MALDEN — On April 29, eight Malden natives will be inducted in the Malden Alumni Hall of Fame. The newest group includes Malden High School graduates from 1960 through 1982. And five of them are Jewish: Norman Greenbaum, singer-songwriter, class of 1960; Michael Goldman, political consultant, class of 1967; Sandra Velleman, renowned expert on muscle physiology, class of 1977; Phillip Hyde, technology entrepreneur, class of 1982; and the late Nancy Finkelstein, educator, class of 1960.
Norman Greenbaum was born in Malden Hospital and grew up on Lisbon Street near Suffolk Square. In 1969, nine years after he graduated from Malden High School, Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts. In “Stars of David: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Jewish Stories,” by Scott Benarde, Greenbaum discussed his Jewish roots: “Yes. I grew up kissing a mezuzah on the way into the house.”
According to Greenbaum, “Spirit in the Sky” was simply an artistic and commercial idea he got when he heard gospel artist Porter Wagoner singing about a preacher. On YouTube, where the song can be heard, there are scores of comments by admirers, including this one: “I flew helicopters in Vietnam and when this song came on the Armed Forces Radio station while we were flying I would keep in the beat with the pedals which made the aircraft nose turn right and left. I still love this song and want it played at my funeral ….”
In 2019, Greenbaum returned to Malden to view a four-story mural on Pleasant Street that honors him and “Spirit in the Sky.”
Michael Goldman is a political consultant who has been a senior advisor during six presidential campaigns. His Malden roots are so deep he wrote his master’s thesis on the city as a microcosm of American democracy. Growing up in the late 1950s, when the urban renewal program that would demolish the heavily Jewish Suffolk Square neighborhood was being planned but not yet implemented, Goldman recalls the melting pot of Irish, Italians, Jews and Poles.
Goldman’s first foray into political consulting was in junior high when he came up with the slogan for Josh Lincoff’s campaign to be class treasurer: “Blast off with Lincoff.” Rocketed by that success, Goldman went on to become a strategist, college lecturer, columnist and media guru.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh’s connection to Goldman goes back decades. In a recent interview with the Journal, Walsh said Goldman served as an adviser when he ran for mayor of Boston. “Michael had incredible insight into the world of politics. He’s a funny guy, a smart guy and he was a great help,” Walsh said.
Nor has Sandra Velleman forgotten her Malden roots. Her mother was religious and both parents encouraged her interest in science. When she was in kindergarten they would take her to the Museum of Science for special weekly programs and then to the library.
Velleman named teachers from grammar school to high school who built her confidence. Many will be attending the Hall of Fame banquet this month at Anthony’s of Malden.
“People really cared,” recalled Velleman. Her ninth grade biology teacher, Avis Leabman, foresaw Velleman’s future. “I wanted to be a veterinarian. But [Leabman] said I’d be a research scientist. She could see things in me.”
Velleman is looking forward to speaking to Malden High School seniors, and will advise them to “leave yourself open to opportunities and other pathways.” She said that she created her unique career and became a pioneer in the study of skeletal muscle development.
Phillip Hyde’s company, InContinuum Software, is an innovative cloud computing service provider. InContinuum has garnered Info-Tech Research Group recognition as an Innovator status and received the group’s Trend-Setter Award.
Saying he is “a good hobbyist,” Hyde is fluent in four languages as well as being “a jazz freak.” He played trombone in high school and university ensembles.
“Malden was a good place to grow up,” he said. He played in Roosevelt Park and was in Little League. Growing up in the late 1960s, the fourth generation Maldonian said his great grandfather came from Ukraine. Hyde recalls buying bagels at Katz’s in Chelsea and sinking his arm deep into a barrel of kosher dills to fish one out at Pressman’s Deli.
Judaism was part of his family. “I remember the rabbi calling. My mom would answer the phone and hand it to my father. Then dad would say, ‘Come on, Phil, the rabbi needs a minyan,’ and we’d drive to the synagogue and then come back for dinner,” said Hyde.
His consuming interest in computers began when he wanted to understand their architecture and make his own. After earning engineering, computer and physics degrees, he attained leadership roles in companies in the US and Europe, finally settling in the Netherlands 25 years ago.
He and the other Jewish inductees expressed their gratitude and joy at being inducted into the Malden Hall of Fame.
The late Nancy Finkelstein also was part of the class of 1960. A tireless advocate for public education, she taught in the Malden school system for 19 years, eventually became president of Malden Teachers Association, and later served as president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. She brought her belief in the value of cultural education and access to a position as head of the Massachusetts Cultural Alliance, a nonprofit that represented nearly 300 groups in the arts, humanities and sciences. In addition, she worked as project manager for the Science Media Group at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, where she helped establish and then run the Annenberg Channel, which delivered video math and science lessons online to teachers across the country.