7 Hot Hometowns

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From Mahopac to Catskill, these fast-growing spots are chock-full of character and ready for new residents

 

 

As rivers go, the Hudson isn’t particularly long (it’s 315 miles, by the way). But in its compact dimensions, the waterway spans worlds, from the wilderness of the Adirondacks to Westchester’s crowded suburbs to the fabled and frenetic Big Apple. That variety translates into an abundance of choices for people searching for a new hometown, especially in our neck of the woods. Urban-style lofts? Yep, we’ve got those here. How about 100-year-old farmhouses or spanking new housing developments? You can find all these options — and more — in the Valley. But despite the variety, most of our towns and villages have one thing in common: character. They’ve been around for a while — and many have also been around the block, enduring rough times and rebounding from them. The word patina — the appealing surface gloss that is a product of age and gentle use, rather than decay — is usually used to describe antiques. But many Valley communities have a certain patina as well, created by history and the natural surroundings. These communities aren’t suburbs, they have identities all their own. And just as important, they’re using creativity and commitment to help deal with rapid growth, the decline of downtown areas, and other challenges. Travel to any of these seven spots, and you’ll find a downtown that has a real sense of place. Will one of them become your new home? 

 

 

Beacon: An Arts-Fueled Transformation

This once-gritty community’s manufacturing past laid the foundation for its recent dramatic revival. From the late 1800s through the 1950s, Beacon was a bustling factory town (bricks and hats were the main exports), but it fell onto hard times in the late 1960s as manufacturing collapsed and Americans abandoned

Main Street

for the mall.

 

But in 2003, a 24,000-square-foot decaying Nabisco box factory was purchased by the Dia Foundation and eventually transformed into Dia:Beacon, one of the world’s largest museums of contemporary art. Beacon’s renaissance was on. While some local communities have flirted with creating an artists’ district, Beacon got the job done: artists’ lofts are available throughout town, galleries dot the main drag, and works by local artists hang on many restaurant and coffeehouse walls. Several years ago, a new generation of residents, many priced out of New York City, arrived in town, snatching up much of the large Victorian housing stock at bargain-basement prices. The Metro-North train line, which runs a packed 75-minute express into Grand Central several times a day, as well as Beacon’s proximity to Route 84 and Stewart International Airport, add to the city’s appeal.

 

But Beacon is about far more than the arts. Situated at the northern end of the Hudson Highlands, the city is beautifully nestled between the river and its namesake mountain. Stunning 1,503-foot Mt. Beacon attracts locals and visitors who want to hike its steep trails, gaze at the ruins of an old hotel on the summit, and marvel at the remains of what was once the world’s steepest incline railway. Outdoor buffs can also wander around a variety of state parks, take a kayak on the river, or venture out for a free weeknight trip on the Woody Guthrie — a sailboat originally owned by folk artist (and longtime Beacon resident) Pete Seeger and now run by a local sloop club.

 

“I love living here. The proximity to the river, to the mountain — and still having the train to hop on to the city — is just wonderful,” says Debra Adamsons, owner of World’s End Books and a recent transplant to the area.

 

Beacon still has a way to go — we wouldn’t recommend walking down

Main Street

by yourself in the middle of the night — but the city is working hard to secure the resources that will make its renaissance permanent. A brand-new, state-of-the art high school opened in 2002, and a huge waterfront “green” hotel and conference center are in the works. Housing prices have risen dramatically in the last few years, before leveling off in 2006. Nonetheless, with median prices just around $300,000, Beacon remains among the most affordable towns in Dutchess County. And many residents treasure its “rough-around-the-edges-cum-quirky” appeal. “I love the funky aspect of the town,” says a two-year resident. “I feel like something is going on here.”

 

 

Catskill: On the Comeback Trail

The village of Catskill owes its existence to Mother Nature. With the eponymous mountains full of raw materials to the west, and access to the Hudson River (via the Catskill Creek) due east, the town grew rapidly in the 19th century as a center of commerce, shipping bluestone, leather and ice to burgeoning New York City. The natural beauty of the surroundings — celebrated by Hudson River School painter (and Catskill citizen) Thomas Cole — enticed the region’s earliest tourists to the Catskill Mountain House, the first Catskills hotel. Although the mountain house is gone, Cedar Grove — Cole’s home and studio, and a national historic site — still stands on Main Street, and now draws tourists of its own. (Interested hikers can venture to the site of the mountain house, which on a clear day offers a view of five states.)

