How Fenwick Prepared Me for the Great Quarantine

By John Nerger ’74

I loved my Fenwick experience of many years ago, but also painfully remember how I often felt trapped, confined, somewhat “quarantined” by life’s circumstances at the time. While attending school, I worked for a newspaper distributor overseeing about 100 paper routes and assisting the manager. This was a seven-day-a-week commitment, 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and a half-day apiece on Saturday and Sunday. My job, home chores and Fenwick’s rigorous course load left little time for much else besides eating and sleeping.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed my job and reveled in its responsibilities, realizing at some level I was getting experience that would pay off eventually. It’s just that it didn’t leave me much time for extra-curricular activities, like the clubs and sports many of my Fenwick friends enjoyed. 

I felt cheated of a normal social life because, come Saturday evening, I was often exhausted and wanted to get to bed, knowing my alarm was set for a 5 a.m. jarring wake-up the following morning. I resented not having much time for a girlfriend or just hang out with neighborhood pals. My family didn’t have a car I could borrow to escape the confines of home.

Since my parents were financing Catholic education for their five children, I felt a little guilty going to Fenwick, where the tuition was higher than other schools, so I worked out of a sense of obligation to help with the bills. I worked that much harder at my classwork because I didn’t want my parents to think they were wasting their money on me.

Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, Fenwick equipped me with the tools that helped me stay sane during those challenging times as an adolescent, even helping me tunnel under the barriers of my “quarantine” to escape:It was at Fenwick where I acquired a love of reading. When I read, I could go anywhere, any time — and I did.

  • It was at Fenwick where I gained a love of learning. Math, science and language (Latin) opened new doorways for me. The life of the mind had no walls or limitations.
  • It was at Fenwick where I began to strengthen what had been a thin and immature faith. Prayer took me to another world, an eternal spiritual realm I was just beginning to discover; one that returned far more than I gave to it, and one that proved more instrumental than anything else over my 63 years.
  • It was at Fenwick where my character would be shaped. Its rules, discipline, expectations and moral code, while not so obvious at the time, prepared me to thrive at university and persevere throughout my career.
  • It was later, after graduation, when I found how rigorous physical labor and exercise, Fenwick’s daily gym classes and intramurals notwithstanding, could free me of anxiety and improve my health and well-being.
  • And it would be later still when I would discover how love of another could be liberating and unbounded, freeing me from my selfish self; although the generous love experienced in my immediate family, and my Fenwick family to a considerable degree, certainly set the right conditions for this to occur.
Last summer, Nerger donned a Fenwick shirt while riding in RAGBRAI across Iowa. 

During the decades since, I’ve seen many ways one can find oneself trapped, even imprisoned. We may feel trapped or shackled by jobs we dislike, fears, unhealthy addictions, illness, sin and bad habits. I’ve experienced my share of these as well.

Continue reading “How Fenwick Prepared Me for the Great Quarantine”

Drawing Parallels between 9/11 and COVID-19

How do Friars respond during crises? Fenwick has asked the alumni community to share memories of when the world seemed upside down and how, we as a community, responded.

This Fenwick alumnus, who visited campus back in February, remembers the traumatic period following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 — and has an important message for today’s students.

By Dave West ’98

World Trade Center, NYC: the dreadful day the “Twin Towers” fell.

I was a senior at Duke preparing for a public policy class when the attacks of 9/11 jolted us all around breakfast time on a Tuesday morning. School abruptly shut down as did the country, and we quickly learned over the next few, confusing days that several graduated fraternity brothers, parents of classmates and thousands of others were killed in the towers, in the planes or in the Pentagon.

As a senior, thoughts quickly turned to what other attacks were next; how we’d ever get back to life as usual; whether there would be any jobs for us; and even whether a military draft might be brought back and we would all need to prepare to fight a new enemy halfway around the world. Our grandparents were “the greatest generation”… would we be good enough and up to the challenge?

Parallels to the present pandemic

The U.S. Pentagon on 9/11/01.

The answer was a huge, “Yes” then, and it will be again now. Despite the trauma of that day and the months that followed, the country persevered. I recommend students use this current pandemic shock to step back a bit and think about their goals, purpose and what they really want out of the next five, next 10, next few decades.

In my case, 9/11 was a catalyst to immediately pivot to pursue grad school and national security public service. I was able to serve in Washington and work with over 50 allied countries in counter-terror and anti-terror cooperation efforts. A friend of mine from Duke, lacrosse star Jimmy Regan, turned down a Wall Street job and enlist in the special forces, giving his life years later as a hero on the battlefield and inspiring us all even today. Others became doctors/researchers, teachers or strong executives building new companies, etc. 

The 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York City.

I want to underscore to the students that people generally, and our economy and country in particular, are incredibly resilient. Families, economies and life as we know it are taking a hit right now due to the pandemic, but we will come out on the other side of it. The world will need Fenwick people to help lead and deal with the uncertainty, so we should all stay focused, positive and ensure we’re ready when needed.  

Health and safety to all.

Continue reading “Drawing Parallels between 9/11 and COVID-19”

Alumni Spotlight Shines on Physics ‘Star’ Daniel H. Chang, PhD., Class of 1985

28 years after earning dual degrees from MIT, a fellow Friar let present-day students glimpse his Jet Propulsion Lab work for NASA.

By Mark Vruno

When alumnus Dan Chang, PhD. ’85 returned to Fenwick last November, he felt right at home talking to students in the school library. Ever since immigrating to northeast Illinois from Taipei, Taiwan, in 1976, Dr. Chang has had an affinity for libraries and books.

Chang was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist in 1984-85 (Blackfriars yearbook photo).

Ten-year-old Chang spoke no English when he came to the United States. His father was a diplomat for the Taiwanese consulate in Chicago. During the summer, when their mother was working as a medical technician, his sister Anne and Dan went to the public library “almost every day,” he told the Forest Park Review eight years ago, “and I read every book about physics, space and aviation.” Before applying for a scholarship to Fenwick as an eighth grader, the future rocket scientist attended Grant-White, and then Field-Stevenson elementary schools.

