Senior Demi Ovalle is conference POY; alumna Liz (Perry) Timmons ’04 goes to state for first time as a head coach.
Last weekend in the pool, the Fenwick girls’ water polo team (23-6-1) defeated Northside College Prep, Oak Park-River Forest and then York High School (Elmhurst, IL) to win the IHSA Sectional championship and head to state! The Friars the Dukes of York 10-9, holding the lead the entire fouth quarter. The girls play in the state quarter-finals at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20, at Stevenson HS (Lincolnshire, IL) against the host Patriots.
Fenwick student-athlete Demi Ovalle ’22 (Chicago) has been selected as an all-Metro Catholic Aquatic Conference player as well as a member of the All-Sectional 1st team. Teammates Linden Gierstorf ’22 (Oak Park, IL) andAnnie McCarthy ’23 (Elmhurst) also were named to the MCAC and Sectional 1st teams. MCAC 2nd-team selections are Xiomara Trejo ’24 (Chicago) andPamela Medina ’23 (Chicago); at the Sectional Tournament, Trejo made the 2nd team and Medina was honorable mention. Additionally, Ovalle is the MCAC Girls Senior Player of the Year!
Stay tuned in, says Head Coach Liz Timmons, a 2004 alumna of Fenwick, because “we are still waiting on [the] All-State and All-American lists.”
2022 Friars are small but mighty
Both varsity and JV levels have proven themselves in the pool throughout the season, reports Coach Timmons, “even though they have played many games without or with very few substitutions.” Leading the team are seniors Ovalle, Gierstorf, Naomi Szczeblowski (Berwyn, IL), Christina Mireles (Cicero, IL ) and Elizabeth Mack (Chicago). The varsity season started strong with a win at the Naperville North Tournament and continued with wins at the Fenwick Quad and Fremd tourneys. Other notable games for included the Friars’ crushing defeat of cross-town rivals OPRF and beating MCAC rivals St. Ignatius, Mother McAuley and Loyola Academy. (Check scores for all of the Friars games throughout the varsity season.)
JV also has had an incredible season, finishing 4th at JV MCAC. All players demonstrated a lot of improvement, their coach notes with a smile. There were many close games, including a tough, one-goal win against Loyola.
Szczeblowski (in formal gown, below), who suffered a season-ending injury, showed up to support her team on her prom night for their 8:45 p.m. Sectional game last Friday. “It truly shows how dedicated this team is to each other and how much they want to see each other succeed,” praises Timmons. “They have set a goal and have been working toward it all season. We are excited to show everyone what we can do here at the end.”
Students-turned-teachers help to advance the Friars’ mission.
By Mark Vruno
Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?
Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 32 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr. Holmberg, who doubles as the school’s clubs/activities director.
“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”
Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”
Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for nearly six decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg: “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Co-Chair.
“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Blackfriars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”
Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012
Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 58 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: Millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”
Learning Resource Coordinator Grace Lilek David ’08, who is in her sixth year of teaching at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Mrs. David. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.
“Faith is another reason we come back,” Lilek surmises. “It is very easy to feel more connected to God at Fenwick. When I consider the fact that the Dominican Order was founded over 800 years ago and couple it with the fact that Fenwick is the only high school in the United States run by the Dominican Friars, I am compelled to keep the tradition alive and the school thriving. And even though not every Fenwick student is Catholic, there is a respect for the faith that built this school. There is also a type of faith that goes along with calling yourself a Fenwick Friar.
“Finally, the greater Fenwick Family, is another reason we come back, David concludes. “Whether you connect with one teacher/staff member/counselor or several, or one friend or several, someone in this building always has your back. And then, when you come back to Fenwick and nervously enter the building for an interview, you are greeted with a smile from Mrs. Tartaglia, who remembers you from the time you were a student, and you know you are home. I simply do not think you can find that anywhere else.”
Here is a breakdown of who the alumni are and what they teach/do:
At a Dominican conference about 30 years ago, so the story goes, two Dominican priests — both presidents of their all-boys, Dominican-sponsored schools (the only all-boys Dominican schools in their respective countries) — overheard each other bragging about the competitiveness of their water polo teams. Blackfriars Priory School, located in Prospect, a suburb of Adelaide, Australia, already had a “world tour” in the works with stops in China, France, England, New York, Los Angeles and Waikiki. Both presidents were determined to put a quick stop in Chicago on the itinerary. So, in 1992, the first group of Blackfriars boys and school representatives arrived at Fenwick as part of their world tour.
