Lehman College Opened My Eyes

I want to drop the needle on the record so that Bernard Purdie's drums, Hubert Laws' flute, and Gil Scott-Heron's voice could carry us through this recollection together. Yeah, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was on a lot of boom boxes and on people's minds as my generation left behind the cocoon of high school and entered the wide open world that was Herbert H. Lehman College in September 1970.

Civil Rights clashes, Vietnam, the tragic loss of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in the same year, Woodstock, Kent State, and a beautiful, simply organized campus lined with stately trees and lovely stone buildings filled with teachers and students from all cultures and mostly liberal persuasion affected each one of us. I had trouble believing this beautiful world was real.

I followed my brother Ken who entered Lehman one year earlier. We walked to a slightly different beat...he was a runner and I was a basketball player. We both loved music. I followed my dreams to the Gym Building and to Student Hall where I joined WHLC, the campus radio station. Ken headed for the gym, too, and became a fixture easily on the cross country and track teams. We both managed to spend enough time in the library building too, thanks to our strict Dad and our well-read mom. Music switches to "Rock Steady" - Aretha.

The Gym. Wow. I never saw so many talented basketball players. This was intense but, again, organized. There was Rudy Williams, Naz Griffin, Hoppy, Wayne Wescott, Stan Brown, Mel Warren, Pete Gartlan, Howie Berg, Harvey Perlow, Steve Belson, Paul Thompson, Nick McNickle, Ray Rankis, Ed Sullivan, Rich Cooper, Bob Gluckstadt, Bobby Navarro, Kenny Jones, Emory Fitz, Kendall Lide, Reggie Hill, Reggie Williams, Steve Diamond, and so many more. Coaches Ted Hurwitz and Wayne Naylor were in the mix too, playing as hard as all of us who hoped to make the team. And off to the side, perhaps Coach Edwin Kramer and his assistant Izzy Pitterman would watch the goings on. There was a guy named Jerry who was ridiculously good but did not have the discipline to be coached. Basketball was played here like it should be played; intensely...win or you're off the court. I got next! Nerve-racking and transcendent days in that gym hoping to find the rhythm and the right teammates to stay on the court and get some notice. It was no APEX but it was the center of our world for the next four years.

The Classroom. My Political Science teacher, blind and brilliant. My Lit teachers Eileen Allman and Michael Paul helped make Shakespeare and writing and reading in general come alive. Saul Lichtein turned me on to Malcolm X, he held extra classes in this apartment (I think on Bronx River Road). He taught us that protest is important and that it works when done right. Thank you, Saul, for that. I took part in a sit-in with him and his followers in Sophomore Year. Winston Sharples, masterful and enthusiastic teacher of film history. Joel Perskey, my Mass Communications teacher who led me to a secondary career in radio. Thank you for giving me so many radio and TV opportunities and sharing life lessons which I carry today.

No Dorms. I never regretted going to a commuter college. I loved seeing friends and family, so I had that anchor while I had the world of Lehman to myself, this challenging magical place where many bright minds gathered and shared. My walks home to University Ave near 183rd Street could often be adventurous.
- Go left (east) toward the Concourse and buy the new record on sale at Alexander's or find hard-to-find 45's or albums at Spinning Disc, Music Makers', or Cousins.
- Go straight down University Ave and stop at the oval in Devoe Park for a pick-up basketball game with many high school friends or rivals. Or head down to the Deegan courts for some more intense full courts.
- Go right (west) to Sam's in Inwood. The Knicks could play ball in the early '70's. But you could watch the play-offs only if you had cable. Many of us packed into Sam's to watch our beloved Knicks.
- Or walk straight home to my family apartment in April 1973 and meet my future wife, Patty, sitting on the floor in my room playing my records with my sister, her high school classmate. Thank you sister Eileen! Patty and I married in October 1978 and are still enjoying the journey in 2013. June 1st will be 40 years since our first date. Wonder if The Heartbreak Kid is still playing at that Columbus Circle theater.

All this happened during those glorious days at Lehman.

Coach Kramer. Friend, therapist, visionary coach. We had no business winning some of the games we won. Too small; too skinny. Not all that disciplined. Or so we thought. We learned to believe in each other thanks to Ed. He sent us to see Bang the Drum Slowly together, a wonderful movie about commitment to each other. Ed talked with us...a lot! He was curious to know what makes a person what he or she is. He taught the game of basketball calmly while drawing an intensity from us that we did not know we had. He challenged us to think on the court...in very high speed. All the while he challenged us, cajoled us to be better listeners, better do-ers. “You have to do a thing”, he would say. It took us a long time to understand that he was simply telling us to make something happen. Something did happen. We won together. Later in life, he helped counsel us to be better friends and better boyfriends/husbands and fathers and employees. He remained a trusted and valued friend and counselor throughout my life, giving difficult yet simple advice in the form of observation. Gentle and firm. I thank him every day.