“Let’s talk about the universe,” Chang engaged one group of science students last semester, as he booted up a customized PowerPoint presentation. Over the past four decades, there have been some rather astonishing developments as the field of astronomy became less Earth-centric, he told present-day Friars: “When I was in high school, we didn’t know there were other stars with planetary systems. Now, we know there are nearly 4,000 exoplanets!” (An exoplanet, or extrasolar planet, is a planet outside of our solar system.)

“Did you know there are more planets than stars in the galaxy?” Chang continued. “Small planets are common, even in the Habitable Zone, but they are too dim to see through a telescope,” he added. In astronomy and astrobiology, the circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ) is the range of orbits around a star within which a planetary surface can support liquid water given sufficient atmospheric pressure. Such complexity is par for the course for Chang, who was a straight-A student at Fenwick, a National Merit Scholar Finalist and one of three valedictorians from the Class of 1985. (Chris Hanlon and Ray Kotty are the other two.)

Chang went on to study at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He says he “held my own” at the private research university and earned a bachelor of science in aeronautics/ astronautics, then a master’s degree in dynamics/control. After moving to the West Coast to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, see below), he would go on to a doctorate, in electrical engineering and photonics, from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2002.

Dr. Chang reunited on Nov. 22 with Math Coach Mr. Roger Finnell ’59 (center) and old pal, classmate and Fenwick Math Teacher Ray Kotty ’85.

In the aforementioned newspaper article, ’85 classmate Kotty, who has taught math at Fenwick since 1993-94, described his former Computer Club and “mathlete” teammate as “a little bit more [of] a risk-taker than the other guys in the math-club group. He was always going to go ahead and blaze his trail.” Outside of school, the two mathematical whizzes attended weekend astrophysics classes together at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium — and have remained friends over the years.

Chang told students in November, “For the record, Mr. Kotty beat me in just about every math competition at Fenwick!”

Demanding yet kind

Former Chemistry Teacher and JETS Coach Mr. Ramzi Farran (in 1985).

As a high-school student, Chang never experienced faculty legend Roger Finnell ’59 (long-timeMath Department Chairman) in the classroom per se. Mr. Finnell was — and is — moderator of Fenwick’s storied Math Competition Club. Chang fondly remembers what he calls “rigorous” teachers, including Mr. Ramzi Farran (chemistry and JETS coach) and Mr. John Polka (biology), both recently retired, as well as the late Mr. Edward Ludwig (calculus) and Fr. Jordan McGrath, O.P. (pre-calc.), who passed away in 2018.

Chang calls the late Mr. Ed Ludwig, who taught calculus, Fenwick’s “Director of Happiness.” (1964 photo)

“They all were very kind but very demanding,” he remembers, adding that Ludwig and McGrath were not perceived as being kind, initially. “They seemed harsh at first. They pushed us,” explains Chang, who jokingly refers to Ludwig as the Fenwick’s “Director of Happiness.” Looking back, however, the former student appreciates these teachers’ collective toughness.

Other Fenwick teachers were as influential, if not more so, to Chang’s developing, teenage brain. “Math always was easy [for me] to do,” he admits. “It is a rich but one-dimensional subject. Large, open-ended subjects, such as history and literature, are different.” As a sophomore in 1982-83, he discovered cognitive enrichment in honors English with Fr. Dave Santoro, O.P., honors history class with Mr. John Quinn ’76 and speech class with Mr. Andrew Arellano. In those courses of study, “I learned how to think and debate. I developed political opinions. The strategic thinking and soft-skills I began to glimpse then are arguably as important to my job today as the technical, ‘hard-skills.’”

“The strategic thinking and soft-skills I began to glimpse then [at Fenwick] are arguably as important to my job today as the technical, ‘hard skills.’”

Dr. Dan Chang

Back to school

Dr. Chang talks with students in Fenwick’s John Gearen ’32 Library.

This past November, Chang explained to students the discovery of exoplanets by employing the so-called “stellar-wobble” method, as well as the transit photometry method. Doppler spectroscopy (also known as the radial-velocity method, or colloquially, the wobble method) is an indirect method for finding extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs from radial-velocity measurements via observation of Doppler shifts in the spectrum of the planet’s parent star; while the transit method essentially measures the “wink” of a star as an exoplanet passes before it. (The Nobel Prize in physics for 2019 was awarded partially for the first exoplanet discovery, employing the radial velocity method.)

Chang spent several years of his career on JPL’s Stellar Interferometry Mission (SIM), which was an attempt to discover exoplanets using yet another method – direct astrometry, but with unprecedented precision. SIM proved to be too much of a technological stretch and was cancelled in 2009. “The technology is very difficult,” Chang stressed, “measuring angle changes down to approximately 4 micro-arcseconds,” which is about a billionth of a degree. (An arcsecond is an angular measurement equal to 1/3600 of a degree.)

During his nearly 29-year career at JPL, Chang’s technical contributions and leadership have been recognized with numerous individual awards, including the NASA Honors Award in 2007. For the past three and a half years, he has been the project manager of JPL’s Program Office 760, which is known as the “Technology Demonstrations Office.” While details cannot be disclosed, he is responsible for the management and technical direction of the more than 100 people who work within the classified program. Chang, who reports to  JPL’s Director for Astronomy and Physics, was Office 760’s chief engineer for two years prior to overseeing the program.

“This part of astrophysics is close to my heart, but let’s now look at an engineering tour de force,” he proclaimed to the young, fellow Friars, switching gears and delving into the basics of how the Mars landing system works.

No crash landings with Sky Crane: NASA has spent more than
$200 million to develop a propulsive, soft-landing system using a massive parachute for potential use on Mars. The helium balloon has a 110-foot diameter – a canopy big enough to fill the Rose Bowl football stadium in Pasadena, California!

“The United States still is the only country that has successfully landed vehicles on Mars (the massive Curiosity rover in 2012 being the most recent),” he informed the students. “We have been [remotely] driving around up there for seven years.” From 2004-07, Chang served as a principal investigator under the Mars Technology Program (MTP), for which he helped to develop LIDAR for lander terminal guidance.

Mars 2020: Set for launch this coming July, the new, yet-to-be-named rover is powered by plutonium and may carry a helicopter, a NASA spokesperson says.

