BY CLARE MARIE CELANO
Freehold High School paid tribute to a group of outstanding alumni when the annual induction ceremony of the Freehold High School Hall of Fame was held March 29 at the Freehold Gardens, Freehold Township.
The honored graduates were actor David Garrison, sculptor Jim Gary, journalist Richard Johnston, opera singer Juanita Baskerville Brown, businessmen Joseph Saker, John Evans Laird and Joseph T. Laird III, journalist/author Keith Brown and computer architect/designer/developer Brian Hou.
Principal Linda Jewell thanked the Hall of Fame committee, headed up by Susan Shrott, for its hard work and dedication in coordinating the event. She called Shrott and teacher Julia Kostbar the driving forces behind the event’s festivities.
According to the program, John Evans Laird was a member of one of the oldest Monmouth County families, best known as the founders of the oldest distillery in the United States, Laird and Co. Distillers. The company remains in business in the Scobeyville section of Colts Neck.
Laird was born in 1896 and was raised and educated in Freehold. His boyhood ambition was to be a civil engineer. Following his graduation from Freehold High School in 1914, he attended Cornell University and received a degree in engineering. He served in the U.S. Navy as a pilot in World War I, then entered the chemical brokerage business before taking charge of the Laird Distillery.
He was married and the father of three children. He died in 1955.
Joseph T. Laird III, brother of John Evans Laird, made his mark as a gifted athlete. Born in 1904, the 1922 graduate played basketball and football while in high school.
Football was the sport where he made a name for himself. He played fullback on the Cornell freshman team but left college and returned home to Freehold for one year before enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania, where he proved himself a star in varsity scrub games on Franklin Field. He worked with his brother in the family business as vice president. Laird III died in 1950.
Stating that he was honored on behalf of his uncles, one of the Laird brothers’ nephews accepted the award for his uncles.
Johnston was a correspondent for The New York Times whose 41-year career included assignment to World War II battlefields and extensive service in the Far East. He retired from the Times in 1975.
Born in 1910 on City Island in the Bronx, N.Y., Johnston attended schools in New York before moving to New Jersey, where he graduated from Freehold High School in 1930.
He received his bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Alabama. Johnston began his career at The New York Times as a copy boy during the Depression and moved up to police reporter, general assignment reporter and rewrite man. He became a war reporter in 1944, covering England, France and Germany. After the war he was sent to Korea, then returned to the United States in 1953 assigned to Chicago, where he served as the Times’ bureau chief for seven years. He died in 1986.
Committee officials were unable to locate any family members. Kevin Coyne, the borough’s historian, accepted the award for Johnston.
Brown was born in Freehold, and was an alumna of the segregated era Court Street School and Freehold High School. After graduation, Brown received a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education at Storer College, West Virginia, and became a teacher.
Upon relocating to Washington, D.C., she became a civilian employee in the U.S. Department of Armed Services. Her love of music increased as she studied and performed with choral groups.
Early in 1973, composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein discovered Brown and chose her to sing with the Washington Choral Arts Society for the inaugural Mass Concert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It was the beginning of many performances with Bernstein at venues such as Lincoln Center, as well as venues in Europe.
Brown shared her passion for classical, sacred and traditional music with a host of grateful beneficiaries. She did this through the universal language of song.
Brown’s sister, Carol McGhee, said she was blessed to accept the award on behalf of her sister. She said Juanita was not only the youngest of eight children, but also the shortest. Carol said Juanita made up for being small with her persistence and her attitude of “never giving up on anything she wanted to do.”
Saker was born in Freehold in 1929 and would go on to become on of the early founders of Wakefern Food Corp., the largest retail food cooperative in the world.
After graduating from Freehold High School, he entered the family grocery business started by his grandfather. He enlarged the family store to a Super-Ette in 1951. In 1956 he founded Foodarama and opened the largest supermarket in New Jersey (at that time) on South Street in Freehold Township (ShopRite). His vision, dedication and commitment to excellence have been instrumental in the growth and success of the company for more than five decades.
Under Saker’s leadership, Foodarama Super Markets has grown to become the largest member of Wakefern. Foodarama operates 26 World Class ShopRite supermarkets.
Saker was a founding member of the New Jersey Food Council, as well as the St. Joseph’s University Academy of Food Marketing in Philadelphia. He was also a founding member, past president and charter member of the board of trustees of the Freehold Area Hospital (now CentraState Medical Center). Saker remains chairman of Saker Holding Co.
Saker’s son, Thomas, accepted the award for his father, who was not able to attend.
“My dad is the best listener. Leaders are always the best listeners. The majority of his success is due to his being the best listener; to his children, to his business partners, as well as to his customers,” he said.
Saker said his father has a natural ability to interact with people and that he has always been willing to share his gifts.
