In 1934—close to 80 years ago—a little girl walked down Elmwood Avenue to begin kindergarten at the School of Practice, which was housed in present-day Ketchum Hall. Today, she remembers that era with fondness from her home in Jekyll Island, Georgia.
“I lived on Claremont Avenue near Bird, and my friend Nancy Freedman lived on Manchester Place,” recalls Jean (Stripp) Poleszak, ’50. “We would walk to school every day and watch as the other children were dropped off by their chauffeurs. It was a very rarified atmosphere!”
Poleszak remembers the time Lois Kittinger, her second-grade classmate, received a surprise from her father, who owned the Kittinger Furniture plant on Elmwood. Craftsmen from the plant walked into their classroom one day and constructed a miniature house—a cozy abode where the children could read books. She also remembers playing with classmate Harriet (Rockwell) Vogelsang at the Rockwells’ home. Harriet’s father was, of course, Harry W. Rockwell, who served as principal of the Buffalo Normal School from 1919 to 1926 and as the first president of Buffalo State from 1926 to 1951.
“Buffalo State has been such an important part of my life for a lot of years. It really is a wonderful place,” said Poleszak, who recently made a significant gift to the Transforming Lives campaign to establish the Leonard and Jean Poleszak International Travel Scholarship Fund. “It’s a place that deserves support.”
After graduating from Lafayette High School in Buffalo, Poleszak returned to Buffalo State as a college student with the goal of becoming a kindergarten teacher.
“I started college in 1946, which was a marvelous time to be in school,” said Poleszak, who was a member of the Kappa Delta Pi honor society and the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. “The war had ended, there were lots of vets coming back to campus, and everyone shared the proud feeling that we had just made the world safe for democracy. It was a very upbeat, happy place to be.”
Poleszak’s happiness grew exponentially during her senior year when she started dating Len Poleszak, who was working on his master’s degree at the University of Buffalo. The two married in 1952.
After graduation, Poleszak, who had taken classes in exceptional education at Buffalo State, traveled to Michigan State to work in a summerlong program for the visually impaired. “When I showed up with ‘Buffalo State Education Department’ on my résumé, they said, ‘Oh, you’re from Buffalo State; you have one of the best teacher education programs in the country!” said Poleszak. “I didn’t realize that our school’s reputation had spread that far.”
With excellent credentials, Poleszak was hired to teach at a school in Ithaca. She then taught in Randolph and, after years at home raising three children, went back to teach kindergarten at Spruce Elementary in North Tonawanda.
Meanwhile, upon returning from two years of service in the Korean War, Len Poleszak accepted a position teaching industrial arts at Buffalo State. He eventually served as chair of the Professional Studies Department. During the 1970–1971 academic year, Len and Jean directed students in the college’s Siena (Italy) study-abroad program, taking along their own children, who were 11, 12, and 14 at the time. Jean homeschooled the kids, and the family traveled around Europe every weekend with the students from Buffalo State.
Len, who retired in 1983 and passed away in 2009, served as one of the early presidents of the Buffalo State College Foundation and as a liaison to the Alumni Association.
“Len and I were always very connected to Buffalo State. We had so many friends there; we felt right at home,” said Poleszak.