Fathers & Daughters of Fenwick: In Their Words

Friar alumnae and their fathers share perspectives on Fenwick in this online supplement to the fall edition of the Friar Reporter.

Amy Hammer ’99:

I didn’t feel that my experience as a “female Friar” was any different than any other Friar, which I suppose is a testament to Fenwick seamlessly integrating the female population into the student body. I was challenged academically, prepared well for college and given opportunities inside and outside of the classroom that allowed me to explore interests and become a well-rounded individual.  

One of my favorite teachers, who I still remember to this day, is Mr. Williams. He taught me computer programming for three years, first in Pascal and then C++ (yes, it was the late ’90s).  I knew nothing about computers when I started in his class except how to type on one, but he was patient, thorough, and pushed me to excel. He challenged me in ways that I hadn’t previously been challenged and seemed genuinely happy for me when I was able to achieve new skills. It was a male-dominated class and a precursor to what I would experience in college, but Mr. Williams didn’t treat me any differently than any of the young men in the class, giving me confidence that I could pursue any degree that I wanted. 

“I didn’t feel that my experience as a ‘female Friar’ was any different than any other Friar.”

Amy Hammer ’99

I was a cheerleader for football and boys’ basketball during all of my years at Fenwick. When I was a junior, our varsity basketball team featured Corey Magette and went downstate for the playoffs. It was a very exciting time for the entire school, and the cheerleading squad felt no differently. However, we soon found out that while Fenwick was paying for the basketball team to stay in a hotel downstate and allocating tickets for parents of the basketball team, there were no such benefits for the cheerleaders or our parents. This seemed like an injustice. In our view, it was important that we were at the game to represent our school, as we had all season, and that our parents be there to support us. My mom called the school to explain this position. Despite not having the initial foresight, Fenwick, to their credit, made sure that all of the cheerleaders’ parents had tickets to the games downstate. They also paid for the cheerleaders to stay in a hotel near the arena where the downstate games were held. However, when we arrived, we discovered it was actually a motel that was not nearly as nice as the one where the basketball team stayed, which was a disappointment. It was a step in the right direction, but there was still room for improvement. When I see Fenwick news these days, I always smile when I see the success that the cheerleaders and pom squads are having and the support that Fenwick gives them. I hope that what we did in the late ’90s was a small block on which they were able to build. 

At Fenwick, I learned how to study and take the right coursework and steps for academic success. I also learned how to interact with and get along people from a lot of different backgrounds. I was the only person from my grade school that attended Fenwick, so everyone was new to me, and I soon learned that many people in my classes came from families, homes, and experiences that were different than mine. I think these daily interactions benefited me in the long run. My dad mentioned that he thinks he learned how to listen while at Fenwick, and I agree with that sentiment. But I also think I learned how to talk to people at Fenwick — talk to people who were not just my friends, but all people regardless of what we initially had in common. In fact, at Fenwick, I think I learned that by talking to people outside of your bubble, you can often find commonalities between all of us, which helps to build relationships and bonds that can benefit everyone.  

After graduating from Fenwick in 1999, I went to Northwestern and graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 2003. After college, I went to law school and graduated from John Marshall in Chicago (now UIC) in 2006. I began working for a Chicago-based intellectual property law firm as a summer associate and then as an associate, practicing patent law. My firm merged with a national general practice firm in 2008, where I eventually became a partner. After many years (and a global pandemic), I transitioned back to a small intellectual property firm based in North Carolina that allows me to work remotely to help me balance my time with my three young kids.

Amy Hammer ’99 and Bill Hammer ’71.

Bill Hammer ’71:

Amy always was gifted academically and worked extremely hard to study and excel in school work. The fact that classes were now co-ed raised the academic level at Fenwick. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and Fenwick was a big part of that path. I wanted my daughter to think college was not something that might happen for her but was where she was expecting to go. Fenwick gave her those skills to succeed.

Amy went all in at Fenwick. She loved the sports and the traditions. She did cheerleading. She played softball. She was in Blackfriars Guild. She was in the band. She did very well in mathematics and computers. Her freshman year, which was my son’s senior year, the class valedictorian was a female student. The ladies excelled at Fenwick.

Fenwick is a place that competition was not a bad word. Sports and curricular activities are as important as the academics to make a well-rounded person. Learning how to study is a very important life skill that Fenwick helps nurture by its strong academics. Fenwick teaches social responsibility and how people need to help people that need help.

One of the skills I learned that I have used all my life is to listen to what the person talking to you is saying. Listening served me well in my career in relating to my customers’ needs. In class at Fenwick my teachers were, for the most part, great lecturers and I learned to listen to what they were saying. Putting in the effort to accomplish a goal was also learned at Fenwick. Teachers challenged you to be better than you thought was possible. Family has always been important to me. Having my daughter and son attend Fenwick was important to me and my wife.

