The Name - The Legend - The Man
by Suzanne Law Hawes
In 1935, he left Sing Sing to become the recreation director at Woodbourne Institution for mental defectives where he remained until 1940. His job description was:
Under direction of Principal Keeper Edward Fay, volunteered to take prisoners to court appearances, sick visits, funerals, picked up parole violators. This was just at the opening of the prison and no parole officer had been appointed at that time.
Planned and directed the recreational program of the inmate population, i.e., athletics, shows.
Instructor at the Central Guard School for newly appointed guards. Wrote the chapter of Recreation for Dr. Walter M. Wallack's book, Correction Education Today.
Helen Van Deventer Law continues in her diary:
In January 1940, John began to negotiate for a job at Wallkill Prison when Walter Wallack became warden there. We were hard put to manage on his salary of about $2500 a year… In March, we made a ten dollar deposit on a house for rent in Wallkill. John started his new job on April 1 and we moved April 4 at the cost of $25.
From this house right on the Wallkill River, they moved to prison property on June 1, a duplex house shared by Marie and Norbert Henzel and their two children. The diary reported:
There was a golf course on the prison grounds and we wives who lived there played regularly. In September, the children began school at a one room school in New Hurley. John began to do some scouting and picked up extra money, besides enjoying being connected up with football again.
World War II intervened and John signed up for the draft, being just under the age limit. He was not called but took an evening position at the Newburgh shipyards as a safety officer out of patriotism as well as the additional income it provided. It was at this time that he filed for his first social security card.
When the war was over and interested in providing more for his family, he did some sideline work for Thorp Sporting Goods. After spending seventeen years in the correction system, John wanted to get back to coaching and the sport arena that he loved so well. He signed a contract with Holy Cross College for the fall season followed by a tour at Notre Dame for the spring season with Frank Leahy.
During that summer, poliomyelitis was rampant and his only son succumbed to the infection. John was due to start coaching at Mt. St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, MD but was delayed in getting there in order to bury his son who died August 23, 1948.
While at the "Mount," John coached not only football but the baseball team as well. His professorial duties included teaching a sociology course which naturally focused on the correction system.
Living with a coach is not an easy business for family as the pregame anxiety tends to mount to high levels. Things were good if we won, not so good if we lost. In every way, John brought Rockne to the "Mounties." Respect for one another, no in-fighting, cohesion, practice (his summer assignment to his men was to run in the sand at the beach and NO swimming). After a hard practice he would come home exhausted, having used his own body for a bucking machine to show the players the "real thing."
On trips, the men had to wear coats and ties; there were to be NO displays of unsportsmanlike conduct and on the field they had to treat the other team members with respect, no matter how badly the game was going.
He, like Rockne, liked a fast line although they were growing men a lot larger by this time and they had added pounds of protective equipment. His backfield was small and agile, the ends were tall and rangy. Each of "his boys" became more like sons than merely players. He helped them in whatever way they might need assistance, from academics to personal lives. Many of these "Mounties" kept in touch with him for years after.
After several seasons, the Mount decided to eliminate football for financial reasons. John then negotiated with Fred Miller, his ND roommate, for a position with Miller Brewing Company, becoming the Eastern Regional Representative for the company. It was the beginning of Miller's debut of combining athletics with the selling of beer.
From time to time former prisoners would drop in to visit, something that Helen didn't always appreciate. One of them, on the occasion of his daughter's upcoming wedding, promised to provide all the limousines that she required for that day.
Searching Sing for My Father by Dr. Robert L. Gold.
John B. Law was a member of the State Commission of Correction at the time of his death in 1962. To learn more about the SCOC, click its logo left to access its web site.
The image selections and captions on this web page are by the NYCHS webmaster.