Celebrating the 100th Commencement Exercises at PMHS

Pelham Memorial High School, Class of 1922

Alice Bentley McMahon was high over the French Alps, or so she and everyone else thought as they travelled on board a C53 converted “Skytrooper” military transport plane heading from Munich to Marseille in 1946.  She was with her 11-year old daughter, Alice Mary, and her husband Colonel William McMahon, a highly-decorated, Westpoint graduate who had risen in rank through WW II and was nearing retirement as the Chief of Staff to the Four Star General commanding the US Occupation Forces in Austria.

The flight was smooth and the passengers at ease.  It should have been a relatively short hop, until interrupted by a sudden storm producing such turbulence that the plane was sent skyward before dramatically plunging.  As passengers were thrown around the cabin, the pilot tried to control the aircraft as it hurdled through jagged mountains in snow and fog that made visibility near zero.   If Alice’s life flashed before her eyes, as many say happens when death seems imminent, scenes of Pelham would have rippled by: her mother, also Alice, her father Charles, living at 110 Corona Avenue, watching Pelham Memorial High School nearing completion, entering as part of the senior class in the fall of 1921 and graduating in 1922 as one of 19 who were the school’s first graduates. The plane crashed 12,000 feet up on a glacier in the Swiss Alps, way off course from where the plane was thought to be.

Death did not take Alice or her daughter or husband or any of the 11 passengers and crew that day, but it sure hung around for the next five nights. With the plane perilously perched on a glacier, surrounded by deep crevices, temperatures just above zero, little food, several injured passengers and no one on the ground knowing where they were, survival was anything but certain. Thanks to the incredible heroism of Swiss rescue pilots, as told in a documentary produced by the Smithsonian, death would not take Alice for many decades, not until she reached the age of 93, nor her husband until the age of 95.  Blessedly, it still has not taken their daughter Alice Mary, who resides in Florida at the age of 92.

Any doubt that Alice Bentley McMahon remembered Pelham fondly as part of her life can be brushed aside by the fact that she kept her PMHS commencement invitation and program (the first for PMHS), her yearbook (called “The Magnet”), her diploma and a group photograph of all the members of that first PMHS graduating class of 1922. Her daughter, Alice Mary, had kept them too -- until recently when, after receiving a letter out of the blue from the Pelham Town Historian, she called to talk about her mother and their experiences. “I was so tickled to get your letter…. Yes, my mother was Alice Bentley from Pelham,” she said.  Not long after, she packed up the materials and sent them back to Pelham, 100 years after her mother had received them, where these rare items have been added to the Pelham Town Historian Collection as the “Alice Bentley McMahon Materials.”  “I am an only child and I have no children,” she had said. “I would like you to have them.”

They are displayed here for the first time, along with information about her fellow PMHS graduates from the class of 1922:

Image drawn by Alice Bentley for the cover of The Magnet, a literary publication by the students of PMHS, the senior issue of which served as what would today be called a yearbook and was later replaced by The Pelican.  From the "Alice Bentley McMahon Materials," Pelham Town Historian Collection

Alice Bentley in The Magnet, 1922. 
From the "Alice Bentley McMahon Materials," Pelham Town Historian Collection

Invitation to the first commencement exercises of Pelham Memorial High School from the "Alice Bentley McMahon Materials," Pelham Town Historian Collection

Program for the first commencement exercises of Pelham Memorial High School from the "Alice Bentley McMahon Materials," Pelham Town Historian Collection

Photograph of the graduates of Pelham Memorial High School, Class of 1922. 
From the "Alice Bentley McMahon Materials," Pelham Town Historian Collection.

 Back row, left to right: Margery Mary ("Marge") Duffy, Mary Heed ("Bonny") Mariner, Ruth Parkhill ("Monty") Montgomery, Stanley Ellsworth ("Andy") Anderson, Robert Gordon ("Pop" or "X") Moser, Raymond Hilding ("Spike") Seadale, Grace Elizabeth ("Betty") Myer, Mary Helen ("Fritzie") Fitzpatrick, Margaret Efner ("Peggy") McGready and Eunice L. ("Brain") Brainard.

