Walking along the E-shaped corridors of Central High School, you’re bound to notice one hallway in particular.
Right before reaching the library — the $4.5 million library funded by alumni, no less — there is a hall decorated with plaques featuring esteemed alumni who once trod the same halls.
The Alumni Hall of Fame celebrates artists, businessmen, educators, CEOs, doctors, poets, actors, lawyers and more, all of whom received their high school education at Central, the second-oldest public high school in the United States.
This year, 14 new inductees will have their likenesses affixed to the wall, joining the likes of Larry Fine, Simon Gratz, Bernard Spain, Simon Guggenheim and more.
“I am really grateful and proud to be an alumnus of Central,” said Marvin Samson, one of this year’s inductees and a member of the school’s 211th class.
He said he owes a lot of who he is to the education he received at Central.
“For me it was just a really good foundation for the future, for the rest of my life,” he said.
Growing up in Strawberry Mansion in a single-parent home, Samson learned early how to work hard — a value certainly encouraged by Jewish parents, he said with a laugh. He started working at a corner drug store when he was 10 years old, which eventually inspired him to go in pharmaceuticals.
He was “spoiled” before he reached Central, as he put it, as he was often one of the smartest kids in his class — until he got to Central and joined all the other smartest kids in their class.
“I learned that I could do things I didn’t think I could do,” he said. “The faculty, the other students really kept me on my toes. It prepared me for the future. I lived the American dream — I’ve been very fortunate in my business career and I owe a lot of it to the foundation I received at Central.”
Following graduation, he went to Temple University to study chemistry, taking classes at night and working during the day. In 1997, he founded Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Samson Medical Technologies, which specializes in injectory drug delivery systems. He had also served as CEO of pharmaceutical company SICOR and later worked for Teva, which had bought SICOR in 2004.
His enthusiasm for the pharmaceutical industry stemmed from working at that corner pharmacy and learning from one particular pharmacist there.
When he worked at the pharmacy, “we didn’t have CVS and Rite Aid all over. The neighborhood pharmacist in those days was the first level of medical treatment,” he recalled. “I was fortunate enough to work with a pharmacist that really made a difference.”
He’s looking forward to catching up with other Central alumni, though he still can’t quite believe that he is being honored.
“When I heard, I was almost in shock, thinking, ‘Me?’ ” he said, laughing. “To accompany the people on that wall, it [is] really a good feeling. I am really grateful and proud to be an alumnus of Central.”
Similarly, Ralph Horwitz, an inductee of the 223rd class, learned a lot about how to succeed from Central, including self-confidence.
He went to Central following in the footsteps of his father and brother as his neighborhood schools were not academically oriented the same way Central was. But the lessons he learned outside the classroom are the ones that still stick with him today.
“I found it a wonderful place to build self-confidence,” he said. “The thing I took away the most was a belief in myself — confidence that I could compete and succeed in rigorous and
Horwitz studied medicine at Penn State University. “I could either be a rabbi, a doctor or a lawyer,” he said. “My brother was interested in law, I wasn’t
interested in being a rabbi. That’s what good Jewish parents expected of their kids at that time.”
The success he found in his field can be traced back to his high school education and what it taught him that he could do.
“I came out of this environment that was so rich and vibrant and intellectually so full of opportunities; it was great for me,” he recalled. “I really did feel that I could make an enormous difference in medicine and helping shape the lives of younger people.”
He was on the faculty at Yale University for 25 years, the last 10 of which he served as the dean of its School of Medicine, as well as dean of West Case Medical College. He also had been senior vice president of Philadelphia-based GlaxoSmithKline for four years before coming to Temple, where he is a professor of medicine and director of Temple Institute of Transformative Medicine.
Being inducted into the school’s hall of fame is a chance for him to return to Central and “celebrate the school,” though, like Samson, he didn’t believe he had gotten the honor.
“I got this quite unexpected email announcing it last year and setting the date, making sure it was in my calendar,” he said. “It was great to get that notice. I have no idea why anybody would have suggested me, but I’m delighted.”
Joe Field clearly remembers his first day at Central. It was September 1945, he recalled, “the same time of the Japanese surrender.” “I was 13 years old, having just recently had my Bar Mitzvah, about to enter high school,” he recalled. “I had the kind of questions everybody has at that age: Who am I? What am I doing here? What is the meaning of life?”
“On that day — the first day — we were in the assembly, and Dr. William Cornog [Central’s president at the time] addressed us. In the course of his address, he said about Central, ‘We enter to learn, and go forth to serve.’ Those words became the mantra for me for the rest of my life. To get this honor from Central is a very, very special thing.”
He was in the 192nd class — he graduated a semester early with the 191st class but maintains his loyalty is with 192 — and went on to the University of Pennsylvania where he felt more than prepared for class before moving on to Yale to study law.
Following law school, he became assistant U.S. attorney and later chairman of the appellate section of the civil and tax division of New York. After returning to Philadelphia, he opened his own law firm. Through that, he got involved with a case involving acquisition of radio stations. From there, in 1968, Entercom Communications Corporation was born.
“I decided to form a company, Entercom, that originally specialized in acquiring FM radio stations,” he recalled, adding it was a time when FM radio was not that popular. “We started with three FM stations in Houston, Minneapolis and San Francisco, and now we have 125 stations.”
Of his induction, he said he was “thrilled.” “It came out of the blue,” he said. “It blew me away.”
Arnold Eisen credited a few of his teachers specifically for the success he found at Central.
“I love to write, and if I write well, I give the credit to my ninth-grade English teacher,” said Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary and
member of the 228th class.
Eisen involved himself in many activities at Central that led him to his current career path — though not at first. He was a writer for Central’s student newspaper, the Centralizer, which he continued to do when he went on to Penn for undergraduate studies. He wrote for the Daily Pennsylvanian, thinking he’d be a journalist.
Though that didn’t pan out, interviewing professors for stories inspired him to move on to maybe become an academic.
After receiving a scholarship to Oxford University, he went on to become a professor at Tel Aviv University, Columbia University and Stanford University teaching religion and Western civilization courses before stepping into his role as chancellor.
Though he didn’t consider teaching at Central, the lessons he learned from there stuck with him as he went on to teach at universities, particularly where he is now.
“When you reach your mid-50s, you typically start thinking about what you want to do with the next chunk of your life,” he said. “I realized that I wanted not only to teach undergrads and grad students but I wanted to train the leaders who would be shaping the next generation of the Jewish community.”
The first non-rabbi to serve as chancellor, Eisen also attended Gratz two days during the week after a full day at Central in addition to Sunday classes — his social life there was better, he quipped, as there were girls at Gratz but none at Central, which didn’t admit female students until 1983.
“The combination of Central and Gratz was terrific,” he said. They kind of reinforced each other — Central exposed me to the greatest books and teachers, the thing Gratz assured me of was that the Jewish tradition was every bit as rich and rigorous and fulfilling as these great books at Central. American Jews have a hyphen in our identity, and Central and Gratz was the hyphen.”
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