Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Stories from the Hall of Fame

In 2000 I decided I wanted to help my New York high school leave a legacy under my direction. I was performing Casey in some city or another and I met a man who had helped his alma mater create their legacy and I was intrigued. We chatted in First Class. He assured me that his assistant would contact me and I completely forgot about it. A year later I was opening an unfamiliar envelope addressed to me in San Diego, California. The return address didn’t ring a bell, but as a motivational speaker and performer, fans would send me items all the time. I put it aside for my assistant to open and then a phone call. “Steve, this is Evelyn. I mailed a package to you a few days ago. Have you received it?” It seemed odd that I had in fact just had it in my hands seconds ago. It turned out that Evelyn was the assistant of the man from the plane with his HOF story. For the past year much had happened. For one thing, he had died. The package represented the loose ends he was now tying up. When I got off the phone, I went right back to the package and tore it open. On that day in 2003, my HOF journey began. It took almost a decade but that one day back in 2000 led to the first induction of the Walt Whitman High School Hall of Fame (HOF) in October 2008 with the enshrinement of 10 former grads. The purpose of the HOF as I have visualized was to honor the very best from our school of over 30,000 graduates and inspire the students who walked the same halls. Among those in that very first class was Tom Gugliotta, NBA player from the Phoenix Suns, Gerry Cooney, who fought Larry Holmes for the Heavyweight championship of the world. But the first inductees weren’t only sports champions. I made certain of that when I pitched the concept to the current superintendent that candidates would come from all sectors. As of this writing, 26 alums have been enshrined from the fields of entertainment, music, literature, law enforcement, government and even one of the most powerful Marines in the world, Genera Richard Mills, who heads up our forces in Afghanistan and is from my Class of 1968. Over the past decade plus, I have had to deal with the apathetic, a less than intelligent committee, after I filled the first 2 seats on the very first group---I was given an award and shown the door. Envy is a disease and I have been exposed to it at a radiation levels. One member of my own class planned a mutiny. “Why should Steve Tarde be in the HOF? We should all be in the HOF!” And others were similarly moronic. I love my class, but many of them are still in high school and have never evolved. If they had taken the time to visit our school district website they would have learned that I ma not in the HOF or do I care to be, I founded this for my classmates. And whether my “friends want to believe it or not, there is mo material benefit here for me. I have one thing going for me and it drives most of them nuts. I am tenacious and I thrive on confrontation. I could care less that some of them had a hard time swallowing the fact that I was the creative force behind it. Like the Facebook Zuckenberg said---if they had thought of it, they would have created it. Instead, I chose to focus on those such as Shirley from my 1968 class who was enshrine in 2012. She sent me this note. Thanks for creating the HOF. You gave me and my family the best night of my life. One can swallow a lot of crap when you are on the receiving end of such encomiums. And the backbiters weren’t just from my class. Since the committee from the outset were the worst marketers of the concept and goal to reach alums in the history of the world, I went from Founder to ambassador much to their growing chagrin. When Facebook became a social media tool, I created a page which the committee hated (Walt Whitman High School Hall of Fame) which has attracted 700 plus graduates. I keep graduates informed here and since it is my private page, I control content. I phone alums from time to time and I get all kinds of reactions. I have reached over a thousand Whitman students. Some I speak to for one minute and some for an hour. Since my time is my own, time is not an issue. I set my own clock and always have. I might be performing in New York (I have done Casey on stage for decades) and I will mention that if they still live in the area, some are friendly and many are not. Some just listen and politely hang up. Since the district has done a miserable job of spreading the news---it is left to me and pixie dust. Some hated their Whitman experience and caution me never to call them again. Those are fun. Once again, I am used to confrontation. I make a note and promise never to annoy them again. It took me a few years to get used to those Whitman bashers. I so loved my school. But I have wised up and life goes on. I think the HOF biggest problem is deciding who gets in and who stays out. That first class with the sports champions was almost too easy and for that matter I had 2 buddies, Lorraine and Harry, who I asked to serve on that initial committee and they honored me by doing so. But they had other passions and after that first year they moved on. Soon my link to the HOF would be severed and I became an outside meter and greeter. Although I spoke ften to membership of my own class (1968) it was quite an education hearing about the school we shared with members of classes from 1957 forward. This brings me to a sad message I read on another Wildcat site one night in 2013. I went to Cornell University and then married Martin Klein. Martin and I had one girl. When I was pregnant with the second, I had a very bad car accident. I lost the baby and also my husband divorced me. I now live in Delray Beach, Florida where my mother lives with me. I would love to hear from old friends because I am very lonely. Who would have written this? She sounded suicidal. I had to call. I called. Her mom answered the phone from her home in Florida. And this was her story. Nancy had attended the Ivy League school Cornell and at 33, was on the fast track to become a big time fashion designer. She was married with a 6 year old daughter and had just found out that she was pregnant with her 2nd child. Coming home to Long Island from a client in New York City during a storm, Nancy, driving alone was involved in a near fatal car accident which left her in a coma. Soon her story would become national as the question of the future of her 11 week fetus became a national debate. In 1991, actor-producer Henry Winkler would make a movie about Nancy (Absolute Strangers). All this and she was a 1974 Whitman graduate and I had never heard any of this before. It wasn’t long before I realized that Nancy belonged in the Hall of Fame. I started to communicate with her sister Janet from the class of 1968 and we became friends. Janet and Nancy were very close. I started to write about Nancy who had come out of her coma, but was left severely brain injured under the care of her mom. I helped Nancy make new friends. She was no longer lonely and Nancy’s family was thrilled. This made me very pleased. My little hall of Fame was conquering new vistas. We were branching out. My current plan is to have Janet nominate her sister to the HOF. I am assisting Janet in helping Nancy find housing which will survive her mom who is in her 80’s. Nancy is still only 57. Like Al Pacino in the Godfather, I thought I was out of it. And then I was swept back in. And I am loving every minute.

No comments: