Nearly 50 Years of Imparting Wisdom and Collegiate Advice

Rich Borsch has been Fenwick’s lead college counselor for 47 years. What changes has he seen over five decades?

By Mark Vruno

Let the matriculation process commence for the Class of 2019! Now is the frenetic season for Fenwick’s college-counseling duo of Rich Borsch and Laura Docherty. Busy is an under-statement. Between early application and essay preparations leading up to January 1st, the two guidance gurus are up to their elbows in paper and student e-documentation.

It’s an annual rite at Fenwick and at high schools across the country, but few counselors have been immersed in the process as long as Mr. Borsch, who wouldn’t want it any other way. This school year marks his 51st at Fenwick, and he has been a college counselor for all but the first four.

In a typical, six-week period this fall – comprising 30 school days – representatives from 77 different colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Yale, came to Fenwick. A representative sampling of 11 other visiting schools (by date) during that time frame:

  • Lafayette College (Easton, PA)
  • Central Michigan University
  • Butler University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Tulane University
  • Juniata College (Huntingdon, PA)
  • Villanova University
  • Providence College
  • Boston College
  • University of Cincinnati

“These schools came from all areas of the country,” Borsch reports. “Ten of the top 50 colleges and universities were here; seven from the Big Ten came. We try to give our students exposure to all kinds of college options: from huge schools like Indiana University, with 43,000 students enrolled in the Bloomington campus, to tiny King’s College in Manhattan, New York, which has only 500 students.”

For Borsch, who says he loves working with the kids, it’s all about the right fit for each student. “We try to pick schools based on their individual needs,” he explains, which can be time-consuming. Graduates from the Friars’ Class of 2018 are attending 109 different colleges or universities in 32 states, Washington, DC and overseas in Scotland.

The University of St. Andrews was founded in Scotland in 1413.

“When I started doing this in the early 1970s, that number was 60 [schools],” Borsch notes. “We’ve had kids go away to Canada, Ireland and Italy, too.” Such international institutions as Trinity College Dublin and the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) “weren’t even a thought a generation ago,” he says.

TOP FIVE COLLEGES FOR THE CLASS OF ’18

  1. 37 Friars are studying at the University of Illinois (Urbana)

  2. 16 Friars are at Loyola University Chicago

  3. 15 are at Marquette University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

  4. 12 are at Indiana University (Bloomington, IN)

  5. 11 are at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana)

Besides the expanded geographic range of college choice, what other changes has Borsch seen during his 47 years of student-college matchmaking? “It certainly has evolved,” he observes. One big difference is the number of Fenwick students going out of state for school. “In 1975, about 70% of our students stayed within Illinois. By 2016, that number had dropped to 22%,” he reports. Thirty-two percent of the Class of ’18 (98 students) stayed in state.

Lately, there has been a trend toward test-optional college admissions — and not judging prospective students based on a three-hour exam. “The University of Chicago is one of hundreds of schools doing this now,” Borsch confirms. “But the fact remains that 75% [of schools] still require either the ACT or SAT, so our students will continue to be prepared. Fenwick is the only school I know of where freshmen take the PSAT exam,” Borsch adds.

Snapshot of Rich Borsch

Mr. Borsch is in his 51st year at Fenwick.
  • Graduate of Leo High School, Chicago.

  • B.A. in English and history from DePaul University, Chicago

  • M.A. in counseling and psychological services, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota

  • Fenwick High School, Oak Park, IL, 1968 – Present (started as English Teacher)

  • Head Coach of the Friars’ freshman football team for 41 years (through 2015)

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Forever Friars: The Dobber

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

Dan O’Brien ’34 (1917-2003)

Remembering DOB, “the Dobber:” a coaching/training legend affiliated with Fenwick for seven decades.

By Mark Vruno

In the basement of Fenwick High School sets the Dan O’Brien Natatorium. Our swimming Friars will host the 30th Annual Dan O’Brien Relays this coming January. Younger alumni and present-day students may wonder: Who was this O’Brien guy and why is he a such a legend at Fenwick?

DanOBrien_plaque

Dan O’Brien was more than a stellar swim/dive guru; he was versatile. DOB was a FHS student (Class of 1934) who then served as a physical education teacher at his alma mater. “Dan’s first Fenwick paycheck predated the Social Security system and had no social security withholding,” deadpans Jerry Lordan, PhD., who teaches social studies at Fenwick and wrote the preface for O’Brien’s oral history, a hardcover book entitled Fenwick Over the Years.

In 1937 Football Coach Tony Lawless hired O’Brien to lead his freshman team. Football was O’Brien’s first love in sports. In the fall of 1930, seven years earlier, Fenwick was only one year old. Dan was a scrawny, 128-pound freshman who showed up for tryouts at the new school, only to be snickered at by burly classmates and upper-classmen. “Sorry, son,” said Lawless, according to a 1972 Oak Leaves article. “I can’t use you. You’ve come out for the wrong team.”

O’Brien, however, was determined and refused to give up easily. Here’s how reporter Ted Londos recounted the story 42 years later:

“The kid faced the wise, young coach and replied firmly, ‘Mr. Lawless, I’ve come out for the team. You’ve asked for candidates. Here I am. You’ve got to give me a chance to show you what I can do.’ And so, to get rid of that reckless kid, Tony put him into a scrimmage – just for laughs. But on the first play, Coach Lawless’s eyes popped when he saw the tiny freshman bring a varsity giant down with a devastating tackle. Again he tried him out, and another regular bit the dust. Young Lawless shrugged his shoulders and decided to let the gutsy little guy hang around. ‘What’s your name?’ asked the coach.”

But the feisty O’Brien’s gridiron career with the Fighting Friars was short-lived. As a sophomore he suffered severe medical complications from the surgical removal of a kidney, which kept 15-year-old Daniel out of school for an extended period of time in 1931-32. “His surgeon warned him that the procedure may either fail and/or kill him,” Lordan later learned. “Dan outlived the surgeon and saw the surgeon’s grandchildren (twin boys) attend Fenwick.”

DanOBrien_1954_cropped

Dan O’Brien circa 1954.

 

Fast-forward 45 years, to when two of his former swimmers-turned-doctors came to O’Brien’s aid. “I had come back to Chicago in 1977,” recalls Leonard Vertuno ’57, M.D., a Loyola-educated nephrologist (kidney specialist), “and Pete Geis knocked on my door.” Dr. Peter Geis ’60 was a transplant surgeon and an All-State swimmer three years ahead of Vertuno at Fenwick. “Pete said, ‘Dan needs a doctor, and you’re it.’”

So began a reuniting of player and coach – and an adult friendship that would span more than a quarter-century. It was Dr. Vertuno who would give the eulogy at Dan O’Brien’s funeral in 2003. “He was an amazing man,” the retired doc said in early November from Sarasota, FL. “Dan was renowned nationally and internationally. He chose to stay at Fenwick and work with Tony [Lawless].”

From field to pool

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