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Kennedy Student Government's Alumni Day Assembly featuring an interview with ESPN's Steve Levy (Class of '83)

Lorraine Poppe’s legacy will live on

Bellmore’s John F. Kennedy High School was more than just the late Lorraine Poppe’s home for her 23-year career as principal — some said it was her life. Those close to her saw her as a mother, an always-accepting friend or educational mentor. She shaped the school into what it is today, and her influence will live on for generations, through thousands of students.

Friends, family and peers agreed that it was rare to find someone like Poppe, who charmed the JFK community. She attended many extracurricular and sporting events, cheering students on as their biggest fan, colleagues said. She had perfect attendance for 18 of those 23 years as principal. She hired the vast majority of the high school’s current staff, and her leadership not only fueled Kennedy’s academic successes, but its ventures into the arts as well.

The beloved educator died in April, after retiring in 2018 due to declining health. She was 67. The Herald Life covered Poppe’s death, including reactions from the Kennedy community, her induction into the school’s Hall of Fame and the dedications to her that followed. Expressions of adoration were abundant.

She was the fourth, and longest-serving, principal of the high school, and her legacy will live on as long as the building stands. Kennedy annually touts academic excellence thanks to her leadership — and the school’s success has benefited the larger Bellmore community.

For these reasons, the Herald is proud to name Poppe its 2019 Person of the Year.

“Her entire time here, she emphasized the importance of being involved beyond just the school day,” said Gerard Owenburg, who was Poppe’s assistant principal for 10 years, beginning in 2007, and took over as her successor in July. In the stands at sports games and science competitions, she sported a Kennedy sweater and a huge smile — “She was the proud parent,” Owenburg said.

“The faculty embraced that,” he added, “and connected with the kids even more so.”

During an interview, Owenburg sat in the office that Poppe once occupied, which has been transformed. Her space was considerably smaller, he said — an adjacent conference room was separated by a wall — but that partition has been removed, giving the office more room. Despite the changes, however, her presence remains, Owenburg said. At times he looked up and pondered his memories of Poppe with a smile that reflected fond times.

Her favorite time of year, he recalled, was Homecoming, when students and faculty alike were filled with Kennedy pride. For her, “it wasn’t just about football, it was about Kennedy,” Owenburg said. Poppe’s excitement about pep rallies, and students’ camaraderie, drummed up fierce school spirit.

Virtually every program outside the traditional high school courses was developed under her watch, Owenburg said. That included the culinary program, which has its own restaurant-style kitchen; advanced science research, in which students undertake professional-level work; Gilder Lehrman Research in the social studies department; and Virtual Enterprise, which turns students into entrepreneurs. No matter what a young mind entering ninth grade might want to study, Poppe made sure that subject could be pursued, he said.

“All of us adopted Lorraine’s pursuit of excellence,” said Eileen Connolly, Poppe’s assistant principal for 19 years. The two taught together in the Baldwin School District, where Poppe started her career as a high school English teacher in 1974. In 1995 Poppe became Kennedy’s principal, and Connolly followed her the next year. “She’s just a class act,” she said. “Anyone that had a chance to work with her is very fortunate.”

The well being of the school and its students always came first for Poppe, Connolly said. She saw her go through “true tests of character,” including when she lost her home to Hurricane Sandy. Poppe’s first concern, though, was her students’ and staff’s safety. With the student government, she helped establish a fundraiser for those in the community who were affected.

“Every year she had the same enthusiasm,” Connolly recalled. “The same dedication, year after year after year.”

Poppe valued student-teacher interactions highly, Connolly said, as evidenced by her relationship with 2008 graduate Rachel Kanner.

“She was crazy about me,” said Kanner, who bonded with Poppe through a shared love of the Mets. Poppe always encouraged support for the team, even when it struggled. “Keep following it and believe in it,” Kanner said she learned from Poppe, which became her mindset for all of life’s hardships.

When the Mets made the playoffs in 2006, Kanner scored a ticket — but it would mean missing a school day. Poppe encouraged her to go to the game, joking that it was a case of “Mets fever.” Their friendship, Kanner said, made Kennedy “feel like a home.”

As Poppe’s health declined, accepting retirement wasn’t easy, her niece Lauren Bowler said. Poppe had never married — Kennedy was her family, Bowler said, adding, “She always held on to the hope that she’d be able to return.” She took a leave of absence in September 2017, and decided to end her career at the end of the school year.

In June 2018, when her retirement was certain, Poppe had one last hurrah with her Kennedy colleagues. It was the faculty’s end-of-year party, and “they lined up to see her one last time,” Owenburg said.

