Crusade aims to put presidential portraits back in classrooms

Pennsylvania man wants students to study under stately gaze of heroes

April 02, 2000|By Christopher Johnson | Christopher Johnson,Knight Ridder/Tribune

DUPONT, Pa. -- Bernie Zielinski said he worries that portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are being needlessly wasted as schools are renovated and remodeled.

No, not the wallet-sized green ones.

Zielinski is talking about those stately, framed presidential images he remembers lining classroom walls of yore.

"It's been a tradition to have these two pictures in the school," said the 70-year-old retired luncheonette owner. "I think it's a shame that they're taking them down and discarding them."

And Zielinski is on a one-man mission to bring them back.

Zielinski said his inspiration was a visit to Pittston Area School District's Martin Mattei Middle School during an open house in the fall.

The open house was held to showcase $8.7 million in renovations, but Zielinski left wondering why the shiny walls bore no likenesses of the American heroes.

"You know, when you're retired, you've got time on your hands and it bugs me they're not there," he said. "I'm not saying put the Bible back or the Ten Commandments. This is something to do with our history, our heritage."

At Zielinski's request, the Holy Name Society of Sacred Heart Church of Jesus in Dupont ordered nine portraits of both Lincoln and Washington, one for each classroom at its K-8 parochial school for kindergarten to eighth grade.

"He's realizing that maybe there's been something lost over the years that needs to come back," said Principal Janet Serino. Serino said that pictures could get children talking about the American presidents.

Zielinski, a community activist who has run for mayor, said he has convinced the Pittston school board to investigate putting money for presidential portraits into next year's budget. That's OK with Lincoln Intermediate School Principal Stan Waleski, who was unsure if his building had any wall-mounted pictures of the 16th president.

"Lincoln is big for us because that's, obviously, who our school's named for," Waleski said.

Pittston is a good place to start. Its sports teams, after all, are called the Patriots, but Zielinski wants his idea to spread across the Wyoming Valley. He said he mentions his idea to anyone who will listen.

The pictures ordered for Sacred Heart cost about $25 apiece and he's searching for someone with classic portraits of Lincoln and Washington that he could more cheaply -- and legally -- reproduce at a copy shop.

"It would save a lot of money," he said.

Zielinski also is upset about other changes in modern schools, but fixing them is for another day.

"They don't even have geography in schools anymore," he said. "No wonder people are losing on that ['Who Wants to be a] Millionaire' thing."

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