 

Like many Valley towns, Catskill fell on hard times when shoppers abandoned downtown areas in favor of shopping malls. But the village has made a miraculous recovery over the last five years, thanks in large part to Greene County’s Main Street Revitalization and Small Grants programs. By offering matching grants and architectural assistance to business owners, these programs are helping to breathe new life into the village’s decaying Victorian buildings and storefronts. New businesses — antiques and home improvement stores, restaurants, lawyer’s offices — are moving in. Residential areas, which offer a collection of houses of myriad styles from Federal to Greek Revival to Gothic, are starting to see the influx of weekenders and second-home buyers.

 

Other Catskill attractions include the Catskill Gallery, which has changing exhibits of works by local artists; the Beattie Powers House, a Greek Revival mansion owned by the village; and Catskill Point, a sliver of land that juts into the river. A warehouse building on the site recalls the village’s shipping days, and the adjacent Catskill Point Restaurant is an area landmark.

With house prices still relatively low (the 2006 median price was $175,000), and economic development officials working hard to attract more businesses, the town seems poised to continue its upswing. Linda Overbaugh, executive director of the Heart of Catskill, the town’s Chamber of Commerce, sums it up: “Catskill has been to the very bottom, and Catskill is going to the very top.”

 

 

Cornwall on Hudson: A Tucked-Away Treasure

Nestled comfortably in some of the Hudson Valley’s most dramatic terrain, Cornwall on Hudson has a sense of self and identity few other places in the region can match. “I think the village is unique in that it’s probably the only one of the villages on the Hudson that’s sort of tucked away. It’s not on a through road, it’s not on a highway. It’s kept its village character,” says businessman Deke Hazirjian, president of the village’s Local Development Corporation.

 

Although only about six miles down Route 9W from some of Newburgh’s troubled neighborhoods, the village remains one of Orange County’s more affluent communities. But it’s more Norman Rockwell than country club chic. People jog through the village streets at all times of day, while Ring’s Pond serves as the spot for a popular fishing derby and ice-skating adventures in the winter. Always visible milling about town is a large contingent of students — public school kids as well as those from the two local private schools, the New York Military Academy and the Storm King School.  

 

Not to be overlooked is the stunning scenery. Take Route 218 (also called Storm King Mountain Road) south out of town toward West Point for one of the most spectacular (and challenging) drives in the Valley. If you can handle the dizzying twists and turns, the river views are simply unsurpassed. (But be aware that the road often closes due to bad weather and rock slides.) Dozens of hiking trails — both up in the Highlands and down by the river — provide more options to check out scene-stealing vistas. The area is also bursting with cultural offerings. The world-renowned Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre outdoor sculpture garden, is not far from the village, and the Museum of the Hudson Highlands is an integral part of the community, offering hands-on programs for both adults and children.

 

The small village bustles with energy these days. Painter’s Tavern, housed in the old Cornwall Inn and offering up an eclectic and affordable menu, has long been a neighborhood gathering spot. Recent additions to the dining scene include Nikki’s, the River Bank, and Pices. Of course, isolation has its challenges. Commuting to the city — or anywhere for that matter — can be difficult with no direct train access. And although the charming riverside park is often busy with picnicking families, there is no public launch for boats or kayaks. The village’s Riverfront Revitalization Committee hopes to change that. Work is also underway to develop an ecologically and economically appropriate business called Storm King Adventure Tours, which will provide customers with a chance to mountain bike, kayak or hike in this magnificent terrain.

 

Overall, many residents feel what they get — a place where community is paramount — is well worth it. “That’s been the greatest appeal to us, the family aspect of the town,” says one local resident. “I asked my son one time if he was misbehaving at all, and he said, ‘Mom, in a town this small, there’s no way you wouldn’t find out about it.’ ”

Cornwall on Hudson can actually provide a special challenge for potential homebuyers; people like the place so much that houses rarely come on the market. When they do, the median price is $356,000.

