Upon first look, Elizabeth Oei might seem to have her hands full. A longtime New Canaan resident, she serves as member of the New Canaan Volunteer Ambulance Corps (NCVAC) and the Pop-Up Park Committee in addition to a full-time nurse consultant job. She also may be most recognized around town for her two beloved dogs, Cosmo and Bean, gentle animals that she describes as her children. After speaking with Oei (full interview transcribed below), however, it became clear that her involvement is a pleasure and it is all these things that flesh out her full personality. We sat down with this very involved woman to discuss her time in New Canaan, her various roles and responsibilities, and of course her dogs.
In 1980, Marie Pinchbeck was teaching kindergarten while Joanne LaVista was teaching sixth grade down the hall at Center School. LaVista recalls her and Pinchbeck’s classrooms being close to each other and creating a partnership with the “veteran teacher” at the elementary school when she joined the Center School community in 1980, right out of college at the age of 22. “Our classrooms were right near each other and right away we just started being good friends,” LaVista said. “What we set up was that my sixth graders would go to her kindergarten room once a week and read the library books and she would say, ‘I can never get through everyone’s library books. The kids feel bad when they have to turn their book in and they hadn’t read it in school.’ So we had this great partnership going and my sixth graders loved it.
A mom friend in town asked me recently why New Canaan should build onto Saxe. “Why not build another elementary school instead and make them K through five? Then the middle school would really be a middle school.”
I told her the story of Center School, New Canaan’s fourth elementary school, now the farmer’s market parking lot next to the public library. My friend had no idea that New Canaan used to have a fourth elementary school. In 1983, the economy was what it was, enrollment was not as robust as it is now or will be, and the town went back and forth between closing Center School or South School.
For me, she will always be ‘Aunt Bev.’ Though not related by blood, Beverly Greenberg was as close to my family growing up as anyone. She passed away Friday at age 92. A small service at Hoyt Funeral Home is planned for Tuesday with a wider community service to come in the spring. Known to generations of New Canaanites as an administrative assistant at Center School, Bev was amazingly active in the community for decades.
Some first day of school images in New Canaan persist through the years: bright new outfits, embarrassing photo shoots at the bus stop, tearful kindergarten farewells, nervous classroom energy, locker combinations, crisp notebooks, teacher introductions, excited and awkward classmate reunions. The playground equipment and areas have been double-checked—for example, the New Canaan Department of Public Works last month diligently crack-sealed parts of playgrounds at East and West. Yet for many years, and for scores of nostalgic New Canaanites who attended Center School—demolished after the 1982-83 academic year to make way for the Center School Parking Lot ($120 per year for a permit) opposite Maple Street from New Canaan Library—the centerpiece of the playground was a narrow, long, recessed, cement “pit” around the back of the school itself. A place of physicality, perhaps even violence, as well as fierce competition and glory—and, of course, wholly unfathomable at an elementary school today—the Knockout Pit at Center School remains a singular touchstone for alumni more than three decades later, despite no official historical record of it and at a school far better known and remembered among educators for its innovations in student learning and curriculum. “My best memory of the school, other than some friends, is the Knockout Pit,” said Bill Taylor, a 1981 New Canaan High School graduate who attended Center in the early-‘70s.