With all the Martian craters and high-wind dust storms (up to 70 mph), “how do you safely land a probe?” he asked.  JPL succeeded in 1997 with its toy-car sized Pathfinder robotic spacecraft, which employed the new (at the time) technology of airbag-mediated touchdown. JPL returned again in 2004 with MER, again using airbags and a crude, wind-compensating rocket system called DIMES. However, for the Mars Science Lab mission in 2012 that landed Curiosity – “essentially a nuclear-powered, 2,000-pound MINI Cooper – we had to resort to lowering the probe on a tether to solve the egress problem and other challenges.” This technology is NASA’s rocket-powered Sky Crane, developed for the Curiosity landing and will be used again when the Mars 2020 mission attempts its next landing. “It was surprising to us that it worked!” Chang remarked.

Animation of Mars Helicopter: The small, autonomous rotorcraft is designed to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. “The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling,” says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

In less than 12 months, another robotic rover could be roaming and exploring the “Red Planet” in a quest to answer that age-old question: Are we alone in the universe? Scheduled for a July 17 launch, Mars 2020 should touch down in Jezero crater (on Mars) on February 18, 2021. NASA has invested some $2.5 billion in the eagerly anticipated mission. The new, yet-to-be-named rover is expected to carry a small, autonomous rotorcraft known as the Mars Helicopter, Chang shared excitedly.

1-MINUTE VIDEO: How Do You Land on Mars? Very Carefully!

The Fenwick Standard

Chang (far left in 1989) rowed crew all four years as an ungrad at MIT: “Most of my varsity years were spent in the bow seat,” which is the front. “Rowers sit facing backwards,” he notes.

In college, when Chang wasn’t studying or reading in the Cambridge, MA campus library, he blew off steam by rowing crew on the Charles River. These days, when he is not working at JPL or consulting for firms such as Skybox Imaging (acquired by Google and recently sold again to Planet Labs), his hobby is aviation. “I like fixing (mostly) and flying – when I’m not fixing – my plane,” says Chang, who owns a single-engine aircraft.

He also enjoys spending time with his wife, Malina, and their teenage daughter, Natalie. While Chang contends that values, work ethic and good study habits begin at home with the family, he wishes he could find a private secondary school in the Los Angeles area more like Fenwick, which he considers the standard. “I’d gladly pay for rigor and discipline, which are critical,” he says. “Unfortunately, most private schools where I live primarily offer social segmentation.”

“Merit and accomplishment are what matter at Fenwick.”

Dan Chang, PhD. (Class of 1985)

Whether at Fenwick or MIT, “the textbooks teachers use are the same as at other schools,” adds Dr. Chang, who has been interviewing under-graduate candidates in the LA area for his collegiate alma mater since 2006. “The quality of the student body is what determines how far teachers can go, how much they can push [their students].” The Dominican friars foster an egalitarian atmosphere, he concludes: “The relative wealth of the student body doesn’t matter at Fenwick. One’s own merit and accomplishments are what matter.”

Could one of these new NASA astronauts one day travel to Mars or another planet? NASA thinks it will happen before the year 2045.
Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight Shines on Physics ‘Star’ Daniel H. Chang, PhD., Class of 1985”

Alumnae Spotlight Shines on Cortney Hall: Class of 1999

The local television anchor/host remembers a lot about her days at Fenwick, where she received a detention on her first day as a freshman student in 1995.

By Mark Vruno

Cortney Hall remembers feeling nervous – again. The Fenwick alumna (’99), now an Emmy-nominated TV journalist, was back among Friars, preparing to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2016. The problem: She was sitting near Andy Arellano, her old speech teacher. Twenty years earlier, Mr. Arellano had seemed “so scary,” not just to Ms. Hall but to generations of Fenwick sophomores. Contrary to her on-air vivaciousness on NBC-TV’s “Chicago Today” show (Channel 5), Hall insists she was a shy 15-year-old.

“We looked at speech class as a ‘gateway to graduation,’” she recalls, adding that she felt prepared four years ago. “That’s what Andy does. He prepares his students and makes them feel confident about getting up and talking in front of other people. Speech class was tough at the time, but he also made it entertaining. He taught skills that I have carried with me throughout my life and career.”

Hall’s 1999 yearbook photo from Fenwick.

Hall grew up in the south/western suburbs of Downers Grove and Oak Brook. Comparatively, “Fenwick was diverse – and I don’t mean just racially or ethnically,” she explains. “The school pulls people from all over the Chicago area, with different life experiences.”

But no matter where Fenwick’s student live, physically, their families all seem to have one thing in common: “They all care and have similar core values,” she believes. “Going in [to Fenwick], you know you’re among like-minded people whose parents want structure and discipline for them; who want their children to learn and have morals.”

It takes time and “some distance” to appreciate many aspects of what makes Fenwick such a special place, admits Hall. “Is it strict? Yeah. We weren’t allowed to hang out in the hallways like kids at other schools,” she continues. “As a teenager, you worry about things like wearing the Catholic-school uniform. However, as an adult, you look back and understand that there was a different purpose. We weren’t caught up in the brand of jeans our classmates were buying. We heard about bullying incidents at other schools, but I don’t remember stuff like that happening at Fenwick when I was there. We were a different group of kids.”

The stress of Mr. Arellano’s speech classes is not Hall’s only faculty memory of Fenwick. “Fr. Joe [Ekpo] was a character, with his chants of ‘Up, up, Jesus! Down, down, Satan!’” she remembers. Hall played tennis, and Mr. Bostock was her soccer coach. “I was mildly terrible,” she self-assesses. “And Dr. Lordan [retired in 2019] was a Fenwick staple, of course.” She remembers (fondly?) getting JUG on her very first day as a freshman student — for a skirt infraction. “There were two tricks for shortening our skirts: We’d either roll them at the top or staple them at the hem,” she laughs.

From the 1998-99 Yearbook: “Cortney Hall, the Fenwick Fashion Diva.”

Hall adds that she had fun as a Blackfriars yearbook staffer (she was student life editor) and wrote a “column” her senior year. “It was a parody on uniforms: shirt colors (blue!) and shoe options.” She also was active in Campus Ministry, NHS, SADD and The Wick.

