• Back at school, at 96
    By Stefan Hard
     | July 22,2014
    Stefan Hard / Staff Photo

    Diana Winer, 96, of Boynton Beach, Florida, holds her 1936 diploma from Spaulding High School on Monday in the building where she earned it, which is now the Vermont History Center. Winer is joined, from left, by son Mark Winer, of Westford, neighbor Liz Sterling, of Boynton Beach, and daughter Barbara Biziou, of New York City.

    BARRE — Diana Winer is having her Barre heritage days a couple of days early. But, hey, when you’re 96, what’s a couple of days?

    Winer, who lives in Boynton Beach, Florida, flew up to Vermont with a close friend over the weekend to attend a family reunion and decided to also visit her alma mater, Spaulding High School. Winer, who was known as Diana Popock in high school but later preferred the spelling Popack for her maiden name, graduated in 1936.

    Spaulding has since moved to the south side of the city, but when Winer attended, it was at the foot of Washington Street in the ornate brick building that now houses the Vermont History Center and Library.

    Winer visited her old school Monday with help from her son and daughter, as well as friend Liz Sterling, who is a neighbor of Winer’s in Boynton Beach. Winer had to use the building’s access for the disabled Monday, so she didn’t bound up the front steps quite as she did in her school days and even on an earlier visit about 10 years ago.

    On this visit to Barre, Winer recognized the clock on the steeple of the First Church, Universalist, on the corner of South Main and Church streets, just around the corner from the old high school. It’s a clock she walked underneath on her way to school every day in her youth.

    “In the winter, I would get to school some days and my nose would be red from the cold,” she said. The warmth from the family’s coal stove wore off quickly on the short walk.

    Winer remembered bits and pieces of her childhood in Barre, and with help from son Mark Winer, of Westford, and daughter Barbara Biziou, of New York City, described a few scenes from her years here.

    Her father was a member of the Jewish clergy, born in Belarus, who moved to Palestine and then Egypt before emigrating to the United States. After arriving in Brooklyn, he heard about a job opening for a rabbi in Montpelier. He got the job, and Diana was born in the temple.

    Moving into a home at 56 S. Main St. in Barre, the family opened a dry goods market, and her father kept active in his faith within the close-knit Jewish community here. He served a valuable role as the city’s go-to Jewish butcher, known for following closely the kosher codes for slaughter.

    “I remember Father killing chickens in the basement on Fridays,” she said.

    She also remembers riding with her father in his delivery wagon, pulled by trusty Molly, the family horse.

    Another memory that stands out: riding with her mother as a little girl on the trolley cars that once rumbled down Main Street to visit friends across town. She then remembers being left with a group of other girls who were jumping rope on the side of the street while her mother visited a friend inside, before suddenly realizing she couldn’t see where her mom was and was scared that she was gone.

    Winer shed her fears as she grew older. She became famous among her classmates and probably throughout town for an incident in her father’s market in which the sharp-eyed teen attempted to stop another girl who was trying to steal money from the cash register.

    “She couldn’t get it open,” she recalled. “I was trying to stop her and she hit me over the head with a glass bottle. I guess I passed out briefly, but then I came around and ran out the door after her and yelled, ‘Hey!’” The would-be thief was apprehended and landed in jail.

    A clipping copied from a Spaulding yearbook refers to the incident and some other characteristics of the outgoing girl with the nickname Deenie. It reads, in part: “Getting hit on the head by a thief didn’t dim this young lady’s personality! Nor did it change Deenie’s cheerful disposition and friendly smile! Thieves and people who insist on calling her Dinah are her pet hates — beware!”

    Deenie was also known by her classmates to love tennis, skating, dancing, walking in the rain and reading.

    An honors student, she said she would sometimes put down her books and go to the movies, and on a few occasions attended dances. “My father was very religious, so I didn’t get to do those things very often,” she said.

    She was often assigned to watch after her brothers, but sometimes she would instead join her oldest brother, Sam, in one of his business enterprises. She explained that Sam would buy candy bars at the store, three for 10 cents, and then sell them to workers in the granite sheds for a nickel apiece, yielding a handsome profit.

    “If I made 25 cents, he’d sometimes give me 10 cents,” said Winer, who would help hawk the sweets to the men. “Sometimes we’d even get tips,” she said.

    Winer doesn’t know when she’ll next be back to Barre, but her connections to Vermont and the city remain strong. And her daughter describes her as a world traveler who has a history of taking trips on a whim, no matter her age.

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