Front row, left to right:  Marguerite ("Maggie") Hicks, Yvonne ("Nemo") Fassler, Alice Moffat ("Alicia") Bentley, John Goodman ("Fat") Walker, Dorothy ("Dot") Van De Water, Frances Elizabeth ("Franny") Farnsworth,  Esther Lindell ("Chetty") Chappell, Marion Goodwin ("Mame") Peticolas and Marian Ruth ("Punk") Johnson

Pelham Memorial High School Diploma conferred upon Alice Moffat Bentley.
From the "Alice Bentley McMahon Materials," Pelham Town Historian Collection.

About the other PMHS Graduates, Class of 1922:

Marguerite Hicks
June 29, 1905 - May 3, 1999, 1317 Roosevelt Avenue

Marguerite had the second highest GPA in her graduating class, which at 90.99 GPA gave her a state scholarship to attend Cornell University.  Her father was the Executive Vice President of Standard Oil.  In 1944, she married Edward Maher. Both served in the military during WWII: she in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (“WAVES”); he as an Army Captain and weapons instructor.  Marguerite remained in the United States Naval Reserve for many years after the war, becoming a Lieutenant Commander and one of the highest ranking women in the reserve,

The couple lived in Scarsdale and Marguerite worked in sales at the New York headquarters of Equitable Life Assurance Society. They had no children.  She was stepsister of ...

Esther Chappell
1317 Roosevelt April 18, 1902 - August 8, 1993

The Class Treasurer, whose father, Alfred Kuhn, had passed away in 1920.  After her mother married Clarence Hicks, Esther and her two brothers along with Marguerite and her two siblings, all lived at 1317 Roosevelt.  While listed with the last name Kuhn prior to moving to Pelham, Esther and both of her brothers changed their names to Chappell, perhaps in response to (as was often the case) discrimination against Germans in the WWI timeframe.  Esther married Jennison Hall in 1949 and lived in California.

At left:  Marguerite Maher in uniform.  Photo Courtesy of her grandniece, Patty Cullen.

Marion Peticolas
September 12, 1902 - May 4, 1945, 425 Rochelle Terrace (now Manor Ridge Road)

Marion was one of eight children of Ida & Sherman Peticolas, an engineer.  She was Secretary of the Senior Class.  She married James Darnell, who became a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during WW II.  They were living with their three children in Port Hueneme, California where her husband was stationed, when she passed away suddenly.

At left:  Marion Peticolas (far right) with her mother and five of her siblings at their home on Manor Ridge Road in Pelham Manor.  (Her mother would give birth to two more children after this photo was taken.)  Photo Courtesy of her grandniece, Corri Riebow.

Stanley Anderson
(1904 - 1965), 125 Fourth Avenue

The son of an attorney, Stanley graduated from NYU law school in 1927, founded a law firm in Mount Kisco and became a local judge. He married another 1922 PMHS graduate ...

... G. Elizabeth Myer
(April 15, 1903 - January 27, 1990), 347 Highbrook Avenue

A daughter of Robert & Grace Myer, she and Stanley lived in Northern Westchester and had two children, including Stanley, Jr., who also became an attorney. Elizabeth and Stanley Anderson are buried at Union Cemetery in Bedford, NY.

At left: Photo of Grace Elizabeth Myer from The Pelham Sun, May 6, 1927

Eunice Brainard (November 2, 1902 - January 26, 1995) attended Connecticut College.  In 1927, she married Ellsworth Braun. They lived in Syracuse where her husband was the assistant manager of the Hotel Syracuse. They moved to different cities over the next four decades where her husband was the manager of the Powers Hotel in Rochester, NY, the Hotel Sheraton in Newark , NJ and the Columbia Hotel in Greenville, SC. They had three children.