Hall’s absolute favorite memory as a Friar? Hands down, it was “going downstate for boys’ basketball in 1998,” she exclaims of her junior-year experience in Peoria, IL. “I went with friends to cheer them on!”

Life after Fenwick

Ms. Hall’s lifelong love of basketball led her to moonlight as the official, in-arena host for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls at the United Center.

From Fenwick, Hall moved on to Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.), where she majored in marketing at the McDonough School of Business. “Georgetown was my first choice,” she notes. “I’ve always been a big basketball fan, and the Hoyas were really cool in the ’90s.”

Being from Chicago, she wanted a school in a big city and was accepted at Columbia and NYU in New York. “Applying to colleges was a great experience,” she shares. “I received a lot of great guidance. Fenwick put me in a good position to get into my ‘reach’ schools.” A visit to Georgetown’s campus sealed her fate.

As an under-grad at Georgetown, she says she really didn’t know what she wanted to do. After graduating, “I worked at the World Bank in D.C. for a while but decided that wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer all day long.”

Her game-changer turned out to be media coverage of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Like many Americans, “the powerful images coming out of New York captivated me,” she says. “I was in college when it happened, glued to my TV set and the news [reports].”

Continue reading “Alumnae Spotlight Shines on Cortney Hall: Class of 1999”

Finally at Full Power: Fenwick 2019-20 Girls Basketball

As the Friars’ young, female hoopers get healthy and march toward maturity, a Hall of Famer — with 40+ years of coaching experience — smiles at their timing.

By Mark Vruno

Chalk up another 20-win regular season for Fenwick girls’ basketball Head Coach Dave Power. But he says his young team (23-8, 3-3 in the GCAC) is not finished. In fact, the once injury-plagued Friars finally may be gaining momentum heading into post-season play.

She’s back: Senior guard Sheila Hogan (knee) recently returned to the Friars’ starting rotation.

Two weeks ago “marked the first game all season where we had every player fully healthy,” reports alumna and Assistant Coach Erin Power ’07, Dave’s daughter and once a stellar point guard for the Friars. “Sheila Hogan returned from an ACL [rehab]. Lily Reardon was out for several weeks with a separated shoulder. Mia [Caccitolo] had her knee injury. Mira [Schwanke] and Audrey [Hinrichs] both were out with ankle injuries at certain points. Katie Schneider was out for a few games with the flu.”

While their head coach isn’t in the habit of making excuses, he can confirm the busier-than-normal athletic training room traffic. “We’ve had at least nine players out for something,” a frustrated, elder Power says, lamenting that his squad lost games last month that they probably would have won at full strength. “We’ve had about 15 different starting line-ups this season. It’s hard to prepare for opponents when key, position players are out,” he explains, “be they rebounders or shooters.”

The strength of Fenwick’s sometimes-daunting schedule did not help matters. During a particularly difficult stretch in January – one that Athletic Director Scott Thies ’99 referred to as “the gauntlet” — Fenwick lost badly to Montini and then dropped consecutive games to four more Catholic-school rivals: St. Ignatius, Benet (which was close), Mother McAuley and Marist.

Buzzer-beaters: 6’1″ forward Audrey Hinrichs is one of five sophomores on the varsity. She and fellow soph Elise Heneghan (6’0″) combined for 41 points vs. Evanston on Feb. 4.

The Powers know, as experienced coaches do, that they can control only certain factors when it comes to their teams. Injuries, while preventable, are not necessarily controllable. Age is another element out of their control. Make no mistake: the Friars are young (five sophomores and four juniors). However, the youth is buoyed by strong leadership from upper-classwomen, Dave Power points out, giving a nod to his quartet of seniors, who all are guards: Hogan, Stephanie Morella, Reardon and Schneider.

Welcome distractions

Like most coaches, the Power duo dislikes distractions. But how do good Catholics say “no” to the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago? When Cardinal Blase Cupich informed Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. last Thursday that he’d like to attend the next evening’s girls basketball game, the scramble began! But Power really didn’t mind. His Eminence’s presence was icing on the cake for the Friars’ Senior Night. The Cardinal sat on both sides of the bleachers, cheering for the Catholics. Our team was victorious, 58-50, over the Carmel Corsairs of Mundelein (18-8, 3-3).

Go, Catholics: On January 31, Cardinal Cupich received a Fenwick sweatshirt from the Friars. (Photo courtesy of Scott Hardesty/Fenwick.)

Another welcome distraction came this past Tuesday night, as Power’s girls capped a four-game winning streak by defeating top-ranked Evanston (20-4, 9-0) in their regular-season finale. A thrilling, half-court buzzer-beater by 6’0″ forward Elise Heneghan (24 pts.), one of the sophomores, sealed the deal: 45-43 in favor of the Friars.

The Wildkits fourth-year head coach is Fenwick alumna and All-Stater Brittany Johnson ’05 (Chicago). Johnson, who played at Boston College, averaged 18 points per game, six rebounds and five steals as a senior for the Friars. “I’m so proud of Britt,” Power beams. “She had a great career at BC and got her master’s degree. Hers is a great success story!”

In a pre-game ceremony, after Power hugged his former-player-turned-opposing-coach, the school officially named the locker room in its Fieldhouse Gym after him. Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. was in Florida visiting with alumni, but he sent a statement from afar: “It is a privilege to honor Coach Power’s commitment to our community with this dedication, along with a corresponding, generous gift of $500,000. The donor family wishes to remain anonymous, but their gesture truly is heartfelt.” (Read more.)

27 seasons at Fenwick: Coach Power posed with 21 of his basketball alumnae who showed up for the Feb. 4th ceremony. How many can you name, Friar fans? (Photo by Peter Durkin ’03/Fenwick.)

In Father Peddicord’s stead, President Emeritus Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50 stepped onto the Fenwick hardwood, talking about Dave Power’s legacy and their friendship, which now spans three decades. AD Thies also spoke, sharing stories about how Power has made an impact on his life and continued to pursue excellence relentlessly. “Coach Power [has] impacted so many lives, so many who have gone on to be successful in life,” Thies said.

