By Mark Vruno
Most of us know his smiling face at the school’s front reception desk after hours, but few members of the Fenwick community actually know who Jimmy Sperandio is. For example, did you know that Jimmy is a Friar alumnus who graduated from FHS in 1985? Or, that his day job is working as a detective for the Village of Oak Park Police Department (OPPD)?
A 26-year OPPD veteran, Sperandio grew up in Elmwood Park and went to Fenwick with Father Dennis Woerter, O.P. “We both were from Elmwood Park,” Jimmy says. “Fr. Dennis was a year behind me in school. When we were about 12 years old, he was one of the few left-handed batters playing baseball in the neighborhood. I felt bad because I would bean him all the time,” he adds with a laugh.
A few years later, the two were playing soccer for Fenwick and then attended Loras College together in Dubuque, Iowa. “We tease each other but generally have a lot of affection for each other,” Fr. Woerter adds. “Jimmy has always looked out for other people. He is the one who got me to join our fraternity, and he took me under his wing my first year playing soccer at Loras. One incident I do remember is a game in the mud in the Rock Bowl, the stadium at Loras. I got hurt during the game and was lying on the field for a while. The first person at my side was Jimmy, and he also told the ref to stop the game because I was hurt. I also recall that he helped get me off the field — which was probably quite a sight, considering our height difference!”
Also enrolled at Loras at the time was Laura Docherty, a college counselor in Fenwick’s Student Services Department: “Jimmy was one of our ‘scopes’ in college — one of the best looking guys in our class! Beyond that, though, Jimmy was nice to everyone. He also was a really good soccer player,” Ms. Docherty recalls. Sperandio later transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he completed his criminal-justice studies.
“One of my favorite memories here at Fenwick is that one of our senior football players lived in a rougher neighborhood,” Docherty continues. “The poms and cheerleaders were nervous to go there and ‘TP’ the apartment building before homecoming. Jimmy went and did it. The family and player were so grateful!”
In 2006 Jerry Ruffino, Fenwick’s operations director, transformed the school’s security department into a more formal operation. One of the first things he did was to hire Sperandio as director of security. “Back then, we only needed people at the front desk for about two and a half hours a day,” remembers Ruffino, who himself is a retired Maywood firefighter. Now, he reports, Jimmy’s crew numbers 10 – a combination of present and retired Oak Park police officers – “working for us five and a half hours a day, six days a week. “Almost all of them are Catholic Leaguers, with the exception of a couple public-school converts,” he jokes.
Coffee and Street Law
On May 19, for the second consecutive year, Detective Sperandio helped to organized the “Cop on a Rooftop” fundraiser at the local Dunkin’ Donuts on Roosevelt Road for Special Olympics Illinois. Police departments from more than 100 Illinois municipalities participate in the annual event; the Oak Park store has raised nearly $5,000 the past two years. “We park the Fenwick mini-bus in the Dunkin’ Donuts’ lot and some of our students volunteer, collecting donations and handing out coupons,” Ruffino says. “It’s a great cause.” There is Friars’ tie, too: Special Olympics Illinois Chief Marketing Officer Chris Winston is a Fenwick Dad of Cassidy Winston ’19.
For the past 10 years or so, Sperandio also has been teaching an 11th period, non-credit class at Fenwick called “Street Law.” Typically, anywhere between 10 and 20 student Friars are enrolled. Sometimes it’s difficult for Jimmy to keep smiling, especially with some of the crazy, day-to-day “stuff” he sees on the rough-and-tumble streets as a cop. The recent car jack/murder in Oak Park, for example, really shook him up. But he never loses faith. “Fenwick is my refuge – it always has been,” Jimmy notes. And then, there’s that smile again.