Honor Society's past and present converge
After 76 years, Gertrude Frishman Brog, 93, a graduate of Fifth Avenue High School in 1933, finally receives her National Honor Society pin.
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When Gertrude Frishman Brog graduated from Fifth Avenue High School in the Hill District in 1933, the Great Depression was in full force, and there wasn't enough money for her to receive a National Honor Society pin.
For years, she has wished she had a pin so that she could pass it down to her descendants and provide a tangible reminder to her great-grandchildren of the importance of hard work.
Yesterday the National Honor Society members at Hillel Academy not only gave her a pin but presented it at a special ceremony in the school library attended by four generations of her family, all six members of the academy's honor society and others.
"Now that I have the pin, it's lovely," said Mrs. Brog, 93, of Squirrel Hill after the ceremony.
Hillel Academy, which is an Orthodox Jewish community day school in Squirrel Hill, last year re-established its National Honor Society chapter, and six members were sworn in recently.
Mrs. Brog, a widow who has six great-grandchildren attending Hillel, worked in the school office for 36 years and has a son-in-law who this fall will become educational director at the school.
She read about the honor society ceremony in the school newsletter and called to seek help in getting a pin.
Mrs. Brog said, "I just thought it was important. I just wanted to show it to the children and maybe give an incentive to the great-grandchildren. I thought it would be nice for them to see."
Adam Reinherz, director of student affairs at Hillel, said the members were so moved by her request that they suggested a special ceremony.
The result was a ceremony that not only honored Mrs. Brog but was a reminder of a shared history.
Mr. Reinherz told the audience, "As Jews, we are a people perpetually entwined with our ancestry, traditions and heritage. Our present lives are so much dependent upon the past ...
"We are what we were; and each one of us realizes that there is a chain linking us back to our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents, l'dor va'dor, from generation to generation."
Mrs. Brog, whose mother died when she was 9, was the seventh of eight children, none of whom was able to go to college after high school.
"We just had to go out and get a job as soon as we graduated. That's the way it worked out," said Mrs. Brog, who got a stenographic job.
But both of her children -- a daughter, Rachelee Sacks of Squirrel Hill and a son, Sandy, of Israel -- earned college degrees. And some members of the next generation have completed or embarked on higher education as well. Her oldest great-grandchildren will be entering eighth grade this fall.
"We are so proud of this lady," said Ms. Sacks. "She is a role model for all of us who are her descendants. She displays the work ethic from the greatest generation of World War II."
The National Honor Society does not have membership lists for all of its chapters, but Mrs. Brog's proof is a black-and-white photo in the 1933 yearbook of the school that closed in the 1970s. She is pictured along with 12 other members of the NHS.
Her story caught the attention of NHS -- which sent a framed letter -- because Fifth Avenue High School Principal Edward Rynearson founded the National Honor Society in 1921, establishing the Alpha Chapter at his school.
"She's connected to an important part of our history," said David Cordts, associate director of honor societies at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
"It truly humbles me to realize that our organization has been recognizing students for lo these many years and someone like her still values and appreciates those qualities that got her selected in the first place: the pillars of the organization, which are scholarship, leadership, service and character," said Mr. Cordts, who made a point to visit the old Fifth Avenue High School when he was in town for an NHS convention in 1993.
He said the society on rare occasions gets a request for a pin.
He recalled one from a woman who had moved into a retirement home, noticed other residents had pins from various organizations and wanted her National Honor Society pin. Sometimes, a grandchild is being inducted, and the grandparent wants to wear his or her own pin.
A pin today costs $7.15, and Mr. Cordts estimated it cost less than $1 in 1933.
He said he was intrigued by the story of the NHS in the Depression.
"We even have seen in some schools today the difficulty that students are having in paying for graduation. If people are facing those difficulties today, I can only imagine that during the Depression it was just as difficult, if not more so, for many of the students," he said.
First Published June 19, 2009 12:00 am