September 1, 2022
Oldest PMHS Alums
As part of the PMHS Centennial Celebration, the Town Historian sought to find the oldest living PMHS Alums.
And the winners are ...
The Oldest Known Living PMHS Alum in Pelham
Dr. Andrew J. ("Jim") McElhinney, PMHS 1946
Even for those who have lived in Pelham for several decades, it might feel like the Town doesn’t change much. But spend close to a century here, as Dr. Andrew James (“Jim”) McElhiney has, and you’re likely to notice at least a few differences. He is the oldest living alum of Pelham Memorial High School living in Pelham and, in a recent conversation with the Town Historian, he painted a picture of how a place we think of as a small town, really was once just like the mythical Town of Mayberry.
Born in New York City on October 30, 1928, Jim (as he has always been called) became a Pelham resident as an infant when his parents moved to 465 Pelhamdale Avenue from -- like so many others in the history of Pelham -- New York City. He attended kindergarten at Siwanoy but by first grade, his parents had purchased the house at 250 Eastland Avenue. He has lived there pretty much ever since.
If it seems children have great freedom in Pelham now, Dr. McElhiney tells of a childhood where kids ran even more freely among friend’s homes, crossing yards where there were rarely fences and onto streets several blocks away. And what a mob of kids there were: his family had five, others on his block had six or seven. Police cars so frequently patrolled the (then) little quarter-square-mile of the former Village of Pelham (aka “the Heights”) where everyone really literally knew everyone, that if a parent wanted to know where their child was, he says they could just ask a cop as one regularly happened to go by. “Oh yes, I just saw little Jimmy over on …”, was not an infrequent reply.
He remembers that the smooth, flat surface of Eastland Avenue made it the street of choice for riding bikes, skating and playing football and street hockey. “The owners of the brick house [number 241] had a big English sheep dog that would sit right in the middle of the street and watch the kids,” he recalled. “If a car came, the dog would sit there and wouldn’t move until all the kids moved out of the street.”
He proudly remembers that Pelham kids organized their own sports, including regular football games, which were played every Saturday. “No adults were involved,” he emphasized. They would play in different areas –the Prospect Hill fields, the green space at the old Redeemer Church on Second Avenue (later demolished) and others were open and none were off limits. Sometimes they played on Roscoe Ingalls’ property (as long as they asked permission), which took up the whole block of Second Street between Loring and Monterey. The high school field was not in good shape at that time. “It was mostly dirt and when neighbors complained, the district sprayed it with oil,” he said. (Perhaps inspired by kids always asking to play in his yard, Mr. Ingalls later donated the funds to re-sod and plant the high school field, leading it to be re-named “Ingalls’ Field.”)
Most of the homes on Eastland Avenue have been around for most of his 93 years, but Dr. McElhiney remembers when there were still two vacant lots in the low-lying area at the corner of Second Street, which he recalls “filled with enough water that we skated there all winter.” Sledding in the winter was a regular thing and the best place was down the Boulevard (which would be closed to traffic from Monterey to Pelhamdale). “We all tried to go fast enough down the hill toward Highbrook in the hope of making it up the hill to Pelhamdale,” he remembers.
At Pelham Memorial High School, Dr. McElhiney was elected president of the Class of 1946 and ran track and cross-country, focusing on the quarter mile (which he ran in 51 seconds) and the hundred-yard dash (with a best of 10 seconds). Practice was at Mount Vernon’s Memorial Field. (Today’s Glover Field was then called “Stink Field” and had not yet been re-made into the legitimate playing space that later became “Parkway Field” before it was eventually re-named for the General who saved the Revolution in the Battle of Pelham.) He knew all the great Pelham athletes of the time – Pat Hellwig and Eli “Tim” Howard (co-captains of the undefeated/untied PMHS football team), four-letter athlete Eugene “Dippy” Evans and baseball star Gilly Luce (who would see his athletic career cut short after contracting polio).
From Eastland Avenue, Dr. McElhiney watched world events unfold: he saw the Hindenburg fly over on the way to its catastrophic destruction while attempting to dock at Lakehurst NJ; he saw the personal destruction that the Great Depression had on many families; and he experienced first-hand the toll of World War II as it rolled through Pelham. He recalls that Pelham’s coastline was largely off limits to private boats like his 18-foot sailboat (unless one obtained a special license) so that the Coast Guard could more easily patrol the waters, including for submarines like the one that dropped off German spies in Amagansett. U.S. Navy warships were everywhere, the PT boats especially loud as they roared out of Echo Bay. He also remembers going to the Pelham train station with crowds of others to watch and wave goodbye to the big brothers of many of his friends as they went off to war. He knew some of those who never returned, including the big brother of his friend Charlie, Peter Cornell. He recalls that Peter was lying injured in a hospital in Belgium when an American officer walked in and said they needed every available man to hold the line against the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. Peter was pulled out of his hospital bed, put back into duty and was killed in action.
