After Part I of my column about famous people who lived in my hometown of New Rochelle, NY, was published last week, my inbox was filled with more names, most of them provided by friends from back home. Many of the additions were surprising to me, like suffragette Susan B. Anthony, and a few I have some indirect connection to:
Richard Roundtree graduated from New Rochelle High School three years ahead of me. Richard created the iconic role of Shaft in the movies. While I was on hall duty one day in the early ‘70s, he wandered into the school, I assume to say hello to a former teacher. My job was to check that everyone had a hall pass or escort them out of the building. Of course, I gave him a pass.
Last week I mentioned Willie Mays was a resident of New Rochelle. I can top that. Yankee slugger Lou Gehrig bought a house in New Rochelle in 1927, the year of the greatest Yankee team ever. What’s the name of that street? Now it’s called Lou Gehrig Way. The house was recently sold for about $400,000, which in New York ‘burbs is a steal. (That’s a little baseball talk.)
Jon Klein was the former president of CNN. He was my student in the early ‘70s. Being an insightful teacher, I probably told him he’d never make it in the media.
When I was a paperboy in New Rochelle, I used to deliver the news to a house around the block. While Mrs. Menken was paying me each week, 10-year-old Alan Menken was in the living room banging out something on the piano. Years later he was banging out songs for such Disney hits as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. I ran into him once while back home many years ago. He said I was a great paperboy. Wow, thanks!
Bob Smith — Buffalo Bob of The Howdy Doody Show in the ‘50s — not only lived in New Rochelle, he owned a liquor store a mile from my house. My mom was a fan of having a few cocktails before dinner, as was Bob, or so the rumor went. When I accompanied my mother on a trip to the store to buy whiskey, they both denied he was Buffalo Bob, and insisted I must have been confused. I was pretty sure I was correct, because of the three of us, I was the only one not drinking in the middle of the day.
Don McLean was born in New Rochelle. We both went to Iona College. Don wrote the classic song “American Pie” in 1971. By the time I left teaching in 1978, McLean had written three international Top Ten hits. I had written two letters to the editor.
Jay Leno was from New Rochelle. We both wanted to host The Tonight Show. That’s the only thing we had in common. And speaking of work, one New Rochelle native hated work, or should I say WORK! WORK! which was Bob Denver’s oft-repeated line as Maynard G. Krebs in the ‘60s classic, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Denver later set his sails for his leading role in the hit series Gilligan’s Island.
I don’t think there is any question who was the most famous and influential resident of New Rochelle. Thomas Paine was a Revolutionary War activist whose pamphlets changed the course of the American Revolution. But anyone with Common Sense would know that.
Dick Wolfsie has been a reporter for WISH-TV in Indianapolis the past 30 years. His columns appear in 30 Indiana newspapers. He is a resident of Indianapolis. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.