There is an enduring tradition at Penn Charter of former classmates banding together to show gratitude for the school that helped shape them. It’s a strategy that allows alumni to pay it forward in a more impactful way than they could alone. This year, two OPC classes—1966 and 1971—announced major collaborative gifts to the How Far? campaign that will directly support Penn Charter’s campus transformation.
While celebrating their 50th and 55th reunion years, respectively, both groups of OPCs decided to honor the occasion with a gift, and both identified a need in Penn Charter’s new Graham Athletics & Wellness Center. “They came to us and asked how they could be most helpful to the school right now,” said Senior Development Officer Chris Rahill. And while reunion giving is often directed toward scholarship funds, he said, at this critical stage in the How Far? campaign alumni are in a position to leave their mark on Penn Charter in unusually eye-catching ways.
And that’s just what they opted to do: The Class of 1966 directed its gift toward two sets of bleachers in the Graham Center’s competition courts and the Class of 1971 funded a scoreboard in the same space, both helping to put the finishing touches on Penn Charter’s cutting-edge new facility.
Beyond their sleek utility, these fixtures also will embody a deeper significance for the reuniting OPCs, who dedicated their gifts to departed classmates.
The Class of 1966 decided to commemorate Steven “Stef” Distefano, a talented three-sport athlete who won All Inter-Ac honors in football and excelled in baseball and basketball. He worked as a construction superintendent and estimator for C. Amodei Company in Bensalem, Pa., and remained close with many of his Penn Charter friends throughout his life. Distefano passed away unexpectedly in 2018.
“He was one of our favorite guys,” said class agent Stephen A. Bonnie OPC ’66, who looks back fondly on his class’s 50th reunion in 2016, their last hurrah with Distefano. Bonnie helped galvanize his fellow OPCs around the idea of a gift to mark their 55th: “We decided, ‘Let’s fire this thing up. Let’s do this for Penn Charter, for ’66, and let’s do this for Steffy.’” The bleachers—a pair for each of the Graham Center’s two competition courts—matched up with the Class of 1966’s fundraising prospects and felt like an appropriate tribute to Distefano, who remained a passionate spectator long after he’d given up competitive athletics himself.
Members of the Class of 1971, led by class agent Charlie Kaesshaefer, elected to honor Billy Harris, an elite high school basketball player who died of leukemia in 1986. In a class full of colorful personalities, Kaesshaefer said, Harris stood out for his “singular focus” on the game: “He dedicated his high school and college years to being the best player he could be.”
That dedication paid off in a big way when Harris finished the 1970-71 season as the leading scorer in Pennsylvania, earning an average of 28.7 points per game and once putting away 65 during a single four-quarter tear. He went on to play and study at Jefferson University (then Philadelphia College of Science and Textiles), where he would later serve as director of alumni affairs and sports information. Fifty years on, Harris still holds PC’s record for career points in boys basketball–1,646–making it all the more fitting that his name will be emblazoned on the team’s new scoreboard.
Members of both alumni classes plan to gather on campus during the upcoming school year, conditions permitting, to unveil their contributions to the space. The Class of 1971 will convene during OPC Weekend in May and the Class of 1966 during PC/GA Day weekend in November, to coincide with Billy Harris’s posthumous induction into the Athletic Honor Society.
Those gatherings would signal a return to the norm for OPCs, who were limited to virtual reunions last spring during the covid-19 pandemic. In both cases, Rahill anticipates a spirited homecoming enhanced by the dedication ceremonies and a general sense of excitement surrounding the Athletics & Wellness Center. “This is a fun opportunity for these alumni to be recognized as a class,” Rahill said, “while helping make the school a better place for current and future students.”