August A. Stellwag, Class of 1949
Prep Librarian, School Historian & Archivist (1970-2010)
August “Gus” Stellwag was born in 1931 at Union Hospital in the Bronx, the son of August Stellwag, Sr., a salesman for a photo engraving company, and Elizabeth Boylan Stellwag, a homemaker. Growing up at 130 West 195th Street between Claflin and Webb Avenues in the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx, Gus’ childhood was a childhood filled with “Spauldeens” and stoopball and milk delivered in horse-drawn wagons and homemade Sunday morning coffee cakes sent up the dumbwaiter by Mrs. Bodnar, the superintendent’s, or “super’s,” wife.
He attended Our Lady of Angels Grammar School where one of his favorite teachers was the venerable Miss Duncansen, who in Gus' words "was stern yet kindly and maintained an orderly, yet pleasant classroom." In his final year of grammar school, young Gus took the test and was admitted to Regis High School in Manhattan, which would have meant four tuition-free academic years. But in early May of 1945, he also took the admissions test at Fordham Prep. It was on that spring afternoon that Gus Stellwag’s long association with Fordham began.
As Gus would often recall, from his exam room in Hughes Hall he had views of the dome of the New York Botanical Garden and of Edward’s Parade and the castle-like Keating Hall beyond. Even over a half-century later, he could remember how the sounds of campus life came through the open windows that day: the breeze rustling in the elms, the passing conversations of college students, and the crack of baseball bats. In his own estimation, right there and then, he was sold. Elated to learn that he had been admitted to Fordham Prep, he found that the difficulty of the entrance exam paled next to the task of convincing his parents that they should pay for him to attend. But as he told it, he would prevail, wearing his parents down over the course of a week. He would begin at the Prep in September 1945.
Stellwag’s Hughes Hall days were fond days of camaraderie, but first and foremost, of disciplined rigor. Entering the Prep “was a turning point for me,” he would say, recalling his first encounter with fellow Hall of Honor inductee Rev. Arthur Shea, SJ: “He was a man you didn’t fool with” — an opinion shared by many a Prepster from the Shea years. He also recalled his first encounter with his first-year homeroom teacher, yet another Hall of Honor inductee, Rev. John Leonard, SJ. In Gus' memory, Father stood out as a kind teacher whose jokes helped put nervous freshmen at ease.
Gus attended Fordham Prep during the years he would later describe as “A Golden Age of Prep Teachers,” a phrase that would become the title of chapter in When September Comes, the first and only comprehensive history of the Prep from its founding in 1841. Stellwag co-authored the book with friend, colleague and fellow Hall of Honor inductee, Frank Holbrook.
Among those Golden Agers, Al Kirchner was a particular favorite of Gus' for both Latin and English. “I always started his Latin homework first each night,” noted Stellwag, "Kirchner knew his subjects backwards and forwards.” German teacher Rudy Hanish was another favorite, along with Ed McHugh, Harry McDonough and Jim Melican — all Prep legends and fellow Hall of Honor inductees.
Outside of class, Gus devoted time to speech and debate. Stellwag also wrote for Rampart, was a member of the German Club and answered the call when Rev. Arthur Shea, SJ implored students to “fill the stands” and “support our teams” — Gus was the loyalest of Fordham Prep fans, a permanent fixture at Prep meets, matches and games.
August Stellwag graduated Fordham Prep in 1949, along with lifelong friend Charles Power and pals Arthur Donohue and Peter Holthaus whom he had known from his Our Lady of Angels days.
After graduation, Gus stayed on at Rose Hill as a student at the University, where he was a member of the ROTC. He graduated in 1953 with a degree in English. After a tour of duty with the Army, which included time in Korea, he returned to the States and began studies for a graduate degree in education, once again at his beloved Fordham.
During a grad school summer session, Stellwag was standing in Keating Hall and talking with a friend between classes when a late and harried young lady came running down the hall, a pile of books in her arms, books and papers dropping on the floor. Gus did not know her, but his friend was in her class: “There goes Miss Costello,” remarked his friend, “a very high-spirited girl. The guy who gets her is going to have his hands full.”
