WELLSBURG, West Virginia. (May 5, 2017) – The four Brooke High School alumni inducted to the school’s Wall of Excellence Thursday for their academic and professional accomplishments come from diverse fields but offered similar advice to the 177 Brooke High School students who received academic achievement pins for their outstanding grades.
Inducted were Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson, who has headed the Brooke and Hancock county school districts; Paul Lombardi, whose businesses have won national and local awards; Rachelle Prantil-Baun, a scientist involved with biomedical research at Harvard University; and Rick Witkowski, an Oscar-winning music composer and musician.
A 1971 Brooke graduate, Kidder-Wilkerson encouraged the students to be open to exploring new paths and to never stop learning because it “helps you to be a better person and can give you more confidence.”
She said she’d been studying nursing when a professor suggested she take some courses in education so she could also teach nursing. It led to a 23-year career in education in which she taught science at Weirton Madonna and Brooke high schools, served as principal at Brooke and director of student services and superintendent for Brooke County Schools.
Kidder-Wilkerson has earned a doctorate in education, graduating summa cum laude from West Virginia University, and will complete a certificate in advanced education leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education this month.
A 1996 Brooke graduate, Prantil-Baun said she had been interested in becoming a neurosurgeon but learned she could help people also through scientific research into the treatment of health problems ranging from urinary tract disorders and diabetes to spinal cord injuries and infectious diseases.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Syracuse University, then went on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees in the field from the University of Pittsburgh. She worked in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s clinical artificial heart program, at Pfizer Inc. and Draper Laboratories in Boston and is with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.
As lead senior staff scientist on the school’s biomedical mircosystems platform, she is involved with work for the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health.
A 1970 graduate, Rick Witkowski said after watching The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, he set his sights on a musical career. Since then he’s performed with many artists, from the late B.E. Taylor, for whom he and his wife, Deborah, wrote the nationally charting “Vitamin L,” to Bruce Springsteen and Christian artist Kathy Troccoli, appearing with the latter in a New York concert honoring Pope John Paul II.
He has produced themes and other music for shows on several major cable television shows. He won an Emmy for his music for “Scientastic — Are You Sleeping?”, a program aired by the Public Broadcasting System, and an Oscar for his music for “Inocente,” a documentary about a homeless immigrant.
Witkowski encouraged the students to find something they love to do and pursue it and to treat others with love and respect. He performed “All You Need is Love.”
Lombardi said he was surprised to be honored because he never did well in school. He said he’s never wanted to use his dyslexia as an excuse but it did nearly keep him out of college, with him struggling to pass the entrance exam. He said the support of former Bethany College President Duane Cummins, help of his future wife, Karolee, and hard work enabled him to earn his degree. Since then he has formed Lombardi Development, with divisions focused on construction, rentals and other services.
The business received three awards from the American Institute of Architects for its work on the Raleigh County Judicial Center and the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center in Fairmont, and the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce’s Corporate Business of the Year award for its community involvement.
Lombardi encouraged the students not to be afraid of making mistakes and to persevere.
“I found the positive in everything, no matter how bad it was,” he said.