October 20 – Happy Birthday Florence Collins

collinsShe taught hundreds of Amsterdam children during her 40 years at Vrooman Avenue Elementary School. She was hired to teach there one year after graduating from Oneonta State Teachers’ College in 1932. The name posted outside her classroom door changed from Florence Dabroski when she was still single, to Florence Page and then in 1951, ten years after her first husband died, to Florence Collins after she married Amsterdam mailman Andy Collins.

Not only did she teach at Vrooman Ave. she also lived in that Reid Hill neighborhood, so in addition to being a teacher to her students she was also their neighbor. She always felt that combination gave her an advantage when it came to understanding exactly who they were and in gaining their trust and confidence as well as that of their parents. Her passion was teaching reading and she especially loved the challenge of working with children who others thought would never be good readers and helping them become just that.  She also took great pride in helping immigrants who came to Amsterdam learn English via the night classes she taught for many years. A tip she gave to all her students was that the best way to learn a language was to read the local newspaper.

One of the highlights of her long and distinguished career occurred in 1955 when she was asked to appear on a new WRGB educational television show called Ding Dong School with her fifth grade students to present a lesson on the 19th Century explorer/missionary named Sheldon Jackson. Jackson had been born just south of Amsterdam, in Minaville, NY in 1834. In 1877, ten years after US Secretary of State William Seward had negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia, Jackson travelled to the new territory and helped establish schools and training centers for the native Eskimos living there.

The Ding Dong School episode featured Mrs. Collins conducting a live lesson about Jackson with the assistance of her students who included future local radio star and author Bob Cudmore and Tom Urbelis, who would later become a member of the famed AHS basketball team from the mid 1960’s nicknamed the Fabulous Five.

Mrs. Collins ability to inspire children to learn extended to her role as a Mom as well.  Dave Collins, her only child and a member of the Amsterdam High School Class of 1970, went on to graduate from Albany Medical School and become a pediatric anesthesiologist. Two of her grandchildren have also become physicians while a third is following in Florence’s footsteps and becoming a teacher. Though her husband is gone, Florence Collins is alive and well and lives near her son in Pennsylvania. They see each other just about every day. This remarkable woman turned 105 years old on October 20, 2016.

 

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