Since then, Blackfriars has visited Fenwick four times while Fenwick has visited Blackfriars three times. In addition to these water-polo exchanges, there have been two students from each school who participated in student exchanges, and two teachers participated in one six-month teacher exchange. There’s even a marriage in the exchange’s history; and in 2016, a Fenwick alumna and a Blackfriars old scholar welcomed their first child into the world!
Australia means a lot to me. When I think of Australia, I often think of my father [Coach Dave Perry], who as I am writing this, passed away eight years ago today. When I was seven, my family spent the entire summer traveling the continent. I returned again after college when my sister was studying there. My parents had already been in Australia for several weeks and eventually joined us for the end of the trip as part of one of our last big family vacations. When I think of these two trips, I am reminded of how much I love my family and how much I miss my dad.
“So, do you want to go to Australia … with our kids … and a bunch of high school boys?”
When the 2016 exchange occurred, my wife and I were realizing the joys of parenting a three-year-old and a one-year-old. Australia would have to wait. My sister, alumna Elizabeth Timmons ’04, a science teacher and aquatics coach at Fenwick, headed up the 2016 trip. In 2019, realizing that parenting had not really gotten any easier now that my son was six and my daughter was four, I figured why not give this a shot. My wife needed a little more convincing. Thankfully, she gave the green light, and the Perry family, along with our seven new “sons” (Nathan Krippner ’19, Wil Gurski ’21, Peter Buinauskas ’21, Liam McCarthy ’21, Owen Krippner ’21, Caden Gierstorf ’21 and Ethan Wyles ’22) soon found ourselves on the longest direct flight out of Chicago to Auckland, New Zealand. From there, another short flight brought us to our final destination, Adelaide, South Australia. After 26 hours of travel, our host families greeted us at the Adelaide airport; the Fenwick boys went with their host families, and my family went with our host family, Sue and Jon Harmer.
School in the summer?
We met outside the St. Dominic statue at Blackfriars Priory School (BPS) at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 11th, for our first day of school, a tradition we maintained every day that the boys went to class. School started each day at 8:40 a.m. with home group. Students then attended three classes before having a 20-minute recess. Following recess, students had two more classes and then lunch. After lunch, students finished up their day with their final two classes.
BPS has an open campus, and since winter temperatures typically fluctuate between the fifties and the sixties, a full hour of the school day is spent outside! Our first day also coincided with Nathan Krippner’s 18th birthday, so we gathered together a large group for the traditional happy birthday song. In addition to attending classes, Blackfriars arranged for our boys to practice some cricket and Aussie Rules Football, or footy as they would say. Our boys thought challenging their Aussie hosts in basketball would be a good idea; no one on the Fenwick side probably wants to remember that game. In addition to the boys attending classes, my wife, a teacher too, and I had opportunities to observe several classes. My son, Ryan, had a blast becoming best friends with the 17 other boys in his year-one class, and my daughter, Nora, enjoyed attending Blackfriars’ Coed Early Learning Centre.
Getting to know Science Instructor and alumna Elizabeth Timmons ’04, who is entering her ninth year of teaching at Fenwick.
Ms. Timmons spends a big chunk of her summer down in the Friars’ pool, coordinating swimming lessons for the Oak Park community.
What is your educational background?
I have a B.S. in Environmental Science with minors in Spanish and Anthropology from Santa Clara University. I also have a MAT degree in Chemistry from Dominican University.
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
I completed several outdoor education internships that included working at a National Wildlife Refuge in CA, an outdoor education center in Northern Michigan (through the winter!) and the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation in Dundee, IL. I also subbed in the elementary schools in Forest Park and River Forest while I was getting my Master’s and teaching credentials.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
Sadly, it has been a while since I have read anything other than parenting articles online, but my goal is to finish Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming this summer. We will see how that goes with a one-year-old running around!
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
I like to spend time with my family and be outside as much as possible. I love to go to the Morton Arboretum or the zoo, especially with my one-year-old. I love to swim and play water polo, even though I know I’m not very fast these days.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
I was a member of the Varsity Swimming and Water Polo teams. I was also a member of NHS.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
I am the moderator of the Environmental Club and I have been involved in the all of the Aquatics programs in various ways over the years.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
The quality that most stands out to me in our Fenwick students is their resourcefulness. Our students here are very ambitious and constantly looking to successfully meet objectives and expectations. They will find extra resources when they need them and are willing to put in the hard work required to excel in the classroom.
Fenwick students also look out for each other. The Fenwick Community is a place that is always welcoming, regardless of how long ago you were a student. The Fenwick Community is strong, and I have always felt that we pull together to celebrate the triumphs and work through the trials. The statement, “Once a Friar, Always a Friar” is definitely true.