Life does not become easier. Last year, when Patty O’Donnell Proppe, Hewlett High School class of 1982, and several other alumni gathered at the first bench dedication for schoolmates who died, her battle against uterine cancer and ovarian cancer was taking its physical toll.
This year threw Proppe and her sister, Christine Burg, class of ’72, another painful obstacle as their mother died in March. “We are still grieving deeply,” Proppe said before her and Christine read the names on the new plates that now extend to a second bench along the right field line by the high school’s softball field. “We thank everyone for their support,” Proppe added.
It’s the support that she has from many others, including Ivana Artusa Butler, Annette Sarro Clayton, Jill Grossman, Jill Misikoff and Margi Stamile, all Hewlett grads, who have helped from the beginning when Proppe originally created the Hewlett High School Lost Alumni group in 2013 and the related Hewlett High School..Never Forgotten..R.I.P. Facebook page or joined the ranks soon after.
“It’s thrilling, I still can’t believe its taken off to this degree, there is still a sadness that it has expanded because that means there are more deceased alumni, but it’s accumulating more and more families are getting closure, and I think it’s going to expand more and more each year, unfortunately,” Proppe said. “It means a lot to me, I worked from a simple Facebook page to a couple of candles on the field to what this has become.”
Not an official count, but this year’s attendance appeared to be close to double that of 2017. The on again, off again rain did not dampen people’s desire to attend. Small tents were set up and many were content with holding an umbrella overhead.
Valley Stream resident Phil Maddalena, who uses the Hewlett High track daily to exercise, said he didn’t even know the benches existed, but appreciates what Proppe and the others have created. “I couldn’t be happier, I mean when you’re a parent and you have a child that passes away you never want to lose their memory,” he said. This is so nice that this girl, Patty, put this together.”
Maddalena’s son, Phil, died in 1992 from leukemia. He graduated from Hewlett High in 1981. His was one of the names added to the benches this year. “This is where I’m going to sit and rest every time I come here,” said Maddalena, a Brooklyn native who moved out to Long Island in 1976. “But yes to see my son’s name here … It’s like I almost cry when I come out here.”
Dina Liebowitz died of cancer in 2011. Her brother, Andrew Liebowitz, said the benches and nameplates are a warmhearted way to remember those Hewlett High students who have died. “I have friends here on the benches as well that I see are represented on the bench, it’s just a nice tribute to the people that passed,” the Hewlett resident said. But having something in common and having a bench that people can look at it and keeping their memory alive that’s what it’s about.”
Community involvement is also on the rise as the reconstituted Hewlett-Woodmere Alumni Association was present at the dedication and Hewlett-Woodmere Business Association President David Friedman noted the connection between residents and alumni. “We are all a family,” said Friedman, class of ’74.