For students who’ve lost a parent during high school, the Fenwick Fathers’ Club has always extended a helping hand.
When 91-year-old Bernard “Barney” Rodden ’39 passed away four years ago, the World War II veteran and Fenwick alumnus’ family asked that memorials be directed to Fenwick High School’s Fathers’ Club Tuition Continuation Fund. Established in 1932, the fund covers tuition for students who have lost a parent while at Fenwick.
Imagine attending high school and having your father or mother die. Sadly, such family tragedy has struck hundreds of Fenwick students over the years and, for 86 years and counting, the Fenwick Fathers’ Club has been here to help.
Current Fenwick senior Colleen Stephany ’19 knows firsthand the pain and tragedy of losing a parent. Her mother, Carol O’Neill, passed away two years ago at the age of 54. When Ms. Stephany spoke at the Freshman Family Picnic last month, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house:
Hi, I’m Colleen Stephany, an incoming senior. Mr. Sullivan, the president of the Fathers’ Club reached out and asked if I could share with you all how the club has impacted me. [Editor’s note: Frank Sullivan ’86 is a Fenwick Dad.] I couldn’t be happier to be standing here in front of you.
I was raised in River Forest with my three siblings, my single mom, and an abundance of extended family who were always around. My own father wasn’t really in the picture since before I started at St. Luke, so my mom began to sacrifice tremendously to keep my siblings and me in Catholic schools very early, taking jobs in the area and sacrificing her own personal luxuries to guarantee us the warm, welcoming communities [that] Catholic schools provide.
In the fall of my 5th grade year she was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, causing her to step down from her current job. My grandparents and extended family were phenomenal in helping cover our fees but tuition for four kids in grade school, high school and college was always just so difficult. As the amounts kept rising, people from all areas, especially Fenwick, swooped in to help without ever making us feel like charity or below everyone else, which I believe is one of their most valuable attributes. My mother always strived to keep our lives as normal as possible, but when she couldn’t on her own, the Fathers’ Club never failed to help her achieve that normalcy. As I got older and understood the situation we were in, and how my mother and grandparents’ health was worsening, I began to worry on where I’d end up — but my Mom was always so confident with Fenwick.
I didn’t understand because I thought it’d be more of a burden on her than a public high school, but now I can see her logic clearly. She wanted me to have support and a family as strong as Fenwick High School. She was confident the Fathers’ Club, Father Peddicord and the rest of the administration would take care of me, and she was exactly right. I will never forget the embrace I got after losing my Mom my sophomore year, and the fact that this was the first place I wanted to go afterwards. I think this speaks volumes of Fenwick. The love the Fathers’ Club, administration and school showed our family surpassed any type of financial help they could ever give.
People may just see it as a group who fund-raises to make improvements to the school or their events, but that’s not the Fathers’ Club at all. They continually work to maintain and strengthen the community and love of Fenwick for every person who walks through the doors. Parents, students, faculty and alumni are all in the minds of the Fathers’ Club and the administration, and I am eternally grateful I was able to feel the love of Fenwick. So on behalf of my Mom, my siblings and my whole family, I’d love to thank them for allowing me to have the honor of graduating from here and making me always feel at home at Fenwick.