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Yale 62

The Three Musketeers of Bassick High School, Homeroom 10

By Lee Bakunin

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.”

– Forrest Gump

What are the odds that three people from different backgrounds and interests from the same homeroom in high school would be accepted to Yale and room together for their Freshman Year? One voted most likely to succeed and most dignified, another most reliable and courteous, and the other wittiest and cutest. None of them star athletes. All of them actors in school plays. They were active in other school activities: A Class Treasurer who also a member of the All-State Choir and Orchestra; A President of the U.S. History Debating Club who also sang in the choir; and A Student Council President who also was a Manager of the Football and Basketball Teams.

A Baptist, a Jew and a Catholic. Brown-bagged their lunches. Received deferments as students from the local draft board. Different ancestry, backgrounds and interests, except when it came to members of the opposite sex. Two received scholarships. All had summer or part-time jobs. Started at the bottom, pushing brooms and taking out the trash. Such venerable establishments as Piggly-Wiggly Supermarket, Beechmont Dairy, Dorman’s Pharmacy, and Barnum Hotel Restaurant. Each did a stint at the Barnum under the tutelage of the Chef, who was one of the Musketeers’ fathers. Learned how to peel potatoes, make coleslaw, crack eggs and use restaurant jargon such as “86,” “comp,” “slammed,” “monkey dish” and “Adam and Eve on a life raft.” Valuable information each would use in college.

One would become an attorney specializing in banking and commercial law, another a college professor and the third, an attorney in general practice who at times served as a judge and court commissioner.

Each was the first born in their family and had siblings: younger brother and sister for one, two sisters for another and a younger
sister for the third.

All would travel and eventually spend time learning cultures and traditions in foreign countries, each in a different continent. Russia, Bolivia, Peru, South Africa and Cyprus. Two would find their life-mates the first time around and the other, after a 19-year first marriage.

All would raise families, educate their children, buy homes, pay the bills and taxes, keep their houses clean and take out the trash.

None of their children would attend Yale.

None would enter the world of politics, become a celebrity or make a scientific discovery.

Just average guys who’d be given a break or two in life to follow their dreams and accept the detours on the way. Fortunate to have
parents, relatives and other mentors in their lives for encouragement and an occasional kick in the ass.

Musketeers are known for their travels and courage to open new doors. Each would face his own challenges.

These three boys lived in Connecticut, two in Bridgeport and the other in Trumbull. Bridgeport was the blue collar industrial city once dubbed by the late actor Paul Newman as “the armpit of Connecticut.” Richie, the Trumbull student, had a nickname for Bridgeport: “Nasty-Port.”

In October 1957, when Yale’s Football team beat Colgate, 20-0, at the Yale Bowl, the three were in the stands.

Yale’s Marching Band, a rag-tag scatter band group, in preparation for Halloween, wore masks for the entire halftime show. One of their
musical numbers was: As Freshman First We Came to Yale. A portend for the future?

Their names: Lee Bakunin, Timothy Kish and Richard Schupbach. Lee, Tim and Richie. Public high school boys, no “preppy airs” or tweed jackets. A motley crew. Young, strong, vibrant, single, innocent, full of testosterone and ready to take on the world. Or perhaps the other way around. Could have been role models for Richie Cunningham, Potsie Weber and Ralph Malph of the 1974-1984 TV series Happy Days. None of them as cool or slick as Fonzie.

A touch of “wannabe” and bravado mixed with uncertainty as to what the final result might be. Plans and expectations that would change as each navigated the halls and hidden recesses of New Haven’s Ivy League Institution, YALE, they would ultimately select for invasion.

Pens, pencils and slide rules were their muskets and as buddies, at times helped each other with assignments. Tim and Richie were the scientific types while Lee was a liberal arts guy. Lee remembers Richie in Senior Year Chemistry defining a “deliquescent” as a fine place to purchase and eat corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. Pure comedic Richie.

Tim was a whiz with Physics. Lee struggled with Physics managing an 85 in Charlie’s Class when he should have received a lower grade. That fete possibly can only be attributed to the fact that he was the number three player on the varsity tennis team coached by Mr. Carr.

The Musketeers Homeroom Teacher: Virginia Loch, a wonderful lady who tolerated their enthusiasm, laughed at Richie’s jokes and somehow managed to keep them in line.

