Darius Pridgen ‘81, is an Air Force veteran who received his B.S. degree in Criminal Justice from Buffalo State College and his M.A. degree in Organizational Leadership from Medaille College.
To be nominated for the Msgr. John Zeitler Memorial Award, individuals must possess an extraordinary dedication to Community and Family Life as well as an outstanding reputation as a spiritual leader in the community. This year’s nominee, Bishop Darius G. Pridgen, certainly manifests these fine qualities.
Bishop Pridgen is a mentor, community leader and organizer as the Senior Servant of True Bethel Baptist Church located in Buffalo. This church provides the community with food, clothing and shelter through their Taste of Faith Pantry and the Clothes Closet which extends help for individuals in need during difficult times. In 2015, under the Bishop’s leadership, a Mobile Outreach Van and Information Opportunity Bus were created to serve multiple areas
in the city. During the same year, Darius led the effort to build a Dollar General in the neighborhood.
Bishop Pridgen is also known as Buffalo Common Council President Pridgen. He is the first known cleric to be elected to public office in Buffalo’s history. He was first elected to the Buffalo Board of Education, where he served as Chairperson of the Big 5 School Districts and the Student Support Committee. He also served as Chair of the Rules Committee on the Council and currently is a member of the Board of Trustees at Medaille College.
To quote Bishop Pridgen, “I am called to build people who will build a community and who will change the world.”
Nicholas C. Costantino, this year’s recipient of the Earle Y. Hannel Award, graduated from Bennett in 1962 and was awarded his Bachelor’s Degree from U.B. in 1967. Nick cherished the education he received from BHS, weaing our orange tiger logo in his lapel at all times. Football was his chosen sport and he played for the Tigers from 1959-1961. During his undergraduate years at U.B., Nick, the passionate football player, was a defensive end for the Lackawanna Lancers semi-professional football team.
Upon graduation from U.B., Nick entered the John Marshall Law School in Chicago and received his law degree in 1971. In his final year of law school, he taught science in a Chicago inner-city middle school.
Upon returning to Western New York, Nick began to work in the Erie County D.A.’s office in 1974 and was chief of the Major Violent Offense Bureau until 1985 when he ran for mayor of the city. He then entered private practice and, for more than 30 years, his office was located down the street from Bennett at Main and Fillmore. During this time, Nick was involved in the Butler Mitchell alumni, supporting youth activities on the West Side.
Along with being an honorary football coach for the Bennett Tigers under head coach Steve McDuffie, Nick was most active as a Board Member in our Alumni Association. He was a loyal Sports Hall of Fame Committee member and a valued participant on Bennett’s Redesign Team, which formed in 2014. His family stated, “Nick worked passionately with others to keep Bennett High open when it was in jeopardy of closing”. Nick also worked very hard to develop a weight room adjacent to the Gym so our students could properly exercise with modern equipment that was not present before its inception.
Nick’s wife Karen, daughter Nicole, sons Justin, Andrew, Eric and Nicholas, his 20 grandchildren and one great grandchild are extremely proud of Nick receiving this prestigious award posthumously.
And, on behalf of the entire Bennett Alumni Association family, we will miss you, Nick.
Bernice Beeks was an excellent multi-sport athlete with limitless potential. Unfortunately, in the Pre-Title IX era, girls in the Buffalo public high schools had no opportunity to participate in interscholastic sports. Before 1975, their only options were sports clubs, intramural volleyball, or joining a student run Pre-Title IX team.
Bernice played 4 years of intramural volleyball which was run by P.E. teacher Miss Blue. She also played 2 seasons of Pre-Title IX basketball. The girls on the team purchased their own uniforms and took city buses to games. Prior to their 1971 – ‘72 season, Bern hand sewed all the team members’ numbers onto the front and back of their uniform shirts. Practices were held in backyards, at the Kensington Playground and the Delaware Park Courts. In bad weather, practice took place on the 2nd floor hallway of Bennett with a trash can as a substitute for a hoop. Games were played against C.Y.O. teams, private, and Catholic schools. Bern was a vital member of a scrappy team that represented Bennett and the Buffalo public schools well. Thanks to her speed, jumping ability, and defense; her 1971 – ‘72 team had a 10 Win – 2 Loss season. One can only imagine how good she would have been with proper coaching and regular practices. She also played 2 seasons of Pre-Title IX softball. Those practices were held at Shoshone Park. She was also a 2-year member of the Bennett Horseback Riding Club of which Miss Blue was faculty adviser.
After high school, Bern continued her athletic pursuits. For 9 years, she played outfield for the “Soulful Queens” of the Buffalo Softball League. There, she won the Most Home Runs and 2 MVP trophies. She has been playing volleyball for “Hannah’s Team” for over 17 years at Houghton Park. She also bowled in the General Mills Ladies League. Her team the “Lucky Charms” won 2 First Place trophies. A couple of years ago. she took up a new sport – Pickleball. Just as in high school, if sports are being played, Bern is there.
Bernice recently retired from her job at General Mills. Her sons Tyrone, 46 and Nathaniel, 38 both played football for Seneca High School and the Lackawanna Dynasty. These days, Bern can be found in local gyms and parks instilling the love of sports and the benefit of an active lifestyle in her grandchildren.