South Side High School’s class of 1959 has raised more than $40,000 for the Rockville Centre Education Foundation in memory of one of their late classmates who made it his mission to keep the former students in touch.
To commemorate 60 years since they graduated, as well as Stephen Langfelder, who died from cancer last year at age 76, members of the class decided to fund a high school communications initiative called Connected, which will support the expansion of South Side students’ experience in the fields of broadcasting, journalism, film, music and art.
“This has never happened before,” Education Foundation President Audra Cerruto said of the class donation. “We might be able to inspire other classes, if they would like to do something like this, to use us as a resource.” Since 1991, the foundation has funded initiatives proposed by district teachers and administrators to expand educational opportunities.
Langfelder helped keep members of the class of 1959 in contact with one another — hence the name of the communications initiative — by helping to organize reunions, tracking down classmates and emailing a quarterly newsletter with information about class members, from milestones to deaths.
At the end of each email, Langfelder would write, “Stay connected,” recalled fellow class of ’59 member Janice Gardner.
Janice and her husband, Beau, organized the class’s fifth and 10th reunions, as well as five others each decade after that. The two met in 1954 at Clinton School, which housed only seventh-graders at the time. “That’s kind of where we all bonded,” Beau said. “We had no upperclassmen to worry about, or lowerclassmen. We were all one class.”
That’s also where the couple met Langfelder, who went on to be a manager of South Side’s football team; a member of the math, yearbook and newspaper clubs; and a participant in the school’s performing arts, Beau recalled.
Stephen attended many class reunions throughout the years, said his wife, Ruth. “He always said it was the time when the jocks talk to the nerds, and he was definitely one of the nerds,” she laughed, “even though he loved football.”
After the 40th reunion in 1999, Ruth said, Stephen made it his goal to find every missing classmate. “When he set his mind to something, he did it,” she said. “He was very focused.” He would track down classmates by calling their family members, colleges they had attended and even the managers of buildings they had lived in, she added.
He then created a file with the information on more than 200 classmates — there were about 300 in the class, according to Beau. Janice said that Langfelder’s efforts helped organize reunions, including the 50th in Rockville Centre, at which about 150 class members turned out. “It took an effort to get older people to be part of this database, and, more importantly, stay part of it when they moved or changed their email address,” Janice said. “He had his work cut out for him, and he enjoyed doing it tremendously.”
He sent his classmates a newsletter four times a year for nearly 20 years, providing updates on class members and trips and outings that classmates had planned with one another. “When you have a close class and everybody gets dispersed over time because life goes on, he really was trying to provide glue to keep us all connected,” Beau said.
As Langfelder battled cancer, the Gardners decided to move up the 60-year reunion, slated for this year, to 2018, so he could attend. But he died last May, five months before the October gathering at the Hofstra University Club. About 40 people came to the reunion, dubbed “59 Celebrates 59,” and those who couldn’t make it sent videos, which were played on a large screen. Photos of Langfelder and the late Kenneth Jenkins, a former teacher at South Side, were displayed in their memory.
There, Beau added, the class announced the major gift made by Ernie Steiner, a former classmate of theirs, which kicked off the fundraising effort. Janice said that checks are still coming in, and the class has raised about $43,000 to date for the Education Foundation.
Nearly $10,000 will fund industry-standard LED panels for South Side’s television studio next school year. “We will now be able to simulate a professional broadcast,” said Dr. Chris Pellettieri, the school district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “Different productions require different lighting, and the fact that we will have more modern lighting equipment is a terrific upgrade for our students.”
An additional $5,400 will help fund a filmmaking program, Pellettieri added, which will be an extension of the high school’s existing video club, and will instruct students in the concepts of writing, shooting and editing film. The grant covers a digital camera, a broadcast microphone and a handheld Gimbal stabilizer, he said.
The $15,000 was to be included in the Education Foundation’s overall $70,000 donation to the district this year, to be presented to the Board of Education at its meeting on Wednesday, after press time, to fund grants at the district’s seven schools.
Cerruto said that the remaining $25,000 from the class of 1959 would be used for future initiatives in communications and the arts, which the Gardners said Langfelder had a passion for. Despite becoming an accountant, Janice noted, Stephen “was a people person.” Ruth added that her husband was a great writer who loved poetry and opera.
Though the Langfelders moved around, living in Queens for seven years, in Baldwin from 1971 to 1987 and in New Jersey after that, Stephen was committed to staying connected to his high school class and Rockville Centre. His family remained part of the fabric of the village — his mother, Myriam, owned the Linen Closet, on Sunrise Highway, which operated from 1953 to 2012, Ruth said.
After Stephen died, Ruth recalled, she received an outpouring of letters, cards and emails from his classmates.
“So many of them used the exact same expression: He was the glue that held the class together,” Ruth said. “He connected so many people, reconnected them with old friends from grade school and all over, and so many of them were so grateful for him for doing that.”
Other individuals or classes wishing to donate, Cerruto said, can visit www.rvcedfoundation.org.