ST. BENEDICT’S PREP: A SPRINGBOARD TO MANY GREAT CAREERS BEYOND THE HIVE
Hall of Fame Dinner packs the house to honor some of The Hive’s greatest achievers
A professor of electrical engineering at MIT; another who teaches at Harvard. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, an international performing artist and the first African American from Newark to become a Rhodes Scholar.
Those are just a few of the individuals who were educated at St. Benedict’s Prep before going on to acclaimed careers. They are also some of the proud alumni who were inducted into St. Benedict’s Prep’s Hall of Fame and celebrated with a dinner in their honor before a crowd of over 300 at Nanina’s in Belleville on Oct. 24.
Hank Smith '54, the founder of the Nanostructures Lab at MIT; Dr. Joe McCabe ‘66, a psychiatrist in Massachusetts, who doubles as a professor at Harvard; Gil Gaul ’69, a finalist four times and winner twice of the Pulitzer Prize; Garry Dial ’72, a celebrated musician who played piano at Fr. Edwin’s ordination; and the late Fred Smith ’74, who went on to become a Rhodes Scholar while at Harvard, were among nine individuals and two teams enshrined as members of the Class of 2018 Hall of Fame.
The others lauded were Guy Abrahamson '99, Jesse Alexander '81, Frank DiPiano '01, Steve Grieco '69, the 1987 wrestling team and the 1992 fencing teams.
The St. Benedict’s Prep Hall of Fame recognizes graduates who exhibited extraordinary achievements athletically or in other activities as students at The Hive. The Hall also includes alumni and friends who have made noteworthy contributions in their chosen fields.
Hank Smith commuted to The Hive from Montclair, and he excelled in the classroom before moving on to Holy Cross. He received his graduate degrees from Boston College and served as an officer in the US Air Force before eventually becoming a professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, where he was the Founding Director of MIT’s NanoStructures Lab.
“St. Benedict’s Prep had a great impact on my life: ‘Never Quit,’” said Smith, who, in 2017, received the Noyce Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for contributions to the microelectronics industry.
McCabe thrived in the classroom and on the stage during his years at The Hive. He was on the school’s Honor Roll all four years and was principal accompanist for Glee Club and Drama Guild musicals. He went on to graduate from Harvard University in 1970 before getting his post-graduate degree from the Harvard Medical School. He practices psychiatry at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Cambridge, MA, and is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.
“I’m really incredibly honored to be given this award,” said McCabe. “To be in this Hall of Fame along with incredible people and incredible brothers from Benedict’s is really special.
“I’m incredibly proud of Benedict’s and all that they have done since I have left and while I was here. They really nurtured us, took what they saw and gave us as much autonomy and responsibility – just enough – that we really learned how to move forward in life.”
Among the newspapers Gaul worked for as a reporter for nearly four decades were The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post and The New York Times. He was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize, in 1979 and 1990, and was a Pulitzer Finalist on four other occasions. He is the author of five books, including Billion Dollar Ball, which was named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by The Boston Globe.
Gaul praised his former track coach at The Hive, the late Wayne Letwink ‘53, whom he credits for eventually leading him to set the school record in the javelin with a throw of 204 feet, 11 inches, a SBP standard that still stands to this day.
“He had a way of making you want to be great – an unbelievable coach,” said Gaul, who now joins Letwink in the SBP Hall of Fame. “I want say thanks to Wayne and share this honor with Wayne Letwink. Thanks again for inviting me into the Hall.”
The emcee for the Hall of Fame Dinner, Hank Cordeiro ’72, himself a member of SBP’s Hall, knew early on that Dial, his classmate, was a special musician and spoke of him eloquently during his introduction.
“He was a good student, a good athlete, a good man,” said Codeiro. “We also knew there was much more to Garry Dial. All of us knew then that Garry was special. He possessed the unique gift – music.
“Many of us sat in amazement while we witnessed Garry play the piano and perform – taking us to a different world – the world of art and music. Listening to Garry play never got old for us. We looked forward to hearing him, listening to him and watching him masterfully bring the keys on a piano to life. How lucky and fortunate were we. We listened in awe then and every single one of us knew then that Garry was destined for music greatness.”
