2017 VETERANS DAY TRIBUTE: Defending the Shield

Military Friars who have served and presently are serving our nation, fighting for freedom.

By Mark Vruno

The fall issue of Friar Reporter, Fenwick’s alumni magazine, features a tribute to U.S. military veterans.

Patriotism rings out loud and proud within the Fenwick community. The Catholic school in Oak Park, Illinois, may be best known for turning out top-notch doctors, lawyers, business leaders, educators and politicians, but the Fighting Friars make good soldiers, too. And there are and have been a lot of them. One covert, black-ops Friar alumnus prays the rosary every morning at 5 a.m.

Editor’s note: If you know of Friars who have served in the military and are not mentioned in this story, please email us at communications@fenwickfriars.com.

 

Two recent graduates from the Class of 2017, Will Flaherty and Kyle Gruszka — one a wrestler from Riverside and the other a soccer goalie and baseball player from Chicagoare among 4,000 cadets enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. Senior Alex Pup ’18, a baseball player for the Friars, will join them next year.

Back home in Chicago, former Fenwick running back Josh McGee ’15 enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school and now is working in communications while attending community college. Jimmy Coopman ’14 enlisted in the Marine Corps Infantry after Fenwick, while Steven Barshop ’17 recently completed his USMC basic training. Kyle Graves ’15 has enlisted in the Navy and ships out early next month. Michael Sullivan ’12 was Army ROTC at Indiana University and now is commissioned in the reserves.

Kruszka and Buinauskas

Out east Mike Kelly ’14 is a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland. Erin Scudder ’16, a standout swimmer from Western Springs, is in her second year at the Naval Academy. She aspires to become a Navy or Marine Corps pilot. When Scudder thinks to her influential teenage years, she recalls the value of a Moral Theology course her junior year at Fenwick, where she “learned lessons that I can apply to my life outside the of the classroom.” Joining her at Annapolis will be River Forester Brooke West ’18, who recently received an appointment to swim for Navy. Another Western Springer and Scudder’s classmate, Malone Buinauskas ’16, also a member of USNA (Class of 2020) and plays forward on the Navy women’s hockey team. Buinauskas says her first choice for service selection is to become a Naval Flight Officer.

Trent Leslie ’16 from Chicago is in his second year at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY. “I want to be an aviation officer and potentially work for the FBI after my time in the Army is finished,” explains Leslie, who played ice hockey, rugby and chess while at Fenwick.

Otto Rutt, Jr.

Career Marine Otto Rutt, Jr. ’79 retired in 2013 as a colonel in the Corps. Rutt went to the Ivy League after Fenwick, graduating from Harvard in three years with an economics degree. In 1982 he entered the Marines and became an F/A-18 pilot, serving two combat tours: one in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and one in Operation Iraqi Freedom II in 1994. In between those tours, he received an MBA with concentrations in Finance and Business Policy from the University of Chicago. Rutt has been decorated with the Meritorious Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal, the Seas Service Deployment Ribbon and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal.

By 2000 he was flying airplanes commercially while serving as a Marine Reserve Officer. In 2006 he received the distinction of “honor graduate” from the Air War College. “I relish both the history of the Marine Corps and Fenwick,” the former fighter pilot has said. “They are similar in many ways, particularly in the context of excellence and expectation.

“I have a great affinity for my Fenwick experience, particularly spiritual development. One of my most momentous experiences was a midnight mass Christmas Day in the Arabian Desert prior to the invasion of Kuwait,” Col. Rutt continued. “Without Fenwick, I would not have nearly the personal growth and inner strength to face such challenges.”

Sibling Military Rivalries? Continue reading “2017 VETERANS DAY TRIBUTE: Defending the Shield”

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

Continue reading “Forever Friars: The Dobber”