Emilio “Dee” DaBramo ’48 ran 31 bombing missions during World War II and survived a crash landing behind enemy lines. He was SUNY Cortland’s first All American soccer player, yet devoted most of his life and career to helping people with physical and mental disabilities, including 12 years as New York director of the Special Olympics. His innovative programs dramatically improved graduation rates in disadvantaged areas, and are still applicable today.
In short, DeBramo is an inspiring guy. So inspiring, in fact that David Hennessy ’53, M.S.Ed. ’62 decided to write a biography in tribute to the former longtime Mamaroneck, N.Y., school administrator after a relatively short acquaintance.
Hennessy hopes that the support of future SUNY Cortland scholarships also will be accomplished with royalties from the sale of his book, Never Give Up on a Kid — The Chronicles of the Life and Career of Emilio “Dee” DaBramo, Educator/Humanitarian Extraordinaire. “Never give up on a kid” is a phrase DaBramo used frequently, and it paraphrases his attitude toward children who faced challenges to success.
|Emilio "Dee" DaBramo '48 is shown in uniform in this undated image from the College's archives.|
Hennessy first met Dee in 1998 when he stayed overnight at the hospitable DaBramo’s house in the Catskills at the mid-point of a 1,000-mile fundraiser bike ride. Hennessy’s cycling journey through New York state, accompanied by Arnold Rist ’47, raised funds for the Dr. Ralph A. Brown Scholarship Fund, named in honor of the College’s late, revered distinguished teaching professor of history.
Hennessy, who had served in the Navy — underwater in a submarine rather than in the Army Air Corps as a radio operator on a B-24 Bomber during WWII like DaBramo — was floored by DaBramo’s lifelong accomplishments. During Hennessy’s brief visit, he encountered many people whose lives had been positively affected by DaBramo’s dedication to youth and persons with disabilities.
“In a very short time, the picture of why so many people in the community had expressed their love and respect for Dee was becoming clearer to me,” said Hennessy, a SUNY Cortland Alumni Association board member. “It was his sense of community, his love of kids, especially for those with special needs, his sense of fairness, his kind and outgoing personality and his leadership ability that endeared him to all.”
Hennessy also realized that DaBramo had begun slowly losing his memory and decided to find out more about the man before it was too late. His volume follows DaBramo’s 45-year career, which began in 1948, as a teacher and administrator.
As a radio operator on a B-24 bomber during World War II, DaBramo earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, four Air Medals and four Battle Stars.
“He and his fellow crew members flew on 31 missions over German-occupied Europe,” wrote Hennessy, who also served in the military. Hennessy returned to SUNY Cortland to pursue a master’s degree, finishing in 1962 after serving five years as an officer in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service.
“The exploits of (DaBramo’s) crew are well documented, including the disastrous carpet bombing raid at St. Lo, France, and the heretofore untold story of the air delivery of 700,000 gallons of fuel to General Patton’s Third Army tanks in France during Operation Cobra.”
DaBramo also survived being shot down over Cologne, Germany, and crash landing.
After the war, while studying at SUNY Cortland, DaBramo was the first of the College’s All-American soccer players in 1948. In later years as an alumnus, he worked on the College’s Admissions Council.
Hennessy’s book describes a number of DaBramo’s accomplishments while employed in the Mamaroneck Union Free School District.
“He solved the high school dropout problem that was endemic in the socially, culturally and economically deprived neighborhoods,” Hennessy said.
Hennessy could relate to DaBramo as an educational pioneer, having himself taught elementary science, via television, from 1958 to 1962 in the Cortland City schools covering grades two through six in 90 classrooms.
“His alternative school APPLE Program, which stands for ‘A Place where People Learn Excellence,’ and his Summer Co-Op Program designed for the targeted neighborhoods, were a huge success,” Hennessy noted. “The APPLE Program garnered a 90 percent graduation rate and a resulting college graduation rate of better than 70 percent.”
During his career, DaBramo served as president of the New York State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, and was named one of 10 honorees lauded as 1992 Healthy American Fitness Leaders (HAFL), which promotes physical fitness and health awareness in the U.S.
Emilio "Dee" DaBramo '48, left, meets with David Hennessy '53, M.S.Ed. '62 outside his home in the Catskills in 2004. Hennessy wrote a biography on DaBramo.
DaBramo’s early work with the mentally and physically challenged individuals, in the late 1940s through the 1960s, caught the attention of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Hennessy wrote. She appointed him as a volunteer member of the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation’s Advisory Committee and as a clinician for the Special Olympics.
DaBramo served for 12 years as the New York state games director for Special Olympics.
Richard Keelor, a former officer of the President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sports under Presidents Nixon, Carter and Reagan, wrote very passionately of DaBramo when contacted in the course of Hennessy’s research.
“The key to Dee’s professional career, and what he stood for, was empathy, audacity and enthusiasm,” Keelor wrote. “Yes, he knew his subject and had all sorts of academic credentials, but experts are a dime a dozen. Dee’s legacy will be the extent to which he changed the lives of the people and organizations he unselfishly served.”
SUNY Cortland always held a special place in DaBramo’s heart. In a 1991 interview he said: “I hope to continue helping the alumni making Cortland State better.”
To help make DaBramo’s wish come true, Hennessy and his wife, Milly, created the Cortland Appreciation Scholarship Fund. It will be started with proceeds from the biography and managed by the Cortland College Foundation.
The scholarship will benefit students of Cortland County.
“(DaBramo’s) philosophy of ‘never give up on a kid’ and the organizational structure of these programs are well documented and translatable to almost any school system,” said Hennessy, who recommends his book to teachers and administrators.
|Emilio "Dee" DaBramo'48 is shown as a young man in this undated College archival image.|
The biography also may be of interest to historians of WWII, the WWII G.I. Bill and the Special Olympics.
Never Give up on a Kid can be ordered online directly from the publisher at www.authorHouse.com and Amazon.com or from a local Barnes and Noble retail bookstore. The book also is available at the SUNY Cortland bookstore.
For more information on the author or book, contact Hennessy.