Fennelly Society

Archbishop Riordan High School is pleased to rename its planned giving society in honor of esteemed teacher, coach and mentor Mr. Ed Fennelly. We invite you to read more about Mr. Fennelly’s impact on the school community below.

Join the Fennelly Society

Planned gifts take many forms and benefit the school both now and in the future. Gifts can be made over a lifetime or administered as part of an estate, and can provide donors and their families with valuable tax and income benefits, as well as help achieve personal financial and philanthropic goals. The Fennelly Society, previously the Heritage Society, honors members of the Riordan community who have helped secure the long-term vitality of Archbishop Riordan High School by making a planned gift.

More Information
If you are interested in finding out more information about how to make a planned gift such as a bequest, charitable trust, or a gift of life insurance or retirement funds, please contact Director of Planned Giving Mrs. Karin Haskell, khaskell@riordanhs.org or (415)586-8200 ext. 232.

Those who knew him often refer to Edward Joseph Fennelly as one of Riordan High School’s founding fathers, but in truth it would be more accurate to describe him as a man of many firsts.

Not only was he among the all-boys catholic high school’s first teachers, he was also its first coach of their football, baseball, basketball and cross country teams. Within a few years, perhaps bored by a lack of activity, he also started the school’s first golf and swimming teams.

And as if he needed a closer connection to the school, he even called it home for a spell. He and his wife Nancy actually lived on the campus while the school built its new wing along Phelan Avenue.

Before he was one of Riordan’s most influential leaders, he was a prep basketball star, winning league championships in his junior and senior years at St. Joseph’s in Alameda. Future NBA star Jason Kidd also led St. Joseph’s to league titles, but history will show that Fennelly was Jason Kidd long before Kidd was a kid, though he never mentioned this to his students and athletes.

In keeping with this theme, he also was the first commissioner of the West Catholic Athletic League, a fledgling organization when Fennelly started it in 1967 that blossomed into a powerhouse lineup of schools that produced professional athletes like Milwaukee Bucks center Kevin Restani, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

It was that kind of vision, organization and dedication that carried Fennelly through his 40 years of service at Riordan. And it is with the same level of loyalty and reverence that his former students and colleagues want to honor him: The school is announcing that they are rededicating their planned giving society in Fennelly’s name – another first.

The Fennelly Society
And if anyone could help secure the school’s future with a planned gift, it will be those who revere the late Fennelly’s memory, which still inspires the generations of students, teachers and coaches who knew him.

“You could tell he was more than just a teacher and a coach,’’ said retired San Francisco firefighter Jim Ferry ‘57, who Fennelly taught in his algebra and geometry courses and whom he coached in cross country. “He was just someone you were really lucky to have in your life. He was very thoughtful, considerate and fair.’’

How much of an impact did Fennelly have on his former student? Each time Ferry donates to the school, he makes sure to do so in Fennelly’s name.

“He was just a fabulous person and I believe he deserves all the recognition he could get for what he did for Riordan and all the kids he came into contact with,’’ Ferry said.

That mirrors the sentiment of another of Fennelly’s first group of students. Contractor Sergio Nibbi ‘54, who remembered Fennelly as “very tall and very straight,’’ long before he discovered that Fennelly was an ex-Marine, said he couldn’t imagine “a nicer guy’’ to have his name on the new donor society.

“He was just a very giving person, you couldn’t find a more kind man,’’ said Nibbi. But not so kind as to forget who was in charge in the classroom. “I never saw anybody who could throw an eraser across the room with more pinpoint accuracy.’’

And if he seemed a bit strict and intimidating, then the picture becomes more clear and revealing. Fennelly was a lieutenant in the Marines during World War II. That espirit de corps is a handy tool to have when teaching and coaching in testosterone-filled halls for 40 years.

“He was a tough guy, very old school,’’ said Ron Isola ‘61, Riordan’s legendary basketball coach, whose teams won nearly 350 games and numerous WCAL, Central Coast Section and state titles. “But he was one of those people who inspire others to go into teaching and coaching. He’s one of the people who helped make the place great.’’

Yet as with anyone who enjoys such a long career in one organization, not everyone was pleased all the time. Legend has it that one of the Marianist brothers who taught at Riordan got upset with Fennelly for some perceived slight. Isola said that Bro. Miller proposed a trade at the time – Fennelly for a highly sought-after Marin Catholic High School football coach.

Those in sports know some of the best trades are the ones that don’t happen. If Fennelly had gone, Riordan wouldn’t have hired Rudy Zannini, a former St. Ignatius basketball star who would go on to play with the great Bill Russell and K.C. Jones at the University of San Francisco when the team won back-to-back NCAA titles.

Dedicated Talent Scout
As athletic director, Fennelly appointed Zannini as varsity coach in 1961, whose Restani-led Riordan teams would later win consecutive WCAL crowns. Zannini himself subsequently became the school’s athletic director.

“I owe a lot of my career there due to Ed as do so many others,’’ Zannini said. “He was a great teacher and a great leader and he was responsible for so much of the history of the school and the WCAL. That’s why we’re happy to give back to the school. He deserves a lot of credit.’’

Perhaps even more credit than you think. One little known fact about Fennelly is that he and his wife Nancy adopted two little girls, Gere and Kristi. The strict discipline that Fennelly brought to Riordan didn’t extend into the family household, where the girls were encouraged to pursue whatever endeavors they chose.

Kristi naturally chose basketball, and became a star player at Mercy High School. But Gere chose music – and while her folks were not “creative types’’ as she put it, they supported them to follow their passion.

Revered, Beloved and Giving
“My dad always encouraged me and helped me pursue my goals, but he was like that with everybody,’’ she said. “That’s probably why he was revered by all those guys.’’
Gere went on the play keyboards in bands like Romeo Void, Bonnie Hayes and Redd Kross, new wave and punk bands, not exactly Fennelly’s chart toppers but he would show up at concerts nonetheless.

“His only musical request to me was to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor at his funeral,’’ Gere said. “And I did.’’

His passing in 2009 more recently spurred the idea of rebooting and rebranding the Riordan Heritage Society by associating it with someone who helped lay the foundation for the school in its early days. When school officials discussed it with prominent alumni, it was nearly unanimous that only one person crossed enough generations and inspired the idea of giving back – Ed Fennelly.

“He was a truly wonderful, talented and devoted man, well deserving of the honor,’’ said Dr. Bob Branick ’53. “Even when I heard the they were talking about naming a field in his honor previously, I was tempted to give a little more.’’

Securing Riordan’s Future
Clearly others felt the same way, since his spirit and dedication loomed over two generations of impressionable young men.

“He was such a presence for 40 years here,’’ said Jeff Holl ‘72, a long-time trustee and head of the board’s development committee. “He had such a great heart and he gave so much to the school. So people at the school just thought, let’s do right by this guy.”

The timing couldn’t be better. As Riordan continues to provide financial aid to 61% of its student body while also improving its facilities, the need for planned gifts has become increasingly apparent.

“There is a great need to raise money for current initiatives and to increase the endowment, whether that is through a bequest in a will or living trust, or through a life income gift,” Holl said. “In the end, planned gifts are going to secure the future for our boys and the school.”
That’s a fitting legacy for Ed Fennelly, since he always put his students, the athletic community and his school first.

Ken Garcia is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle.

If you are interested in finding out more information about how to make a planned gift such as a bequest, charitable trust, or a gift of life insurance or retirement funds, please contact Director of Planned Giving Mrs. Karin Haskell, khaskell@riordanhs.org or (415)586-8200 ext. 232.

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