LOCKPORT – For four decades, DeSales High School was a major force in Lockport education, turning out a relatively small corps of graduates, many of whom went on to big things.
Its successor, DeSales Catholic School, which uses the same building but operates only for kindergarten through eighth grade, has decided to permanently recognize the most prominent graduates of the high school, which closed in 1989.
The first class of the DeSales Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame will be honored at an Oct. 10 dinner and an Oct. 11 Mass.
The lineup includes John Beilein, who graduated from DeSales in 1971 and is now the men’s basketball coach at the University of Michigan, where he led the Wolverines to the national championship game last season.
Also included are two men who became priests of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, the Catholic order that operated DeSales High School.
The Rev. Joseph C. Dumphrey, a longtime teacher and coach at DeSales who now serves as parochial vicar at St. John the Baptist in Lockport, and the Rev. David M. Whalen, pastor of St. Pius X in Toledo, Ohio, were selected for induction.
Also chosen were Paul F. Cole, a longtime labor leader in teachers’ unions and the statewide AFL-CIO; and H. Margaret Stephanski-Argentine, a nursing professor who owns her own health management company in Oneida.
The proceeds from the induction dinner, to be held in Classics V Restaurant, Amherst, will be used to help provide tuition assistance to current DeSales students, who number about 400. Each year, the school provides about $60,000 in financial aid to students’ families.
Beilein, a Burt native, transferred from Newfane High School to DeSales in 1969 after some budget troubles at Newfane. He played baseball for legendary DeSales coach Les Dugan and basketball for coach Bill Zeits, who also taught social studies at DeSales.
Beilein saw himself following a similar career path to that of Zeits, who had played basketball at Niagara University.
“All I wanted to do as a student at DeSales and at Wheeling (Jesuit College) was be a coach and a teacher. I saw myself more as being a social studies teacher and coaching high school, which actually I was allowed to do. When I graduated from Wheeling Jesuit, I went to Newfane, and I taught and coached there for three years. After that I went to Erie Community College, where I just coached for four years. Ever since, I haven’t been in a classroom. I’ve been just a coach,” Beilein said.
“I saw myself as a lifer, as a teacher. I was fortunate enough to have some opportunities to just coach, and I hope I’m more of a teacher than I am a coach as far as basketball would go.”
And how good were the DeSales basketball teams he played on?
“I don’t think the first year we made the Manhattan Cup playoffs. The second year we did, which DeSales had not done in awhile,” Beilein recalled in a telephone interview from his office in Ann Arbor, Mich. “We had some success, not as much as we would have liked to, probably a little less than .500.”
Beilein said, “The education I got there was terrific. The other terrific part of it was, I made friends there who are still my friends today.”
A group of his old high school friends makes an annual trip to see Beilein’s teams play, a tradition that started when Beilein coached at Canisius College and continued through subsequent coaching stops at the University of Richmond, West Virginia University and now at Michigan. “We only have one loss out of a dozen trips or so,” he said.
Beilein said he will take Oct. 10 off from preseason practice at Michigan to attend the induction dinner, although he won’t be able to attend the Mass at the school the next day.
“It’s important that DeSales is able to bring back the alums and raise money for what I think is a terrific cause, a terrific way to continue Catholic education in that area,” Beilein said.
Beilein returns to this area at least once a year. His wife, the former Kathleen Griffin, graduated from DeSales the year after he did, although they didn’t date until after they left school.
“There was a sense of community there. We fed off each other and learned a great deal from each other. That’s why the bond is still strong today,” Beilein said. “There’s been a bond of their graduates for years, that goes back to the ’50s.”
Dumphrey, who graduated in 1953, professed his vows as an Oblate novitiate right after graduation. He was ordained as a priest in 1964.
Dumphrey taught in Philadelphia for several years after attending Catholic University in Washington, D.C. But after ordination, he was assigned to DeSales, where he taught for four years before becoming principal of the former Bishop Duffy High School in Niagara Falls in 1968. He returned to DeSales as a teacher in 1975, and in 1985 won the Diocese of Buffalo’s educator of the year award.
After DeSales High School closed, Dumphrey taught for three years at Cardinal O’Hara High School before joining St. John’s Church in 1992.
Asked how he reacted when he learned of his selection for the Alumni Hall of Fame, Dumphrey said, “I was quite amazed. There are so many wonderful graduates from there who have accomplished so much. I was really humbled.”
There were only 43 students in his graduating class from what began after World War II as an all-boys school. “Because of its size, there was great camaraderie,” Dumphrey said.
DeSales didn’t go co-ed until 1957, when the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur closed St. Joseph Academy, the all-girls Catholic school in Lockport. Both the nuns and their students headed for DeSales.
The religious atmosphere inspired Whalen, who graduated in 1961 and eventually went on to serve eight years as provincial, the head of the Oblates in the Toledo-Detroit region, which includes Lockport.
Asked why he became a priest, Whalen said he was intrigued by the priests at DeSales.
“I looked at our men who were there at the time, and they looked happy,” he said. “Whatever they were doing, they enjoyed it.”
Whalen professed his first vows 50 years ago with 39 men. He’s the only one of them in the priesthood today.
“Be faithful. That’s engraved in me. If you’re faithful, you’ll be happy,” he said.
He said when a woman from DeSales called him about the hall of fame, he didn’t know what she was talking about. He said the Oblates used to have a house in Washington, D.C., called DeSales Hall, and Whalen at first thought the call had something to do with that.
“I think it’s great that the school is doing this. There’s so many wonderful people who went there,” Whalen said.
Cole, who graduated in 1957, was an All-Catholic football star at DeSales, playing quarterback in his junior year and fullback in his senior year. He earned a football scholarship to Marquette University. After earning a master’s degree at Canisius College, Cole taught social studies at Lewiston-Porter High School from 1961 to 1983, before devoting his life to the labor movement.
He said he was the chief union negotiator at Lew-Port, inspired by his starting salary of $4,500 a year. “There was an incentive to do something about that,” he said.
In 1983, Cole was appointed assistant to the president of the New York State United Teachers, and the following year he was elected secretary-treasurer of the New York AFL-CIO, a post he held until his retirement in 2006. The AFL-CIO’s Albany office building is named for him.
He also was on the NYSUT board of directors from 1972 to 1997 and was a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 2006.
He said a DeSales history teacher, Father Bill Kenny, inspired his union career, as did his Jesuit professors at Marquette and Canisius.
“It’s this whole concept of economic and social justice, which our new Pope Francis is big on,” Cole said. “Economic and social justice is a fundamental tenet of the Catholic faith.”
Cole, who lives in Loudonville, is the brother of former Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Investigator and County Legislator John W. Cole III.
Argentine, co-owner of Argentine Health Partners in Oneida, has taught nursing at Syracuse University, Morrisville State College, Utica College and the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse.
A 1963 DeSales graduate, Argentine holds a doctorate in educational administration from Syracuse. She earned her nursing degree at Buffalo General Hospital in 1966.
“I was stunned to see I’m the only woman,” Argentine said. “It’s quite humbling and quite a surprise … It’s given me pause to reflect on where I’ve been.”
She saluted her parents, whose finances were “beyond modest … on the edge of poverty.” Yet they sent her to Catholic school.
“The opportunities were amazing at DeSales,” Argentine said. “I was very, very lucky to be in that city with those people.”
Inductees to the Hall of Fame are chosen by a seven-member committee.
Tickets and sponsorship information for the Oct. 10 induction dinner are available by calling the school at 433-6422.