“I’m not bad back here,” Tony Danza said from behind the bar at Connolly Station in Malverne Thursday night as he served up beer, wine and cocktails to the hundreds of patrons who packed the pub.
The actor -- best known for his roles on “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” -- and Malverne High School alum returned home to lend a hand at raising funds for Howard T. Herber Middle School’s sixth-grade field trip to the upstate Frost Valley YMCA by slinging drinks at his former workplace.
"It's kind of cool. It does bring back a lot of memories,” Danza, 62, said, recalling the days he tended the same bar, which was called Ickle Bickle’s back then. “When I worked here, it was a jumping place and it would be like this sometimes,” he added, pointing to the crowd gathered around the bar, calling out his name and their drink orders.
For a $20 donation to the Save Frost Valley fund, each guest received a complimentary drink, courtesy of Connolly Station owner Gerry Hughes, who also agreed to give a percentage of the bar proceeds to the cause.
Hughes said he was happy to host the fundraiser when Danza’s cousin came to him with the idea.
“I didn’t think he would do it and here he is, behind the bar at Connolly Station ... helping out for the school, which is a great thing,” Hughes said. “He’s like a natural … If he ever retires from being an actor, I’ll give him a job as a bartender.”
For the past 42 years, Malverne sixth-graders have been traveling to upstate Claryville for the overnight field trip, but for the first time in the school district’s history, its board of education eliminated the funds for Frost Valley when it adopted the 2012-2013 budget last spring. Shortly after, a group of parents formed the Save Frost Valley Committee, and they have been hosting various events to raise the $40,000 needed to cover the trip’s expenses, including transportation and chaperones. Heading into the benefit, the group still needed to come up with $25,000.
"What we're seeing a lot more is parents are bearing the responsibility of getting their kids to the camps,” said Bob Eddings, director of school programs for Frost Valley YMCA.
To lessen the burden placed on the SFV Committee, Frost Valley YMCA provided some financial assistance, which lowered the price per student from $179 to $161, negotiated a better rate for the busing, and donated a weekend trip for four to be raffled off at the benefit.
“This is by far the most interesting fundraiser I've ever been a part of,” Eddings added.
Many of the bar patrons came out to support the cause, because they cherished their memories from the time they spent at Frost Valley as a child.
"It [Frost Valley] teaches you about the real world … and how to socialize and cope with different challenges," said Wycinna Spence, 34, of Lakeview, who went on the trip when she was a sixth-grader at Herber.
Now a mother of three with two students enrolled in Malverne’s Maurice W. Downing Primary School, Spence hopes that her children will one day be able to go to Frost Valley, too. Through her charity, We Care Foundation, she has been helping to raise money for the trip and spent Thursday night selling raffle tickets along with other SFV committee members.
“It's something that all children should experience,” she said. “Whether it’s us having to raise money as a community or the school district, we should be able to work hand-in-hand to keep the tradition going.”
Having taught in a public school, which was shown on his TV show “Teach,” and authored the book “I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had,” Danza is passionate about education and was impressed with the turnout for fundraiser.
"I'm thrilled,” he said. “It just shows you that people are worried about this kind of stuff. All we do is chip away at what the kids value and it's sending the wrong message to them. We tell them it [their education] is so important and then we take something away from them.”