July 07, 2016

Better late than never: Capitol field trip takes place 45 years late

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
capitol field trip
Caption: L-R: Senator Neil Breslin, Paul Pezzola, former teacher Steve Zahurak, Jerry Gregory, Morgan James, and Kevin O'Hanlon. Photo provided.

Once a teacher, always a teacher.  Forty-five years after a class field trip was cancelled, retired Guilderland educator and former local union president Steve Zahurak took five of his 1971 students to the Capitol in Albany to see how government works.

It's been so long since the field trip was to be held that most of the students, who were in Zahurak's eleventh-grade social studies class, have retired now themselves. But time did not stop these men from meeting Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, to discuss politics, tour the Capitol building and go to lunch in downtown Albany.

It's 2016, but who's counting? After all, it took 14 years to build the stone-carved Million Dollar Staircase in the Capitol. The hand-built stone building itself took more than a quarter of a century to be completed.

Zahurak walked the marbled floors and the majestic staircases with Kevin O'Hanlon, retired Troop G police automotive maintenance inspector for the New York State Police; Morgan James, retired electrician, Local 236; Paul Pezzola, retired Teamster truck driver and jet bridge maintenance supervisor at Albany Airport; Joe DiCaprio, GE machine repair supervisor; and Jerry Gregory, Atlas Copco production supervisor.

Last summer, Zahurak went to breakfast with these former students. They meet occasionally for a meal and to talk about bowling, gardening, families or problems with their cars. This time, the guys reminded their former teacher how he'd never taken them on a promised field trip to the Capitol in 1971. Zahurak can't remember exactly why the trip was cancelled, though he thinks there may have been was a problem scheduling a bus.

"We were learning about government and the trip was to see how state government worked," Zahurak recalled. But this class didn't make it, even though Zahurak took the trek to the Capitol with other students over his years of teaching.

Zahurak has retained a keen interest in activism and unionism. He is a trustee and former president of the Albany County Central Federation of Labor. For 15 years, he taught labor history at the Albany Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations.

In 2002, he spent a month in Poland with a Kosciuzko Foundation program teaching English to students. Capital Region residents will recognize that name: The twin bridges on Route 87 that cross over the Mohawk River are named after Thaddeus Kosciuzko, a Polish freedom fighter and military engineer who helped America in the Revolutionary War.

Zahurak taught his Guilderland students about bridges when he took them on field trip to New York City by train, where they would learn about the history of the Hudson River en route, bridges, and the old submerged arsenal Bannerman Castle in the river. Then they would tour Wall Street and take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.

So, he and the guys are thinking that would be a great adventure for their next field trip. Not in 45 years. Maybe next summer.