 

 

Highland: Close to its Rural Roots

Highland, NY loves being in the middle of things… and just out of the way at the same time. Poughkeepsie is right across the Hudson River, while New Paltz, Kingston and Newburgh are only a stone’s throw away. The compact village center is surrounded by natural areas, including the river and Chodikee Lake (a popular fishing and kayaking spot). Extensive development has occurred in both the town’s outskirts and in some of its neighborhoods. Single-family home construction went from 13 buildings in 2000 to 22 in 2002 to 33 in 2005. Local realtors say there have been numerous new developments, with others are waiting for approval.

 

“There have been a ridiculous number of new homes that have gone up in the Highland area in the last few years,” says Tim Woods, owner of the Highland Manor bed and breakfast. “It shows up Highland¹s attractiveness. Across the street from me there are three brand new houses that have gone up within the last year and a half,” he says.

 

Even with this building frenzy, Highland retains its small-town appeal. “It’s a beautiful area. It’s gorgeous everywhere,” Woods says.

 

A special new attraction is the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, which stretches from the Hudson River, through the entire town and reaches much of the way to neighboring New Paltz. The trail has become an especially attractive site for walkers and bikers.

 

The trail stretches 5 miles, from the old railroad bridge over the Hudson between Poughkeepsie and Highland, running through the hamlet of Highland then heading west to Route 299 to New Paltz.

 

Highland’s downtown is still coming back. A devastating fire destroyed numerous buildings years ago. That huge empty space on the town’s

Main Street

has now been filled by the Hudson Valley School of Massage Therapy, which is always looking for bodies to work on.

 

Exceptional water access is another part of life in Highland, with fishing and boating easily available. There are two local marinas and a state launch ramp at Rte 97 1.5 miles west of Barryville which allows for hand launching and has parking spaces for 40 cars.

 

Residents can also go to the Casa de Arte for poetry and painting classes.

 

Antique aficionados can find another resource in Highland: Vintage Village, a vast collective that includes a 4,800 square foot former sawmill along with a toy store, furniture barn, artists loft and a history display by the Town Of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society.

 

Another of Highland¹s attractions is the quality of its schools. They have a reputation for quality and in 2004 came close to matching or exceeding state averages at all grade levels.

 

 

Kinderhook: Hanging on to History

There are historic old towns in the Hudson Valley, and then there’s Kinderhook. Founded in 1609, the Columbia County village’s Dutch roots are echoed in its name (supposedly bestowed by Hendrick Hudson himself) which means “child’s corner.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Kinderhook boasts many Colonial era homes (all of which are well-maintained; a historic preservation ordinance has been in place since 1974). The village is home to the Columbia County Museum as well as two house museums: the Federal-style Vanderpoel House, and the Van Alen House, a Colonial Dutch farmstead.

 

America’s eighth president, Martin van Buren, was a Kinderhook native, and one of the town’s most beautiful attractions is Lindenwald, his 1797 family farm and home. Farming remains an integral part of life in the area. Roxbury Farm, a 225-acre community-supported farm, supplies organically grown fruits and vegetables to more than 1,000 families in the immediate area, as well as in Albany, Westchester, and Manhattan. And protecting open space is a high priority: the town’s comprehensive plan ensures that agricultural and scenic areas, as well as historic sites, are preserved.

 

Kinderhook has a variety of unusual stores, selling everything from antiques (Lindowen’s American Country) and books (Blackwood and Brouwer) to folk art prints and ceramics created by a local artist (Treasured Art). Natives say Carolina House — a log cabin-style restaurant — is a must for visitors. Unusual for a northern eatery, their menu includes Louisiana trout, fried chicken, baby back ribs, and other southern specialties.

 

Median home prices in Kinderhook were $297,000 in 2006. With its proximity to Albany — the state capitol is about 20 miles or so away — the town a commuter hub for its neighbors. The rising pace of new construction — the number of new buildings jumped from two in 1996 to 36 in 2005 — could be evidence of an upcoming trend.

 

 

Mahopac: A Lakefront Jewel

Thirty years ago, Putnam County’s southern reaches could still be called country. Now, “there’s still some open space, but it’s a lot more crowded than it was in ’65,” says longtime Mahopac resident Mark Fraser. “We’ve had a huge population growth.”

