Bartlett Boys keep traditions alive

WESTFIELD – It has been 50 years since the Westfield Trade School closed its doors on Bartlett Street, after graduating its final class. Although five decades have passed, there are class members who feel like it was just a few years ago they were together. For some, it was.
The 47-student class of 1962 was the last class to graduate from the Westfield Trade School, which was located where St. Mary’s Elementary School now sits. The school was renamed to its current Westfield Vocational High School in the 1960s, following a recommendation for ways to attract more female students, according to now-retired Trade School faculty member John Zarkowski.
Decades later, “Technical” was added to the school’s name to reflect the increasing sophistication of the programs offered.
Zarkowski has always held a special place in his heart for the Trade School, of which he is also a graduate.
“I’ve been retired more than 20 years, but I still have a great interest in the school…  a love for it,” he said.
He’s not alone. Those from the class of 1962 share many fond memories of the school, said Chuck Ladato, former class president. The school helped so many to pursue work they were passionate about, and gave them the skills to succeed. For Ladato, it was a jump-start for his dream of becoming a carpenter. Since his first “shop” project, for which he and several classmates did remodeling work in Zarkowski’s home basement, he has successfully run a kitchen and bathroom remodeling company.
“I always had this type of work in my blood, I think. I’ve always loved doing it,” Ladato said, adding that the Trade School and its teachers helped him to actually do it.
The supportive relationship between teacher and student did not end when the Trade School closed in 1962. Since graduation, a group of classmates has made it a point to get together regularly. Zarkowski (a.k.a. Mr. Z.) named the group “the Bartlett Boys,” putting them “under one umbrella. It covers all of us.”
The group has remained close and began reuniting in 1967, five years after graduation. Ladato said that as the former class president, he felt a responsibility to organize a class reunion. He garnered positive reception from fellow former classmates, which prompted him to organize such gatherings on a regular basis.  Every five years since the first reunion, the Bartlett Boys have come together.
“It’s pretty much always been the same group [that gathers every five years]. It’s great,” Ladato said.
The Bartlett Boys mark another five years this weekend, although tonight they will celebrate just a bit more than usual, as they commemorate their 50th high school reunion at the Southampton Country Club. A social hour, dinner and entertainment by Cory and the Knightsmen (the band’s lead singer is also a Westfield Trade School alum) will round out the evening. Ladato said the Bartlett Boys are “very excited” to celebrate the milestone together, and with other former classmates, too. Some have relocated to other areas of the country through the years, including one who has lived in California for decades. He never hesitates to travel back to spend time with his old friends, according to Ladato.
“He has never missed a reunion,” Ladato said.
The class will be joined tonight by the four remaining former Trade School faculty members, who taught at the school throughout the class of 1962’s tenure. In addition to Zarkowski, they are Michael Pavlovich; Alfred Rios, a former director of the school; and Frederick Rider, who served as a class advisor.
Zarkowski looks forward to spending time with his former colleagues and students, and credits Ladato with keeping this “family” so close, also recognizing that Ladato has never been one to grab the spotlight. Zarkowski said it’s important for him to recognize Ladato and his dedication to not only his friends, former classmates and teachers, but also the memory of the Trade School itself.
“[Ladato] is a big credit to the school,” Zarkowski said. He added that staying connected to high school classmates and teachers is difficult after graduation, but that Ladato has always made it work.
“It’s so important to stay in touch,” Zarkowski said. “We’re like one big family.”

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