Of The Power Locker Room naming and half-million-dollar donation, the coach himself says: “The generosity of this person – and I really don’t know who it is – is beyond overwhelming. I’m blown away that someone would be so generous – not for me, but for all the success the program has had; all the wonderful coaches and girls who’ve played for me … all their successes. I think of it as a dedication to them. It’s a great thing for Fenwick!”

One of the coaches sharing Power’s legacy is his late brother, Bill, who passed away in 2018. Another faithful assistant is Dale Heidloff, a science teacher at Fenwick who also is the head coach of the girls’ track team and an assistant coach for boy’s golf. “When I first started coaching with Dave 20 years ago, I had a much different view on the game of basketball,” Coach Heidloff shares. “I always believed strongly in playing defense, but Coach Power’s philosophy has always been to just ‘score more points than the other team.’ This simple philosophy has won him nearly 1,000 games, so I’ve learned to trust the methods, the madness and the magic of Coach Power.

“Beyond the X’s and O’s, however, I’ve been able to share unforgettable memories with a man who has become like a brother to me,” Heidloff continues. “We have both been fortunate enough to share in winning a state championship with our daughters [Kristin ’04 in 2001 and Erin in 2007] and have had the opportunity to coach the next generation of Friars alongside our daughters. His coaching legacy speaks for itself, but his true legacy is the impact he has had on his players and coaches, the fierce loyalty he has towards those he cares about, and his unwavering commitment to the Fenwick community.” 

Power acknowledges that coaching with daughter, Erin, at his side these past four years has been quite special. He adds that her title of assistant coach really is a disservice. “Erin’s role goes way beyond that,” he says. “She can relate to the young girls and is the definition of a role model: strong, intelligent and demanding. She demonstrates [techniques] in practice on the court, which I can’t do so well anymore. Plus, she knows how to do all that social media stuff!” he laughs.

Continue reading “Finally at Full Power: Fenwick 2019-20 Girls Basketball”

God, Honor, Country: Fenwick Alumnus Leads U.S. Intelligence Community Counterterrorism

Protecting and serving is a way of life for this Friar and decorated military son who fights international terrorism.

By Mark Vruno

Fenwick’s Friar Files blog has reported on an “intelligence community alumnus [who] prays the Rosary every morning at 5 a.m.” This Friar spoke last semester with students at Fenwick, and the U.S. government has cleared the school to share the following, somewhat random facts about this mystery person:

  • He works for the National Counterterrorism Center‘s Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in Washington, D.C.
  • For counterintelligence reasons, he stays off of social media. (See below).
  • He also has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as a strategic advisor and, before that, for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
  • He held a leadership position at U.S. Central Command (Department of Defense) before retiring from the U.S. Army in 2001.
  • He graduated (general engineering) from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and went on to earn a master’s degree in international relations.
  • He served his country in Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf War (Iraq, 1991), where he earned a Bronze Star. (See photo.)
  • He managed crises teams during Rwanda’s civil war in the mid-1990s.
  • He followed and reported on coup attempts (in Paraguay and Suriname, South America) and refugees (from Cuba and Haiti).
  • He worked in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and briefed POTUS, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the National Security Council on military matters.
The Bronze Star: awarded for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Describing such a vitae as “impressive” might be considered a gross under-statement. When he visited Fenwick history and government classes in October 2019 to talk about counter-terrorism and the U.S. “intelligence” community, the former Army infantry officer challenged students to a search contest on finding information about him. “Try to find me on Google. You won’t. I’m off the grid,” he said. “There are other people with my name, but they’re not me. If you do find me online, please let me know!”

Intel expert

In military and national-security contexts, so-called “intelligence” is information that provides an organization with decision support and, possibly, a strategic advantage. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines intelligence as “information that has been analyzed and refined so that it is useful to policymakers in making decisions.” According to the FBI, intelligence is the information itself as well as the processes used to collect and analyze it.

Slogan on a CIA T-shirt that our friend brought with him to Fenwick: “In God We Trust, All Others We Monitor.”

“What they teach here at Fenwick sets the foundation for your futures.”

“Our job is to tell truth to power,” the alumnus told Fenwick students in an attempt to explain the role of the United States’ intelligence/ counterterrorism communities. The absence of truth leads to abuses of power, he warned, quickly adding that truth and integrity are moral values which align with Fenwick High School’s mission. “What they teach here at Fenwick sets the foundation for your futures,” he assured them.

Continue reading “God, Honor, Country: Fenwick Alumnus Leads U.S. Intelligence Community Counterterrorism”

Remembering Fallen Friar Chuck Schauer, 33, Class of 2004

Fellow police officer and former Fenwick wrestling coach Sal Gamino ’95 paid tribute to his comrade in this eulogy, given at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in River Forest this past Saturday.

By Sergeant Salvador Gamino, Jr., Berwyn Police Dept.

(Editor’s note: Berwyn, IL Police Officer, Glen Ellyn resident and Fenwick alumnus Charles Schauer was tragically killed on January 20, 2020.)

The late Officer Schauer in his Berwyn patrol car.

Thank you all for coming today to remember the life of Charles Andrew Schauer, who was taken from us so very suddenly. Chuck was a man beloved by all as evident by the great number of people in attendance these past several days. 

I, Salvador Gamino, am a sergeant with the Berwyn Police Department. Chuck and I have been fellow officers for 10 years, but our relationship began so much earlier, when I was his freshman high school wrestling coach at Fenwick in Oak Park. Chuck has been my friend through all of these years, and as our relationship grew, I actually came to think of him as family.

Chuck was born on January 25, 1986, ironically 34 years ago today. He is survived by his wife Jessa, son and daughter Charlie and Kyleigh, his parents Charles and Mary, and his sister Kathleen. He attended grammar school here at Saint Vincent Ferrer, and then graduated from Fenwick High School. He attended Western Illinois University before enlisting in the Marines to serve our country where he earned the rank of Lance Corporal. He was deployed overseas during Operation Iraqi Freedom serving our country with honor. After concluding his military career, he became a Police Officer with the Berwyn Police Department. Chuck wore many hats during the course of his police career. He was a Patrol Officer, Evidence Technician, Field Training Officer and a Detective.