I am retired after working in industrial sales for over 45 years. I retired as a Business Development Manager for Nord Drivesystems. When I joined them in 1983, they were a startup German company here in the USA. They are now a billion dollars in sales globally.

Having my daughter and son attend Fenwick was important to me and my wife.

Bill Hammer ’71

Editor’s Note: Bill’s son, fellow alumnus Jason Hopkinson ’96, graduated from Tulane University (NOLA), where he also attended law school. “He lived in New Orleans through Hurricane Katrina and the gulf oil spill,” Bill reports. Jason worked as a public defender there before returning to the Chicago area. He now has an office in Downers Grove, IL, working for himself with a focus on real-estate, trusts and criminal law.  

Corcoran family Friars sport their class rings.

John Corcoran ’87:

I remember hearing about Fenwick going coed right when I was getting married and planning on starting a family. It made me happy to know that if I had daughters, they would be able to have the same advantage of a Fenwick education that I did.

[Daughters] Bridget and Colleen were very active as Friars. They both participated in Irish dance at BANUA, were Eucharist Ministers and were members of the Poms team. Bridget also played girls’ soccer. Colleen did Best Buddies, Student Council, Math Team, was a Kairos [retreat] leader and helped start the Dance Showcase.

In a number of these clubs, both Bridget and Colleen were able to experience taking leadership roles. Colleen also reflected that it was eye opening to learn from teachers like Ms. Esposito, who went through the first female class, and see just how recent and relevant it was that the integration happened.

Editor’s Note: John Corcoran retired from advertising and now a is Chicagoland realtor, bagpipe instructor for the famous Shannon Rovers (and the Fenwick Bagpipe Club, which is in its second year!) As a piper, John is on tour with “Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret,” a stage play sponsored by the Gary Sinise Foundation. Cindy, John’s wife and “Friar by marriage,” is a Catholic school teacher as St. Andrew the Apostle (Romeoville, IL) and, he says, “is eligible to be inducted to the ‘Best Friar Football Mom’ Hall of Fame!” 

It made me happy to know that if I had daughters, they would be able to have the same advantage of a Fenwick education that I did.

John Corcoran ’87

Erin Vondrasek Mongano ’07:

Having a strong work ethic, moral compass or sense of right and wrong, and sense of community are all Fenwick attributes that transcend gender. Having high expectations for ourselves was definitely something instilled at Fenwick, and that success, both personally and professionally, should also always include a servant element and be morally guided. I think we also learned a lot of resiliency and grit at Fenwick and how to use critical thinking to problem solve, which has served us all well.”

Editor’s Note: Erin’s dad, Jim (Fenwick Class of ’84) retired, after a successful career in investment banking, to New Buffalo, MI, where he owns a construction company that builds single-family homes. Grandfather Bob (Class of ’57) also is a Friar and former banker who is enjoying retirement in west-suburban Naperville, IL. Erin lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband and our daughter: a hopeful fourth-generation future Friar, Class of 2040!

Top row: Nick Rankin and the Vondraseks: Rachel ’12, Jim ’84, Jimmy ’09, Mark ’85 and Nancy. Front row: Maria Vondrasek Tala ’12, Erin Vondrasek Mangano ’07, Bobby Vondrasek and Jenna Vondrasek Rankin ’11.

Rob Polston ’91:

I believe the values of faith, commitment and competition instilled in me at Fenwick are shared by my sons, Alec ’17, Jack ’18, Nick ’21 and Topher ’26. My daughter Olivia graduated in 2023.

Olivia excelled for the same reasons all successful grads make it at Fenwick. A drive to be her best and the support and competition from peers who drive each other to succeed and push themselves. As our yearbook motto said: faster, higher, stronger.

My initial reaction to Fenwick going co-ed was mixed. I had a great experience – why mess with a good thing? But then I thought “why not?” I was the editor-in-chief of the yearbook, and we asked the school what they thought. The reactions were similar. Nostalgia for tradition, but open to a new way forward for Fenwick.

In 15 years as CEO of higher educational companies, my focus on the the quality of what we bring our students comes my value system I learned at Fenwick. Great educators focus not on the professional skills and knowledge that their institution offers, but also the personal development that makes students into leaders. Fenwick is a success because it builds the leaders who can change the future for themselves and those around them.

The Polston family: Jack ’18, Nicholas ’21, Alec ’17, Christopher ’26 and Olivia ’23.

Featured image: Ciara Hopkinson ’16 and Jim Hopkinson ’77.

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