Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 28
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
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Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: “To be successful in life, you should be truly caring about others. Every child is important and must have an opportunity to be successful in school.” Throughout his career as teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools, Chester (Chet) R. Stroup, Ph.D. has worked hard to help students find success.

Dr. Chet Stroup Has Had a Long and Distinguished Career in Education

Chet Stroup has traveled throughout the 48 states of the continental U.S. and the 10 provinces of Canada — on his motorcycle!

Considering the fact that he didn’t get the motorcycle until he was 60, this feat becomes even more remarkable.

But then, this is a remarkable man. Former principal of the then Nassau Street School and superintendent of the Princeton School District, he has made a positive difference in the lives of many students, colleagues, peers, and friends, gaining their admiration and affection.

“Chet is a special person,” says former Princeton resident Martha Hartman, who worked with him on the video commemorating the 50th anniversary of the integration of Nassau Street School. “The way he approached the integration of the school was so important. He was very patient and tried his very best. He was also understanding about the integration of the teachers. And, as a person, he has always been independent. When you consider his motorcycle rides, you have to agree, he’s a free spirit!”

In fact, says his long-time friend, Hopewell Township resident Lewis Edge, “Chet was at a motorcycle rally in Glens Falls, N.Y. when he was 85. They took a poll to see who was the oldest cyclist. Chet was about 10 years older than the next oldest cyclist!”

Chester Ralph Stroup was born in 1915 in the mining town of Kulpmont, Pa. He was the youngest child of Ralph and Cora Stroup, and little brother to Edna, Helen, and Grace.

School Bands

Chet, as he was called, was born at home, and he received a warm welcome. “My dad was named Mayor of the town the day I was born, and the Italian-American band came to serenade us!”

Perhaps that early introduction to music kindled his interest, prompting his love of the trumpet, teaching music, and playing in, and leading various school bands.

He liked school, especially music, but also science. “My favorite high school teacher was Thomas Price, our Latin teacher,” recalls Mr. Stroup. “I was also always interested in dramatics, and appeared in school plays.”

Chet and his friends went to the movies on weekends, spending 15 for a feature, and he loved westerns, especially those with cowboy star, Hoot Gibson.

When he was 14, he worked as a clerk in a grocery store after school and on weekends, and he was also interested in sports. “In high school, I started with football, but then I switched to track, and ran on the track team. I also decided that the high school band would be even more fun.”

The family was close, and enjoyed listening to the radio together, especially to the Jack Benny show. They also went camping. “As a family, we did a lot of camping,” remembers Mr. Stroup. “We had a big tent, and later, we acquired a log cabin. We hiked and had picnics. Overall, I think my father and I liked it more than my mother and sisters.

“My father was a great inspiration to me. He was really my hero. He was wonderful.”

Good Career

After graduation from Coal Township High School, Chet entered West Chester State Teachers College near Philadelphia. As a boy, he had become interested in teaching. He admired his teachers and thought it would be a good career. Two of his sisters also became teachers.

His interest in music came to the fore again, and helped him earn needed money toward his college education. “I played trumpet at various places in Philadelphia, including the Bellevue-Stratford,” he remembers. “A good friend of mine, who later became first trumpet player in the Philadelphia Orchestra, got us jobs. We mostly played swing — it was the Big Band era.

“Interestingly, my father and mother grew up in the Pennsylvania coal region, where the Dorsey brothers lived. My dad played in the same school band with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Also, my best friend in college, Walter Bates, and I played in the college orchestra. He later joined the Gene Krupa band.”

Chet also continued his interest in sports, and ran on the college championship track team. He majored in science and music, and his favorite professor was Edward Zimmer, who taught music appreciation, and later helped Chet get his first job.

He graduated in 1937, and headed south to Delaware for his first teaching position. “This was teaching general science and music at Georgetown Delaware High School in southern Delaware,” recalls Mr. Stroup. “I enjoyed it very much, and I was also especially interested in developing the music program. I was the high school band leader during World War II. We were called upon to play at special events at the Kiwanis Club and other patriotic events.

