An eclectic group of Patchogue-Medford High School alumni, including Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael Murphy and late civil rights activist W. Burghardt Turner, have been picked for induction into the school’s new hall of fame.
Organizers said the 10 graduates were selected to highlight the successes of a working-class community that has struggled with economic challenges in recent decades.
“We certainly do have some people who have gone on to do things to not just change the community, but to change the nation,” said organizer Harry Farides.
The other inductees are: U.S. District Court Judge Denise Jefferson Casper; U.S. Ambassador Nancy Bikoff Pettit; actors Kevin Connolly and Renee Felice Smith; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman; Olympic steeplechaser Anthony Famiglietti; Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri; and former Sports Illustrated editor John Papanek.
The group will be inducted at a 7 p.m. ceremony on May 6 at the school, Farides said. Tickets are $35 each. Earlier that day, most of the living recipients are expected to meet with students. Turner died in 2009, and Murphy, a U.S. Navy Seal, was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2005.
Several honorees described their childhoods as “idyllic” and said the school helped push them toward success.
“We were left alone to figure things out,” Pettit, 62, a 1971 graduate, said by phone from Riga, Latvia. “I feel like developing those skills is what really helped me become successful as a diplomat.”
She added it wasn’t perfect: Girls then were not encouraged to pursue careers. “It was hard to dream big in Patchogue because there wasn’t anybody telling you to dream big,” she said.
Casper, 48, who graduated in 1986, went from serving as student body president in her senior year to presiding over the 2013 trial of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
“Looking back on it, I’m thankful for the opportunity for leadership that I had at Patchogue-Medford High School,” she said.
Farides, 64, a 1969 graduate who restores cars, said he hoped the hall would “put more of a positive spin” on the community and the school, which became embroiled in controversy when seven students were charged in connection with the 2008 stabbing death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue. All seven were convicted or pleaded guilty.
“We were thinking about a lot of the great people who came through the Patchogue school systems,” Farides said. “Some of that has been lost due to the bad press.”
Pontieri, 68, who graduated in 1965, said Patchogue owes its recent rebirth — with new downtown stores and apartments — in part to the school’s strong sense of community.
“That’s the reason why we’ve survived a lot of these things,” he said.
Organizers said they plan to add more hall members each year, and they have no shortage of candidates.
“I think what it says is that any small community is going to produce a lot of very important, high impactful people,” Papanek, 64, said. “I think there are many, many more who are not in this first class that will be inducted in the next classes.”
Alumni selected for induction into the Patchogue-Medford High School’s new hall of fame:
- Denise Jefferson Casper
First African-American woman appointed a federal judge in Massachusetts; sentenced Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger to two consecutive life terms in 2013
- Kevin Connolly
Director, actor (“Entourage”)
- Anthony Famiglietti
U.S. Olympic steeplechase athlete
- Lt. Michael Murphy
Medal of Honor recipient; killed in combat in 2005
- John Papanek
Retired writer, editor for Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine
- Nancy Bikoff Pettit
U.S. Ambassador to Latvia
- Paul Pontieri
Mayor of Patchogue
- Renee Felice Smith
Actress (“NCIS: Los Angeles”)
- Marcus Stroman
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher
- W. Burghardt Turner
Founder, Patchogue and Brookhaven Town NAACP