Fairfield Now - Fall 2008
Class of '55 profile
Nick Macol: Taking the Good Gamble
By Virginia Weir
Nick Macol '55, in the computer classroom at the University School.
There's nothing fancy about The University School (TUS) in Bridgeport, Connecticut - no big sign, just plain classrooms and simple décor. But for many of the 80-some students who attend this private alternative high school, located on the University of Bridgeport campus, it is an opportunity to get their educations on track, and for some it is a last chance at a diploma.
Managing TUS has been a life's calling for its owner, Nick Macol '55, who gave up his Bridgeport Public Schools' pension to buy TUS in 1973 - becoming its fourth owner since the school was established in 1892.
"TUS was a gamble for me - a good gamble. I wanted a business I would love," Macol said. "I love teaching, and I love inner city kids."
Macol's students consist of a wide spectrum of boys and girls who, for multiple reasons, have had a hard time succeeding in the large, comprehensive high schools. These students on the edge require the formula of structure, discipline, predictability, and empathy that TUS offers.
Macol is a man of the neighborhood, having grown up just a few blocks from TUS, in Bridgeport's South End. His grandparents found their way to the city in the early 1900s, having lost seven of their eight children to starvation in a tough journey from Turkey and Syria. Macol's father, George, was popularly known as "The Banana Man," from his daily deliveries of the fruit to mom-n-pop grocery stores from boats in New York Harbor. Macol has written a manuscript (as yet unpublished) about his life, Nick, the Son of the Banana Man.
Macol credits his father's work ethic, his mother's faith, and the time he spent at Fairfield as the foundation of his success. The affection he feels for the other 89 graduates of his class is evident. Most of them came from Bridgeport, Fairfield, or the Naugatuck Valley. "The men that I graduated with, we were family... We all had part-time jobs; $500 a semester was tough and we were brown-bagging it all the time... We all had the same foundation of hardworking parents who felt that education was important."
Macol appreciated the Jesuits, "great men, with their black cloaks and their great sense of humor... My mother would always have them over to the house to eat Arabic food," he reminisced.
He earned a bachelor's degree in social science in 1955, as well as the nickname "90-over-90" because he was last in his class. Nevertheless, at graduation he received a standing ovation. "Why?" Macol laughed. "There I was, of Arabic descent, non-Catholic, shaking the hands of the Catholic bishop (Lawrence J. Sheehan), and the Jewish governor (Abraham Ribikoff). The guys went crazy."
After graduation, Macol went west, mining for gold and uranium in New Mexico, but returned to Connecticut when his father became ill. He tried teaching and became a permanent substitute in the City of Bridgeport for $12.50 a day. "I fell in love with the profession," he said. He got a teaching certificate, and landed a job at Whittier School, where he met his wife of 46 years, Dottie. They have three daughters, one of whom, Lynn Ford, is the principal at TUS.
A member of a group of 1955 alumni, the ROMEOs ("Retired Old Men Eating Out;" see Fairfield Now, Summer 2008 issue), Macol still gets together regularly with his good friends from Fairfield, and lunch is no longer in a brown bag!
At 75, Macol doesn't seem to be slowing down, and remains grateful for his successes, his family, and his close-knit community. "The good Lord just lets me keep on going. Sometimes I go down to Seaside Park and I talk with The Big Guy, and I feel so good. I'm not perfect, but I'm trying to do the right thing."