History Alive

JOHNSTOWN – Crammed with many historically significant items relevant to the Greater Johnstown School District, the district’s school museum is a showcase of time and history.

From the bygone era to today, the Johnstown educational community is represented through books, photos, clothes, historical documents. ledgers and other memorabilia at what is known as the “white house” on Knox Field, behind the junior high.

The museum, although recently closed for regular-season hours, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Former Johnstown social studies teacher William Pollak serves as curator of the museum, which opened May 3, 2003.

“It’s a living museum,” says district Superintendent Robert DeLilli.

The museum is open from June through September, but groups can book a visit during the off-season by appointment. There is no charge to visit the museum.

Purple and gold, the school district’s colors, are everywhere in the museum.

“It’s really kind of great stuff,” says museum advisory board chairwoman Kathryn Zajicek, a retired JHS art teacher. “The archives are phenomenal.”

“We’re all interested in holding on to the school history,” said Pollak, a former mayor of the city and a former educator for the school district.

The museum is a hodgepodge of colorful artifacts. Throughout the building, which dates back to the 1930s itself, are sports uniforms, trophies, banners, report cards, photos, yearbooks, jackets and pennants reflecting many decades of education in the Colonial City. The various rooms are filled with scholarship information, diplomas, newspaper clippings and general historical items from the decades represented. Exams and an actual old desk are on display, as well as textbooks, plaques, school furniture, artwork, wall maps and scrapbooks.

There are copies of the former Sir Bills Bugle newspaper and information on old schools such as the East State, North Perry and Montgomery street schools,

Among the more impressive displays are tributes to William A. Wright, a district teacher and administrator for 42 years, and Mrs. Rose Knox, the late local business leader and philanthropist.

The white house used to serve as a place of business for the Johnstown school district, but was vacated at the start of the 21st century. Now, volunteers are trying to find as many items as they can going back to the 18th century to display in the building.

“The building was vacant and we said, ‘Let’s get a hold of some of these things,'” Pollak said.

Museum hours during the season are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays; or by calling Pollak at 762-7646. The museum, which goes by the motto “Keeping Memories Alive,” stresses that all types of Johnstown school memorabilia is wanted.

“We’re thinking of having a big celebration in the spring,” Pollak said.

People interested in donating items can bring them to Pollak’s home at 2 Prindle Ave., or he will pick them up.

People serving on the 13-member advisory board say the museum will be used by the community and outside visitors, teachers, students and alumni for many years.

Hundreds of people already have visited the museum during its 10 years in existence. Those planning a class reunion are encouraged to include a museum tour as part of their activities. Pollak said he has a group from the Johnstown High School Class of 1968 coming in the next few weeks. Many Johnstown alumni have toured the museum on their own and as part of class reunions. Tours may be scheduled by appointment or during regular museum hours of operation.

“I think we had more reunion groups use the museum this year than ever,” Zajicek said.

City Historian Noel Levee, who is also on the museum board, said he finds it fascinating to research the earlier schools in Johnstown. He said he was interested in the early school established by Sir William Johnson and the old Johnstown Academy on Market Street. Levee said he got involved in the museum through his work with the Johnstown Historical Society and turning over items to Pollak.

Local photographer and board member Carm D’Amore, a retired JHS guidance counselor, has his own photographs at the museum.

“I think there’s a lot of history here,” he said during a recent visit with other board members.

Pollak said people still bring things to him and he is willing to consider anything for display, including military ties to Johnstown schools.

Board member Richard McGuire credits Pollak for his years of work putting the museum together.

“All of the things in the building are because of him,” said McGuire, a former district Board of Education president.

Board member Phil Conner added, “We just want to keep some of the school system alive.”

People who visit the museum – especially those who grew up in Johnstown – could spend hours going through the museum.

The collection dates from the late 1700s to the present, and various rooms in the museum are dedicated to specific time periods.

Information about the museum can be found on the district website – The museum also has a Facebook page.

Michael Anich can be reached at