 

But one thing has remained the same: Mahopac’s focus on recreation.

 

Built on the shores of 17-acre Lake Mahopac, the hamlet was originally a summer haven for wealthy New Yorkers who came in droves in the mid-1800s to frolic in several bustling lakefront resorts. But by the 1950s, the grand hotels fell out of

A Reunion of Revolutionaries

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A Reunion of Revolutionaries

Bard College Remembers

 

 

In the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, close to 300 student refugees called Bard College home. This month, the college hosts a reunion of these courageous men and women.

 

 

Béla Liptak remembers the sound of blood dripping on the floor. In the shuddering silence after the Soviet shell had torn through the fragile Hungarian house, the noise was surprisingly loud.

 

It was the girl’s blood. She had been helping to carry basic supplies to Liptak and his fellow revolutionaries as they fired rifles at the Soviet tanks. The huge steel beasts had rumbled into Budapest to crush one of the most glorious moments of freedom in modern history. On October 23, 1956, Liptak had been part of a student group that led a successful nationwide rebellion against the Soviet-imposed Communist regime in Hungary. But the new democratic government was short-lived. The Soviets ultimately quashed the revolution, arresting 26,000 Hungarians, imprisoning 13,000 and executing 350. More than 200,000 citizens fled the country.

Liptak was one of them.

 

Within weeks, the 20-year-old found himself living in Dutchess County. He was one of almost 300 refugees taken in by Bard College while the school was closed for an extended winter break. For about three months, these students lived among the trees and mansions of this small liberal arts college on the Hudson River — organizing themselves, learning English, forging friendships, and gaining other skills needed to help launch their new lives in the U.S. “Bard’s initiative was unusual, if not extraordinary,” says Leon Botstein, Bard’s current president. On February 14-17, Bard hosts a special weekend reunion for the former student refugees (which includes a conference — open to the public — that will examine the impact and legacy of the Hungarian Revolution. For more information, see http://hungary56.bard.edu).

 

“The situation at Bard gave us a new start in the U.S.,” says Liptak. “Before going to the American universities, we spoke no English. In no time at all, we taught the teachers Hungarian and learned very little English, but it was good enough to get started.”

Liptak’s involvement in the Revolution began when his student group planned protests against such banalities as poor cafeteria food, terrible living conditions, and incompetent professors. But the students’ conversations quickly focused on the underlying reason for their discontent: Soviet control of Hungary (which had begun in earnest in 1949).“We first started off with typical student demands, and by midnight we ended up with the demand for the Russian occupation forces to leave the country,” Liptak says.

 

 

Furious at the brutal political repression and frustrated by the country’s economic stagnation, other student groups also began agitating. A list of 16 proposals helped solidify the movement, and jolt the rebels from talk into action. On that fateful October evening in 1956, 200,000 people were shouting for change in the streets of Budapest. A 30-foot-tall statue of Stalin was toppled from its plinth, and Hungarian flags (ragged with huge holes where Communist emblems had been ripped off) flew from the boots that remained.

 

 

Soviet tanks rolled into the streets the next day. But the tanks were the older, more vulnerable models. “We destroyed their tanks with so-called Molotov cocktails,” Liptak says, speaking softly with a rich, rolling accent. “We threw them at the tanks and afterwards penetrated the gasoline tanks with small arms, and they burnt up.”

 

 

By the 28th, hostilities were almost over. “They were beaten. We had almost a week of freedom with a multiparty, democratic form of government,” Liptak says. But new orders came down from the Kremlin, and on November 3, Soviet tanks rolled towards Budapest again.

     “The Russians used more tanks in the second attack on Hungary than Hitler used to occupy France,” Liptak asserts. Nonetheless, it took a savage week of fighting before the Soviets defeated the determined Hungarian rebels. “It was a very bloody invasion,” he says.

 

And still, Liptak can’t forget the girl. “She had run back towards the front of the house to fetch a loaf of bread she had forgotten. We found her very badly wounded. And I remember as I put her down on the floor I saw her mouth moving. I didn’t even realize she was conscious. I put my ear to her mouth. She said, ‘There is some candy in my pocket. Take some.’ Then we were captured.” Drunken Soviet troops later allowed Liptak to escape. His father ordered him to leave the country. He went. He never found out what happened to the wounded girl.

