Alumni Spotlight on Daniel Brutto ’74: From Elmwood Park Box Boy to Head of UPS International

By Mark Vruno

When people say that Dan Brutto worked himself through school, they mean it quite literally. “I am a hard worker,” the Elmwood Park native admits. “That’s the way we were raised,” he says of his two younger brothers (also Friars) and sister, who went to Trinity. “We were brought up that our parents got us through [financially] a good high school, but college was on us.”

So, the eldest Brutto child caddied for six years at Oak Park Country Club. “I won my first set of used clubs when I was 14,” he fondly recalls. “I was like, ‘You’re giving these to me? You mean I don’t have to buy them?” To “build up funds,” he also worked at Armanetti’s liquor store. When he was 18, Dan started taking the Lake Street elevated train to Loyola University by day and was loading trucks at the UPS Franklin Park facility at night. Thirty-eight years later he retired from the same company: as President of UPS International and former Senior Vice President of United Parcel Service, Inc.

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight on Daniel Brutto ’74: From Elmwood Park Box Boy to Head of UPS International”

Forever Friars: The Inspiring Story of Bill Jenks ’50

Fenwick High School periodically profiles people affiliated with our community who have since passed on.

Remembering the Spirit and Will of Bill Jenks

By Mark Vruno

To call William “Bill” Jenks ’50 (1932-1989) inspirational might be a gross understatement. But inspire he did and, through his preserved written words, still does nearly 30 years after his death. All of those words – hundreds of thousands of them and millions of characters – were typed on an electronic typewriter by Jenks, who was paralyzed and pecked at the keys using a wooden peg held tightly between his teeth. He wasn’t born without the use of his arms and legs, however.

Jenks grew up a healthy boy in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood. In late 1943 the Jenks family moved to Park Ridge, on the northwest edge of the city, where Bill and John, his older brother, transferred to St. Paul of the Cross parish and school (Sisters of Mercy). In the autumn of ’46 Bill followed John to Fenwick High School on a merit scholarship. He began making the daily, 13-mile trek south to Oak Park with their father, Mack, who was a teacher at nearby Austin High, a Chicago Public School. Mack Jenks also was a retired U.S. Army Officer and taught military science to Junior ROTC students at Austin.

Continue reading “Forever Friars: The Inspiring Story of Bill Jenks ’50”

Faculty Focus: Meet Fenwick Math Teacher Maria Nowicki

Ms. Maria Nowicki is in her 10th year of teaching math at Fenwick.

What is your educational background?

MN: I have a BS from the Kelley School of Business [at Indiana University]; majored in Quantitative Business Analysis. Master of Arts from Dominican University in Teaching.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

MN: I worked for Control Data, a division of IBM at the time, right out of school in the late ’80s. I was the interface between programmers and the sales forces. I loved it because it combined my programming background with customer communication on a daily basis.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment? Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet Fenwick Math Teacher Maria Nowicki”

Forever Friars: Fenwick Legend and Coach Tony Lawless Was Born 110 Years Ago

This year would have marked the 110th birthday of the late Coach Lawless, who for nearly half a century worked for the students of Fenwick and the school since its inception in 1929.

By Mark Vruno

Happy Birthday to Coach Lawless. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Fenwick legend Tony Lawless. At least we think so. No one still living is certain when Anthony R. Lawless was born. His nephew, Mike, who like his revered uncle has spent a lifetime as an educator and coach — in the family’s hometown Peoria (IL) High School — says the elder Lawless often fibbed about his age to prospective employers when he was young. “Uncle Tony wanted jobs but didn’t want them knowing how young he was. So we were never exactly sure how old he was,” Mike Lawless notes with a laugh.

What we do know is this: Tony Lawless graduated from Spalding Institute in Peoria in 1924. He played on the Fighting Irish’s national Catholic high school championship basketball team that year, before moving to Chicago to attend college at Loyola University. He later was inducted into Loyola’s Hall of Fame for both basketball and football.

Continue reading “Forever Friars: Fenwick Legend and Coach Tony Lawless Was Born 110 Years Ago”

Accomplished Choral & Theater Teacher Melanie Lamoureux Returns to Fenwick

Soprano Melanie Lamoureux, fresh from earning a Master’s in Music Education from NU, is poised to extend the range of singing Friars’ on-stage performances.

