When Dr. Deborah Vasbinder Dillon was a student at Brookfield High School, she wished that she were attending a bigger school or a parochial school. She assumed there were things offered at those schools she wasn’t getting at Brookfield.
But, as Dillon got older, she realized the advantages she had had at a small school, particularly the opportunities classmates had to get to know each other, and the greater interaction teachers could have with the students.
The newly minted inductee into the Brookfield Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame said she now is glad she went to a small school.
“I am thankful to this day for my education that I received at Brookfield High School, and I’m thankful for the teachers and the school nurse who did not know that they were a mentor to me, or they were a role model to me,” said Dillon, Class of 1974. “That’s one thing that I’ve always tried to remember throughout my career. You never know who’s watching you and who’s taking away something from that that might change or impact their life. As teachers, which now I can say I’m a teacher, I realize how important the role is that you have in molding these young lives and these minds.”
Dillon, a nurse practitioner and director of the Duquesne University Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program, was inducted Sept. 16 along with her twin sister, Dr. Darlene Vasbinder-Calhoun, Dr. Victoria Husted Medvec, brothers Col. Donald and Lt. Col. Emmett Shaffer and Clyde Ledbetter, a posthumous honoree.
The hall of fame honors Brookfield graduates who have excelled in their professions and used that success to help others.
As with many Distinguished Alumni, Don Shaffer marveled at the district’s K-12 school building, which was built long after he graduated in 1982, and the class offerings that include drones and robotics.
“This is not the Brookfield school that I went to,” said Don Shaffer, who spent 27 years flying missions and working in the Pentagon for the air force. “Where were those classes when I was going through high school? The opportunities are fantastic.”
Vasbinder-Calhoun said Brookfield has always offered opportunities to its students, if not previously cutting-edge technology.
“It’s not about a building,” she said. “It’s about a system. This school system is a system that works.”
Vasbinder-Calhoun, a doctor who specialized in treating premature babies and who also is a former college professor, said she never imagined she would become a doctor, division chief in neonatology and researcher, but her education at Brookfield set the groundwork for those accomplishments.
“We’re not a one-off,” she said of her Distinguished Alumni class. “We have multiple examples. We have a hall of fame class from 2019 and I’m sure you could easily fill the subsequent classes with other individuals who have successfully moved through a system that has been designed to allow individuals to move on in their lives and truly become what they want to be.”
That tradition of achievement extends at least as far back as the Class of 1937, when Ledbetter graduated, He was a black man who went on to receive a scholarship in swimming and diving at West Virginia State University, from which he graduated with a pre-med degree.
World War II intervened in whatever plans he had, and he turned the military into a career. He initially served in a segregated medical corps unit and then, after President Truman desegregated the military in 1948, he went to Walter Reed Medical School and became a combat medic, his time including serving in Korea.
Ledbetter believed in education and required that his three children finish their homework before they were allowed to play, including additional school-related work he would create for them, said his daughter Carmen, a resident of San Francisco who made her first trip to Brookfield for the induction ceremony.
“Dad, he was a stickler,” she said. “He wanted us to be educated.”
Medvec, a business faculty member at Northwestern University who runs her own company, Medvec and Associates, which advises executives on negotiating mergers, acquisitions, contracts and other dealings, said the small classes at Brookfield allowed her to develop a confidence that translated well to other situations. The 1982 graduate said Brookfield offered many important classes and extracurricular activities that allowed her to hone skills such as public speaking, expand her imagination through classes such as French and make enduring friendships.
“Our teachers were amazing at giving us so much support and going outside of their requirements to give us extra help, to help us to succeed,” Medvec said. “I think we see that extra effort in the teachers that created this event and are retired and still in the program, who are working on a committee for this event. This is another form of the teachers and the school giving me confidence. You better believe this is going on my resume. And I’m absolutely gonna claim this all the time.”
Emmett Shaffer, a retired army helicopter pilot who served in Grenada, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and a founder of GEN 4 Services, which provides contracted services to the military and helps other companies get military contracts, said he had “1,000 people to thank, because in order to be successful on a battlefield you gotta have a team.” Brookfield schools is part of that team.
“Truly an honor to be a member of the hall of fame,” said the 1977 graduate. “I can’t thank the school for what it’s given me for all those years and helped me in the positions that I have served in.”