Alumni Feature – Drew Yanno, Class of 1970

Drew Yanno

Many of these feature articles for the Little Falls High School Alumni Website have demonstrated how graduates from LFHS dreamed a dream and then lived it.  Drew Yanno, Class of 1970, is yet another illustration of not only living the dream, but discovering along the way that there are extensions to these dreams he never envisioned!

Here is Drew’s story.

“I always tell people I had an idyllic childhood growing up in Little Falls in the 50s and 60s.  It’s hard to list all the reasons for that, but what stands out the most for me was the sense of community.  Everyone knew everyone else – parents, kids, cousins, aunts, uncles, teachers, doctors, priests, ministers, coaches, everyone. Parents weren’t afraid to let their kids go off on their own to explore the town every day in the summer because they knew if they ever got into trouble, someone would be around who knew who they were, who their parents were and would step up to help if required.

Like Rich Cecconi (last month’s featured alumnus), I recall playing “hardball” in Eastern Park every day from April to October right up through junior high.  I also loved the skating rink at the old high school football field.  I went there every night in the winter after doing homework and eating dinner.  We would often walk there and back after skating for two or three hours.  (Nobody was fat back then!)  And, as I mentioned, everyone knew everyone.  It was a true community and this community helped each of us to form an identity and independence.  At the same time, it also made you feel connected to everyone else.  I formed bonds with all the friends I made in grade school, junior high and high school and I know that those bonds have lasted  a lifetime, simply for the fact of all those shared experiences and connections.

Trying to pinpoint a favorite teacher is a hard thing to do. I liked or at least admired almost every teacher I had, but if I had to choose, I’d say Phil Lalonde was my favorite.  He was my high school senior English teacher, and though we were all still kids, he treated us like adults.  He also made learning fun.  Though I don’t often see him these days, I like to think that we’re still friends and I hope he knows how much of an influence he had on me and my classmates.

I had several careers and everything I did after graduation helped to prepare me for all of them. I went to college at Syracuse University and was a dual major in geography and psychology, neither of which I made a career out of, but still helped to influence me, as most liberal arts education does.  After taking a year off, I went back to Syracuse to go to law school.  Upon graduation, I became a lawyer, first in Albany, and then later (and mostly) in Boston.  I also taught law in the undergraduate school of management at Boston College for eleven years while practicing in that city.

Maybe because of my love for reading, I had always wanted to be a writer.  Early in my career as an attorney, I wrote a couple of unpublished novels to scratch that itch.  Later on, when I was still practicing law, I was approached by a friend to write a screenplay and I agreed to do so.  This screenplay led to getting noticed in Hollywood and selling a script and going on to write several more.  None of those scripts were ever made into films, but, believe it or not, that’s pretty typical of professional screenwriters.  Hollywood only produces about 5% of the scripts they buy, so getting one of your scripts actually produced is a real feat and the professional equivalent of getting struck by lightning.

While still writing films, I transitioned from teaching law at Boston College to teaching in the film department there, where I founded the screenwriting program and taught for eleven more years.  I also wrote two books about screenwriting.  Probably my proudest accomplishment was working as a story consultant for actor (and producer) Will Smith on a number of projects.  Will read one of my books and approached me after doing so.  He is exactly the kind of person you hope he would be. He’s also the hardest working man in Hollywood – an incredible talent.

A couple of years before I left teaching, I started writing a novel (In the Matter of Michael Vogel) inspired by an event I heard about that happened in Little Falls sometime in the 80s.  The novel was published in 2013 and, as I try to tell everyone back there, it is pure fiction, and not a book about that incident.  I never learned much about the incident that inspired me to write the book and that was intentional.  I always tell folks that after page 8 in the book, there’s nothing that happens in the book that did or could have happened in that incident.

I have since written a second novel that I hope will be out soon, perhaps later this year.  It’s not based on anything Little Falls related, but I’m sure it would have to be influenced in some way by my having grown up there simply because that happens with every writer and every novel they write.

My life growing up in Little Falls influenced not only my novels, but so much more.  I believe sharing experiences with family and friends in a close-knit community made me (and every other LF native) feel a strong sense of identity and gave me the confidence to go out into the world and try to make my own way.  These people and experiences helped to shape every career I’ve had.

I have so many memories of growing up, it is hard to determine some of my favorites.  It was all great.  However, I have very fond memories of Church Street School where I went to elementary school.  It was only couple of blocks from my house and we played softball on the field there at recess every day there wasn’t snow on the ground (and even on some days when there was).  I made great friends there and I loved all the traditions, especially those around Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  High school was fun for different reasons, but friendship was at the heart of that as well.  I won’t go into any details because most would be incriminating to both me and those friends!

As for advice for current student at LFHS:  Don’t be afraid to go out into the world and go after what you want, even if that is right there in Little Falls.  I’d like to imagine that everything I’ve described here about growing up in Little Falls still applies, and you are more prepared to take on the challenges of working and living in this world than you might give yourself credit for.  Whatever confidence you’ve gained growing up and going to school there will serve you well.  There are thousands of Little Falls alumni out there who are a true testament to this.

I am proud to have grown up in Little Falls and love to visit whenever I can.  The memories I made and the friends and experiences I had there will live with me forever.”

Drew currently lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts which is a suburb west of Boston with his wife, Suzanne Bates, who is from Danville, Illinois (home of Dick Van Dyke). Suzanne was a television anchor in Boston before starting her own communications consulting firm.  According to Drew, she is far more accomplished than he is!  Drew also has a 26 year-old step-daughter, Meghan, who he describes as a great kid and an even better person and perhaps because she spent time with Drew while growing up, he feels there is a little piece of Little Falls instilled in her life as well.

The Little Falls High School Alumni Network’s Where are They Now series was initiated in January of 2015.  This feature highlights individuals who have enhanced their lives and/or the lives of others using the foundation of the education they received at LFHS or St. Mary’s and the family values they developed while growing up in Little Falls.  Success isn’t always defined by financial achievements.  Many people find personal satisfaction by giving back to their communities, organizations or to others in general.  Those on the receiving end of these heartfelt contributions may consider this person in the highest regard as well.  With this being said, we are looking for individual nominations of Little Falls alumni who have made a difference in the lives of others as well their own.  Before submitting your nominations (to AlumniLFHS@gmail.com), please confirm your nominee is currently registered on the Little Falls Alumni Website as this is also a requirement.

Thank you and we look forward to reacquainting with our fellow classmates.

About AlumniLFHS@gmail.com

Chiropractor, Santiago Chiropractic Associates, Lake Hiawatha, NJ. Director of Alumni Communications, LFHS Alumni Network.

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