For several years, archives chronicling the lives of some of the country’s most influential figures sat collecting dust in a sequestered room at South Philadelphia High School.
As time passed, the neglected documents – and the stories of the graduates they told – continued to recede from the school’s memory.
Recently, however, members from the high school’s alumni association have made efforts to assure such legacies are unforgotten.
Since 2014, graduates of South Philadelphia High School, including Dr. Tony Evangelisto, Gene Alessandrini, Marc Adelman and Tom DiRenzo, have collaborated to create “The Stars of Southern High,” which was recently published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
The collection of the 112-year-old school’s history revolves around an assortment of alumni luminaries through a dozen chapters, such as “Southern’s Military Heroes,” “Southern’s Stars in Classical Music” and “Southern’s Stars in Science and Medicine.”
Encompassing the profiles of dozens of successful Southern graduates hailing from numerous fields, the 561-page publication, which is available in both print and digital platforms, was the team’s original book-writing venture before a distillation version was published in 2018.
Last year, Arcadia Publishing released a 128-page edition of the book, “South Philadelphia High School,” as part of its Campus History Series.
“We wanted to tell the story about this school and the incredible people that came out of here,” said Evangelisto, a 1958 graduate, English professor emeritus at The College of New Jersey and member of the Alumni Executive Committee. “…I realized that it’s a long story here, and a lot of it has to do with people in the community of South Philly – immigrants, people who were poor but people who were striving to get ahead. A school that really did a nice job for us.”
Amidst the genesis of these publications, the writers say a “perfect storm” was brewing over the last decade.
About 10 years ago, Adelman, a 1957 graduate, historical archivist and South Philadelphia High School Alumni Association archive chairman, says he stumbled upon the school’s abandoned archives in a “roach-infested, rat-infested” room. These annals would eventually come to serve as a major resource for the book.
“Being a history major and a social worker, I couldn’t allow this community history – the history of this fabulous school – to lay on a dusty floor in a dusty closest in dusty cabinets,” Adelman said.
Some years later, Evangelisto and his wife, licensed counselor Carol Evangelisto, who – although she did not attend the school, contributed to the creation of the book – were attending a banquet as graduate and violist Louis Lanza was inducted into the South Philadelphia High School Alumni Cultural Hall of Fame.
During the 2014 ceremony, Lanza, who was a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, played an Italian song, “Non ti Scordar di Me,” which translates to “Don’t you forget about me.”
This sentimental phrase would eventually serve as the recurring theme of the recently released publication.
“Even this 2-inch-(thick) book is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the graduates from a neighborhood school,” Adelman said.
Also over the last five years, 1955 graduate DiRenzo, a retired editor and marketer for technical products and companies, along with 1955 graduate Alessandrini, a professor of mathematics at Camden County College who taught at Southern for 35 years, created a touring audio-visual presentation highlighting the accomplishments of the school’s alumni.
The showcases, which have been featured across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, concurrently worked as a starting-off point for the publication
“Once I started doing the research into our graduates, I was overwhelmed at how many there were in so many different fields,” said Alessandrini, a member of the Alumni Executive Committee.
Some of these groundbreakers include Dr. Irving Goldschneider, a 1955 graduate, who helped develop the vaccine against meningitis, and Dr. Charles E. Profera Jr., another 1955 graduate, who created satellite antenna products for RCA, General Electric and Lockheed Martin, which made television broadcasts of Monday Night Football possible.
Then, there was guitarist Charlie Gracie, a 1954 graduate, who is credited for influencing the Beatles, and a circle of other internationally acclaimed musicians such as Marian Anderson, Chubby Checker and Eddie Fisher.
The writers credit the school’s teachers for acting as the heart and soul of Southern, which undoubtedly contributed to the success of its students.
“I think the teachers that we had were just outstanding…I believe whatever I did was based on what I learned at Southern,” DiRenzo said. “Most of my discipline for doing work, for studying came out of Southern High.”
The sea of masterly alumni, whose impacts resonate on a worldwide scale, is not only a testimony to the school, but, of course, to South Philadelphia and its distinguishing nature.
“I think it’s the South Philly environment,” said Tony Evangelisto. “Of course the school was a central focus within the environment but families – we had families that were nurturing us and trying to help us get ahead in the world.”
While the book serves as a record for South Philadelphia High School’s past, it concurrently acts as a beacon of hope for the future.
Ideally, the writers say, the high school’s current student body, many of whom hail from immigrant communities much like the original Southern student body, will find inspiration through “The Stars of Southern High.”
“That’s why history will never be dead, because yes, we emphasize the history of this school but the history predicts the future,” Adelman said. “And right now, we have immigrant children in this neighborhood. If they were even shown the book and the potential that these immigrant children had 70 years ago, 100 years, ago, 112 to be exact – if they recognize that these were immigrant children also and this is the results, then their future is that bright, also.”
To purchase the new book, search “The Stars of Southern High” on Amazon.
If interested in hosting the “The Stars of Southern High” audio-visual presentation at an upcoming event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.