Life and destiny would change for all of them at Yale. Roommates at 215 Farnum, dubbed “Filthy Farnum” for its antiquated décor and ever dusty floors, they settled in to begin their journeys. Let’s start with what they were not, before writing about their individual

None would graduate summa cum laude or receive a Phi Beta Kappa Key.

Neither would any of them become a Whiffenpoof, Chapel Deacon nor be tapped for Skull and Bones or any of Yale’s secret societies.

None of them would play on any of the varsity athletic teams nor star in a Yale Dramat production nor write for the Yale Daily News.

Elitist most definitely they were not.

Where they excelled was in their attitude and outlook on life: down to earth, open to change, helpful and caring for others. willingness to open a new door when the one behind closes.

In life, it’s not the applause and recognition you receive, but the applause and recognition you give to others for being a part of your journey.

Tim and Richie had received scholarships and were bursary students with part-time jobs working in the dining halls, jobs in which their prior experiences pushing brooms, taking out the trash and peeling potatoes held them in good stead. Lee did much of the same, having joined Army R.O.T.C., which drilled and marched every Monday afternoon. Instead of a broom, he was issued an M-1 rifle. Instead of scrubbing pots and pans, he learned to spit-shine his shoes and combat boots, use Brasso on his belt buckle and clean his M-1 rifle. He also learned Army jargon, such as “Ten-hut,” “At ease” and “About-Face”; how to count cadence and answer his superiors. Instead of “Yes, Chef,” it was “Yes, Sir”. Later at cadet camp, he would use his “taking out the trash” experience in policing the area around the barracks and his culinary skills from the Barnum Hotel doing K-P.

After freshman year, Richie and Tim would graduate to less strenuous and more flexible jobs working with professors or other University departments. It’s like that in many beginning work situations. Start at the bottom, which gives one a taste of humble pie.

The musketeers began to adjust, make new friends and explore Yale’s resources. A well-stocked library, dozens of organizations and
extra-curricular activities, students from all over the United States and some foreign countries and a variety of courses. Having been used to being somewhat big frogs in a small pond, they were just tadpoles in a large competitive ocean.

For all its advantages, Yale had its disadvantages. All male, no women. So for dating, it would be young ladies from local New Haven high schools, Southern Connecticut State Teachers College or Albertus Magnus, a Catholic college. Otherwise weekend trips to one of the Ivy so-called “sister” schools – such as Smith, Vassar, Mt. Holyoke or Bryn Mawr – provided one had time, transportation and money, which none had with their limited budgets, crammed schedules and study requirements.

Developing efficient study habits was something they had to learn as opposed to the prep school guys, who’d had four years of regimentation. Being used to getting 90’s and 95’s, they had a come-uppance when they would receive quiz or test grades like 68, 72 and 79.

A disadvantage at college away from home can be an advantage in the long run: responsibility for one’s actions, conduct and personal needs. Laundry, food, sleep and hygiene were their responsibilities. No mommies to do laundry, darn socks or iron shirts. Responsible for buying your own toothpaste, soap and shaving cream as well as being on time for meals. Sleep too late on Sunday and miss breakfast! No room service or raiding the fridge. Choice is to wait for lunch or use some change from your limited funds for a snack. At times when a care package of goodies was received from home, that would be manna from heaven.

Here, we Bridgeport and Trumbull boys had an advantage, since our homes were only a short bus or train ride home. On those rare occasions when we were able, we’d bring our laundry and best manners, in hopes of bringing some homemade treats back to share. Fortunately, all of us had enjoyed great cooking at home. Lee’s mom made delicious chocolate chip cookies, brownies and sugar cookies. Mrs. Kish and Mrs. Schupbach had their favorite recipes. Tim and Richie, working in the dining halls, were also able to add to our larder with leftovers at times.

Each faced his own challenges.

Neither Tim nor Lee smoked nor drank. Lee tasted one beer and maybe a small glass of sherry, which did nothing and thought it was stupid. He bought one pack of cigarettes, smoked a few, disliked the taste and smell, so threw the pack away. If he needed a fix, burgers at the Yankee Doodle or White Castle were far more appealing. As for Richie, you’ll read about his experiences in a few paragraphs. As a Russian studies major and beginning to learn its culture and traditions, vodka and beer would offer temptations.

Yale today is far more global and diverse than it was 1958. Over 230 different student groups, from Native Americans to Transgenders to Tai Chi and Special Needs. There was recently an article that referred to Yale as the “Gay Ivy.” A far cry from where these three musketeers thought everyone was heterosexual.