Gary was a sculptor known for transforming automobile parts into whimsical, graceful skeletons of dinosaurs. He was a regular at local junkyards where he searched for the necessary parts for creating his unusual works of art.
He opened the Iron Butterfly Gallery in Colts Neck in 1970 where residents were able to see his work.
A “man of muscle and of character,” according to the 1960 Log, he participated in gymnastics, auto mechanics, biology and chemistry clubs and graduated in 1960.
Gary taught welding in a federal program. He also trained as an aviation mechanic in the U.S. Navy.
His sculptures were as big as 60 feet long by 20 feet high and painted in bright, vivid colors. Each work comprised hundreds of car parts and sometimes took 10 automobiles to build a single dinosaur and up to a year to complete.
Gary was the only living sculptor to have a solo show at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. He also designed the Sept. 11 memorial for Colts Neck, which was unveiled in 2002. Gary died in 2005.
Accepting his award was Arlene Berg, his longtime friend and former business manager. Berg said Gary was a soft-spoken talented man, who managed to make metal into art. She said he would be humbled to know how his alma mater has honored him.
Garrison, who graduated in 1970, found his forte on the high school stage when performing in “The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd,” “The Boys From Syracuse” and “The Apple Tree.”
Best known as Steve Rhoades in the Fox TV series “Married With Children,” Garrison is currently appearing on Broadway as the wizard in “Wicked.” Garrison’s other Broadway credits include “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine,” for which he received a Tony nomination, “Torch Song Trilogy” and the “Pirates of Penzance.”
He has been seen on numerous television shows, including “The West Wing,” “Judging Amy,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “L.A. Law” and “Without a Trace,” among others.
Shrott, who was Garrison’s neighbor in the borough, accepted the award for him. She said he would be going on stage just about the time he would be receiving his award.
In a letter read by Shrott, Garrison wrote, “I am honored. Freehold High was the first step on my path toward the career I now enjoy, as it was there that faculty members Bill Starsinic and Joe Reilly produced magic on a modest school stage using little more than scraps of wood, cloth and paper, and their own imaginations to fire up the students’ creativity. To this day, some of my happiest theater memories are of those productions. I owe a great deal to my years at Freehold High; without them, I’m quite certain that my portrait wouldn’t today be hanging on the wall at Sardi’s.”
Brown, an award-winning broadcast journalist and author, is vice president of news and public affairs for the BET Network (Black Entertainment Television). He was previously the vice president of news and documentaries for Spike TV.
At NBC News he was a senior producer for “Dateline” specials. Brown received a George Foster Peabody Award and a Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism for “In the Killing Fields of America,” a three-hour special on violence in America.
Brown is also the best-selling author of “Sacred Bond: Black Men and Their Mothers,” a nonfiction book exploring the complex relationship between sons and mothers. The book won the nonfiction 1999 Honors Book Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. He is working on his next book, “Breakfast on Main Street,” which will explore life in small-town America through the lives of five women from his hometown.
Brown graduated from Freehold High School in 1978 and from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School for Public Affairs with a bachelor’s degree in international relations. He received his master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1991.
Brown said the committee had truly warmed his heart by presenting him with the honor.
“After you leave school, you forget about how much of an impact teachers and guidance counselors had on your life. But walking in here, it all comes rushing back,” he said.
Explaining that going away from home requires a different mind-set, Brown said, “Whatever I do, Freehold Borough is always in my heart and spirit. You need to hold onto everything out there that you think you have to change.”
He referred to most of the people in his room as his neighbors and enjoyed the reunion with those he had not seen in years.
The valuable advice Brown took with him from his father when he left the borough has always been uppermost in his mind, “Go. Know you can always come home again.”
Hou, who was born in Taiwan, came to the United States in 1980 and attended Freehold High School. He studied and learned English and tried to improve his vocabulary by reading Newsweek and The New York Times.
Polio, which left him paralyzed from the waist down, did not put a damper on Hou’s desire to learn and to succeed.
He found his niche in math, science and computer competitions. His fondest memories of high school are a class trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., his senior prom, an English award he received and the outstanding writing award he received from Gov. Thomas Kean for the New Jersey State Essay Competition for the disabled. He continued his studies at MIT.
Hou received his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in science, then joined AT&T Bell Laboratories upon graduation.
In 2000 he resigned from AT&T to join a start-up company. There he implemented routing and signaling protocol and led the successful demonstration of the gear SuperCom 2001. When the Internet bubble burst, he returned to AT&T.
Hou is currently at IBM working on the next generation trouble ticket system, which will eventually support all of AT&T’s services.
He has participated in wheelchair table tennis in national competitions in England and Ireland. He is engaged to be married this year.
Hou acknowledged the teachers who taught him. He mentioned Jack De Value, who he said inspired him, and thanked Lillie Hendry, his guidance counselor, and Peggy Farrell, the school nurse, whom he referred to as his “buddy.”