By Mark Vruno

With the start of the 2017-18 school year only five weeks away, Fenwick is pleased to announce the return of Choral and Theater Teacher Melanie Lamoureux to its Expressive Arts Department. Before taking a two-year sabbatical to further her studies at Northwestern University (NU), Lamoureux had been Fenwick’s Director of Honors Choral and Theater Studies from 2012-15. A 2005 graduate of Hinsdale Central High School, she says she is looking forward to working with Choir Director/Fine Arts Teacher Sue Senese and Department Chairperson Rizelle Capito to continue to build on an excellent program here. Ms. Lamoureux again will be teaching junior and senior choir classes as well as an acting class.

“When Ms. Lamoureux came to Fenwick we already had a strong choral program in place,” explains Principal Peter Groom. “In her short time here, she added a Madrigal Choir section and a Theater course. She made an immediate impact, and our students really enjoy working with Ms. Lamoureux,” Mr. Groom adds.

Continue reading “Accomplished Choral & Theater Teacher Melanie Lamoureux Returns to Fenwick”

Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher Rick O’Connor

English Teacher Rick O’Connor brings his broadcasting expertise to Fenwick’s students.

What is your educational background?

RO: I have a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and a M.A.T. from National-Louis University.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

RO: I was the Executive Producer for “The Steve Cochran Show” on WGN Radio for eight years. Prior to that, I held positions at Fidelity Investments and Putnam Investments in Boston.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

RO: When [Basketball] Coach [Staunton] Peck and I are not discussing the Red Sox and White Sox and other world affairs, we recommend books to each other. The current recommendation is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I just started it, and so far, so good!

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom? Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher Rick O’Connor”

Faculty Focus: Meet Science Teacher and Alumnus Kevin Roche

Science Teacher Kevin Roche is the subject of our monthly series focusing on Fenwick’s fabulous, award-winning faculty.

What is your educational background?

After graduating Fenwick, I attended U of I to get my degree in civil engineering. I also minored in Spanish there. I also am about to get [fingers crossed!!] my Masters in the Art of Teaching Math from Dominican University in May.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

I was a technology consultant for Accenture (a consulting and professional services firm). My main role over those two years was working with electric utilities to better engage customers with their usage information. We designed and implemented online portals and in-home devices that would update in near real time so customers would see how their actions impact their energy. We also worked on the social science side to better motivate customers to save on their energy usage.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment? Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet Science Teacher and Alumnus Kevin Roche”

Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher and Alumna Jennifer Ori

English Teacher and alumnae Jennifer Ori ’06 is the subject of our monthly series focusing on Fenwick’s fabulous, award-winning faculty.

What is your educational background?

JO: I earned my B.S. from Marquette University and my M.A. from DePaul University. I had great experiences at both places, but I am especially tied to Marquette where I had great academic advisors and teachers and formed close friendships.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

JO: I taught freshman, sophomore and junior English at Greenfield High School outside of Milwaukee.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

JO: I love coaching tennis with Mr. Draski, my former tennis coach. Getting a “behind the scenes” look at what was happening when I was a player is such a unique experience. We are lucky to work with such a great group of girls and families. Outside of Fenwick, I enjoy cooking and baking, trying new restaurants, and visiting new places. I also enjoy volunteering at Misericordia.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher and Alumna Jennifer Ori”

John Polka, Beloved Biology Teacher and Hall-of-Fame Track Coach, Has Retired After 52 Years at Fenwick

Brother Rice alumnus who put the science in service for a half-century was fêted on June 15th.

Science teacher John Polka graduated with a B.A. in biology from St. Mary’s University (Winona, MN) in 1964, taught at a public school for one year, and has been at Fenwick High School ever since. Teaching some 5,000 students at the same school over a 52-year stretch is a milestone that few educators have achieved, but Polka comes by his love of teaching honestly: He is one of nine teachers in his family. The Brother Rice alumnus says he always had an interest in science and has taught biology since day one. Later, he earned a master’s degree in biology from Chicago State University.

Of his students at Fenwick, “They’re alive academically,” says Polka, who resides in River Forest. “They want to learn — it’s not dumb to be smart. And they challenge you; they keep you alive academically.” Polka developed the Ecology of the Rainforest and Marine Biology programs, traveling with students into the rainforests of Costa Rica and Peru. A trip to Belize featured hands-on marine biology lessons. A love of running is as much his passion as anything related to the classroom.

Continue reading “John Polka, Beloved Biology Teacher and Hall-of-Fame Track Coach, Has Retired After 52 Years at Fenwick”

Friar You Should Know

Meet Fenwick’s security ‘chief,’ Jimmy Sperandio ’85.

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.

Continue reading “Friar You Should Know”