DHS Hall of Fame debuts with five inductees

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Honorees’ achievements viewed as setting bar high for future

By Kathleen Brady SheaManaging Editor, The Times

State Rep. Becky Corbin poses with Hall of Fame honoree Curt Schroder.

State Rep. Becky Corbin (lelt) poses with former Rep. Curt Schroder, whose accomplishments were difficult to condense into the nomination she submitted for him.

A high-achieving, civic-minded entrepreneur; a celebrated author who draws on her legal practice for inspiration; a respected, nine-term member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives; a decorated colonel whose retirement prompted a crusade to bring low-cost water systems to developing countries; and a globe-trotting orthopedic surgeon who does humanitarian work shared an honor and a passion Saturday night in Downingtown.

In front of a crowd of more than 100 at St. Anthony’s Lodge, the five were inducted into the inaugural Downingtown High School Alumni Association’s Hall of Fame. The celebration established a well-received tradition at the 130thannual banquet for the association, which holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously active such group in the nation.

The ceremony continued the theme of distinctions as the people who submitted the nominations made introductions followed by remarks from the honorees: Hank Hamilton, ’68; Bonnie MacDougal Kistler, ’71; Curt Schroder, ’79; Todd Strong, ’58; and Richard Whittaker, ’58. And what they had in common – besides a roster of accomplishments – was an enduring appreciation for their education.

Melissa Menna, who chaired the Hall of Fame committee, collects the Hall of Fame plaques that will be put on permanent display.

Melissa Menna, who chaired the Hall of Fame committee, collects the Hall of Fame plaques that will be put on permanent display.

Melissa Menna, a 2000 graduate and third-generation alum, chaired the Hall of Fame committee, working with her mother, Caryn Isabella Menna, ’76, chair of the banquet committee. Melissa Menna told the audience that the Hall of Fame idea came up at last year’s banquet, with several classmates’ wondering why Chester County’s largest school district – and the ninth largest in Pennsylvania, according to Supt. Larry Mussoline – didn’t have a way to recognize outstanding graduates.

Menna said she soon learned that others had raised that same question, and one, a longtime English teacher who lost her battle with cancer a year ago, had begun working toward that goal. The family of Karen Mapes, known for being an avid Downingtown High booster, accepted an award making her an honorary alum for her devotion to the district and her effort to jumpstart the Hall of Fame.

Kate Hallman Campbell, ’69, a friend and colleague, said that when Mapes visited other schools with Downingtown’s Academic Team, she would shake her head when she saw other school’s displays of notable graduates, insisting: “We have so many great people; they need to be recognized.”

That dream became a reality on Saturday night. And in the process, participants agreed that the bar was set high for future inductees.

Hall of Fame inductee Hank Hamilton poses with his wife, Donna Usher. The two met at Downingtown High School.

Hall of Fame inductee Hank Hamilton poses with his wife, Donna Usher. The two met at Downingtown High School.

Hank Hamilton, board chairman of Dane Décor, an iconic Downingtown furniture store, said his connection to Downingtown High began at age 10 when he helped his father clean bricks during its construction. Years later, he met Donna Usher, the woman he would marry, in biology class. “I did not have to go far to do what I want,” he said. “I love Downingtown.” Hamilton has been active in multiple organizations, including the Downingtown Main Street Association, the Downingtown-Thorndale Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Downingtown Municipal Water Authority.

Bonnie MacDougal Kistler, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, has written four acclaimed novels inspired by her life as a lawyer in Philadelphia, books that have been translated into eight languages. In high school, her favorite saying was “well, it’s possible,” and thanks to support she received all the way, she has continued to dream big, she said. She applauded the committee for setting up the Hall of Fame and said that she hoped that it would inspire others to stretch boundaries. “I’m truly, truly honored,” she said.

Curt Schroder, a lawyer and former lawmaker, represented the 155th District for nine terms. During his tenure, he received numerous awards. He was the first recipient of the Matthew J. Ryan Legislator of the Year Award, the 1998 choice of the Downingtown Chamber of Commerce for Citizen of the Year, and the Exton Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 winner for Small Business Advocate of the Year. Schroder acknowledged the plethora of plaques he’s received over the years, but said “none of them are as meaningful as this tonight.”

Inaugural Downingtown Alumni Association Hall of Fame members Todd Strong (from left), Richard Whittaker, and Bonnie MacDougal Kistler chat after the ceremony.

Inaugural Downingtown Alumni Association Hall of Fame members Todd Stong (from left), Richard Whittaker, and Bonnie MacDougal Kistler chat after the ceremony.

Todd Stong, a West Point graduate who served in South Korea, Vietnam, and the Defense Nuclear Agency in Washington, D.C., also accumulated multiple awards, such as Bronze Stars with Valor, Meritorious Service, and a Defense Joint Service Medal. Now retired, he traveled to the banquet from Mexico where he is building low-cost water systems for people in need. Strong, who fondly recalls the names of his elementary-school teachers – one of whom he visited when she was 102 – said he wanted to pay tribute to the educators who made his accomplishments possible. “I believe that a lot of what we aspire to be came from the inspiration of those people,” he said.

Richard Whittaker, ’58, who began his civilian medical career as an orthopedic surgeon in 1974, also served in the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps, providing care to soldiers and citizens in Panama, Desert Storm, Bosnia and Haiti. Currently the board chairman at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, Whittaker, is also an open space advocate who helped turn family farmland in East Brandywine into public parkland. He has embarked on so many often-harrowing humanitarian missions with his wife, Peggy, that friends have urged him to take her “on a nice normal vacation for a change.”

In addition to the Hall of Fame awards, Bill Mason, ’54, who heads the alumni association, recognized two graduating students for their outstanding contributions: Cayla Castelis from STEM Academy and Maura Enderline from Downingtown East. A third student, Thaddeus Schlamb from Downingtown West, was unable to attend the ceremony.  Finally, State Rep. Becky Corbin and State Sen. Andy Dinniman presented the students and the Hall of Famers with commendations from their respective legislative bodies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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