Donor family says Ernest C. Myer Elementary School principal did not have permission to take piano (updated)
HURLEY, N.Y. — The son of the late cafeteria worker whose piano was donated to the Ernest C. Myer Elementary School in May said the school’s principal contacted his family about buying the instrument, but if she did remove it from the school, she did not have the family’s permission.
Tim Drake, who grew up two blocks from Myer and now lives in Dover, N.H., said on Wednesday that Principal Ardrea Lambeth-Smith contacted him about buying the piano his family had donated in memory of his mother, Harriet. He said he told her he would have to talk it over with his family and research its value first.
Soon after, Drake said, he read in the Freeman that there was an allegation that Lambeth-Smith had removed his mother’s piano from the school.
He said his family was outraged.
Lambeth-Smith has been placed on indefinite paid leave from her job at Myer, but Kingston school district Superintendent Paul Padalino has said only that the action is related to a personnel matter.
Last Thursday, Padalino told the Freeman the school district was investigating an allegation that Lambeth-Smith took home a piano that had been donated to the Myer school in May. He said at the time that the complaint was not being treated as a theft and that the principal was not said to have tried to conceal taking the piano home. He also said the piano was back in the district’s possession at that point.
On Friday, Padalino said he could not discuss the complaint any further because it had become a personnel matter. On Monday, he would not say if the administrative leave was connected to the piano allegation.
The Freeman has been unable to reach Lambeth-Smith for comment.
Drake on Wednesday described the piano as being in “pristine” condition, without a scratch, when it was donated last month, but he said the principal described the piano to him as being “scratched and marred” three weeks later when she wanted to buy it. Drake said Lambeth-Smith also had asked that the family donate the money she would pay for the piano to Myer Elementary School.
“The bottom line is she did not have permission to take it,” Drake said. Continued...
Lynne DeCicco, the daughter of Harriet Drake, said on Tuesday that when her mother died on March 27, it capped a difficult period during which DeCicco lost her husband, father and mother in the span of less than a year-and-a-half.
DeCicco, who now lives in Aurora, Colo., said she found her husband, Dennis, dead in his office from a heart attack in October 2010, and her father, James Wesley Drake, died in November 2011 after a battle with Alzheimer’s, a disease whose symptoms include memory loss and cognitive deterioration.
DeCicco said she tries to remember her father, whom she described as an intelligent former IBM design engineer, the way he would want to be remembered, and for the same reason, she wanted to donate the piano to the school her mother loved.
DeCicco thinks of it as leaving a piece of her mother at Myer Elementary School.
DeCicco described the “lunch lady” position her mother held at Myer for more than 20 years as the perfect job. DeCicco said she lived two blocks from Myer Elementary during her childhood and her mother would walk her children to and from school every day.
Harriet Drake loved children and was the type of person who had to greet every baby she saw in the grocery store, her daughter said.
“Everyone knew what a big, soft heart she had for kids,” DeCicco said.
DeCicco said her mother could always play piano by ear but never could read music. That changed at age 80, when DeCicco’s father bought the piano for her mother and got her lessons, and she recalled how proud her mother was to learn.
Regardless of what happens now, Drake’s children say, they want the piano to stay at Myer Elementary.
As Tim Drake put it, if his family had wanted to sell the piano when his mother died, his siblings would have posted it on Craigslist. He said the family donation of the instrument to Myer Elementary is what his mother would have wanted.
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