Dial, who was the fifth family member to graduate from The Hive, carried his love for music to the Berklee School in Boston before going on to the Manhattan School of Music, where he received his undergraduate and master’s degrees. He taught at the Manhattan School of Music for three decades and, in his early years, performed with Red Rodney and recorded with the likes of Dick Oatts and Jay Anderson.
“This is the greatest honor of my life. I truly mean that from my heart,” said Dial, who was hired to record the entire Duke Ellington Catalogue for the family archive, which is now in the Smithsonian Institute. He also recorded rare tunes that were never recorded before by Ellington.
“I’m been trying to my best to come back to St. Benedict’s to help with the music program,” said Dial, who has twice brought New York Yankees legend Bernie Williams, an accomplished jazz guitarist, to The Hive to perform. “I’m committed more than ever to St. Benedict’s. We have such an incredible reputation in sports, but we must know that music is just as important and it’s my goal to bring the music department up to the top level.”
Fred Smith, after SBP, graduated from St. Peter’s Prep in 1974 before going on to Harvard College, where he became a Rhodes Scholar his senior year, the first African-American from Newark so honored. After graduating from Harvard in ‘78, he went on to earn joint MPA/JD degrees from the Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School. He became the first African-American Partner at McCarter and English, LLP, where he was first employed in 1989.
“Fred used to say to me when I called him about the number of African American students we were losing,” recalled Fr. Edwin. “He would say to me, ‘Don’t worry about the guys that are leaving. Just get guys you have out into the world.’ That was great advice. A lot of that has happened and I’m grateful for his influence on my life and the life of the monastery and the school.”
The rest of the honorees all praised St. Benedict’s, which helped them mold into men. The Hall of Fame wrestling and fencing teams each lauded their coach, Mike DiPiano Sr. (wrestling) and Derek Hoff (fencing).
“I was born with a purpose to help these men,” said Hoff, the legendary coach, who turned a fledgling fencing program into one of the top teams in the nation.
Cordeiro said of Alexander, “Jesse never took a shot he didn’t like.” Alexander is one of just a dozen players in St. Benedict’s illustrious basketball lore to have scored 1,000 points. His 619 points in his senior year stood as the school standard until the three-point line was instituted throughout all of basketball in the late 1980s.
“In my home, education was the most important job,” said Alexander, who was in the first class to complete the Freshman Overnight at The Hive. “I was lucky enough to get into St. Benedict’s and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Frank DiPiano joins his father and brother, Mike Sr. and Mike Jr., in the St. Benedict’s Hall of Fame, the only family to have three members enshrined. Frank, who is now an assistant wrestling coach at The Hive, is No. 2 on the school’s all-time victory list in wrestling with 189 successes. He was a three-time National Prep All-America and two-time State Prep Champion.
“I get chills every time I think of the moment Fr. Ed told me I would be in the Hall of Fame with my father and brother,” said Frank. “What a special feeling. Wow!”
Abrahamson, a two-time New Jersey Player of The Year for The Star-Ledger in 1997 and ’98, led St. Benedict’s soccer team to a pair of national titles when the Gray Bees went 66-1-1 over his junior and senior years. Abrahamson, a stalwart at centerback, helped SBP go unbeaten in his final 47 games in a Gray Bee uniform before going on to Rutgers University, where he earned All-Big East honors and was a Second Team All-America.
After his playing days, Abrahamson, became an assistant coach at the University of Delaware before taking over the head coaching duties at St. Peter’s College where he was named MAAC Coach of the Year.
Grieco came to St. Benedict’s after forming a relationship during his middle school years in Elizabeth with Gray Bee golf coach Fr. Leo. He was the only four-year letter-winner for the golf team during his tenure at The Hive. He also captained the Gray Bees during two separate seasons before continuing his education at the University of Miami where earned a degree in business and marketing while rooming with Gray Bee classmate Bob Munch.
--Story by Ron Jandoli
--Photos by Mike Scanlan