Instead of simply handing out a scholarship to a student, Ronald Steiger, the public relations director of John F. Kennedy High School’s alumni association, decided to put his network’s creative skills to the test.
He posted on Facebook to solicit submissions for “The Ronald Steiger Art Challenge,” which asked people to create a painting, sketch or photograph of a Bellmore-Merrick landmark with the promise that the scholarship would be given out in the winner’s name.
Steiger received 12 submissions that depicted notable sites around town, but the winning painting, commissioned by former teacher Alan Fleishman, was too perfect to ignore. Keeping this year’s graduates in mind, Fleishman painted the front entrance to the high school. In the foreground, the school’s LED sign relayed this message: “Cougars 2020.”
“When I retired I walked at graduation with all the kids, and I remembered how important that day was for them,” said Fleishman, who retired in 2002 after teaching social studies at Kennedy for 33 years. “So I wanted to honor this year’s graduates since the pandemic interfered with graduation.”
Steiger presented the Real Estate Workhorse® Scholarship to 2020 graduate Laura Hernandez in honor of Fleishman. The 18-year-old said she plans to put the money towards her pre-med studies at LIU Post, starting this fall.
“It makes me feel proud and accomplished,” Hernandez, of Merrick, said of receiving the award. “I’m following my own dreams, and this is a little boost to help me get there.” Hernandez said she plans to volunteer in Peru or Argentina this summer or next doing volunteer clinical work.
Steiger and other alumni presented Fleishman’s painting to Principal Gerard Owenburg on July 28. The administration is now considering a few places in the building to hang the painting, including in or around a new humanities room.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he did this,” Owenburg said of Fleishman’s tribute to the school. “He’s got fond memories of this place, and he likes to come back and stay connected with the staff.”
Fleishman was hired as a full-time teacher in 1969 after a stint as a student teacher. He’d start each class with a formal greeting — “Welcome to Fleishmania” — and assure his students of the trivial nature of dates.
“As long as they knew Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, that’s all they needed to know,” he joked. “It was God’s keen sense of humor to make me the teacher . . . but if you’re lucky, teaching is a gift that just keeps on giving.”
Fleishman noted that he taught “many wonderful kids” in his decades-long career, and is glad to see the association continue to give back to the school’s hardworking students.
“As a community member you don’t get to know how important the school is to the staff and the alumni,” Owenburg said. “Everyone needs the bright spots right now, and this is it.”
Interested persons can contribute to the alumni association by mailing a check to:
Bellmore JFK Alumni Inc.™
John F. Kennedy High School
3000 Bellmore Ave., Bellmore N.Y. 11710
Att: Ronald Steiger