“The band continued to grow. When I arrived, there were only 12 members. When I left, there were 25 in the junior high school and 45 in the senior high school.”

Scary Time

Mr. Stroup also started a program in the elementary school to help students learn to read music.

Since he was the only science teacher in the high school, he was deferred from military service during the war. He remembers those days very well, however. “I was home Sunday afternoon when we heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The next day, we heard President Roosevelt on the radio, and it was a scary time. We didn’t know what to expect. Later, a number of the kids in the band enlisted, and wound up playing in bands in the army.”

Mr. Stroup had married Kathryn (Kay) Hartzel in 1938. “Kay had been my girl friend and college sweetheart. She was in the music program, and played the piano.”

Later, three children, Ralph, Fred, and Janet, were born.

After nine years in Georgetown, including three as principal of the elementary school, Mr. Stroup accepted an offer to become principal of Nassau Street School in Princeton. Georgetown hated to see him go. As the local newspaper noted: “Georgetown loses not only a popular and capable school administrator, but a versatile man and his talented wife as well. The Stroups gave generously of their diversified talents to Georgetown. Who will replace the petite Mrs. Stroup as minister of music at Wesley Methodist Church: the organist, choir directress, orchestra leader, carilloneer, and organizer, with her husband, of the annual Sunday evening Musical Vespers which drew community-wide audiences?

“Will the Tall Cedars and the Kiwanians find in one man a band director, song leader, board member, and president to replace Chet and his cheerful grin? Can the many members of Georgetown High School bands find someone to take his place?

Chosen Profession

“In his chosen profession, Mr. Stroup made significant contributions to the community. His course in senior science was a popular one in which the students learned much about the effects of scientific progress on their immediate environment. His bands reached a high degree of perfection. In his post as principal of the Georgetown Elementary School, he instituted science instruction in the lower grades, the wider use of audio-visual aids, an organized program of recreation and sports, and an improved plan of reading instruction.

“Princeton is indeed fortunate in securing such a talented family.”

Although he enjoyed the experience in Delaware, Mr. Stroup was eager to look ahead to new opportunities. “I had ambitions,” he says. “I had gotten a masters degree in education administration at Columbia, and I was ready for new challenges.”

He didn’t know it then, but a very important one awaited him. In 1946, the elementary schools were not consolidated, and Nassau Street School operated under the Princeton Borough Board of Education. It was kindergarten through eighth grade, and also all white. Black students in the Borough attended the Witherspoon School for Colored Children on Quarry Street.

In 1948, the school was integrated under what would later be called the “Princeton Plan”.

“This was one of my happiest experiences,” says Mr. Stroup. “I knew in my heart that a segregated school was wrong. Overall, the community welcomed integration, but I talked to parents, spoke at churches, and clubs to help people understand what was happening.

Good Friend

“Howard Waxwood, principal of the Witherspoon School, was a good friend, and we joined together to make integration work. The children and parents of the Witherspoon School were not especially looking forward to the change. They loved their neighborhood school and teachers. They had their roots there. So, we had to recognize that. The Witherspoon School became the middle school for black and white students, grades six through eight.”

Princeton was the first district in New Jersey to desegregate its elementary schools, and in 1998, a video produced by the Legal Defense Fund commemorated the 50th anniversary of the event.

Princeton resident and former Princeton High School guidance counselor Shirley Satterfield, who participated in the video with Mr. Stroup, was one of the children who transferred to Nassau Street School in 1948. “I remember Dr. Stroup as my principal when I, as a student, left the Witherspoon School for Colored Children, to attend Nassau Street Elementary School,” she recalls. “Dr. Stroup worked closely with Howard Waxwood, the principal of Witherspoon School, to see that the transition went smoothly, and he was not only concerned with the best interests of the children, but was also patient and understanding with Nassau Street School parents who were reluctant to send their children to Witherspoon School.

