August 5 – Happy Birthday Mr. Jack Saroff

saroff444Jack Saroff was certainly one of the all-time great science instructors ever to teach at Amsterdam High School. He did so for 42 years, beginning in 1937. He taught physics to distinguished Amsterdam natives like Rocco Petrone, who helped man land on the move and Robert Laudise, who became one of the world’s leading authorities on synthetic crystal growth for electronics application. And there were so many others, young Amsterdam women and men who were inspired by Saroff to continue studying science in college and to use the knowledge he helped them attain to launch and enjoy outstanding careers in engineering, research, medicine and education.

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was born on August 5,1908 in a small village in Russia to Jewish parents, when that huge country was still a monarchy, and under the rule of the Romanov’s. The family immigrated to America just before Russia got involved in WWI and settled in New York. After high school, Saroff went to what is now the University of Albany and graduated with a teaching degree in 1932. He was hired to teach at Amsterdam High School in 1937. For the next four decades he would lead the effort to make the science program offered at this city’s public high school second to none.

Before I provide more details of Mr. Saroff’s distinguished career, I’ll share a personal experience I had as his student. I was a senior taking Physics from him at AHS in 1972. On two days each week, we had a double period, the first class being a lecture followed by a lab in the second session. In between, he’d give us a ten minute or so break during which he would often challenge one of us students to a chess match and if we could beat him, he would give us a homework pass or a one grade upgrade on the next test, I forget which. Now by this time in his career, Mr. Saroff was in his early sixties and acted quite forgetful and disorganized at times, especially when he was playing one of us in chess. This demeanor combined with his mad-scientist persona had earned him the nickname “Whacky Jack!” Sure enough on the morning I played him, he’d make a move and then run up to his desk and read something or set up a piece of equipment for the upcoming lab. Whenever he’d do this, I would grab one of his pieces off the board. Before long, I had swiped most of his back row with the exception of his king and maybe a rook and when I’d shout “Your move Mr. Saroff,” he would run back to the board, survey the situation and make another move without seeming to notice my unsavory swipes of his pieces. By this time the entire class was in on my prank and huddled around the chess board. We all just stood there with our mouth’s open when he was still able to somehow “checkmate” me! Forgetful? Eccentric? Whacky? Yeah right!…

My complete birthday post for Mr. Saroff will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty  people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.

The monthly newsletter is free. If you’d like to receive it, just make sure your name and e-mail address are included on this list.


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