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,
July 19, 2002
Ringing in the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 . . ."
Frank Zurzola, WWII veteran
Frank in his element
Virginia T. Davis Award 2008