Mary Mariner (1905 - May 29, 1966) was the daughter of Pelham architect, Guy C. Mariner, who designed and built on speculation, many Pelham homes in the 1920s.  He was the owner of the Bon Mar Development Company, which in 1924 developed Bon Mar Road and Country Club Lane.  According to her granddaughter, Mary was married twice, with two boys from her first marriage and a daughter from her second.  They lived in Pelham but later moved to Greenville, Mississippi and then Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Margery Duffy (May 18, 1903 - ), 538 Rochelle Terrace (now Manor Ridge Road), a daughter of J. Frank and Grace Duffy, she married John Deane Thompson in 1930.  They had two children and lived in White Plains and later Long Island. 

Margaret McCready (June 9, 1905 - December, 1975) lived at 509 Fowler Avenue and, at the time of graduation, 1027 Grant Avenue.  In 1931, she married Charles Adelbert Churan, Jr., an advertising executive with J. Walter Thompson in London who, at the outbreak of WWII, was among the first Americans to enlist with the British Army. (He received a Military Medal in the course of the war.)  The couple lived in England and New York. They had no children.

John G. Walker (November 19, 1905 – March 20, 1979), 120 Monterey Avenue and later 660 Colonial Avenue , the Class Vice President was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the US in 1917, apparently as one of three adopted sons of William Bradley Walker, who headed a joint venture of Standard Oil in Hong Kong.  John graduated from Yale in 1927 and followed his father into the oil business, eventually becoming an Executive Vice President of Mobil Oil.  He was married twice and had two children.

Frances Farnsworth (July 1,1904 – June 6, 1941), 123 Cliff Avenue, the Class Secretary was the only child of Anna & Frank W. Farnsworth, an advertising executive and previously the manager of the Detroit office of J. Walter Thompson.  She attended the Traphagen School of Fashion in 1935, but passed away just a few years later at age 36. 

Yvonne Fassler (January 3, 1904 – February 15, 1999), 542 Second Ave, graduated with a B.S. and M.A. from Columbia and was a physical education teacher at Scarsdale High School. In 1935, she married Lester Alan Wohlers, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force in WWII and Korea. They had two children. 

R. Gordon Moser (February 27, 1903 - ), Clay Avenue. Graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology and worked for W & L.E. Gurley in Troy, NY, a firm that still exists as Gurley Precision Instruments.

Ruth Montgomery (October 18, 1904 - December 1, 1996) was the daughter of Francis and William Montgomery. Her father was very active in the Pelham Community, serving on the Board of Education (his name appears on the commencement program) and later as Town Historian. Ruth graduated from Smith College and did advanced studies at Columbia and Ohio State universities.  She worked in mental hygiene as a clinical psychologist for children, retiring in 1975. She never married and lived in her family's home at 676 Esplanade for most of her life.

Raymond Seadale (August 18, 1902 - December 27, 1977), 124 Reed Avenue, married and was a commercial artist with the New York Herald Tribune for 32 years before retiring to Florida.

Dorothy Van De Water (1904 - January 17, 1991), 131 Monterey Avenue, the Class President, was the daughter of Florence & Arthur Van De Water.  Her father founded an insurance firm in New York, Van De Water & Gray.  At her graduation, her grandfather delivered what was the first commencement address at PMHS.  Dorothy achieved a 92.19 GPA upon graduation from PMHS (the highest achieved by a student in four years), received a state scholarship and graduated from Vassar College.  She returned to Pelham where she was a teacher at her alma mater, serving also as faculty advisor to the Dramatic Club (later called Sock ‘N Buskin).  After attending classes at the Sorbonne, she was engaged to be married in June, 1928, but the wedding had to be rescheduled after she was hospitalized with appendicitis.  On July 21, she married Granville Frank Knight, then a medical student, who became a well known physician advocating for a cleaner environment and a ban on pesticides. She became a librarian and lived in Connecticut.  She had two children, including a son who was an Air Force pilot in Vietnam and who went on to be a commercial pilot for American Airlines.

Arthur L. Scinta, Town Historian

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