Medina High School recognizes 4 ‘Distinguished Alumni’

Posted 3 January 2023 at 8:56 am

Elizabeth Cooper Leone, Mercedes Holloway Wilson, Kate Schirmer Messner and Christopher Parada are recognized by school

Photos courtesy of Medina Central School: Mercedes Holloway Wilson (left), Principal Michael Cavanagh and Elizabeth Cooper Leone celebrate on Dec. 21.

Press Release, Medina Central School

MEDINA – Medina High School recognized four distinguished alumni on Dec. 21 for their outstanding contributions to their community and/or their chosen career.

The award is given annually to honor alumni, promote school spirit, foster pride in the school and community and to serve as an incentive for the current student body.

This year’s recipients are Elizabeth Cooper Leone, Mercedes Holloway Wilson, Kate Schirmer Messner and Christopher Parada.

“Having worked in Medina for many years, I can definitely say that it is a blessing to be part of a community like ours,” said Michael Cavanagh, the school principal. “The people that we honor today are proof that we are all capable of achieving greatness and truly making a difference in society.”

Elizabeth Cooper Leone formed Cooper Dolls in 1993 when she combined a love of sculpting with the desire to own her own business. She graduated from Medina High School in 1975 and earned a Liberal Arts degree from Wells College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Education from Buffalo State College.

She started Cooper Dolls with eight pounds of clay and a 1954 sewing machine and began to design, sculpt and market her work as collectible dolls and holiday figurines. She incorporated themes in her work of her memories of growing up in Medina.

She has exhibited her work and has collectors around the world and has had her dolls featured in magazines and books. She has won several Doll of the Year awards and was invited to show her work at Disney. Mrs. Leone thanked her teachers at Medina for inspiring her and encouraged students to follow their dreams.

Mercedes Holloway Wilson is a 2000 Medina High School graduate. While she attended Medina, she was a proud member of the varsity volleyball, girls basketball and track and field teams. She is an accomplished singer and sang the National Anthem at Section VI basketball games at Erie Community College in Buffalo her senior year.

At the age of 28 years old, Mercedes was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. With her belief that a healthy body goes together with a healthy mind, she set herself on a path to not only heal herself, but to help others. While still undergoing treatment, she founded a non-profit organization called For Our Daughters, with the goal of helping girls live longer, healthier lives by taking greater control of their well-being. She started a broadcasting career at WBBZ-TV with a show called “What’s the Buzz” and focused on a more healthier lifestyle with a focus on nutrition. She authored a book on healthy eating and started hosting a television segment called “Recipes for Life” on WKBW-TV’s “AM Buffalo”.  She was then promoted to be the co-host of the “AM Buffalo” morning show.

In her spare time, she shared her grandmother’s relish recipe to a manufacturer and now you can purchase Sadie’s Relish in many local stores. She also hosts workshops to educate young women on living a healthier lifestyle.

She thanked her teachers at Medina High School for encouraging her along the way and extended a very heartfelt thank you to her aunt and uncle with whom she lived with while attending school. She presented her uncle, Dave King, with a special plaque, for helping to raise her into the woman she is today.

Kate Schirmer Messner graduated from Medina in 1988. While at school, she was a proud member of the Medina Marching Band where she played flute and piccolo and was also a varsity volleyball player. She pointed to her teachers from Oak Orchard Elementary and on who inspired her love for writing.

Because of the educators she encountered at Medina, she pursued English and journalism and received a BS in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She went on to work as a television news producer and reporter for NBC affiliates in Syracuse, New York and Burlington, Vermont. She also earned a MS in Teaching from SUNY Plattsburgh and spent 15 years teaching middle school English and Writing.

Kate then began to write and publish young reader books such as “The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z” in 2009. She received the prestigious E.B White Read Aloud Award.  In her career she has gone on to write more than 50 books for children. Her titles have included award-winning picture books like “Over and Under the Snow”, “The Brilliant Deep” and “How to Write a Story”.  Novels like “All the Answers”, “Breakout, and Chirp” and nonfiction like “The Next President” and “Tracking Tortoises”.  She is also known for the popular “Ranger in Time” chapter book adventures, the “Fergus and Zeke” easy readers and the “History Smashers” graphic nonfiction series.

Kate was honored in 2022 with receiving the Empire State Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature. Her books often appear on state book award lists, and her science-themed picture books have been honored with the Green Earth Book Award and the Riverby Award for Natural History Writing. She is also a New York Times bestselling author and devotes time visiting schools and libraries around the world to talk about books, writing and reading.

Chris ParadaChristopher Parada was a member of the Medina High School Class of 2002. He has been part of the Palace Theater team in Lockport for over 15 years and the Executive Director for over 10 years.

During his time at the theater he has helped lead the Palace to being a central part of the Lockport community. Directing over 75 shows, he has brought his creative style to thousands of patrons, entertained families and helped to boost the Lockport economy. He has also helped to keep the Palace Theater going through the lean years to prepare the business to partake in a four million dollar renovation that is currently taking place.  With the help of the Board of Directors, he is ensuring that the Palace will be there for years to come.

When Chris is not leading the Palace Theater, he has a little side gig as Santa Claus! Ten years ago, Chris built the Santa Cottage on Day Road in Lockport. Every December, he plays Santa to local families with the thousands of children who visit the cottage. He charges nothing for this holiday joy and loves allowing families time to talk and take pictures to create holiday memories to last them a lifetime.

There is no doubt, that Chris has community service in his heart. He is also a longtime member of the Light Up Lockport committee, that brings residents together to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season. He raises funds to help decorate Main Street for the holidays and assists the community in any way that he can. His hard work, dedication and passion have truly benefitted Lockport and the surrounding areas thanks to his vision and drive. Chris says he is very grateful for this award from Medina Central School District and wishes he could have attended in person.

Mr. Cavanagh says it was an honor to be able to recognize this year’s outstanding alumni. To earn this honor, nominees must be a current or former member of the school community, who have graduated at least 10 years ago and who have achieved one or more of the following: excellence in their chosen career, made outstanding contributions to their community or profession or someone who made an outstanding contribution to humanity.

“What I find quite interesting is the diversity among the honorees,” said Mr. Cavanagh. “They have definitely left their mark on society, whether it is right here in our backyard, or in places throughout our country. It was our distinct pleasure to present our alumni with their plaques and recognize their achievements.”