Nearly 80 years after he passed away suddenly the name of Robert K. Toaz rang out in the Huntington High School auditorium this past June. An award given in honor of one of the district’s legendary figures was presented to Class of 2016 valedictorian Rachel Carpenter during this year’s senior academic awards ceremony.
Mr. Toaz was the first superintendent of the Huntington School District, serving from 1906 to 1933. During his career here, the high school was located several miles northeast of its current site at what is now Huntington Town Hall.
While Mr. Toaz has largely been forgotten in the sweep of history, the annual academic award that bears his name allows the current generation of students, teachers and parents to become familiar with one of the central figures in the district’s rise.
The Robert K. Toaz Memorial Prize was originally presented to the top student at the junior high school bearing his name. That building was located at the intersection of Woodhull and Nassau Roads and its property extended along Spring Road. When Toaz Junior High School closed on June 25, 1982, the annual award recipient became the valedictorian of the high school’s graduating class. The award presented to Ms. Carpenter carries a stipend of $100.
Huntington’s 2016 valedictorian is headed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she plans to study biology. President of the National Honor Society, Ms. Carpenter was an exceptional actress with the high school drama club, appearing in eight different productions over the past four years.
Ms. Carpenter attributes her success to “taking advantage of the numerous key resources provided by my wonderful teachers, all while keeping grounded by my ever-supportive friends and family,” she said. A personable, humorous and articulate young woman, the teenager is leaving behind many admiring teachers and classmates as she prepares to begin college.
Born in Rochester, New York
Robert Kennedy Toaz was born on August 23, 1869 in Rochester, New York, where he was educated in the local public schools. A member of the Delta Psi fraternity, he graduated from the University of Rochester in 1893 and began a career in education that brought much honor and recognition to him.
Prior to coming to Huntington, Mr. Toaz served as a teacher and head of the science department in Canandaigua for a year, as an assistant principal in Waterloo for four years and as a high school principal in Marion, New York.
In 1899 Mr. Toaz became principal of Oxford Academy and Union School and stayed there until February 1906 when he began a 27-year career in Huntington, landing a position as the high school principal and superintendent of the district. He also taught English and math at Huntington High School and coached the football team. It is unthinkable today for any one person to simultaneously wear so many different hats.
Mr. Toaz earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and also studied at Albany Teachers’ College and Clark University. He was extremely active in community affairs, serving as president of the board of trustees of the Old First Presbyterian Church, charter member and president of the Huntington Rotary Club, director of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce, master of Jeptha Masonic Lodge, director of the Bank of Huntington & Trust Co., chairman of the Suffolk County Boy Scouts, member of the board of directors of the Huntington Hotel and a trustee of the Heckscher Trust, which administered Heckscher Park and the art museum.
Oversaw district’s stunning growth
During his long tenure in the district, Mr. Toaz oversaw the construction of School Street School (also known as Station School) in 1906, Halesite or O’Hara Street School in 1908, a new Huntington High School in 1908-09, Lowndes Avenue School in 1913, Lincoln School in 1923, Woodbury Avenue School in 1923-24 and a large addition to Lowndes Avenue School in 1927, at which time it was renamed Roosevelt School in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose wife and youngest son attended the dedication ceremony.
Robert K. Toaz
Mr. Toaz relinquished his title as principal of Huntington High School in 1930 when Robert L. Simpson took over, remaining in the post through June 1950 when he was succeeded by Robert Cushman, who then led the school for the next 18 years. Thus, the high school had just three principals over a 62-year period.
On June 2, 1933, five months before he retired as superintendent, Mr. Toaz was awarded an honorary doctorate by State Education Commissioner Frank P. Graves at the commencement exercises of the New York State College for Teachers. He went on to serve as vice-president of the New York State School Masters’ Association.
After his retirement in November 1933, Mr. Toaz continued to reside in the family home located at 9 Myrtle Avenue, not far from the site where a school bearing his name would eventually be erected during the Great Depression. He continued to be active in the community and was a treasured resource for educators locally and across the state.
Passed away suddenly
On Friday evening, April 15, 1938 Mr. Toaz, who suffered from heart trouble, told his family that he didn’t feel well. The family physician was called in and shortly thereafter the longtime educator went to bed. He never woke up, passing away in his sleep during the early morning hours on April 16. He was only 68 years old.
Four months earlier, construction had begun on what was tentatively called Huntington Junior High School. In the aftermath of Mr. Toaz’s death, Huntington School Board members voted unanimously to name the new structure after the former superintendent and principal. When it opened in September 1939, it was Suffolk’s first junior high school and almost instantly became a state and national leader in the education of students in grades 7-9, winning many awards over the next four decades.
On Monday afternoon, April 18, 1938, a private funeral service was conducted in the Toaz family home by Old First Church Pastor Rev. E.J. Humeston, DD. Internment followed in the Memorial Cemetery of St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor.
When Robert K. Toaz Junior High School closed its doors in June 1982, Ms. Carpenter had not yet been born. Yet, she is now linked forever to the well-respected educator through the award that bears the name of Huntington’s first superintendent.