“I have great respect and admiration for Dr. Stroup because of his firm stand, respect for students and parents, and his continued interest in the welfare of all students at a time when the integration of schools in Princeton Borough was not a favorable move for many of us who felt the loss of caring, nurturing, and motivating teachers. Dr. Stroup can clearly be called a pioneer in the history of educational change in Princeton Borough.”

In a letter to Town Topics at the time of the 30th anniversary of the schools’ integration, Carl C. Hoyler, M.D., who had been one of the students to transfer to Witherspoon School from Nassau Street School for sixth grade, praised his teachers at Witherspoon and also the two principals.

“Certainly, the greatest credit to the success of Princeton integration is shared by the respective principals — Howard Waxwood of Witherspoon and Chester Stroup of Nassau Street. These icons, in their quiet dignity, buttressed and championed the noble Princeton Plan. These men were community pillars, luminaries well ahead of their time.”

Hard to Match

Former Mayor of Princeton Township Richard Woodbridge was also a student at Nassau Street School, and he admires Mr. Stroup’s many accomplishments, as well as his kindness. “He’s gone out of his way to help so many people so often. Of course, he is clearly a giant in the Princeton public school system. First of all, because he was in charge during the Princeton Plan, and then he was actively involved in the consolidation of the Township and Borough schools. Both of these efforts were a major success in the community.

“His longevity and his contribution to Princeton are hard to match.”

The schools’ integration has meant a great deal to Mr. Stroup. As he points out, “My proudest achievement was being part of the integration of Nassau Street School.”

He was very involved in many other aspects of education in Princeton as well. He helped lay the groundwork for team teaching, school camping, and the focus on child development. In 1955, he became assistant superintendent for elementary education for three years, and then superintendent for eight years.

During his stewardship, two important building programs were concluded; Princeton received a grant from Educational Facilities Laboratory, Ford Foundation for planning the John Witherspoon School; and he played a major leadership role in the consolidation of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township school districts.

The merging of the two districts was not always smooth sailing, he recalls. “It was opposed by a lot of different small groups, but eventually, it passed by 26 votes.”

“Lady Kay”

After the merger was accomplished in 1966, Dr. Stroup (he had earned a Ph.D. in education administration from Rutgers in 1966), decided to accept a new challenge. After 20 years in the Princeton school district, he moved to Haddonfield to serve as superintendent of schools. He stayed for nine years, and during that time, he oversaw the total renovation and expansion of the high school, and a complete revision of the curriculum.

Always interested in music and continuing to play the trumpet, Dr. Stroup also liked the fact that many members of the Philadelphia Orchestra lived in Haddonfield. Another plus was that it was not so far from Barnegat Bay where he loved to sail the “Lady Kay”, his 29-foot sloop.

In 1975, the Stroups returned to Princeton, and he remained active in education. In addition to his positions in the Princeton and Haddonfield school districts, Dr. Stroup has been involved in numerous adjunct and visiting professorships. These included posts at Rutgers, Trenton State (now College of New Jersey), Glassboro State, and the Princeton Theological Seminary.

In 1975-77, he served as Visiting Professor in the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, Department of Administration and Supervision, where he had a full range of responsibilities, including teaching, advising, and supervising.

“Rutgers had a special grant from the U.S. government regarding superintendents,” explains Dr. Stroup. “But no one on the faculty had been a superintendent. So my job was primarily to share what being a superintendent was like.”

He was voted the “Distinguished Service Award” by faculty and graduate students of the Department of Administration and Supervision in 1976.

Kind of a Tutor

Dr. Stroup had earlier lent his expertise regarding the public school system to retiring Princeton University President Harold Dodds. “I got to know him,” says Dr. Stroup. “He was going to make a series of speeches on American education, and I helped him out with information on secondary public education — I was kind of a tutor! We had a nice relationship.”

Dr. Stroup’s wife died in 1987, and he later married Catherine Fredericks. After 19 years together, Mrs. Stroup says she is still amazed at the impact Dr. Stroup has had both on students and their parents. “The other day I was walking down the hall, and a woman stopped me and introduced her daughter, who had been a student at Nassau Street School. Her father was dying of a heart condition at the time, and the family was in distress. The girl refused to go to school.