All would later deal with the infamous draft board in Bridgeport, CT. It was rumored that the lady in charge of notices did not like college boys and would send the notice to report for duty within two weeks of graduation.

Can you guess what majors they would select? No, Lee from Russian heritage did not major in Russian. Richie, voted wittiest and cutest, did not become a Drama Major. Neither did he major in Theology. Tim, who’d been selected to play in the Connecticut All State Orchestra and choir, was not a Music Major.

Richie majored in Russian studies and sang with the Russian Chorus. An upgrade, from when he directed and led a chorus in the Bassick Green and White Revue parodying Yale’s rival, Harvard. That song, Fight Fiercely Harvard, written by Tom Lehrer about their prowess in football had such memorable lines as “How we shall celebrate our victory; we shall invite the whole team up for tea.” Pure vintage Richie at his best.

In our freshman dorm, in our easy chair, he’d practice his vocabulary and tone. His fellow Musketeers learned some basic words as he’d greet them with dobroye utro! (dohb-ruh-ee oo-truh), Good Morning and Do svidaniya! (duh svee-dah-nee-ye), Goodbye (meaning “till the next meeting”), when leaving.

There were also a few times in Richie’s Russian learning curve when he attempted to imbibe like the Siberians in the winter. Richie with his love of the language, history and people, was merely acclimating himself for what would be his passionate future.

So totally taken with Russian Studies, Musketeer or should I now say Comrade, Dr. Richard Schupbach, following graduation with a B.A. from Yale in Russian Studies in 1962, received both an M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1964 and a Ph.D in Slavic Linguistics in 1969 from UCLA.

He then went on to a distinguished career as a Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Stanford. Comparing his high school photograph with his professorial picture, you’d swear it was two different people, unless of course, Billy Crystal, who teen-age Richie resembled, had been given a Russian make-over for a feature film. He’s now retired as Professor Emeritus and now lives with his wife Viviane in Palo Alto, California. He also maintains a summer “dacha” in Tuscarora, Nevada.

Tim began his Freshman year thinking that he would major in Engineering, but his growing interest in the Social Sciences prompted him to eventually major in Sociology. Continuing with his music, he played trombone in the Yale Orchestra and the Yale Marching Band and was a member of the Yale University Chorus, which sang each Sunday morning in Yale’s Battell Chapel.

He recruited Lee to become one of the two non-playing members of the Marching Band – who, strapped front and back, carried Yale’s Big Bass Drum. His ploy was two free tickets for each home football game, including the “big game” with Harvard, travel with the band for away games and possibly learn to play something musically. What Lee didn’t know was that when he was not able to use his tickets, Tim could use them for his parents and/or two sisters, who were loyal fans and hardly ever missed a game. Not only was Tim a great musician, but he was also adept at finance, having a keen eye and ear for a bargain. Perfect credentials for banking law.

Lee started as an English major, then switched to Political Science. He also switched residential colleges, from Trumbull in sophomore year to Silliman for junior and senior years. He continued as a non-playing member of the Yale Band and helped choreograph shows in his Senior Year. After graduation, he went to Ft. Devens for Army R.O.T.C. cadet camp. Injured two weeks before receiving his commission, he received an administrative discharge and re-classification to 1-Y status. He’d then face a succession of changes and challenges in graduate education, employment and lifestyle. Perfect grounding for the counseling he would do as a lawyer and a judge.

After Freshman year, having made new friends and beginning to feel their independence, it was time to branch out. Each went their separate ways to one of the ten residential colleges, Tim to Davenport, Richie to Calhoun and Lee to Trumbull for Sophomore Year, then to Silliman for Junior and Senior Years.

Part II of Lee’s tale of these classmate Musketeers is right here!

We welcome your comments. Please make them below. Thanks.

1 comment to Three Musketeers

  • James Long

    So delighted to read this crisp chronicle of Lee’s 1958 Yale days. Lee was my Trumbull roommate sophomore year along with Richard Milsten and Joe Hanson. I recall working for Lee in his Trumbull basement hamburger stand. I saw Lee work very hard to make the place run including early am milk/supply deliveries. Always amazed at Lee’s work ethic as he ran this business, made classes, was in the band, and god knows what else. Glad to know a bit of Lee’s career in the law, his being judge. Hope to hear from Lee. Old friend/roommate, Jim Long