Cicero-North Syracuse High School welcomed back several distinguished alumni Friday night for its Wall of Distinction induction ceremony. Six graduates of the district were added to the wall, which is designed to commemorate the achievements of alumni and to inspire current students to achieve their dreams.
The Wall of Distinction first came to be in 1990 when former Star-News editor Maria Forestaro and C-NS teacher William Brown decided they wanted to honor former students.
“We immediately decided we didn’t want a traditional Wall of Fame,” Brown said. “We decided a Wall of Distinction would better describe our students, because distinction is so much more than fame.”
Brown said the wall is a source of pride for the district.
“This wall sells what the North Syracuse school district is all about,” he said. “And we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.”
The wall is home to plaques commemorating over 75 graduates of Cicero, North Syracuse and C-NS high schools. Previous inductees include Richard Gere, Roger Burdick, Chet Dudzinski and Michael Bragman.
“I’m really excited about this year’s group,” Superintendent Jerome Melvin said. “They’re a really gifted group.”
The inductees for 2007 are:
Lynn A. Calpeter, the executive vice president and chief financial officer for NBC Universal, is a graduate of Cornell University with degrees in business management and economics. Calpeter previously worked for General Electric Corporation as a vice president in the corporate audit department. She has participated in numerous community service activities benefiting organizations such as Habitat for Humanity in New York City, NYC Public School of Harlem, The Audubon Society of Massachusetts and The Children’s Place in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. In 2003, Calpeter was awarded the GE Chairman’s Award and donated her $25,000 award to the Elizabeth Freeman Center for Abused Women in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Calpeter said she had watched the Academy Awards last Sunday looking for inspiration in her speech but heard little that would be fitting.
“This is much bigger than the Oscars,” she said. “This place meant so much to me. The four most growth-filled and fun years of my life were spent at North Syracuse High School. I use the skills I developed here every day.”
Nichole Frezza Polos, a graduate and scholar athlete of Ohio State University, was a member of the women’s synchronized swim team that won two NCAA National Championships. After graduation from college, Polos became a managing partner with California Fitness Centers. She subsequently moved back to the Central New York area and opened Aspen Athletic Clubs in the Cicero and Liverpool areas. Polos has presented numerous health and exercise demonstrations at schools, churches and senior citizen centers. She is a founding member of the Vintage Faith Church in Cicero, volunteers for the North Area Meals on Wheels and the Rescue Mission and supports efforts of M.O.P.S. (Mothers of Preschoolers) by providing exercise and nutrition instruction.
Like Calpeter, Polos said she had fond memories of her time at C-NS High School.
“I loved high school,” she said. “I always used to look at the wall, and I’m so honored to be on it.”
Polos did have some concerns, however.
“I’m a little scared,” she said. “My baby boy will go here someday, and I didn’t want him to look at my picture on the wall and think, ‘Ah, my mom’s a dork.'”
Christopher J. Tanski passed away after a sudden heart attack in August 2000. At the time of his death, Tanski was the principal at Rush-Henrietta High School in the Rochester, New York area. During his principalship, Rush-Henrietta High School was listed as one of the top 500 high schools in America by Fortune Magazine. Christopher earned educational degrees from Siena College, SUNY Cortland, and SUNY Oswego. During his career, Tanski was also principal of Cortland High School, assistant principal of Chittenango High School and a teacher at North Syracuse High School. Among his many volunteer and community based activities was his involvement as president of the Monroe County Public High School Athletic Association and a member of Rochester’s Urban League Scholars Committee.
Tanski’s wife Barbara and son Chris accepted the award in his honor.
“He loved kids,” Barbara Tanski said. “His motto was that kids always come first. If he were here now, he’d be humbled.”
Brown also had some kind words to say about his late friend.
“A lot of teachers, if you took the seating chart away from them, they’d have no idea who was sitting in front of them,” Brown said. “Not Chris — he knew everyone by name. He really cared about his kids and his job.”
Dr. Craig S. Vinch is a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and an instructor at the Harvard Medical School. Vinch earned a BS degree in Biology from Tufts University and a MD from Harvard Medical School. While a student at Tufts University, Vinch founded the Tufts Emergency Medical Services, a volunteer student emergency medical service that serves the campus of over 10,000 students and faculty. After graduation from Tufts, Vinch taught chemistry in a South African high school, served with the U.S. Public Health Service and provided medical services to needy families in rural areas of the state of Missouri.
Vinch was grateful to C-NS High School for teaching him much-needed skills.
“This place gave me what I needed to succeed and pull things together,” he said. “It’s an honor.”
Gary Wilmer is a lifelong resident of the village of North Syracuse. He is the superintendent of the village of North Syracuse’s Department of Public Works, having been promoted to this position after serving 25 years in the department. He has also been a volunteer fireman for over 20 years at the North Syracuse Volunteer Fire Department. He has held many officer positions over the years and was voted Officer of the Year in 2001. He was the department’s top responder from 2000 to 2002. Wilmer and his wife Carole have five children.
Wilmer said he never considered going anywhere but North Syracuse.
“We never thought about going away,” he said. “This is our home.”
Dr. Archie A. MacKinney is an alumnus and a professor of medicine, emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison, Wisconsin. Over the course of his career, along with his responsibilities of teaching internal medicine, MacKinney directed the university’s International Student Committee, which was responsible for the safety and well-being of over 2000 foreign students who came to study on an annual basis at the university. He has mentored graduate and medical students as well as serving as faculty advisor to numerous student groups. MacKinney is active in his church, teaching Bible studies to children and adults.
MacKinney was unable to attend the ceremony because of health problems, but he did send a speech, which was read by Assistant Superintendent Steve Carr.
“Through the work my family and I have done, we have been given more than we gave,” he wrote.
Carr said that attitude characterized all of the night’s nominees.
“That’s true of all of the people on this wall,” he said. “They’ve given a lot, but if you asked them, I’m sure they’d say they received a lot back.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.