By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – This year’s eight inductees for the Red Bank Regional High School Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame are different in many ways.
The eight share a common thread of appreciation for what their high school years meant to them. Earlier this month they offered words of advice for the current crop of high school freshmen.
The distinguished alumni, inducted by the Red Bank Regional Educational Foundation, consisted of graduates from 1950 to 1998. Their collective careers have included a Superior Court judge, lawyer, educator, a professional photographer and videographer, a one-time actor, an executive with a health-care network, a member of the board of education, and the owner and operator of Little Silver’s own Sickles Market.
David Dillon graduated in 1950 and went on to a career in insurance. But, Dillon confided to the audience, “Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be an actor.”
Back in high school, Dillon said, he was active in sports, and recalled a coach’s advice to “play the game” and “finish the race.” Those, he said, were some of the best life lessons he ever got. “I followed my dream,” and pursued acting, too, winning parts over the years.
“I learned more at Red Bank High School than I ever dreamed of learning,” he said.
Daniel M. Waldman, Class of 1963, said, “Being remembered by my high school 49 years after I graduated struck an emotional cord.”
Waldman, a retired Superior Court judge and lawyer, told the young audience that while it is an increasingly complex world it’s easy to lose sight of what is important, “You need a value system” comprised of honesty and integrity, he said.
John Garofalo, Class of 1969, related his experiences, coming to the United States with his family from their native Italy when he was 6. Not speaking the language, his family moved in with relatives and it was a difficult transition for them.
Garofolo, who sits on the district’s school board, is retired from the state Department of Environmental Protection and operates a small business. His parents told their children to “be proud of who you are and where you come from.”
The school’s faculty and administration seemed to echo those sentiments with their words and deeds. “The teachers, the administration, they treated us with respect,” he said, adding the school became “our home away from home.”
Jane R. Denny, a career educator who has taught at Rumson Country Day School and Brookdale Community College, has been the director of education for the college’s Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Studies. A member of the Class of 1970, she recalled her high school years. “The 1960s were a time rife with conflict,” she said, remembering how the teachers took the cultural turmoil and put it in context for the classroom; and how that influenced her decisions in life.
Pim Van Hemmen, Class of 1980, left the school and went on to have a distinguished career in photography and videos. While at the Star-Ledger, his photography department won two Pulitzer Prizes and he has won numerous awards.
He came to the two river area from the Netherlands in 1976. Barely able to speak English, he found himself attending the regional high school. “What really impressed me were the teachers.” Especially one, Mr. Snyder, a shop teacher, who “did not suffer fools lightly. The toughest kids in school were impressed with Mr. Snyder.”
The lessons learned from the teachers and from his older brother remains with Van Hemmen as he passed it on to this crop of students, telling them, “Do the right thing. Do it the right way.”
Bob Sickles, Class of 1974, went on from college to establish Sickles Market. He acknowledged, “I’m a lot more comfortable talking about tomatoes and cheese,” than about himself. But he noted what he learned in the high school – in and outside the classroom – remain. “I have so many fond memories of high school,” he said. “It’s hard to remember them all.”
Daniel J. O’Hern Jr., a local lawyer who is a member of the Little Silver Borough Council, recalled coming to the school when it was brand new. “This place seemed so cool and modern,” he remembered. And he is still “awestruck” by the programs and staff.
He advised that time in high school is “only the beginning of a life that will have it’s ups and downs.”
But for now, “It’s OK to be a kid and have fun. It’s OK to make mistakes,” he said. “Just don’t make too big of a mistake.”
C. Darryl Hughes, Class of 1983, thought back to a specific teacher. As an Advanced Placement English student, his teacher, who had been a professor at Fordham University, was particularly tough and demanding. Hughes and many of his classmates found it difficult to get the top grades they all had been earning. Eventually, he said, he saw his work improve, he got better grades, and more importantly, he became a better writer.
“I encourage you to live up to their challenges,” of those tough, and sometimes disliked teachers, said Hughes, who is an executive with Meridian Health.
Andrew E. Forrest is the youngest of this year’s inductees, having graduated in 1998. Forrest is a member of the high school’s faculty, teaching literature and composition. He was named Teacher of the Year for 2009-10.
As a student, the school offered him “the gift of diversity and difference,” he said. It is that “lack of sameness” that continues to be a real gift to the school’s population. “All their messiness and difference” of those approximately 100 students he gets to know and appreciate each year, keeps him coming back, he said.
The high school’s education foundation has been inductng members in the hall of fame for 10 years now. It now has 102 members, according to Jacqueline Caruso-Smith, the foundation’s hall of fame chairwoman.