Maybe you’ve watched a game at the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium at Lower Merion High School or followed the recent fuss in Abington — home to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Stadium, but where a proposal to rename the entire senior high school for Schwarzman fell flat.
But in 2020, the future NBA Hall of Famer and President Donald Trump’s billionaire friend and adviser will get some unlikely competition in the arena of school naming rights.
That’s when the new, $130 million Springfield High School will open its doors in Delaware County boasting the Frances “Chickie” Giuffre Dining Center Complex and the Katherine G. “Kay” Voglesong Bus Driver Commons Room.
You may have never heard of those women, but they were legends of a sort to the parade of baby boomers and Gen X’ers who passed through Springfield’s corridors in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Giuffre was known to all as the district’s “Cafeteria Mom,” who whipped up a killer soup every day, while Voglesong was the take-no-guff driver of Bus No. 7, who told you to put down the water gun or else.
They also raised good children. Nicholas Giuffre graduated from Springfield in 1974, met Katherine Voglesong (Class of ’77) six years later, married her, became CEO of a major water-heater company — and now has donated $1 million to the Springfield Area Education Foundation for the naming rights at the two new school facilities.
Giuffre said the donation — and the first major gift to support Springfield’s new high school — is a fitting tribute to his late mom, whom he recalled as a “champion of the underdog” during nearly four decades with the school district. He said she was the kind of lunchroom worker “who would be sad if the children didn’t have the money to buy what they needed.”
The gift from the recently retired chief executive of Ambler-based Bradford White Corp. gives Springfield a sweet, homespun take on the growing trend of public schools looking toward large private donors to help with big construction projects, more typically with athletic facilities.
Giuffre — who lives in West Chester with his wife — said longtime friend Don Mooney, executive director of operations for the Springfield School District, raised the idea of the donation at the educational foundation’s annual golf outing, which he’s been attending for the last 35 years. He recalled jumping at the $1 million idea.
“I said, ‘Hey, that’s a good number,’” Giuffre recalled. “To be honest, I wanted to give a number with six zeros to get the attention. The first gift is the attention one, [if they] want to reach out to other alumni.” Giuffre — who also donated $2.5 million in 2016 to his college alma mater, Bloomsburg University, to establish a Center of Supply Chain Management — said, “Giving is personal.”
Mooney said the district would love to eventually raise as much as $10 million in outside gifts to defray borrowing costs for the new high school, slated to open in about 16 months, replacing the mid-1950s building that the Giuffres attended.
Indeed, the story behind the donation reeks of Delco’s vibrant baby-boom era and the pizza slices that Chickie Giuffre used to dole out from behind the lunch counter at the long-ago-closed Central School and later at E.T. Richardson Middle School.
Nick Giuffre, who grew up on Ballymore Road in Springfield, and whose dad was a draftsman for the Philadelphia Iron Works, was an only child. He has fond memories of his time as a Springfield student, when he was manager of the basketball team but basically “just an average Joe” and “a happy-go-lucky kid.”
He recalled his mom deciding to go back to work when he was in fifth grade and taking the cafeteria job because she would be home when he got out of school. She ended up working for the district for 39 years.
“It was the perfect little job for her,” recalled Giuffre, who had to coax her into retiring at age 75, three years before she died. “She was known for her soup — the teachers would line up.”
The naming-rights gift also gave the Giuffres an opportunity to honor Kay Voglesong, who faithfully drove Springfield’s No. 7 bus from 1971 to 1994, and took the kids to their sporting events in the afternoon.
“She loved the kids,” recalled Kathy Giuffre, who moved to Springfield with her mom, her dad — who worked for Bell Telephone — and her two sisters in 1967. “But she was a no-nonsense person. If the [kids] weren’t listening … she would pull the bus over, or drive them back to school.
“She would tell us stories — ‘Oh, it’s water gun day? Not on my bus!’” recalled Giuffre, who has worked for Mary Kay Cosmetics for the last 40 years.
The Springfield school board officially approved the two namings Thursday night, with none of the drama that surrounded last year’s aborted plan to rename Abington Senior High School for Schwarzman.
“That Abington situation, where the whole building was going to be named for somebody? … I don’t know if I agree with that,” Mooney said. “A room or facility … but a whole building being named, I could see that being a negative.”