Rush than in Henrietta. Jack spent grades 3-6 attending class in an annex to the old Rush High School, known today as the Rush Post Office. In seventh grade, he moved to the high school - that same building that is now the post office - where he remained as an eighth grader.
When he entered ninth grade, Jack moved to the former Monroe Academy building in Henrietta (constructed in 1826), and stayed there until he graduated in 1951. The next year, Rush-Henrietta’s first new school - known now as Roth Junior High School - opened its doors to K-12.
In high school, Jack was a member of baseball, basketball, and soccer teams. His basketball games were held in the gym at the Rush Town Hall. His baseball and soccer games were next to the Rush Fire Department, in the field where the carnival is held each summer. Jack was known for his impressive stature and firm handshake. Carolyn told us in 2019 that her husband grew a foot taller after high school. Imagine our surprise when she said people in the early 1950s referred to him as “Little Gaff.”
Jack and Carolyn were married for 64 years. They were each other’s biggest cheerleaders. The family has some incredible connections to our community. Jack knew Charles Roth Sr., one of our first Board of Education members and the namesake of Roth Junior High School. Jack was dear friends with Charles’ late son, George.
Jack worked in the building that bears his name on Erie Station Road when our district’s bus garage was located there. Carolyn also attended school there! It was 75 years ago that she moved from Brighton with her family at the start of seventh grade, and her class just happened to be in the same room that later served as Jack’s office. One of Carolyn’s seventh-grade teachers was none other than Ethel K. Fyle, namesake of our Fyle Elementary School.
That wasn’t Carolyn’s only brush with a Rush-Henrietta legend. Her eighth grade English teacher was Carlton Webster, for whom our school next to the Parker Administration Building is named. Carolyn has many neat connections to our district, too. Did you know that her father, Myron White, served on the Rush-Henrietta Board of Education in the 1950s?
After raising her children, Carolyn, who has a teaching degree, spent four years leading classes at Good Shepherd School, which Rush-Henrietta purchased several years ago. She also was a paraprofessional at our Senior High School from 1982 to 1993. She loved working with children and remembers these times spent in our schools with great fondness.
No one who works in the Parker Administration Building today ever met the man for whom it is named, but Jack did. He knew Dr. John Parker, the namesake of our central office building. Dr. Parker taught the mechanical drawing and math classes that Jack took in high school. Jack also knew Carlton Webster; Mr. Webster was the director of Jack’s senior play in 1951. It was called “Take Your Medicine.”
Jack was born at home in 1933 in the cobblestone house where he was raised. Would you like to know who the local doctor was who delivered Jack, the baby? It will come as no surprise that there is a Rush-Henrietta connection. It was Dr. Leary, husband of Monica Leary, namesake of Leary Elementary School. That isn’t Jack’s only connection to the Leary family. Monica Leary’s son, Jim, was the mail carrier in Rush for many years. How does that tidbit from many decades ago relate to today’s honoree? Jack served as Jim Leary’s substitute mail carrier in those days.
Jack spent nearly his entire life living on the most fitting of streets - Rush-Henrietta Town Line Road. He was a Rush-Henrietta man, through and through. We are so thankful he was ours!
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