Ted Hurwitz. The most passionate basketball coach I have played for. Taught common sense basketball as did Coach Kramer. Ted was stuck with teaching us when we were not yet fully formed, wandering in from our high schools. He taught us well. Ted took us Junior Varsity players to my first dinner ever in Manhattan. Mamma Leone's. I thought we made the big time. As basic as that restaurant was Ted helped advance the journey of becoming men who can behave in public. Many of us were not ready. Ted helped us get there and helped us greatly in getting ready to play for Ed at Varsity level. Thank you, Ted, for your passion on the court and off. We don't forget the long bus rides home with your son David and your wife. Always a new lesson in life learned from those rides. And we won together, too.

All this time, Mr. Rodgers was handing out jocks in the locker room with his soft spoken side kick Bill. Wrestlers were sitting on the pipes in tunnels under the campus oval to get to their required weight level. Some were sweating as they were supposed to. In other corners students and athletes were indulging in what was available in the 70's. Others were making out with the cheerleaders or the other women's sports teams. The tunnels were another new wold for me as I shuttled through on cold days to get from the gym building to the radio station in Student hall. Cue Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues".

WHLC. My noontime show in senior year was a dream shift. My slot was sandwiched between my my teammate Kenny Jones from 10:00 to noon, and Angel Rosado from 2:00 to 4:00. I never wanted to leave the studio as Kenny and Angel would turn me on to so many good Soul and Latin tunes.  I graduated from Lehman in May 1974 with a deep appreciation for the culture. Now "Mighty High" by the Mighty Clouds of Joy is on my i-pod and Bobby Samaria is a music hero, an Afro-Cuban jazz giant to me and my percussionist son. The WHLC management was wonderful.  Outspoken, slightly crazy, and so willing to teach. Thank you George Cutter, Gene Jacuzzi, and Terry Ruskin, and later Dennis Gleason and others whose names sadly fade. I loved working there with Steve Springer and Jackie whose last name eludes me. Dave Nevis taught me how to engineer a show. I loved his sarcastic banter.  He voiced over a commercial about the Word of God and said, and the word of god is "bingo"!  You had to be there and I'm glad I was. Got my first show in junior year. For 19 years after graduation, while I did not make it in radio as I dreamed, I became a professional Disk Jockey playing parties, weddings, fireman's boat parties, and anniversaries until 1993. Thank you again Lehman College. 

At Lehman I learned to be curious. Ed Kramer counseled us that everyone has a story. That stoked our curiosity while encouraging us to be sensitive to that reality. I learned to be a voracious reader, to check the source, to question authority, and I learned to write, thanks to very fair and demanding teachers. I learned to make a presentation. I learned to listen. Thank you teachers, coaches, and mentors. The Lehman campus is a place to grow, at a different pace for each individual. We could all fill several pages on our time at Lehman. How can one write about Lehman without including an appreciation again of those stately lines of trees, the vast lawns and the classic architecture of Davis Hall, Gillette Hall, Student Hall and the Gym building? And the oval where we would crises-cross and mature together. I am so happy that I followed my brother Ken there. He has been my main mentor through life. He helped me before Lehman, during Lehman and after. And we still treasure our shared and separate experiences there. He could also write pages of his running hall of fame career there.

What I learned or developed at Lehman has served me well in my 36-year career with one company in reinsurance sales, primarily in Asia, but all over the world. Lehman gave me the skills to compete, to listen, to grow.

There are true writers and highly respected educators who have graduated from Lehman who can write more concisely. Also, there is so much I failed to capture in my sports and music recollection. And those only scrape the surface of how Lehman College enriched our lives with guest lectures by the likes of Jim Burton and concerts by Don McLean, Richie Havens, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. For example, the excellent Nursing program we had in the '70's and programs I could not even know about. And one that I do know about yet omitted: I was an Open Admissions student, one of New York City's great social programs.

Lehman College prepared many of us well for life’s journey in so many ways. I have now been to Asia over 75 times on business beginning in 1980, all with the same company. My teammates are lifers too, in marriage, relationships, and jobs.

I'm sorry to miss the big June reunion. I'll miss it for a good reason. Four of my Lehman College basketball teammates (me and three others plus our partners) planned one year ago to meet in Southern France in early to mid-June 2013. It is a celebration of reaching the milestone nth birthday. We will definitely toast our days at Lehman which have led us to a good place, wherever that is, on the Lehman College campus in the Bronx or in Carcassonne France.

Cheers! And thank you. 

Sincerely,

Steve Ralston
Class of '74
Baldwin, NY

Topic: Alumni
First Name: S.
Last Name: Ralston







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