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Frank Zurzola showing off his class ring
Frank Zurzola shows off his newly acquired Stamford High School Class of 1937 ring. His family could not afford to buy him the ring when he graduated, but former Stamford High Principal Tony Pavia ordered the ring as a gift.
(Kathleen O'Rourke/Staff photo)
Copyright © 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

The following is a story about Stamford Historical Society volunteer Frank Zurzola, courtesy The Advocate

July 19, 2002
Ringing in the past: Stamford man helps recall city's history
By Asante Green
Advocate Staff Writer

STAMFORD -- When Frank Zurzola looks at the white gold class ring that fits securely on his right ring finger, he gets a bit choked up.

As his eyes welled with tears, Zurzola explained recently how he was unable to afford a ring before graduating from Stamford High School in 1937.

"When I graduated, we were very poor, it was during the Depression, everyone was poor. I never received a class ring because my parents couldn't afford to buy me one," Zurzola said. "It's a wish that has finally come true."

In October, Zurzola, a volunteer with the Stamford Historical Society, shared with about 200 Stamford High students his story of growing up poor on Old Pacific Street. The lecture was part of a four-part pilot series focusing on contributions of African American, Italian, Irish and Polish cultures.

Touched by the story, former Stamford High Principal Tony Pavia ordered the ring as a gift.

"When Mr. Zurzola spoke to us, he put a human face on that experience," Pavia said. "The common theme, the thread that runs through our nation, is that we were all once immigrants. There are just so many common denominators of what people and families went through then and what they are going through now.

"I just felt that here was a guy who had so much to offer the kids. After he shared that story, we all agreed we had to get him a ring. I think everyone in the room felt the same way, it was just something he mentioned and it was something we could do. It was a no-brainer," Pavia said.

Zurzola received the ring June 11 during the Historical Society's annual meeting. The ring bears Stamford High's Black Knight insignia on one side; the figure of a football player, a football and the year he graduated on the other.

"He came out into the hallway and he kissed me. He is a very demonstrative guy," said Walter Wheeler, a Historical Society volunteer who helped surprise Zurzola with the class ring. "He put the ring on his finger and looked up at the ceiling as if it were God in heaven who gave it to him. He said a little prayer, then he said, 'Pop, you always told me that I should have one of these, and now I've got it.' "

Zurzola said he always wanted a class ring but his family couldn't afford one. He tells students about bedbugs and cockroaches he endured at his tenement building at Greyrock Place and Canal Street. The neighborhood was demolished to make way for urban redevelopment and is now the site of Stamford Town Center.

When Zurzola explained to students where he was born, he said, "I tell them I was born 1919 in Filene's, in the lingerie department."

Through his memories of his former neighborhood, Zurzola helped the Historical Society put together a 2002 calendar of photos of immigrants and merchants who lived and worked there. The calendar is called Old Pacific Street.

Zurzola said his mother told him "a good person is in the heart," and his father told him to "save for a rainy day."

"I never knew what my father meant until the day I graduated. He picked me up from school that day and I was thinking maybe I would get a class ring or a car. Instead, he took me to the ice cream shop and bought me a double-dipped cone for 5 cents," he said. "At that moment, I understood exactly what he meant."

Zurzola said he plans to continue educating students about his time growing up on Old Pacific Street and during the Depression.

"Frank represents a unique resource in the sense that they're getting to be fewer and fewer people who actually lived through the Depression and the hard times that people had who can talk to students and give them a firsthand account," said Philip Norgren, Historical Society president.

The story about the ring "is just one of the stories that he told. Frank is a very valuable guy. He has a big store of things to talk about. This is just one of them," Norgren said.

Copyright © 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Editor's Note:

Photo of Frank Zurzola as young man
Image courtesy Fank Zurzola

I think we all got choked up a bit when Frank was presented with the class ring by Phil Norgren.

The newspaper article also included a contributed photo, showing Frank Zurzola as 18-year old after graduation. Frank was kind enough to lend this photo to the Stamford Historical Society too, and here it is.

Frank told me that, contrary to the expensive appearance, which might lead readers to wonder why the family could not afford to buy a class ring, they rented the jacket and the pants from Shapiro's on Pacific Street at one dollar a piece. Frank's father then had the photo taken and made into a postcard, to be sent to the grandmother in Italy. Too late, he remembered that she was blind by then, and "that," said Frank, "is how I ended up with the postcard . . ."

Irene Hahn

back of Frank's photo postcard

Frank Zurzola, WWII veteran
Frank in his element
Virginia T. Davis Award 2008