What was the name of the person who sat next to you in third grade? How about the kid who played guard on your basketball team? And what was his nickname?
For most, those details might be hard to remember. Not so for members of the Marquis Club.
Formed more than six decades ago, club members maintain strong bonds through emails and monthly Zoom calls.
Steven Sablowsky said the Marquis Club was created by members of the Falcons at John Minadeo Elementary School in sixth grade.
The Falcons’ primary purpose was to play sports under the auspices of the Jewish Community Center, then known as IKS, Sablowsky said. It was disbanded when the members moved to the Taylor Allderdice High School in seventh grade. The high school, he explained, combined several different elementary schools.
The Marquis Club, formed in the living room of Dennis “Ruby” Leibovitz, was a social club that was loosely based on sports — basketball, football and softball, to name a few — but also included other activities like dances, plays and even bake sales for various charities. The club eventually grew from 11 or 12 original members to more than two dozen at its peak, said Sablowsky, who was known as “Spud.”
“I had a crew cut and short hair, and they said my head looked like a potato,” he recalled.
By the time college started, Sablowsky said, everyone went their separate ways, focusing on careers and families. The men went on to become attorneys, doctors, businessmen, a journalist, and even an adult film star.
“It’s a unique group of characters,” he said.
The members of the Marquis reconnected at their 20th high school reunion, and the pandemic helped the group get even closer because the men began meeting once a month on Zoom, a tradition that continues.
Spud credits Howie Gordon with keeping the group together.
“He’s a Berkley kind of guy,” Sablowsky said, tying the former Squirrel Hill resident to his current address.
Gordon — a popular adult film star in the 1970s and 1980s whose stage name was Richard Pacheco — has chronicled his life in two books: “Return to Squirrel Hill: A Memoir” and “Hindsight: True Love and Mischief in the Golden Age of Porn.”
“He has an interesting history,” Sablowsky said of Gordon. “He continues to write excerpts to everybody about stuff. Some of it concerns all of us, some it concerns some of us, sometimes it concerns none of us, but it doesn’t stop him.”
Gordon grew up Orthodox at B’nai Emunah in Greenfield. Like Sablowsky, he was first a member of the Falcons.
In the summers, Gordon said, members of the various clubs all went to camp. Falcon and Marquis club members went to Emma Kaufmann Camp.
“I met a lot of clubmates at summer camp,” he said.
It was at EKC that Robert “Bibsy” Lindner became the club adviser. The Marquis Club even garnered its own nickname because of him, becoming known as “Bibsy’s Boys.”
By high school, Gordon was the class president and had earned a reputation on the football field that led to his nickname: “Animal.”
“I was supposed to sacrifice my body so the quarterback would get a few extra seconds to throw the ball,” he said. “When you’re in a situation like that, you go crazy because no one wants to f— with a crazy person.”
Despite his on-field ferocity, journalist and Marquis Club member Howard Fineman said Gordon is a compassionate and charismatic figure.
“He’s an amazing guy. He’s one in a billion. He’s brilliant. He’s slightly crazy but in a good way. He’s an exhibitionist. He’s creative. He’s a great guy. I was immediately drawn to him,” Fineman said.
Fineman, who was first published in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle writing its Teen Scene column, went on to serve as chief political correspondent, senior editor and deputy Washington bureau chief for Newsweek. He also was the global editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group and has served as an analyst for NBC News.
Fineman first heard about the Marquis Club in the annex of Allderdice, where the seventh and eighth graders were sequestered from the older students. When his friend Jimmy “Shemp” Rosen became a member, he suggested the club admit Fineman as well.
Of all the sports the club members participated in, Fineman said, basketball was his favorite — although, he noted, he wasn’t a star.
“I was named most improved player,” he remembered. “That’s one of those awards — when they give everyone a trophy today, that was the equivalent back in the day.”
Instead of glory on the field, Fineman was a member of The Classics, an early rock band that played the bar mitzvah circuit and even won a battle of the bands the group organized.
Music even inspired his nickname, “Houston.” Fineman, it turns out, did a fairly good Dean Martin impression, often singing the crooner’s hit of the same name.
Fineman said having a common cultural touchstone helped define the club.
“We were all Jewish, let’s not forget that,” he said. “We had a common reference point.”
Cantor Marc “Barney” Dinkin agreed.
“There was a real sense of identification among everybody,” Dinkin said. “We were in a Jewish area and didn’t have to go very far for what we needed.”
Dinkin, who received his nickname for his ability to eat the Barney Burger at the Red Barn in Penn Hills, was one of the original Falcon members.
“We shared a lot of things — values, economics and culture. The JCC was accessible to us. We were close to each other,” he said.
Those values, which were evidenced when, as youngsters, they sold Hebrew National salamis for charity, continued through their adult lives.
The friends continue to lean on each other. Dinkin said people sometimes come to him for spiritual matters and he, in turn, reaches out to other club members for support — like Dr. Louis Alpern, when he has an issue with his eyes.
Alpern is a retired eye surgeon. He said he has known most of the Marquis Club members since second grade. He’s known by his friends as “Vince.” The name goes back to the job he had when growing up.
“I worked 30 hours a week all the way through high school at a place called Food Fair. It’s gone now. I worked in the deli and produce department. For whatever reason, people felt the guy working in a store’s produce department should be Italian — hence Vince,” he said.
He said the deep connections maintained more than 60 years after they formed is, in part, simply Pittsburgh.
“We’re all also rabid Steeler fans,” Alpern said.
Gordon noted that the bonds were created when they were young.
“We got each other high. That didn’t have to do with drugs, it had to do with friendship and community,” he said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.