As a medical student at Cornell, Jim McElhiney was deferred from service under what was known as the “Berry Plan,” designed to encourage medical students to finish school. But before he finished his residency, he was called to service in the U.S. Marine Corps and sent to the Mediterranean as a consultant to the Sixth Fleet in a position that he considers still classified. After returning from the service, he continued his medical education, specializing in thoracic surgery and going on to become professor of surgery at Mt Sinai and chief of surgery at the Bronx VA Hospital. Married in 1959 to his wife, Mary (to whom he is still married after 63 years), they purchased his childhood home from his parents where they would watch their own children grow up and attend the schools in the same town he has loved living in for almost a hundred years.
The Oldest Known Living PMHS Alum in the World
Adrian E. Offinger, PMHS 1938
It has been 80 years since he lived in Pelham. A 1938 graduate of Pelham Memorial High School, he has lived since then on a Wilton, Connecticut farm his parents purchased in 1929 as a summer place and moved to permanently after he graduated from Yale in 1942. Those eight decades have been marked by marrying and having three children, starting, running and eventually selling a metallurgy business, travelling the world and faithfully plowing the land of his family farm to grow and sell local produce and his beloved peonies from a little stand on the property.
Pelham is a distant memory, but in recently flipping through the pages of the 1938 Pelican yearbook, the mere sight of his alma mater’s song "The Pelican Parade” set him off unprompted to sing it, hitting every note and recalling the lyrics from memory. Hear Mr. Offinger singing "The Pelham Pelican."
Adrian Offinger is 102. A random conversation with one of his three children about the surprising number of living Yale University made him wonder if any of his friends from PMHS were still around. He emailed PMHS Principal Mark Berkowitz, who responded immediately and looped in the Town Historian. A week later, in the comfortable living room of his Wilton farmhouse, chocked with books and antiques and all the things that accumulate from having the same home for almost a century, Adrian Offinger was remembering life in Pelham in the 1920s and 30s.
His parents, both the children of German immigrants, moved to Pelham and built the house at 44 Clifford Avenue, a neat bungalow whose size at that time truly conformed to the modern meaning of the word. The family bedrooms at that time were all on the first floor. Since then, his parents’ room has become a family room, his sister’s room is a guest room, the room he shared with his brother is now part of an expanded kitchen and the upstairs “attic” was converted to three bedrooms and two full baths. “We used to roller skate in the big basement,” he recalled about a space that was renovated by a recent owner to become a huge family room, a bedroom and a full bathroom. His maternal grandparents also lived in Pelham at 342 Third Avenue.
Kindergarten for Adrian Offinger was at Siwanoy School. “I walked there by myself,” he said, “both ways.” The next year Colonial School was completed and his walk was shortened by half. The grade school curriculum included learning French as a foreign language. “I think it was some kind of an experiment,” he thought. It seems to have stuck, in his case, because his yearbook reveals he was in the PMHS French Club.
Almost anyone who grew up in Pelham before the war will tell about sledding in the epic cold, snowy winters. Mr. Offinger is no exception. He not only sledded down the steep driveway at 44 Clifford, but down Clifford Avenue itself and right out onto and down Washington Avenue. (Maybe this explains the stop sign only on the west bound side of that intersection.)
He recalls some of the other neighbors on Clifford Avenue, including the Olympic fencer, William Bowman, who lived at 18 Clifford and Olympic track team member, Sam Schwartz, who lived at 14 Clifford. He also recalled that 75 Clifford had a big pipe organ in the house where the owner, James Brooks, was a salesman for the company that installed it.
Alongside his Pelican yearbook photo is the quote “Where the bees, suck, there will I be also.” Adrian’s father kept bees as a child growing up in a home on Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon. As a teenager, Adrian stumbled upon his father’s book, The ABC and XYZ of Beekeeping, which instilled in him too a life-long fascination with bees. He named his metallurgy business “Beehive Heat Treating” and at one point he cared for as many as 25 hives on his Wilton farm. He is down to two, but still sells honey from his farmstand.
His call to Pelham seeking others from his PMHS graduating class has not yet led to finding anyone, but it did lead to Pelham finding what appears to be the oldest living graduate of Pelham Memorial High School.