‘Cream of the crop’

Cranston Hall of Fame welcomes new members at 40th induction dinner

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“A community reveals itself not only by the people it produces,” Michael Traficante said, quoting President John F. Kennedy, “but also by the people it chooses to honor and recognize.”

By that measure, Cranston is doing very well.

The Cranston Hall of Fame welcomed five new members during its 40th installation dinner on Oct. 25 at the Alpine Country Club, a group Mayor Allan Fung called the “cream of the crop” and Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse said represents “the best that Cranston has to offer.”

The induction of Michael Chalek, the late Leonard D’Errico, Meri R. Kennedy, Steven J. Maurano and David Schiappa brought the Hall of Fame’s ranks to 196. Since its incorporation in 1980, the Hall of Fame has each year celebrated graduates of the city’s public schools who have distinguished themselves on a regional or national basis in their respective endeavors.

Traficante – a former mayor, current citywide representative on the School Committee and vice president of the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors – joined board president Frederick Vincent in welcoming the more than 200 people in attendance and introducing the night’s honorees.

Several city officials were also on hand to recognize the Hall of Fame’s class of 2019.

“This is what Cranston education is about – setting forth the foundation for all of these individuals we are recognizing tonight, and those who have come before them, to make a meaningful impact,” Fung said.

“You have performed brilliantly,” School Committee Chairman Daniel Wall told the honorees. “You have made your families, your friends, your neighborhoods and your schools proud … You’ve made Cranston proud.”

Nota-Masse said the Hall of Fame recognizes the “unsung heroes of our city” – people who “have gone about their business each day without any intent to go viral on Instagram, be glorified on the front page of the Providence Journal or be featured on the local 6 o’clock news.”

“And for that, we are grateful,” she said.

The inductees were chosen by the Hall of Fame’s screening and selection committees from a field of nominees submitted by members of the community.

Chalek, a 1976 graduate of Cranston High School East, was introduced by his daughter, Melissa.

Chalek was honored for his 41-year career in law enforcement. He served on the Cranston Police Department for 27 years – retiring as chief – before joining the University of Rhode Island Police Department, of which he became the administrative captain in February of this year.

“I would like to say how proud I am, and humbled, to be considered for this honor … I’m truly blessed to have had people in my life who have inspired and supported me,” he said.

Chalek also spoke of being honored alongside his former colleague D’Errico, who he called an “excellent police officer and a great human being.”

D’Errico, a 1964 graduate of Cranston East, was a longtime members of the Cranston Police Department and served as commander of its Traffic Division. A standout athlete in high school, he was also honored for his many volunteer pursuits, including as a CLCF football coach, coach at Cranston High School West and playoff supervisor for the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.

Kenneth Mancuso, a retired Cranston Police chief and 1992 Hall of Fame inductee, spoke about D’Errico and introduced his sister, Sandra Garganese, who accepted induction on her brother’s behalf.

“He was not only a good police officer, but he was a community man,” Mancuso said.

Garganese said her brother was a “true Cranstonian” who “shared his life with the city of Cranston.”

“When you needed something, Lenny was the guy to go to … He loved his friends. He was a loyal, loyal person,” she said.

Kennedy, a 1981 graduate of Cranston East, served as executive director of the Greater Cranston Chamber of Commerce from 1985 to 1995. In the years since, she has worked as a reporter and columnist for the Cranston Herald and its sister publications, the Warwick Beacon and Johnston Sun Rise.

She has also written a book, “My Enemy, Myself,” about her journey as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and has served as a volunteer and mentor for various organizations and schools, including the Community Emergency Response Team, the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, Pilgrim High School and Eden Park Elementary School.

John Howell, publisher of the Herald, Beacon and Sun Rise, introduced Kennedy – and presented her and her partner, Steve Popiel, with Cranston Herald jackets.

He remembered some unusual editorial pitches from Kennedy – including a “man on the street” style piece done while dressed in a Peeps candy costume – that, despite his skepticism, ultimately ended up being successful and resonated with the community.

“As Meri will tell you, she loves being the bearer of good news … It’s the stories that people clip out from the pages of the paper and clip proudly to their refrigerators that she gravitates to,” he said.

Kennedy said she is “proud to say I’ve dedicated my life to our community.”

“I get to tell your stories, celebrate your victories, and at times share your sorrows … I’m not perfect by any means, but I always strive to do my best. And to think that you appreciate my efforts means everything to me,” she said.

Maurano, a 1974 graduate of Cranston High School West, currently serves as associate vice president for public affairs, government and community relations at Providence College.

He worked at the public relations firm Duffy & Shanley from 1984 to 2006, rising from account executive to senior vice president and partner. In 2006, he was appointed to the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education as its associate commissioner for external affairs. He also served as acting commissioner of higher education.

Maurano was introduced by Dennis DeJesus, a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and CEO of Special Olympics Rhode Island.

“If there was a hall of fame exclusively for kind, caring, genuine and loyal people, Steve Maurano would be a first ballot hall of famer … Steve’s life has been one about giving back,” he said.

Maurano thanked the Hall of Fame for what he called a “really wonderful” honor. He said he has been surrounded by “multiple hall of fame people” during his life, including his family members, teachers and mentors.

“In my eyes, they’re the real hall of famers,” he said.

Schiappa, a 1993 graduate of Cranston High School, has served as assistant principal of special and related services for Cranston Public Schools – overseeing Cranston West’s Special Education Department and a range of related services – since 2006.

He previously worked at Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital and as a school psychologist at Putnam High School in Connecticut. He additionally serves as general manager of the Gershkoff Auto Body Post 20 American Legion baseball team, a member of the Rhode Island American Legion Board of Directors and in other volunteer roles in the community.

Nota-Masse introduced Schiappa, calling him a “consummate Cranstonian.”

“He has dedicated his professional career to serving children who have special needs … Dave advocates tirelessly for equality in access to all of the wonderful opportunities that Cranston Public Schools has to offer its students,” she said.

Schiappa said he was “humbled and honored” to be inducted into the Cranston Hall of Fame.

“This is an honor that is not only mine, it’s an honor I share with the people who have sacrificed for me,” he said.

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