“Then, the mother said that Chet suggested they bring her to school and that he would meet her at the car. They did this, and he talked with her, and she returned to school. The daughter and her mother had always remembered his kindness.

“Chet was so involved with the kids,” continues Mrs. Stroup. “He always said hello to them by name in the corridor, watched them on the playground, and took them on camping trips. He had such a personal interest in them, and wanted them to do well. If there was ever a disruptive child in class, he’d visit the family to see what could be done.”

“I always enjoyed working with children,” adds Dr. Stroup “I thought it was important to have contact with them, and I was interested in all of them. When I was president of the Rotary Club, the emphasis for scholarship aid was on academic achievement. I established a scholarship for non-college-bound students — those who hoped to attend vocational school. I wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for everyone.”

His concern for his students has not gone unnoticed. Mrs. Stroup tells another story about his influence. “Chet and I went to a meeting of the Princeton Coalition for Peace, and George Kennan was a speaker. He and Chet had met years earlier, and when Chet went over to introduce himself, he said, ‘Mr. Kennan, you probably don’t remember me …” George Kennan interrupted and said: ‘Chet Stroup! You were principal of Nassau Street School. My children went to schools all over the world, and Nassau Street was the best school they ever attended.’”

Cockney Accent

Dr. Stroup was also very active in the community. “I loved Princeton,” he says. “There were so many interesting things going on all the time — from cultural events to athletic events. I was also a member of the Princeton Community Players, and I appeared on-stage at McCarter as a policeman in ‘Mary Poppins’. That was especially fun because I had to learn and perfect a Cockney accent.”

A long-time photographer, he also taught photography at the Princeton Adult School, and among his many other activities, he raised and trained dogs — pointers and setters.

In addition, he served on numerous boards, and has been a member of many professional organizations. He is a life member of the National Education Association, as well as a mainstay of many civic groups. He was Rotary Club president in Princeton and Haddonfield, and Kiwanis Club president in Georgetown. The Red Cross, Princeton United Fund, Princeton Symphony Orchestra, and Princeton Public Library are other organizations he has served and supported. He is a long-time member of the Princeton United Methodist Church.

Dr. Stroup was twice cited as Town Topics “Man of the Week”, which noted in February 1950 that Dr. Stroup “experimented constantly with educational techniques in searching out methods and procedures that would inculcate a sense of individual responsibility as well as knowledge of the subjects taught.

“For believing implicitly that ‘children everywhere are wonderful’; for knowing that one of the secrets of education lies in sincere respect for those being educated; for participating to the hilt in the community life of his community; he is Town Topics’ ‘Man of the Week.’”

A Good Ride

A resident of Stonebridge at Montgomery for the past six years, Dr. Stroup has recently been dealing with advanced prostate cancer. He is meeting this challenge with the same fortitude and forbearance he has always exhibited.

As his friend Lewis Edge points out, “Chet knows how to be a good friend and how to reach out to people. I admire him a lot. Certainly, he has shown how a person can age with a great deal of dignity. And he now faces the end of his life with no bitterness or apologies, and he is surrounded by people who love him.

“I remember that his 90th birthday — which was one of the happiest birthday parties I have ever been to — ended with him singing love songs to his wife.”

Pictures of Dr. Stroup’s family, including five grandchildren and four great-granddaughters, are everywhere in his room. A poster given to him by granddaughter Monica on his 85th birthday features “85 Wonderful Memories” about him. In addition, his devoted dachshund Mitzi is always by his side.

Visits from family and friends are welcome, and two weeks ago, he had a unique experience at Stonebridge, one that was especially meaningful to him; he took a motorcycle ride around the Stonebridge grounds. The head nurse had arranged for a friend to take him for a spin.

“It was a good ride,” says Dr. Stroup. “And it has been a good life.”

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