Retired for more than 10 years now, Dr. B looks back with fondness at the three decades he spent at Fenwick.
DHow many years were you at Fenwick (and when)?
I was at Fenwick from 1979 until 2008: 29 years. When I arrived at the hallowed halls I thought I’d dropped into heaven (compared to the previous two years of my teaching life).
What was your role / what classes did you teach?
I was assigned to teach freshman English in ’79. Mr Duane Langenderfer (‘Derf’) and I shared the freshman English between us: four classes each in Room 1 with about 30 students in each class. The emphasis was on grammar, writing and English literature.
Much to my disappointment, the Head of the English Department assigned me to teach two sophomore and two senior classes the following year. I was disappointed because I’d had such a wonderful year I figured my ‘heaven’ would continue with freshmen. (Ah, man proposes and God disposes!)
From then until my retirement I was ‘stuck’ with two soph and two senior classes; those two latter eventually becoming two AP sections of English. However, for several years after Fr. Landmesser’s retirement I was Head of Department, so I can blame only myself for my schedule.
Were you involved with any extra-curricular activities? (If so, which ones?)
Meanwhile I was engaged in a variety of extra-curricular activities, the most bizarre of which was when I was asked to run the computer club for a year (in those days computers were few and far between; there were no computer labs in the school, and the so-called ‘club’ had one old Apple C and an old mainframe kind of machine that no one knew how to use. As for the moderator of the club, he/I was totally computer illiterate anyhow.) I think that was in 1985-86.
In ’79-’80 I was the moderator of the Debate Team, another area where I was ‘somewhat’ competent.
Fortunately, Dan O’Brien, Master i/c Athletics and Sports, invited me to start a soccer program in ’81. And my extra-curricular career took off! Much to the chagrin of the head of cross-country, [as] almost all his runners opted to play soccer. So Fenwick had a varsity soccer team; we didn’t belong to the Catholic League, so all our games were ‘friendlies.’ We tied one game and lost all the others. But we had fun. In year two a volleyball coach was assigned to help me with the program, and we joined the League. I think we won one game and tied another, so we made huge progress.
Then Fr. Bernacki allowed me to give up extra-curriculars so I could write a dissertation for my PhD (Fordham University had informed me that I had to write a diss or ‘get lost.’ So I wrote.) Thereafter (’82 thru 2008) I became a jack of all trades: back to frosh soccer for a while, several years moderating the year book, several the student newspaper, and finally girls’ frosh soccer. To say I had a blast would be an understatement. The many girls and boys with whom I was lucky enough to come in contact graced my life in ways that they will never know. But I thank God and Fenwick for the privilege of having been with them and known them.
For a couple of years in the early ’80’s I organized the Easter UK literary jaunt, staying in London, Bath and Banbury. A good time was had by all. And I hope we appreciated the historical and literary sights and sites.
How do you describe the Fenwick Community to other people?
Talking with others, including former students, Friars I meet who were at Fenwick years before I arrived, I always mention the ‘aura’ of the place. It’s the feeling that the Dominican Order, the teachers, the students and the parents have created over the years. It’s not simply one element. It’s an awareness that all at Fenwick have: we may not be able to pin it down in words, but it’s a kind of excellence of spirit — intellectual, athletic and spiritual.
What do you miss (most) about Fenwick?
I miss learning; MY learning. I learned much from my students. A small example: one day we were reading Hamlet in class, the students taking the actors’ parts. A female student reading the part of Gertrude emphasized a line of her speech in a way that shed a completely new light on Gertrude’s character. It was an insight I had not witnessed in any of the famous dramatizations I’d ever seen (not even in the play directed by Derek Jacobi and starring Kenneth Branagh in the title role that I saw in Manchester; Jacobi was in the audience four seats to my left). I forget the name of the student, I forget the line, but I have never forgotten the experience.
I also miss reading English literature. In 10 years of retirement I find that I’ve taken to reading a lot of science and mathematics: The Calculus Diaries, Fermat’s Last Theorem, Six Easy Pieces, In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, The Fly in the Cathedral, The Emperor’s New Mind, etc. I’ve just gone where my interests have taken me, and I suppose after 49 years of reading ‘literature’ my mind needed a break from poetry and fiction. But I do miss Keats, and Chaucer, and Bill.
Funniest Fenwick moment?
I was coaching the frosh girls’ soccer team at the Priory. The field was sodden, it was raining and I attempted to show the players how to chip the ball. Only wearing smooth sneakers, I took a quick run at the ball and landed flat on my back in the mud. Girls rushed forward to ask ‘Are you okay, coach?’ Of course I was okay. But later going over the incident in my mind, I thought, ‘If that had been the frosh boys’ soccer team, they’d have stood there giggling at me.’
Fondest Fenwick moment?
At the final Commencement in 2008 when Dr. Quaid announced my retirement, the whole senior graduating class rose to their feet applauding. Sitting among them, I was shocked, amazed, surprised, flabbergasted, not to say embarrassed. But it was a fine feeling to be honored thus.
Do you have any words of wisdom for current students?
Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero = “Be the best you can be;” all the rest is fruh.
Any wise words or advice for the present faculty, staff or administration?
Far be it from me to preach, but … teaching is the process of opening minds, not (force) feeding them.
And Fenwick is a Christian institution, so follow Christ’s rules: Love God and love your neighbo(u)r. Period. Shibboleths from the Old Testament should have no part in a Christian community.
What are you doing now? How do you spend your time?
Good question. Nothing. I’m trying to do nothing, and I’m becoming very adept at it. Other than that, I try to ride my bike about 15 miles daily in the forest preserves that surround us here in Wheaton. And as a member of Morton Arboretum I can cycle there, though the “hills” are a real challenge to my beer belly. Our local church has a cycling group called the Holy Spokes and I ride with them every Saturday in summer (Chicago weather permitting) — about 20 miles.
DI obviously read, not a lot. But we do attend the monthly lectures at Fermi Lab (a couple of miles down the road), which delve into the more arcane aspects of quantum physics and science in general. Much of the science is “above my head,” but I like the challenge to think (especially outside the box).
We have memberships to the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble (they perform on the stage at the College of DuPage where we go with Pat Foys, who also used to teach at Fenwick, though for only a few years); to the Chicago Symphony (we joined them on the picket line a couple of weeks ago and shook hands with Maestro Muti, my Italian/American wife’s hero); and to the Chicago Art Institute. And I’m a fanatic Manchester City fan (which many of my former students know, having bought for me a Man City poster when they were in London with Mr. Finnell in ’08), so have been able to watch them play on the telly these last few years. Needless to say “sky blue” is my favo(u)rite colo(u)r. Coz God made the sky, right?
So, I guess I’m busier than I thought. “Ciao” to all my former students, players, Friars. I miss you, though I do have some contacts on Facebook or via email. And remember, if you meet me in a bar, the first ‘pint’ is on me (as the Brits say).
PS – The original meaning of fond, English scholars? Don’t tell me you don’t remember!