“I’ve never seen 150 people stand and give an ovation like that,” Connolly said. “She got to spend a few minutes with every single person . . . it was a very special day.”

“It was a huge closure for her,” said Bowler, who teaches elementary-school English, “even though she couldn’t retire on her own timeline.”

Posthumously, Poppe continues to transform Kennedy. Outside the principal’s-office windows, in the school’s central courtyard, stands the Poppe Pavilion, a project headed by the JFK Alumni Association. What used to be nothing but broken concrete is now a white pavilion surrounded by tables and benches, an elaborate waterfall and new brickwork.

Before its construction, the courtyard was not open to students during the day. This year it became a space for studying and outdoor classes. “If she could look out the window and see students enjoying the courtyard,” Owenburg said, “it would make her so happy.”

“If anyone deserves it, it’s her,” said Gary Morganstern, president of the alumni association. “The Kennedy community was her children.” The courtyard was originally a vision of Poppe’s he added, “and now it’s the center of the whole school.”

“She’d be [at Kennedy] during the day, at night, at any function,” said Ron Steiger, the association’s public relations director. “It wouldn’t matter — she’d be there.” Steiger, a 1972 graduate, wasn’t a student under Poppe, but when he recounted the Mother’s Day card he wrote on behalf of the alumni for Poppe, he fought back tears.

“Like a great loving and caring mom, you were always willing to give more,” it read. “You have thousands of children to be proud of.”

Just as Poppe encouraged events to be student-organized, Owenburg aims to make the courtyard’s official ribbon-cutting a student-run celebration. It will be accompanied by an outdoor concert.

By all accounts, Poppe was not a fan of awards or special recognition. She was the “ultimate professional,” Owenburg said, who tirelessly, selflessly and humbly gave her all to many of Bellmore’s youth.

“She just was Kennedy High School,” Connolly said.

Dear Fellow JFK Alumni & Parents,

As proud alumni of Kennedy High School, we are pleased to share with you some of the exciting things that are taking place at our beloved Cougar Nation. 

In the past few years, the Alumni Association has supported and enhanced many school programs, including providing the funding to begin a state of the art robotics program, beautification of the school grounds, the electronic message board at the entrance to the school as well as providing many scholarships that are given annually at the Senior Awards Program. 

 We are currently in the process of another wonderful new project. As many of you know, longtime Kennedy Principal, Lorraine Poppe, passed away in April after a twenty-two month battle with cancer. Lorraine led Kennedy High School for twenty-three years and had hoped to complete a few more projects before she would retire. The main project she wished to accomplish was to turn the courtyard into a functional area where ceremonies, concerts and performances could be held, as well as give the students and faculty a place to “chill”.


We are proud to announce that beginning last year, work on that project began! The plans include all new brickwork, plantings, sod, a pavilion and a rock garden/waterfall. Several benches will also be installed. This project will provide opportunities for students and staff, as well as being a fitting tribute to Ms. Poppe’s legacy.

 The Alumni Association is in the midst of raising money to complete this project, as well as initiate several others to help current and future students.

We are seeking the support of each graduating class to help us in our endeavors. All we are asking is for everyone to make a donation....$5, $10, $25 or more will make these dreams become a reality. Each class that reaches a class total of $1000 will have a plate added to a plaque to commemorate the class. There is no better way to celebrate all that you have received from Kennedy by paying it forward and supporting current and future students! 


To help us reach our total goal of $50,000, we are asking that you take a moment today and consider donating to this wonderful cause.

 Please use this link to make a donation in ANY AMOUNT that you are comfortable with.



You may use your PayPal account or credit or debit card to make the donation via this link.

 Please also list your year of graduation so we can keep track of the years of graduation for the plaque to commemorate your class’s donation.

IMPORTANT, on the 2nd page under the amount you select to donate, there is a field  “Add a note” please click on this  to-write your year of graduation in that field.

For those of you that want to mail in a check, please make the check payable to:

Bellmore JFK Alumni, Inc


Place your year of graduation and the word Poppe Courtyard in the memo area.

 Mail it to:

John F Kennedy High School

Attn: Alumni Association

3000 Bellmore Avenue

Bellmore, NY  11710

 Thank you for your willingness to participate in this project. Many small donations will lead to great results! We hope we can count on you to be part of the energy of “PAYING IT FORWARD”.

 Go Cougars!