Coach Sal Gamino, the author, first met Schauer in the fall of 2000 on the Fenwick freshman wrestling team. (His name was misspelled in the Blackfriars yearbook.)

Over the past days, we have probably heard or read the phrase “one in a million” being used to describe Chuck. From the bottom of my heart, nothing could be truer. Chuck had no enemies. No one ever had a bad thing to say about him.

Chuck and Jessa met as young undergraduates. His military commitments, that took him overseas twice, kept them from having a traditional courtship, as they were apart while he served our country. Despite this, they thankfully persevered and later married, and their union gave Chuck his greatest joys in life: Charlie and Kyleigh.

The funeral service for Officer Schauer was held on Saturday, January 25, 2020. (Photo courtesy of NBC 5 Chicago.)

His children were his world. A lot of new dad’s shy away from their kids in the ‘baby stage.’ Not Chuck! Jessa said he loved every part of fatherhood. He would spend every day off with the kids.  When he found out that Charlie was on the way, he was overjoyed. He couldn’t wait to meet his son. He and Charlie were best friends. Chuck and Charlie truly share a love for baseball.  Jessa said they spent hours together playing and practicing. Because of Chuck’s military and police background, he was pretty strict with Charlie. Chuck was big on manners, rules, and respect. Then, along came Kyleigh. Strictness went out the window. This little girl stole her daddy’s heart. Jessa said that Kyleigh had him wrapped around her finger. Kyleigh was his social media star. He would often post his videos of the ‘interviews with Kyleigh’ that he took and the ridiculously cute things that she did and said – these of course brought a smile to everyone that saw them. Chuck truly had so much love for his children. He talked about them to anyone who would listen.

After college at WIU, Schauer was a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps.

People that are described as generous and caring are said to be willing to ‘give you the shirts off their backs.’ Well, Chuck did one better. He literally gave his friend the pants that he was wearing. One day, when Chuck was ending his shift at the police department, another officer had a wardrobe malfunction, and the zipper and button on his duty pants broke, rendering the pants unsuitable to be worn in public. Chuck went down to the locker room, changed his clothes so he could give his fellow officer the pants that he was wearing so that the other officer could finish his shift. With Chuck, stories like that are common.

His sister, Kathleen, described him as a protective and loving brother. The kind of big brother that was selfless, dependable and, occasionally, a bad influence. She told me the story about one time when their parents went out of town and left Chuck in charge. Chuck swiftly planned a party at their house, leaving no detail unturned. He even had a cleaning service scheduled to come the day after the party. He spread the word, and it travelled fast. The administration at Fenwick heard about the party, and let’s just say strongly ‘urged’ Chuck to cancel it. I chuckled at the story, and asked Kathleen how long their parents were out of town. Before she could answer, his mom shouted from the background “ONE NIGHT.  We were gone ONE night! You two made it sound like we were gone for a week.” 

Chuck as a senior at Fenwick (2003-04).

As much as Chuck was cut from the same cloth as his father, he was like his mother, Mary, in many ways. His selflessness was a trait that he learned from her. Mary and Chuck would communicate without even speaking. Mary was deeply attuned to her son. She could gauge his mood just by looking at him. They were just in tune with each other on a deep emotional level.

Continue reading “Remembering Fallen Friar Chuck Schauer, 33, Class of 2004”

Lessons for a Lifetime

An alumnus reflects on the Friars’ improbable basketball championship 54 seasons ago.

By Mike Shields ’67

I’ve traveled many ‘roads’ after leaving Fenwick, but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned as a member of the basketball team and particularly the 1966 team that won the Chicago Catholic League title that year – against significant odds.

We won the title in March of ’66; one of many championships won by Fenwick teams throughout its long history. But my own sense as a student of that history is that few of these teams had as amazing and improbable road to a title as we had, and it is that story that I’d like to share and use to reinforce the idea that, although the title was great, it was the ‘lessons learned’ along the way that were more lasting and more important.

As we began the 1965-66-basketball season, we knew we had a well-regarded coach in Bill Shay, but it had been almost 15 years since Fenwick had won a Catholic League Senior (over 5’ 9” players) basketball championship. In fact, the previous season, Fenwick’s Senior team finished at .500 in league play, out of the playoffs, and were maddeningly inconsistent – beating a contender one night and getting blown out another. To be honest, there was cautious optimism at best as we opened the season led by 6’6” senior center Dennis Bresnahan (St. Bernadine – Oak Park), the lone starter from the previous year and who would be joined by three talented underclassmen, including junior forward Joe Grill (Divine Infant – Westchester), junior guard/forward Steve Flanagan (Ascension – Oak Park), and junior guard John Sanderlin (St. Luke – River Forest), who had led their Frosh-Soph team coached by Jerry Hughes to a 20-0 record the year before. Coach Shay knew he might have something special in this young, untested team, but it was mostly a hope.

Two-sport athletes: Flanagan, shown scoring in game action, also played football at Fenwick.

With Grill and Flanagan, both starting football players, not joining the basketball team until late November, things started out surprisingly rough, losing seven of our first 10 league games, albeit four by three points or less. As ‘ninth man’ on a team that usually played just seven players, my role was to scrimmage against the starters in practice and help prepare them for the games. I knew Grill, Flanagan and Sanderlin from our grammar-school days, and each one was a winner – rarely losing in anything. Both Sanderlin and Flanagan were in the so-called ‘A’ group academically and their basketball ‘IQs’ were just as impressive. Furthermore, even in scrimmages they played to win. I would say the biggest thing that these guys brought to the team was their deep-rooted will to win, a trait perhaps even more important than raw talent. And win we would.

“I always thought that the largest and one of the most impactful classrooms at Fenwick back in the day was the gym – today’s Lawless Gym.”

Mike Shields ’67

CCL mainstay: Long-time Friars’ hoops Head Coach Bill Shay came to Fenwick in 1950.