August Stellwag and the high-spirited Anna Costello were married on July 8, 1961 at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Elmhurst, New York. Like Gus, Anna would dedicate her life to education, going on to have a long career as a math teacher and then a guidance counselor at Tappan Zee High School in Orangeburg, New York.
In 1956, Gus Stellwag was hired as the first lay teacher at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, New York, where according to former student Gregory Christiano, who devoted an entire chapter to Stellwag in his autobiography, Sworn to Remember, Gus was renowned for his no-nonsense attitude, even-handedness, effective teaching methods and motivation by positive reinforcement.
Gus would go on to acquire a master of library science degree from Columbia University, and by the fall of 1970, he was the assistant librarian at the Prep, working for a time with Rev. George McAleer, SJ, yet another Hall of Honor inductee. He began his tenure in the Old Prep Library, officially called the Shea Library, a small freestanding cement-walled building just to the north of Hughes Hall. When the Prep moved out of Hughes Hall, the library was relocated to its current location in 1972. McAleer and Stellwag did all the packing, along with a couple of students, and, of course, Burma, Fr. McAleer’s cat.
In September 1974, Stellwag took over as the Prep's head librarian, a position he would hold for many years. Along the way many colleagues would serve in the library with Gus, but as he fondly would recall, of all his assistants, the kind, devoted and efficient Maureen Clark would always hold a special place in his memory.
In 2010 Gus retired from the Prep Library, having served for 40 years and having earned a double Bene Merenti Medal.
According to his friend and colleague, the late Frank Holbrook, Gus Stellwag worked tirelessly to obtain federal funds for library purchases and revolutionized the Prep library, turning it into the resource center for pupils and faculty that it was meant to be. Interdepartmental projects were organized. Latin and Greek students had access in-house and overnight to the Loeb classics collection. The Prep archives were founded. Technology was welcomed, first with microfilm, and then with experimental first-generation computers. Throughout Stellwag's time as librarian, faculty members were encouraged to let the library know what they needed. In Holbrook's words: “There was cooperation.”
Looking back from the 21st century, Gus would say that some of the 1970s technology he implemented seems laughable in retrospect. But at the time, it was said that the Prep’s microfilm collection alone rivaled those of some colleges. But more importantly, in his day Gus made the library the academic heart of the school: a sentiment shared by colleagues and alumni alike.
The efforts that Stellwag made on behalf of the Alumni Association were no less important to the school. When he joined the faculty in 1970, there was no database of Prep graduates. Because the Prep had been a simply been a division and then department of the University for its first 129 years, there had been no distinct system of recordkeeping for Fordham graduates identifying as specifically Prep alums. So Gus became a major player, finding many of the “lost boys,” through his extensive network of connections among former Prepsters. There were many phone calls, much digging, and more than a few embarrassments that occurred when he found out that an alumnus had been dead for years or that someone had withdrawn — not graduated—from the Prep. But in the end, hundreds of alumni were found and brought back in touch with the Prep community.
Classmates called Gus the “Ambassador to the Class of 1949,” or even “Mr. Fordham Prep”. A one-man social network, he kept the group connected and informed about one another. He was a leader in organizing reunions for that class and spearheading their fundraising efforts. As his '49 brothers have remarked, he was “The Glue That Held the Class Together.”
Even in his retirement, Gus never stayed away from the Prep for too long, making frequent visits to the Bronx for reunions and faculty events, or just to check up on his library or stroll his beloved Rose Hill. As one would imagine, when the archivist emeritus came to stop by, there were always stories to be told — stories of classmates from the '40s or teachers from yesteryear or all-but-forgotten little details of Prep life through the decades. It is obvious that the Prep meant so very much to Gus Stellwag. So too, Gus Stellwag meant so very much to the Prep community. In the words of Louis DiGiorno, Class of 1988, faculty member and successor to Stellwag as school archivist: “In making Prep history, Gus made Prep history.”
August Stellwag passed away on July 10, 2019.
May his memory live on at Rose Hill forever.