Bob Del Bono is well known in Yates County both as a former longtime principal of Dundee Elementary School and as a current longtime resident of Penn Yan. But Bob has been well known from even longer ago than those years.
Bob started his career in education teaching fourth grade at Thomas K. Beecher School in Elmira as a young man from New York City, and the impression he made on one young student in that predominantly black school during the height of the Civil Rights Era has lasted a lifetime.
Ernie Harvard, now 63 and retired after a career with IBM in North Carolina, was that 4th grader in Del Bono’s classroom in 1964. And with the use of some new technology and some old, he was able to locate and visit his favorite teacher this summer.
Having recently joined social media with a Facebook account, Harvard began to reach out to old connections from his boyhood in Elmira. About a year ago, recalls Harvard, an Elmira community Facebook page, “If you’re really from Elmira...” asked the question, “Who was your favorite teacher and what school?” Harvard mentioned Mr. Robert Del Bono at T.K. Beecher School, and frankly wondered if he might still be alive. One of the other members of the page quickly responded that he was and living in Penn Yan. Hoping that a man of Del Bono’s age may still have a landline telephone, Ernie searched the online directory to look him up, called, and Del Bono remembered him instantly.
“It was a great feeling that he remembered me after all these years,” says Harvard. “Mr. Del Bono was my favorite teacher. He truly cared about his students even after they left his 4th grade class. He was the kind of teacher who allowed us to stop by his home after a basketball game and play with us in his yard. He’d even come over to Ernie Davis Jr. High to check up on us, making sure we were behaving and doing the right thing, watch us play basketball, and ask about our grades.” And it was at that school in 1968 that the two last saw each other before Del Bono took the job as principal in Dundee, where he would remain until his retirement 29 years later.
Family ties brought Harvard back to New York this summer, and he made it a priority to come to Penn Yan to meet up with his beloved teacher and his wife, Margy, in their North Main Street home. The meeting was a heartfelt one. Coming up on his 80th birthday this month, Del Bono confessed, “I got a little emotional. I just can’t believe such a nice thing is happening to me. This is the best thing to happen to me this year.”
Spending hours recalling old memories together, Ernie later remembered the 26-year-old Del Bono was a member of the NAACP, a rare thing for a white man in mid 1960s America; and that he cut a stylish figure among his students. “He had swag, man. He was so cool and handsome with jet black hair, cool black rimmed glasses, and he would be sharp as a double edged razor.” But more deeply, Ernie says, “The lessons he taught us about behavior and work and doing the right thing, stayed with me and carried me through through the years.” No teacher could ask for greater praise of a more happy reunion with a student.