This past September, senior Joe Massaro was watching the when a particular float caught his attention: the one celebrating the 50th anniversary of the high school.
He began to think about his senior project, a task every member of the graduation class must complete that embodies service to the school and/or community, before coming up with the idea of itself.
“I mainly had the idea of putting something together for my senior project where I could actually do something like this where giving the kids in the school and the teachers and the people an outlook of how the school progressed over the years,” Massaro said.
His close friend Nick Rutigliano meanwhile did not know where to start on his project “and then he told me about this idea and I just thought it was a great idea,” he said, finally agreeing to jump on board a week after first hearing about the idea. “It was like he had these ideas in his head and he just did a great job.”
The pair began during the February break going through archives at the Mineola Historical Society and coming up with photos and old records of the construction of the building back in 1962.
“They gave us a lot of pictures and a lot of articles and information,” Massaro said.
The two also interviewed a total of 18 alumni while figuring out logistics like scheduling interviews as well as blowing up photos and constructing the board, sections each of which taking about a month to complete.
“It didn’t start out like this,” Rutigliano said, gesturing to the auxiliary room near the main entrance to the high school. “It started out as some core ideas and every week he would be rambling some new ideas to add to it. We didn’t even finish until literally a couple days ago.”
The room, which features sectional displays with alumni from each of the five decades in the center along with individualized exhibits on the marching band, athletics, construction of the school and an infamous artwork in the shape of a Mustang, wasn’t finalized until two days before its grand opening on June 6.
“It actually came out the way I wanted it,” Massaro said of the museum and the design in his mind. “It was kinda hard by the end because we had so much stuff, we wanted to see how good it would look.”
Technology director Mrs. Katie Sheehan and Mrs. Nancy Regan assisted as advisors on the project enlarging the photographs and acting as mentor, respectively.
Finding the time to meet with all alumni proved to be the hardest challenge for the pair.
“That was annoying, running around because you had to find them, talk to them first to tell them what we were doing and that we were going to interview them, then we had to actually follow through with the interview,” Rutigliano said, noting that the interviews still had to be edited and paired with photos obtained from the alumni. “We wish that we could have added more alumni, we wish that we could have gotten to sit with more alumni – there’s so many that you can’t really do more than 18 with the amount of time that we had.”
The pair spoke with a total of 18 alumni, 16 of which were teachers at Mineola High School.
“There’s so many alumni in this building that we really couldn’t interview everyone,” Massaro said. “We wanted to get two or three during the 10 years of that decade so we kinda picked it like that. I think the timeline really gives a feel to – especially for the kids in the school – how their teachers went through their high school experiences.”
The museum even brings to light a forgotten event at the school in the years before Title IX: girls’ week.
“Back then girls didn’t really have sports so it was preparation for the middle of the year where girls, there’d be different teams – like different grades would be different teams – they would do arts, dance moves, choreography for the night, they would perform, they would make floats in the gym and all this stuff,” Massaro said.
“No one knows about girls week,” Rutigliano said, trying to suppress a grin. “Girls week was really big back in the day and it’s just no longer in existence because girls got too out of control I guess, everyone got too out of control and they had to shut it down.”
Massaro even contributed something from his family’s own personal collection: the centercourt mustang logo from the old gymnasium floor. In the summer of 2010 Massaro was working at the school when the floor was undergoing renovations, with the pieces being thrown out at the time his father came to pick him up after work.
“My dad’s like ‘why don’t we take this, this is awesome.’ So we took a piece and just threw it in the trunk,” Massaro said. “(It) looks like it still could be used.”
One surprise item in the museum is a mustang sculpture from 1967 that originally hung on the wall of the main lobby but was moved to the teachers’ conference room.
“They were asking why they don’t see it anymore in the main lobby,” Massaro said.
“It’s a really cool thing that people should be able to see,” Rutigliano added. “I’m a senior now and this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. I think it should come back out, I think it’s really cool.”
Typically seniors do a presentation on their project after its completion but Massaro and Rutigliano reversed the process, using a presentation as advertising for the museum and keeping the exact details of what would be on display a secret by not letting anyone in the room.
“No one really knew exactly what we were doing, they all doubted. They all thought that we were doing too much work because they didn’t really understand what we were doing,” Rutigliano said. “But everyone that came by they realized exactly what we were doing.”
The museum opening was timed to coincide with the student awards breakfast that morning, letting a couple hundred of their peers see what was originally supposed to be a one-day event.
“We wanted everyone to see it on a day when they’d all be together and not give away anything,” Massaro said. “It just spread throughout the whole school, just the word and how their teachers were on the board and how the school looked back then.”
The duo learned when they opened the doors that the school and principal Ed Escobar had decided to extend the exhibition through the end of the school year so more can see the items on display.
“We were expecting to take it down,” Rutigliano said.
“People were like ‘I think it should be up forever’,” Massaro added.