Dan Severson, "It’s been a Great Ride"
Dan Severson is retiring from Cambridge Central School
this year after 21 years of service, first for 7 years as a science
teacher, then 13 years as principal and finally this last year as
superintendent. Being able to give back to the school and community that
raised and shaped him has been, in Dan’s words, "a great ride".
born on April 6, 1942 in Mary McClellan Hospital the son of John and Anne
Severson. His family lived at 110 West Main Street and ran a bakery at 42
West Main. His childhood playmates included his brother, Mike, Tom Canzeri,
Billy Potvin, Glenn Davis, Mick Kent, Charles Clark, Carmen Olf, and
Dan was a diligent, though not stellar, student. During
one of his less attentive moments, Dan recalls sitting in Charlotte
Gottry’s Latin class counting the glass bricks in the wall. He was an
active teenager (some might even say "wild") but never in school. Besides
not wanting to let down his teachers, he knew he’d be in even more trouble
at home. He recalls Maurice "Okie" O’Connor, John Herbert, and Ken Wilbur
as teachers who helped guide and educate him.
Dan received an exceptional
score on the National Merit Scholarship test, prompting Principal
Charlie Bowler to take a personal interest in helping Dan get into the
Charlie drove Dan to the University of Maine where he scheduled an
interview with the Director of Admissions and the football coach. Next,
Charlie got an interview for Dan at Syracuse University with Coach Ben
Schwartzwalder and the great Ernie Davis. SU wouldn’t allow Dan to
attend the College of Forestry because it would interfere with football
practice. So, upon graduation from CCS in 1960 Dan enrolled on a
football scholarship at University of Maine where he co-captained the
team in his senior year.
Dan was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity, which he proudly defines as
a real-life Animal House. He returned to Cambridge quite a bit during
the school year in spite of the 8-hour drive. During the summer Dan
worked for the county along with Bob Hamilton. They spent many an hour
swinging hand scythes to clear brush along the edge of the roads.
Summers were very short because he had to return for football practice.
Dan’s college career consisted of a mix of college of
forestry, college of arts & sciences, and college of education. In 1964
Dan graduated with a teaching degree looking for a career as a
teacher. Since the college of forestry was a land grant college, Dan had
to enroll in ROTC and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army upon
Dan’s army career lasted 23
years and spanned many areas including infantry, paratrooper,
pathfinder, and ranger. He was a Lieutenant in command of a platoon from
the 173rd airborne brigades in Vietnam. After signing for an
extended Vietnam tour in 1967, Dan was seriously wounded attacking a
hill during the start of the Tet offensive. He was evacuated by
helicopter and spent over one year in a hospital. He had a collapsed
right lung, punctured internal organs and lost a muscle off his leg.
Following stays in six different hospitals, including Walter Reed, Dan
returned to active duty.
Dan received numerous awards
and decorations for his military service, including the
Distinguished Service Cross for Valor, the second highest award bestowed
by the Army. He has 3 Bronze Stars for valor, an Army commendation, and 2
Purple hearts. Dan stood with the Army photographer who took the
accompanying photo of the first fallen member of his unit in Vietnam.
photo was featured in national media as they tried to show the other, more
personal side of the unpopular war.
In April 1969 Dan married Polly Penland, a Georgia girl he
met when he was an instructor at the US Army mountain ranger camp. Their
daughter, Jennifer, lives in Pennsylvania and is married to an FBI agent.
They have a grand-daughter, Charlotte. Dan and Polly’s son, Eric, lives in
Albany where he makes hi-tech fire extinguishers. Eric married Katy, an
When Dan retired from the Army in 1988 he wanted to return
to Cambridge. His good friend, Howard Romack, helped secure him a position
as earth science teacher. While Dan was in the Army he was able to obtain
his high school administration certificate at the University of Maine,
where he coached football for 2 years. When the CCS high school principal
job became available in 1996, Dan was the right man in the right spot at
the right time.
Like so many who grew up in Cambridge and moved away, Dan
never considered any place home except Cambridge. During his long Army
career, Dan always knew that he was "eventually going home to Cambridge".
The community and teachers of his youth had helped form him and he was
proud to be able to return the favor to the next generations. He recalls
that the community "depended on me" and that his parents "expected him to
behave", two virtues that he still finds true in Cambridge today.
Dan’s been involved on a daily basis with the CCS
students, in the classroom, in the principal’s office and on the football
field where he serves as an unpaid assistant coach. When asked what
accomplishments he’s most proud of he immediately points out CCS’s recent
achievement as one of the Top Ten High-Performing high schools in NYS. He
also beams when telling of CCS’s 12th place academic ranking
among all Capital District schools, large and small. He proudly tells of
CCS’s 22nd ranking of 550 NYS schools in Regents graduation
rate. With equal pride, he recalls CCS’s two football state championships
in 1992 and 1999.
He calls his retirement a "payback period for Polly".
Cambridge and CCS have taken a lot of commitment and he feels it’s now
time to dote on his wife. Dan has provided "service out of a feeling of
debt and a sense of community". Dan Severson has given a lot to his
community, his country, and his school. A grateful community says Thanks
and hopes he enjoys his retirement.
Ken Gottry, ‘68
President CCS Alumni Association