The Fenwick aura of excellence

To be a student at Fenwick in the mid-60s was to be surrounded by greatness in one’s teachers and coaches. Tony Lawless, our legendary Athletic Director, had joined Fenwick when it opened in 1929 out of Loyola University and an illustrious basketball career there. He hired swimming coach Dan O’Brien (Class of 1934), whose teams would win 28 straight Catholic League titles; Lawless himself would coach the football teams, which over his 25 years (1932-57) would compile a Rockne-like record of 172-40-6 and a winning percentage of .803. In those years, Fenwick’s football teams would win 14 division titles, five Catholic League titles and three City Championships. In 1950, Lawless selected Bill Shay, another highly successful coach, to lead Fenwick’s basketball teams. I would say Lawless, O’Brien and Shay, all successful intelligent coaches, not only believed in excellence but were very (very) serious guys who helped develop the likes of 1953 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner (Fenwick ’50) at Notre Dame [who also played basketball and ran track in high school], 1964 Olympic Diving Gold Medalist Ken Sitzberger (Fenwick ’63) and legions of other great Fenwick athletes.

1962 Prep Bowl: Look at that crowd at Soldier Field!

As Athletic Director, Lawless had also brilliantly selected 24-year old John Jardine as football coach, and Jardine proceeded to a 45-6-1 record over five years (1959-63) and an epic 40-0 Prep Bowl victory in 1962 over Schurz in front of 91,000 fans at Soldier Field. That type of serious winning ethos was palpable and expected – academically and athletically. Fenwick teams didn’t always win but they all fought very hard to win and, as our 1966 basketball team continued its journey, we all had imbibed the Fenwick ethos of excellence and high expectations. How could we not?

Bill Shay knew we could be great. We weren’t totally sure about that after our string of early season losses but, as the season wore on, our team – led by the steady and outstanding play of our Bresnahan (captain) and the development of the new three underclassmen starters – started to gel. Our practices were grueling, and Coach Shay brought the entire team, starters and non-starters alike, together us as a winning team with his experienced combination of toughness and teaching. As an aside, there were many nights after a long practice when several of us, including Sanderlin, would stand in the winter cold at the corner at East Ave. and Madison St. to catch a late West Town bus home. We were all tired, but were growing as a team and we began to win. Significantly, at a certain point, I think the winning attitudes of Grill, Flanagan and Sanderlin really kicked in and created a powerful dynamic of confidence, mental toughness and winning. They knew they were winners and were not going to settle for anything less. Adding to the new dynamic was the amazing development of two young (and tall) sophomores, 6’ 4” Jim Martinkus and 6’ 8” Bob Fittin, who Coach Shay was beginning to gradually work into the line-up: a smart move as they would both play pivotal roles in key games ahead. Our team finished strong with four victories in our last five league games and tied for 2nd place with archrival Loyola in the North Section. So, to get into the four-team Catholic League playoff, we had to beat Loyola, to whom we had lost twice during the season.

The run begins

On the night of March 6th, Fenwick met Loyola at DePaul University’s Alumni Hall with its sunken court (aka ‘basketball pit’) and seating for about 5,000 on the DePaul campus. With Bresnahan and Grill combining for 32 points, Fenwick rolled to a 59-46 victory. We were not surprised as we expected the victory. Now that we were in the league playoffs, next up for us on Saturday night would be St. Rita led by their 6’8” All-American center George Janky, We were wary but still confident. Frankly, we were the only ones who were confident we could beat St. Rita, particularly as we had also lost to them twice in the regular season.

That Saturday night, the entire Fenwick student body showed up and Alumni Hall was jam-packed. I was on the bench with a front-row seat, and the cheering was so loud at times that we could not hear Coach Shay in the huddle. Our team though was so cohesive by then that instincts took over – our guys were determined to beat St. Rita, who frankly did not show us much respect. That would change as the game wore on, and it was clear that Fenwick was ‘in the game’ – and could even win it! After four intense quarters of play, regulation time ended with the score tied 60-60. It was a bit surreal, to be honest. In overtime, neither team scored until the very end; with St. Rita holding the ball for the final shot, guard Sanderlin stole the ball and passed it to Bresnahan, who was fouled. With just four second left, Bresnahan sunk both free throws and Fenwick had won another improbable victory 62-60. Bedlam reigned! Thirty minutes after the game though, Coach Shay brought us ‘back to earth’ and reminded us that we ‘had not won anything yet’ – the ‘only thing’ we did was earn the right to play powerful defending City Champ Mt. Carmel for the Championship. We were not favored.

So on Wednesday night March 16th, 1966, DePaul’s Alumni Hall was packed again with nearly 5,000 fans, including local celebrities such as DePaul Coach Ray Meyer. The game, with a tipoff at 8:30 p.m., was broadcast in prime time across the Chicago area on the new UHF TV channel WFLD. It was ‘a spectacle’ – even bigger then the St. Rita game. Mt. Carmel brought a record of 27-2 into the game while Fenwick’s was 15-11 and we had already lost two early-season games to the Caravan. As much of an underdog as we were on paper, though, I did not feel like an ‘underdog’ and neither did my teammates. Probably the biggest challenge we had was to stay focused and play our game and not get swept up in the spectacle of it all. We seemed to have reached a level at which we felt we could beat anyone. Coach Shay, as always, calmly went over the game plan before the game: shut down All-State guard Greg Carney (he scored just 2 points in the first half), prevent their big All-Chicago center Dave Lewis from getting the ball, and play disciplined offense ourselves with smart shot selections. In the end, although Mt. Carmel came close a few times in the 2nd half, we won the game 62-52, with 32 of those points coming on free throws, particularly impressive in such a pressure-packed atmosphere. This was Fenwick’s first Catholic League Senior Basketball title since 1950 – a truly amazing and historic feat.

Needless to say, euphoria reigned and the team headed back to Fenwick after the game. We probably arrived at the school near midnight as March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, began. Our bus was greeted in the school parking lot by an epic mob of our fellow students with the festivities continuing in the gym, where so much of our preparation had happened, including lots of ‘blood and sweat’ being spent. Coach Shay introduced each player and student manager on the team, briefly mentioning the person’s contributions, to wild cheering. This was truly a special night to celebrate the coveted Championship and the team effort behind it – players, coaches, students, staff and alumni. One Fenwick!

