There is a hero within our midst, in the name of Ed McIlhenny, a former Industrial Arts and Flying Instructor of 44 years in the Port Washington School District. They don’t make them like they used to—teachers have specialized. For McIlhenny diverse is an understatement. What most community members don’t know is that McIlhenny, besides being an admired teacher is a WWII Veteran and a member of Port’s first group of Special Police.
It all started when he was growing up in Trenton, NJ where he graduated from Hamilton High School in 1941. Growing up, he learned so much from his dad who was a Lieutenant in the Trenton Police, and prior to that, a member of the Shore Patrol in the Navy.
He went on to Trenton College for Teachers becoming an Industrial Arts teacher for two years until he found himself enlisted in the Navy. He was part of the Navy Technical Training Center (NTTC) where he became proficient in mechanical engineering. He was not allowed to be trained in aviation or flying, because he wasn’t an officer, yet this never held him back from learning the many aspects of the training offered to him.
McIlhenny married his high school sweetheart after the war, and they honeymooned in Port Washington. His sister, a Physical Education teacher in the Roslyn School District, indicated that she knew that an Industrial Arts position was available in the Port School District and persuaded him to apply for the job. He met with Mr. Schreiber regarding the job, and after a perfect demo lesson, offered him $2,500 a year.
McIlhenny indicated that since his father-in-law was on the Board of Education in Trenton, he could make a better salary. Mr. Schreiber thought a bit and told him that he could offer him one more class for a total salary of $2,750. He talked it over with his wife, noting that he loved the location, as he would be teaching at the Main Street School (now Landmark) and he could see the water from the building. They moved into an apartment on 2nd Avenue, a short walk from the school, and he began his career. In later years, the McIlhenny’s moved to 59 Bar Beach Rd., where he paid $12,000 for his house.
“That was crazy money back then, my wife said no one should ever pay that much for a house,” McIlhenny said. Ten years later, when the house was fully paid for, and they wanted a larger house for their growing family, they moved to Crescent Road, where he has resided for 66 years. ‘He was truly the future of the town’ – and he didn’t know it, but his career would take him to paths unknown and unchartered territory.
During the summer of 1958, McIlhenny became a Safety Officer at Bar Beach. He remembers being with one of the Nuzzolese brothers, as well as Mike Zirpolo. They would help with the kids, and parents and many of the issues that presented at the beach. He did this for three summers.
“I never took off in the summer,” McIlhenny said. “I was always involved as a sailing instructor, or a welder or a Driver’s Ed teacher. There wasn’t time for vacation. I could make extra money—so I did it.”
As a Safety Officer, McIlhenny worked his way up to the Auxiliary Police and then to the Special Police.
“We would ride for a shift with the police officer, and we would write summonses [for issues],” McIlhenny said. He still has the galvanized box containing the many summonses he wrote.
“I got to carry a stick and a gun and it was pretty good pay,” McIlhenny stated. “It was a great deal to be trained and I welcomed the opportunity.” Back then, the shield was an Officer’s ID and McIlhenny still carries his gold badge from being a Lieutenant in the Special Police.
He spoke about locking guys up and having to bring them to Mineola, because the PWPD had not yet built their temporary jail cell as yet.
In 1964, Clifford Hendrickson, Principal of the Schreiber High School requested of James Salerno, then Chief of Police, that McIlhenny be able to carry a weapon in school as a “Special Standby, just in case the school was ever faced with an emergency which required immediate action, the school would be better prepared to face the challenge.”
Thankfully, the challenge never came to pass, and McIlhenny was denied the use of a weapon while in the school.
Most students of McIlhenny’s 44 year career remember him for his aviation training on the Link Trainer, a flight simulator which taught pilots to control the plane purely by instruments. The simulator was located in the basement of the High School, and you couldn’t miss it, whether you were a student or just someone passing in the hallway. He was truly proud of the years he had in the School District.
“I was the teacher with the longest run,” he stated proudly. “I didn’t mind living in the same town, I loved it, and I walked to school every day.” On weekends or vacations, he would be found organizing times at the range that was located in the sand pits, or scheduling tournaments like the Turkey Shoot. He remained involved with the Special/Auxiliary Police long after those three years at the beach.
Among those who benefited from Link Trainer was his son Ed, who graduated from the Air Force Academy and did two tours on a carrier as a fighter pilot on a F16. Ken, who graduated from Annapolis, was a career officer in the Navy and his daughter, Nancy, who lives in Sea Cliff, is a retired Elementary School Teacher. His wife Doris, passed away several years ago.
At 98 years of age, with McIlhenny’s involvement in town, service to our country and his service for the PWPD, celebrating its 100th anniversary, It’s a Wonderful Life, did not just happen in Bedford Falls, but right here in Port Washington. McIlhenny is living proof.
—Submitted by Pam Monfort