My First Rod Serling Day Experience
by Andy Polak
I arrived at Binghamton High School and entered the building as the 5th grade students from the seven Grade Schools in our district filed off their buses. We snaked through the stairs and hallways making our way to the Helen Foley Theater named for the beloved teacher and founder of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation.
As the students found their designated seats I visited outside the theater with fellow RSMF Board Member Jennifer O’Hare who teaches at the High School. She was also attending her first Rod Serling Day. I found organizer Larry Kassan who had saved me a front row seat. I had a few moments to visit with him, and with Anne Serling-Sutton and her husband Doug.
The lights dimmed, the students fell silent and that unmistakable theme and voice took control of the room as the black-and-white images of the Twilight Zone were projected on the big screen. These larger-than-life clips of Twilight Zone episodes were from the episodes students had previously viewed during their studies in the classroom.
The students, teachers and guests were welcomed and Superintendent Peggy Wozniak was introduced. She spoke of herself being an early fan of Rod Serling and how she had been honored to have him as the speaker at her college graduation, then of the coincidence of moving to Binghamton and working for the school district that Rod attended.
Next to speak was master storyteller, teacher, librarian, and former student of Helen Foley’s Lonna McKeon Pierce. She encouraged the students with the spirit of Helen Foley and emphasized a theme of the day – “Will YOU be the next Rod Serling?” She did a great job inspiring the kids with her own story.
Dave Rossie, syndicated columnist, retired associate editor of the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, and cousin of Helen Foley was next to take the podium. He joked how Helen always thought Rod a talented kid but always called him a “smart-ass” kid …garnering a collective gasp from the young 5th graders hearing an adult say “ass.” It tickled me. He talked of Rod being his first celebrity interview and how he always enjoyed talking with him. He praised Rod, not only as a talented writer, but also as one with a conscience.
Anne Serling-Sutton was next to speak. Projected large behind her tiny frame were wonderful family photos giving the audience a glimpse of her life growing up with Rod Serling, the father and family man. She joked that when she showed the collection of pictures, many taken at the cottage, to her son Sam he commented “didn’t he ever wear a shirt?”
She portrayed her father as one against prejudice, seeking a world of tolerance which was reflected in much of his work. The students loved Anne and even lined up to have her sign their Rod Serling Day buttons after the presentation.
Larry Kassan continued the theme of “Will YOU be the next Rod Serling?” and even pointed out to the students seated in the balcony that they may very well be sitting in a seat Rod Serling himself once sat in, since they were still originals.
Larry is the founder and director of the Rod Serling Video Festival. He talked about this year’s upcoming TZ@50 Celebration here in Binghamton, then shared a couple of video submissions and also a humorous video “Belle” by Rod’s grandson Sam, which showed his own great imagination as well as a true talent for editing.
Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan was introduced and he read a proclamation praising Rod Serling and his talent and naming the day “Rod Serling Day” in the city of Binghamton.
An inspirational, educational, emotional and gratifying day! It was definitely a day to be proud to be a Binghamtonion.