            More than 20,000 Hungarian refugees made their way to the United States after the Revolution. Most wound up at New Jersey’s Camp Kimmel; many were then sent to colleges all over the country. The U.S. government had encouraged the Hungarian revolt: broadcasts on Radio Free Europe had assured the revolutionaries that help was on its way. Hungarians felt betrayed by America, and many in this country felt they had a point. It is said that President Eisenhower requested that major colleges offer scholarships to the refugees as a small way of making up for the nation’s inaction.

 Bard officials felt that hosting the students would be a superb way to express the school’s commitment to human rights and other core values. And the refugees knew a superb thing when they saw it. “By Christmastime we were at Bard,” says refugee Ferenc Novak (who had been prohibited from attending college in Soviet-run Hungary because he was from the despised “intellectual class”). “Looking back 50 years, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We were welcomed there. We were made safe. We had a chance to deepen or start our English studies, and in general try and get ourselves embedded into the American surroundings.” Novak went on to work for over 30 years as a systems analyst and manager for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

 

 

Although attendance at Bard was free, some refugees had to finagle a way to get there. Béla’s wife, Martha, aided the Revolution by carrying drugs and supplies to the fighters. Afterwards, she tried to flee to Vienna, but was detained at the border; she spent time in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S. Her first weeks here were drenched in culture shock. “We were driven through sections of the country where there was nothing but white clapboard houses with Christmas tree lights on. This did not line up with our idea of what America was like. We thought of America as New York City, instead there were little white houses with twinkling Christmas lights.”

Martha’s disorientation continued after friends found her a dead-end job as a janitor’s assistant. “I heard about Bard and the language courses, so I borrowed $10 and took the train up the Hudson.” She hid on the campus for three weeks, afraid to register because she had snuck in. When she finally revealed herself, she was welcomed. She went on to attend Skidmore, earn her master’s degree in English, and teach school for many years; today she is a respected ceramics artist. Besides her education, Martha also got something else from her stay at Bard: a husband. She and Béla were wed in December 1958. Three children and almost 50 years later, the couple credits the college with giving them the start to a very satisfying life. Béla attended New Jersey’s Stephens Institute of Technology, and has written several texts on computer controlled processes. His 2001 book, A Testament of Revolution (Texas A&M University Press), describes his experiences during the Revolution.

Because they were so focused on the future, many of the refugees have only vague memories of the campus. They remember wide-open spaces, lots of trees and beautiful buildings. Béla clearly recalls one detail: “The food in the cafeteria was fantastic!”

Béla’s eagerness to see his compatriots at this month’s reunion is tinged with a very Hungarian melancholy. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “But I was back in Hungary just this October for the 50th anniversary of the Revolution. I was meeting old friends and being amazed that those beautiful girls and handsome boys had become fat and bent old people.”

More important than classroom lessons, Bard gave the refugee students a feel for American life. “I learned how to talk to people and interact with them and to have some idea as to how society worked,” Novak says. “Bard was the first place where I experienced the magnanimity, goodness and openness of the American people.”



After Thoughts…

 

Pataki’s Peekskill Memories

Perhaps the Hudson Valley’s most famous Hungarian-American is George Pataki, who left Albany last month after 12 years as governor of New York State. Pataki, whose paternal grandparents were farmers in Hungary before emigrating to the U.S., has often spoken of his fond recollections of growing up in a predominantly Hungarian neighborhood in Peekskill.

