Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School inducts eight alumni into hall of fame

Ian MacPherson

Eight inductees were honored at this year’s Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School Hall of Fame ceremony.
Senior Bianca Demaria spoke on behalf of Michael Swerdlick. A prolific writer and producer, Swerdlick wrote for Doogie Howser, M.D, Boy Meets World, Saved by the Bell and other TV series, as well as movies for the famous Olsen twins. He still works in Hollywood today. Swerdlick wanted the audience to know that he always incorporates one reference to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in each of his works. Think, “Hello, Alfonso’s Pizza!”
Senior Jim DiFrancesco spoke on behalf of Jeffrey Hammonds, class of 1989. Hammonds had an illustrious baseball career, playing in the Minor and the Major leagues. Among other teams, he played for the Baltimore Orioles, the 2000 Colorado Rockies and the National All Star Team, the Bruins and the San Francisco Giants, retiring in 2005. Hammonds’ brother Reggie Hammonds spoke about their parents. Their father motivated young Jeffrey by pitching little green peas for him to hit. Hammonds’ mother provided gentle support with her trademark, “It’s going to be fine.”
Vice Admiral Keith Lippert, class of 1965, recognized several influential people from his high school life who were in the audience, including his teacher and two neighbors. Lippert then shared that he had spent 38 years in the U.S. Navy and retired as a three-star admiral. He was also an integral member of a $40 billion organization dedicated to helping soldiers around the globe and the commanding officer of six different organizations.
“I was honored to be inducted into several halls of fame of these organizations,” said Leppert. “At each induction ceremony, the reasons for my recognition were articulated: my leadership values and that I cared about my people. There is no doubt in my mind that these traits were directly attributed to what I learned at SPFHS.”
Marie DiFrancesco presented Sir Peter Emery, class of 1943, deceased in 2004. Emery had fled London during the Blitz to live with an aunt and uncle on Glenside Road in Scotch Plains. He was known in school as being outgoing and having a great sense of humor, as well as a repeat winner of the school’s annual Oratorical Contest.
Emery returned to Britain after high school and attended Oxford with Margaret Thatcher. He was elected to Parliament as a Conservative and held that position for 42 years, most notably cofounding the Bow– the Conservative Party’s Think Tank– with Sir Geoffrey Howe. Upon Margaret Thatcher’s recommendation, Emery was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982 for his work with children. He was known later in life as a gracious host to visiting SPF classmates and for attending many class reunions.
Pat DiNizo, class of 1973, was introduced by Marie DiFrancesco. DiNizo was inducted for being a founding member of the Smithereens, for his ambitions in politics and minor league baseball and as a TV documentarian. He then spoke on his close ties to Scotch Plains as a third generation lifelong resident whose grandfather emigrated from Montazzoli, Italy. Most shockingly, the rock and roller revealed the true spelling of his last name. According to his grandfather’s long-lost-recently-found immigration papers, his last name is not DiNizio, but DiNizo. The name matches the last name of DiNizo’s extended family in Montazzoli.
Malcolm E. Nettingham, class of 1936, was introduced by his son. Nettingham was one of the original five Tuskegee Airmen to break the color barrier in the U.S. Army. His service paved the way for integration of the military and of society. In 2007, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can award. He has been a member of the Metropolitan Baptist Church of Scotch Plains for more than 75 years and has two children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. At– in his own words, “more than 39 years of age–” Nettingham approached the podium and received a standing ovation. “It is my great pleasure to accept your gracious invitation,” said Nettingham to the Alumni committee.
Todd Robinson was introduced by his mother. She read a statement written by him chronicling his accomplishments. Robinson is the current U.S. ambassador to Guatemala and has devoted much of his life to foreign service in a succession of diverse overseas locations. He has also worked elsewhere in the Department of State and in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Prior to working in foreign service, Robinson was a professional journalist. His mother thanked the community of Scotch Plains on his behalf. “‘I would have never been able to get where I am today without my education or without the support of my friends and teachers,’” said Robinson’s mother on his behalf.
Laura DiFrancesco Swidersky, Class of 1944, was introduced by her niece. Swidersky was honored for her extensive volunteer work for more than 70 years on behalf of senior citizens in Scotch Plains and Fanwood, including the implementation of a Medical Transport System for Seniors. She shared the story of her upbringing in the early days of the Italian-American community in Scotch Plains and her passion for senior citizens. She left the audience with a quote. “Few of us are mindful of time,” said Swidersky. “When we do realize, we try to speed it up. But you know what? We can’t. We get caught in the world. So whatever time I have left, I will do my best to help everyone.”
Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School is proud to welcome these eight distinguished inductees into the Hall of Fame.