Bellmore JFK Alumni Board & Committee 

2019 Hall Of Fame

Wall of Honor

Friends of Kennedy 


.... friends, alumni, family and business associates that would like to attend the event and honor the inductees and to purchase tickets, advertise in the journal and become a sponsor of the event please use the info below to print out the forms.
These are the 2019 inductees
Dr. Joseph Etzel
’83 – Renowned Clinical Faculty Practioner-St. John’s University School of Pharmacy
Rick Farber ‘78 – Senior Advisor for Financial Markets, United States Treasury
Neil Grover ’73 – Percussionist, Boston Symphony
Steph Hammerman ’08 – Adaptive Cross Fit Athlete and Trainer/ Entrepreneur Motivational Speaker
Dr. Jack Krauser ’69 – Renowned Periodontist/ Officer of International College of Oral Implantologists
Lee Mandel ’99- CEO of Intralogic Solutions
Dr. Thomas Pappas ’74 – Director of Cardiac Catherization, St. Francis Hospital
Seth Pitlake ’77 – Realtor, President of Merrick Kiwanis
Jackie Stone ’86 – Chief Marketing Officer of MiMedia
Dr. Aren Skolnick ’01 – Endocrinologist, Northwell Health, Asst. Professor, Zucker
School of Medicine (Hofstra University)
Steven Wunderlich ‘71 – Founding Executive Board /Executive Director of PREVAIL/ JFK Wrestler
Lorraine Poppe, Principal (1995-2018)
Eileen Connolly, Assistant Principal (1996-2015)
John Schaefer, Original Staff Member/Famed Wrestling Coach
Janet Goller Brooke Jones Louise Maxworthy

A Message from Eileen Connolly & the JFK Alumni Association

Last Friday marked the end of an incredible 44 year career in education for my good friend and colleague, Lorraine Poppe. Lorraine spent 21 years in Baldwin as a teacher of English, coach, department aide, dean of students and assistant principal. In 1995, Lorraine was named as the fourth principal of John F. Kennedy High School, Bellmore.....a position she held with great distinction for the last 23 years. In recognition of Lorraine's retirement, outstanding service and dedication to the students and families of Kennedy, the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School Board of Education has graciously supported that the soon-to-be renovated courtyard be dedicated to and named in honor of Lorraine.....certainly a wonderful and fitting tribute.The Kennedy High School Alumni Association, along with district and school personnel have raised a significant portion of the funding needed to begin this project, with the brick walkways being started this week. In addition to the brickwork, plans have been formulated to add gardens, lighting and a pavilion in the courtyard, an entity to be used and enjoyed by the students and staff for years to come.To fund this project, the Alumni Association in continuing to collect monies from friends, colleagues, parents and former students as a way of recognizing Lorraine's outstanding efforts and as a "thank you" for her boundless energy and commitment to the thousands of students whose lives she has touched.Individuals, families and groups who wish to donate may do so by sending checks, payable to Bellmore JFK Alumni, Inc. to:Bellmore JFK Alumni AssociationJohn F. Kennedy High School3000 Bellmore AvenueBellmore, New York 11710
Please be sure to indicate "Courtyard" on the memo line of your check. Your donation Is tax deductible.I am asking Bellmore-Merrick and Baldwin friends to help spread the word of this request by sharing this post with your contacts. Thank you in advance for your support of this project and for recognizing the outstanding contributions of an outstanding educator- Lorraine Poppe.

50 Year  History of 

Bellmore JFK High School

Book written by the JFK Students

Use the link below


Hall Of Fame Journal

May 6, 2017

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Bellmore JFK Alumni, Inc

John F Kennedy High School

3000 Bellmore Avenue

Bellmore, NY  11710






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The Kennedy Cougar Alumni Edition

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The bottom line is: please support John F. Kennedy High School and the Alumni Association. It was these strong roots that created your paths in life and put you on your road to success; now you can help us do the same for others.  We will be in contact with you about future events, programs, scholarships, as well as informal and formal get-togethers.  Below you will find a link to our first newsletter. We hope you enjoy it. Thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming events!


Kennedy Cougar Alumni Edition Newsletters


click on the pdf links below to view and print !!

May 2014 Edition

Cougar Alumni Edition May 2014.pdf

July 2013 Edition

Alumni Edition July 2013.pdf

November 2012 Edition

Cougar Alumni Edition November Issue Final.pdf


July 2012  Edition

          The Kennedy Cougar Alumni Edition.pdf


JFK Young Alumni Grads

2011, 2012, 2013, 2014


Will Have Free  Membership

 (For Up To 4 Years After Graduation)

so please join !!


Honorable Mention

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Alma Mater
Oh Kennedy we pledge thee our loyalty
Our lives shall tell of all you’ve taught
Our spirit sings thy name.
With courage and honor, we’ll praise alma mater
Oh grey and green we hail thee
... Banners waving high.
For Kennedy, we shall proclaim
Our love shall never die


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