While leading a presidential delegation to the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution in Budapest last October, Pataki made the following comments to students at the city’s Central European University:        

“I remember those events like it was yesterday. I was only 11 back on October 23 of 1956 but it’s a day and a week in that period of time I will never forget in my life… It was an enormously emotional time and I can remember back in upstate New York on our little farm my whole family gathering together in front of the television and having tears of joy when the Soviet tanks pulled out and it looked like the Hungarians would live in freedom for the first time in so long. Then those tears of joy became tears of sadness and sorrow eight days later when those tanks returned…

“There was a factory in my hometown, and hundreds of immigrants from northeastern Hungary came and settled in that town in upstate New York to work in that factory. So although my father was born in New York, he couldn’t speak any English, everyone spoke Hungarian. The church was on

Kossuth Street

, the church service was in Hungarian, everybody spoke Hungarian. It wasn’t until he went off to school that he learned English…

“We grew up in a very strong Hungarian community and in fact my grandfather, after he saved up enough in the factory, he bought a little farm, which was very much like the farm that he had and his family had in Szabolcs County [in northeastern Hungary]. As a kid I remember that farm. On that farm every Sunday in the summer we would have a szalonnasutes. And till this day, Sundays in the summer, my children and I “es az unokatestverem, mind a cslad,” have a szalonnasutes.”

And what — ask all you non-Hungarians — is this szalonnasutes that still delights the former governor and his family? It’s the traditional Hungarian bacon barbecue. Although there are many schools of thought on all the intricacies, the basics involve roasting the Hungarian bacon (szalonna) over an open flame and letting the drippings fall onto a piece of fresh bread, which is then garnished with such things as cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. 

Who knew?

 

Keeping the Faith

 

Forty years ago we had 80 to 100 active members,” says Rev. Alexander Forro about the Hungarian Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie. “Now we have about 30 or 35 members, and maybe 10 or 15 people coming to the service each Sunday.”

Founded in 1932, the church used to be the center of a bustling Hungarian community in Poughkeepsie. “This whole neighborhood used to be Hungarian,” says Forro, referring to the area surrounding the

Grove Street

church. “Hungarians started coming in large numbers after World War II. And then, of course, more came after the Revolution. Although the biggest grouping of Hungarians was in New Jersey, some came up here. But many of the older people here have died off and the younger ones intermarry, choose other churches, or move away.”

Currently, about 3,100 people in Dutchess County — or 1.1 percent of the population — claim Hungarian ancestry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Still, up to three generations of families sometimes worship at the church — the only Hungarian church in the entire Hudson Valley. It is a member of the Hungarian Reformed Church of America, part of a network of Reformed churches which dates back to the time of the Reformation and still has congregations in Manhattan, Staten Island, Rochester and

Editor’s Note 2

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When I was 12 I told my mother that I wanted to go to a Catholic high school. “Don’t be silly dear, we’re not Catholic,” she replied as casually as if I had announced that I was flying to the moon. To her it was sheer lunacy: besides the fact that we were Protestant (alright, lapsed Protestants), we lived in a Westchester suburb where the public schools had a stellar reputation. People moved there for the sole reason that their children could attend these venerated public institutions. In addition, my friends who were heading to Catholic school groaned about it — the nasty nuns, the dreaded uniforms and (mostly) the lack of young males. So why did I want to go?

Looking back, I can see my main motivation was to lessen the social pressures of high school. I secretly thought that wearing a uniform every day would be wonderful: gone would be the endless hours spent trying on clothes that never seemed to look just right, in the all-important quest to keep up with Biffy and Buffy.

I don’t know that I ever got my fashion situation completely straightened out, but I did get a great education at my local public high school. But of course, not every school is right for every student; all children have different temperaments, needs and desires. Even if you live in an outstanding school district, you may come to realize that public school is not working for your child. Perhaps he or she needs smaller classes and more individual attention; perhaps he or she has a particular talent, like dancing or sports, that needs to be nurtured.

Luckily, in the Hudson Valley we’re blessed with a large and varied range of private schools, from parochial schools to military academies to traditional college prep institutions. But figuring out which one is right for your child can be a daunting task. Get a head start with our cover article on page 28. Here, you’ll find the inside scoop from local students, parents and educators. We also give you the cold, hard facts on more than 30 private schools, including tuition prices, particular strengths and number of AP courses offered. So study up — locating the perfect school for your child is worth it!

 

Olivia J. Abel

Editor in Chief

oabel@hvmag.com

 

Senior Editor Polly Sparling is the only member of our editorial staff to attend private schools (she graduated from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Elmsford and Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale, both in Westchester County). “Attending an all-girls high school gave me self-confidence,” Sparling says. “I studied hard, made good friends — and got into my share of trouble with the nuns.”

 

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