Friday, 20 November 2009 00:00
Sy Sundick, a resident of Great Neck for over 30 years, died on March 25, 2009 from acute myloid leukemia. He was 87 years old. He was best known as the legendary girl’s head counselor of Tyler Hill Camp from 1960 to 1990. He was also a highly regarded educator with the NYC Board of Education.
Seymour Howard Sundick, born and raised in Brooklyn, oldest of three, was an honor student and an athlete who played for the University of Albany’s varsity baseball team. When WWII broke out he was drafted into the Army at age 20. He became an officer in the 8th Air Force in the Quartermaster Corps. As a neutral leader, he would become the commanding officer of a 35-truck motor pool. His uncanny sense of direction served him well, as England removed all of her road signs, to prevent the Nazis from finding their way around, if they invaded. His battalion went from one secret munitions dump to another, delivering bombs to secret airfields, where warplanes would go on bombing runs against Germany. The continued success of his missions all over England won him several citations of merit. Eventually, he served in a similar capacity in France, where he also served as a translator, because he was a French scholar, and finally, saving the worst for last, he witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust, when he participated in the liberation of the infamous concentration camp at Buchenwald. He was also involved in the ceremonies where German officers surrendered their weapons to him and other commanding officers.
Captain Seymour Sundick was honorably discharged and he went into teaching, where he would become a principal. He was respected by his supervisors, admired by his peers, adored by his students and the parents loved him. His ability to connect with the children was a special gift that elevated his standard as an educator to the highest level. His commitment to causes that he believed in didn’t come without a price. He was a strong civil rights advocate whenever the issue came up in school, which drew threats from those who were against civil rights; and he stood tall with the union, when the teachers went on strike. He never crossed a picket line, which cost him his pay during that time, but won the respect of the teachers.
Mr. Sundick turned P.S.4, an elementary school in a Bedford Stuyvesant war zone, from a bottom-of-the-barrel pit, into one of the top schools in the district. As a white, Jewish principal in an all black school in the mid ’60s, he met with resistance, to put it mildly…other principals had gotten beaten. But the parents defended him tooth and nail. At times he needed police escorts to enter the building, and waiting inside for him were the teachers, who admired and respected him and the kids who loved him. He would later leave for his final assignment in P.S.188 in Hollis Hills, Queens, where he enjoyed much of the same success, although it was always a great school. Many of his teachers appreciated his allowing them the flexibility to think out of the box and try new approaches. He retired in 1964, but continued working with the Board of Examiners, helping to make the exams for incoming teachers.
Sy set up a revolutionary program that elevated Tyler Hill Camp…not just the girl’s side but also the entire camp. It was widely known that running the girl’s side was the hardest job in camp and Sy led the way with authority and grace. He had the kids (and his staff) eating out of the palm of his hand for over 30 years. He was tough, yet he had a kindness and softness about him that the girls truly appreciated. He was a father figure to so many of the campers who needed that extra dose of love and attention. He was also a mentor (and that means father figure) to many on his staff.
He is remembered fondly by his peers, along with thousands of former New York City elementary school students as well as the thousands of campers and counselors, so many of whom were positively influenced by him.
He is survived by his wife Selma; his sons, Ron and Paul; daughters-in-law Robin and Robyn; four grandchildren, Scott, Bradley, Sam and Elena. He is also survived by his siblings, Phil and Elaine.