The most touching moment in the 2012 Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame ceremony borrowed from a custom that great baseball players have used for years.
Ballplayers admitted to the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine are entitled to write the acronym HOF along with their autographs.
Ed Kelly, one of the inductees in the Northeast Hall of Fame on Sunday, never won the big honor on the baseball diamond. But that didn’t stop his son, Ted, from signing HOF on a baseball, in front of the crowd and on behalf of his dad, who died in August. Then, eyes welling with tears, the younger Kelly handed the baseball to his mom, Jane.
That gesture was just one of many warm and celebratory moments on Sunday afternoon at Holy Family University.
In addition to Kelly, a giant in the community, the third Hall of Fame induction ceremony honored an astronaut, a civil rights pioneer, an inventor and seven venerable churches.
The 200 or so guests listened to project director Jack McCarthy narrate slide shows of the buildings, institutions and events that make the Northeast’s history so rich and of the inductees of previous years.
“This has been a wonderful educational experience,” Holy Family president Sister Francesca Onley said at the conclusion of the day’s activities.
These people and churches were inducted:
• Frank Shuman (1862-1918), a Tacony resident who invented a solar engine and a process for making wire-glass. He also worked at the Tacony Iron Works, where he helped construct the massive William Penn statue that sits atop City Hall.
• The Rev. Leon Sullivan (1922-2001), a Baptist minister, civil rights leader and social activist who lived on Longford Street in Holmesburg. He founded the Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, a job-training and life-skills program. He was a leading opponent of apartheid in South Africa, sat on the board of directors of General Motors and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush.
• Ed Kelly (1926-2012), a World War II veteran, community activist and business leader from Rhawnhurst. He served as executive director of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce from 1973-82 and is credited with securing its current office on Roosevelt Boulevard. He was among a group of people who founded the Pennypack Park Music Festival in 1977. He paid for a bandshell, and the stage is named in his honor. He was a longtime member of the Mayor’s Advisory Council.
• Chris Ferguson, a retired U.S. Navy captain and astronaut from the Far Northeast who in 2011 commanded the final flight of NASA’s space shuttle. He piloted the Atlantis shuttle flight in 2006, commanded the Endeavour flight in 2008 and commanded the Atlantis flight last year. A married father of three and graduate of St. Martha Grammar School and Archbishop Ryan High School, he works for Boeing.
• Unity Monthly Meeting, Frankford; Byberry Monthly Meeting of Friends; Pennepack Baptist Church; Trinity Church Oxford; Presbyterian Church of Frankford; All Saints Episcopal Church; and Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church. All are 200 or more years old.
The Rev. Paul Andell, the retired longtime pastor of St. James Lutheran Church in Northwood, returned from Minnesota to accept on behalf of the seven churches.
Three generations of Shuman’s ancestors also attended the ceremony.
“In our family, Frank Shuman was a mythical figure. He was a bigger-than-life figure,” said grandson Mark Shuman.
Howard Sullivan, the son of the Rev. Sullivan and president of the OIC, said his father, who would have turned 90 last week, met with kings but fought for paupers.
“My father was an economic empowerment leader,” said the younger Sullivan, adding that he believes that job training, not building more prisons, will lead to a decrease in crime.
Ferguson, who retired from NASA last December, was joined at the event by his wife, Sandy, and teenage son Ian, along with his mother and step-father. Two older children attend Drexel University.
Several students and administrators from Archbishop Ryan were there to congratulate the school’s prized alumnus.
Ferguson recalled that as he was growing up on Amity Road and playing street hockey, he used to pause to look up in the sky as planes took off and landed at the nearby Northeast Philadelphia Airport. Later trips to air shows with his dad led him to a career that enabled him to command a space shuttle.
The only living inductee was humbled by the honor.
“I’m very proud and honored to be included in this great group,” he said.
Ted Kelly, the youngest of Ed Kelly’s seven children, told the crowd the words “community service” in the dictionary should be accompanied by a picture of his father.
“He tried to improve the everyday lives of what he often called ‘my people in the Northeast,’ ” he said.
Kelly said he could picture his father listening to Tommy Dorsey music, making bets at a racetrack and attending shows at “the big bandshell in the sky.”
The recognition of the inductees was only part of the program.
Father Judge High School senior Alex Citerone was saluted as the winner of an essay contest. He and other high school students were invited to write on the theme, Uncovering Northeast Philly: What Makes Northeast Philadelphia Special?
Kathleen O’Connor, a Holy Family student, created a painting to honor the inductees of the previous ceremony. Some of those inductees — retired Special People In Northeast executives David and Trina Losinno and relatives of the late Benjamin Rush and Butch Ballard — were represented on Sunday.
During a pre-ceremony cocktail hour, the crowd was entertained by the music of Arts Academy of Benjamin Rush students Ryan Dougherty, Jake Palan and Chasity Nadeau and string teacher Maureen Brady.
The Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Mayfair Community Development Corporation, Holy Family University, the Northeast Times, City Councilman Dennis O’Brien and the Historical Society of Frankford. ••