Cancer, it abruptly halts people’s lives as they first come to grips with the diagnosis, and then treatment. Some people go into remission, some dive into depression. Patty O’Donnell Proppe leaped into reflection, and then into action. Diagnosed first with uterine cancer then ovarian cancer in 2012, Proppe underwent roughly six months of chemotherapy and a surgery.
“For me, it was like my life was spared,” she said, standing on the Hewlett High School campus last Saturday. “I was a rough kid, and there were teachers here that made an effort with me. After the cancer — which is in remission — I needed to give something back to the community.”
The daughter of an ex-chief of the Woodmere Fire Department, John O’Donnell, she established the Hewlett High School Lost Alumni group in 2013, and the related Facebook page Hewlett High School..Never Forgotten..R.I.P. “In high school there were classmates who passed not getting recognized,” said Proppe, class of 1982, who now lives in Pennsylvania. “There was an announcement and then people moved on. A lot of people were not remembered properly.” Her sister, Christine, class of ’72, lives in Woodmere.
Though heartbreaking in nature, the page took off and includes remembrances of alumni from the class of ’59 to the present. “It’s people, all different ages, classes who died from suicide, overdoses and car accidents,” Proppe said, adding that she believes it “brings closure” for many. For the past four years, several people have met at the Carriage House on the high school campus and released balloons in remembrance of those who died.
To create a more permanent remembrance, Proppe and others, including alums Ivana Artusa Butler and Jill Grossman, both class of ’83, spearheaded the dedication of a bench on the high school campus (by the softball field) that includes 82 nameplates of Hewlett High students who died. The bench was dedicated on Aug. 5.
“The hard work was really done by the individuals who presented it as a gift to the district and the administrators who made sure it met our requirements and found an appropriate home for it,” Hewlett-Woodmere Board of Education President Scott McInnes said. “I do know that the board is very appreciative of the work that those alumni who have taken on the cause of remembering their peers who have passed over the years have been doing, and we hope this will be a place where they can be remembered in the years to come.”
Butler, Grossman and Proppe are among a group of graduates who call themselves the Breakfast Club after the 1985 movie of the same name, where five high school students are stuck in detention on a Saturday and learn that they much more in common than they previously thought.
“We, the organizers, are the Breakfast Club, and unofficially refer to the group and project as the same because we all come from all different walks of life and have managed to come together in unison in memory of those who are no longer here who also came from all different walks of life,” Grossman said. “Because this group was formed many families and friends have reconnected, and have made some new friends along the way. We have all bonded together and have provided support for one another, while remembering those who are no longer with us.”
The annual gatherings have become mini reunions. “I think it’s about happiness, Butler said. “This is a place we had fun. I did it because this is what Patty wanted.”
To order a nameplate, contact Proppe at firstname.lastname@example.org.