High school celebrates 75th anniversary this year
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge and the school’s Alumni Association decided to celebrate the major milestone in grand style with a gala dinner-dance, during which the organization inducted new members into its Alumni Hall of Fame.
More than 200 people attended the dinner, which took place at the El Caribe Country Club on Feb. 13.
Alumni Association President Valerie Hodgson (Class of 1973) and members of the group officially inducted New York Jets safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (Class of 2007) and Bay Ridge business and civic leader J. Peter Clavin (Class of 1971) into the Hall of Fame.
“Fort Hamilton High School Alumni Hall of Fame inductions don’t happen ever year, but with 2016 marking the 75th anniversary of the school’s founding, it seemed not just appropriate to so something, but to do something big,” Hodgson told the Brooklyn Eagle.
In a bittersweet moment, two other individuals, Firefighter Joseph Graffagnino (Class of 1991) and star student athlete Kristi Beth Kvalheim (Class of 1995), were inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously.
Graffagnino was killed in the infamous Deutsche Bank fire in Lower Manhattan in 2007. His father, Joseph A. Graffagnino, accepted his Hall of Fame plaque. Kvalheim died of leukemia in 1996. The Fort Hamilton girls’ gym is named in her memory. Her parents Janet and Ray Kvalheim and her brother Steven accepted her award.
Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who is a Fort Hamilton graduate (Class of 1977), served as the master of ceremonies. Gentile was inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame in 1997.
“Fort Hamilton High School has produced great students, athletes and professionals, but also exceptional human beings. This year’s honorees are well-deserved, and their positive impact on those around them, whether they are still with us or not, is evident every day. I was humbled to share this moment as emcee for the Hall of Fame dinner with these remarkable individuals and their families. Their legacy will live on at Fort Hamilton High School and beyond,” Gentile said in a statement.
The evening began with a moment of silence for Fort Hamilton alum Larry Morrish (Class of 1963), who died on Feb. 8 after a brief illness. Morrish was a 1997 Hall of Fame inductee.
Several Hall of Fame members attended the dinner, including Dr. Alice Farkouh (Class of 1957), who is a former Fort Hamilton principal; civil engineer Robert Adamski (Class of 1964); and journalist Ted General (Class of 1959).
Hodgson also lauded the Alumni Association’s Vice President Mary Beth Alexander (Class of 1973) as well as past Presidents Sandy Vallas (Class of 1981), Maria Makrinos (Class of 1970) and David Whitebook for the work they did for the organization. Whitebook is not a Fort Hamilton graduate, but was teacher there for many years and played a key role in the founding of the Alumni Association.
Gentile and state Sen. Marty Golden presented City Council and state Senate awards to the honorees.
During the evening, stories were shared about the new Hall of Famers and their connections to Fort Hamilton.
Hodgson called Jarrett “a talented yet humble and gracious gentleman,” and said he was living the dream of many high school athletes — playing professional football.
Clavin, owner of the funeral home Joseph P. Clavin Sons Inc., serves as master of ceremonies for the annual Children’s Ragamuffin Parade each year and is a well-known presence in Bay Ridge civic life.
Graffagnino excelled in bodybuilding and the bodybuilding room at the school is named in his honor. His memory is also kept alive by the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, which presents the Joseph Graffagnino Profiles in Courage Scholarships every year.
Kvalheim had dreamed of returning to Fort Hamilton as a gym teacher, but her death cut that dream short. Her family established a scholarship in her name.
“All of these inductees inspire us to be better people,” Hodgson said.