PV military alumni honored with display


Leah Jerome

PV’s History Club created a display located in the main lobby of Pascack Valley High School, showcasing veterans currently serving in the armed forces. While the display was only temporary, the club aims to be able to keep it up permanently. 

Sarah Shapiro, Staff Writer

Ryan Novakowski, a 2019 Pascack Valley graduate, first decided to join the military at the end of his junior year when he was exposed to the basic training indoctrination period during his visit to his brother’s military training campus. 

“We visited the [military training] campus, and I fell in love with everything – it’s like a brotherhood,” Novakowski said. “Everyone was so close; I went to one of the dinners and heard these chants and everything. [The other recruits] were really friendly people and you could tell that they had created these bonds that would never be broken.”

A developed list of PV veterans currently serving in the armed forces was previously on display in PV’s lobby. They are now in the process of finding a different location for the display, which was created by the History Club.

A closer look at one section of the display. With the exception of two teachers, each veteran showcased was once a student at Pascack Valley. (Leah Jerome)

“The History Club and administrators are discussing plans for a permanent display,” History Club Advisor and PV teacher Leah Jerome said. “This is going to be a long-term project and I’m not sure we will have an exact answer after our first meeting.”

2016 PV graduate and active-duty Army Officer Will Gallagher saw the display as an opportunity to inspire students on different career paths. 

“It shows [PV students] that graduates from their school have gone on to do great things,” Gallagher said. “I think it gives [students] another [career option] – another way to go about doing things. You don’t have to go to college, you don’t have to do this or that.”

These veterans are Hillsdale and River Vale residents that attended high school at PV. Also included in the list are two PV teachers: Joe Orlak and Jeff Jasper. 

“I think it’s a great way to honor them, especially because of all the sacrifices they’ve made and I appreciate everything that [they do].” Novakowski said. 

The History Club formed a list of veterans to honor those in the armed forces. Led by Jerome and Co-presidents Bryant Lee and Matt McCambridge, the club decided to take on this project after “seeing a lot of schools [support veterans in a] better [way]” than Pascack Valley.

“Going back to when I was at school [at PV], there were always groups [that] did Army based workouts, and the overall student body was supportive of the military in general,” Gallagher said. “[The display] is a really good step forward, commemorating those who have sacrificed everything.” 

The display can also contribute to providing a sense of unity within the PV community.

“There is so much division now, we can all come together [to] support our troops and what they’ve given up for [our] country,” Jerome said. “It’s a very unifying thing.”

Club members were able to obtain pictures of veterans for the display by reaching out through a variety of platforms. 

“Some of the [club members] had connections [to veterans], they messaged them on Facebook, [or] they knew a family member,” Jerome said. 

The display shows the majority of veterans from the PV community; however, the club is unsure if it has all the names. The club collected this information from sources such as PV Guidance and the Hillsdale American Legion, as well as current and former PV staff such as Susan Vicchio, Lauren Bielan, John Murtaugh, and Tom DeMaio. 

Although there is not a fully formed list of veterans from the PV community yet, the group hopes to create a more complete list throughout the year. 

“There will still be people from PV who will be joining the military and there might be some that we haven’t gotten. It’s a work in progress,” McCambridge said.

The display includes a list of PV graduates who are currently enlisted in the U.S. military. The club hopes to add a few more names in order to complete it. (Sarah Shapiro)

By Memorial Day, the History Club is planning to do something similar to honor the veterans who had lost their lives. 

McCambridge hopes to expose the PV community to its veterans because he believes that “it is important that [students] know who [the veterans] are so they can honor them in the way they see fit.”

“It’s not recruitment, it’s really just a celebration of those individuals who have given up a part of their life to serve their country,” PV teacher and former veteran Joe Orlak said.

Jerome discussed the individuals who contributed to the project, including Christine Steinmetz, who printed out all the pictures, Stephanie DiGiacopo, who provided the display board, and Diego Giraldo, who helped with the setup. 

“[This project] put me in a different mindset,” Jerome said. “It reminds me that [American citizens] aren’t branded, that what we have isn’t just given to us – it is defended every day by people on that board.”