Back in 1966, the Catholic League Champ played the Pubic League Champ for the City Championship. It was a big deal. As Catholic League champs we would play the Marshall Commandos and their fabulous All-State forward Richard Bradshaw, who had completed an undefeated Public League season before being upset in the State Super-Sectional game by New Trier. Marshall, with its rich basketball history, was pointing to a victory over Fenwick for ‘redemption.’ The game was played on March 27th at the International Amphitheater with TV coverage again by WFLD. Our team came out ready to play, dominating the first half, but leading only 28-27 at halftime. Marshall surged in the second half and won the game 62-56 for the City Championship. One positive that came out of this loss was that two of the Fenwick players that day, sophomores Martinkus and Fittin, would gain invaluable experience from it and just two years later would lead a 25-4 Fenwick team, still coached by Bill Shay, to another Catholic League Championship and then go on to beat the Public League Champ Crane Tech 56-48 for the City Championship!

The old gym will come alive again on January 17, 2020.

This season and experience in 1966 taught us much. We certainly learned a great deal academically in the classroom from our Dominican and lay teachers, but to be part of this championship team taught me ‘even more,’ which I carried forward throughout my life and professional career. These early lessons from that season’s experience, which I have in fact used and am sill adding to many years later, might be summarized for me (in no particular order after the first one listed) as follows:

  • Win or lose, striving for excellence elevates the team and the individuals.
  • Most success comes from a team effort, being ‘One,’ not just from one ‘star’.
  • One never knows where the final ‘missing piece’ of a winning team will come from; often the person is ‘on the outside’ and ‘not seen’ at first.
  • Sometimes it takes time for a great team to gel (we started 3-7 in 1966).
  • Smart, intelligent coaching, including being creative and trying new approaches when necessary are absolutely essential to winning, when playing ‘dynamic games’.
  • A team made up of players with a winning attitude, who really want to win, are at a competitive advantage to an ‘all-star’ team (with ‘all star’ resumes) that just show up.
  • Playing hard and with focus at all times is essential to winning.
  • The pain of losing is not ‘the end of the world’ – ‘pain’ can motivate and teach a team, which wants to be great, where and how to get better.
  • The little things, practiced over and over, count (like making 20 pressure-packed free throws in the St. Rita game and 32 free throws in the Mt. Carmel game).
  • Positive passion and emotion are really helpful to give a person or a team that extra push when their energy level is running low (Bill Shay was a ‘positive’ coach and our Fenwick student body during the 1966 playoffs was very loud and very positive).
Continue reading “Lessons for a Lifetime”

Fenwick Student Stands Against Childhood Cancer

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been the backbone of the family of Sadie Briggs ’20 for four generations.

By Sadie Briggs ’20

Editor’s note: Long-time Fenwick Speech Teacher Andy Arellano reports that Sadie Briggs presented this past summer to the St. Jude Leadership Society in Memphis, TN. “She began crafting her speech last April,” Mr. Arellano says proudly of his protégé. Sadie made the trip from River Forest with her grandfather and her mother, who knew nothing of about her presentation and really didn’t want to “waste the weekend.” During the speech, her surprised mom “broke down and cried,” Arellano says.

Today, I would like to thank everyone who has made this experience possible. This is my second time being able to come to this event, and even though I am up here again, this experience truly leaves me speechless.  

Sadie’s great-grandpa, Joe Shaker, Sr., in 1951.

Many people ask me why St. Jude means so much to me and, honestly, when I was little, I felt that my amazement was obvious. Everywhere I went, from my grandparent’s homes, to dinners, events, and more, St. Jude was always present. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet my great grandfather, Joseph Shaker, who explained the importance of this great hospital. My great grandpa was one of the co-founders of the hospital along with Danny Thomas. Being first generation Lebanese, with five children and a wife to support, my great grandfather decided to join Danny’s dream. Today, I am the oldest of 20 of Joseph Shaker’s great-grandchildren. Only my brother and I ever got the chance to meet my great grandfather, but trust me, all of the little ones hear enough about him to make them feel as if they had met him too. They also know that they have the duty to carry on his St. Jude legacy. 

“Show me my way in life and I will build you a shrine.”

– Danny Thomas’ prayer to St. Jude Thaddeus
Alumnus Joseph G. Shaker ’68 (now retired) was President/CEO of Shaker Recruitment Marketing.

My great grandfather’s son, Joseph [Fenwick Class of 1968], my grandfather, has also played a major role in my love for this hospital and the St. Jude mission. He still actively participates on the St. Jude/ALSAC board. My grandfather is a person who is often described as one of a kind. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him, and there is nothing that makes him happier than helping St. Jude and teaching his five grandchildren about this hospital. Because of him, we all keep St. Jude so very close to our hearts. 

St. Jude’s Mission Statement

The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.

I first participated in the St. Jude Leadership Society when I was a freshman in high school. I was one of the youngest students present, and visiting the hospital for that first time changed everything for me. I became more grateful for all of the work that my family has done to support this wonderful facility. At that time, I also learned that everyone can play a role in helping St. Jude, no matter one’s occupation or college major. Even though I have no clue as to what I want to do when I am older, I do know that with God’s help I will always stay involved with the St. Jude mission. 

Continue reading “Fenwick Student Stands Against Childhood Cancer”

Legalized Pot Could be a ‘Scary Bag’ for the U.S. Health-care System

As legal weed looms in Illinois (January 1, 2020), a Fenwick alumnus and medical doctor warns that the effects of recreational marijuana usage often are shrouded in smoke screens.

By Dr. Albert Mensah ’82

Greetings, Fenwick Family. My name is Dr. Albert Mensah, and I am a proud Fenwick alumnus — a member of the graduating class of 1982. I can say without hesitation, that my time at Fenwick provided an outstanding academic and spiritual foundation for the life that was ahead of me: a life that has included medical school; opening and successfully running (with the help of an outstanding business partner and colleague) a medical clinic that specializes in cognitive health, speaking engagements and teaching/training opportunities around the world; and, most importantly, a rich and fulfilling family life. I am most thankful that Fenwick has been, and continues to be, an important part of my life.

My reason for writing to you today, however, goes far beyond wanting to express my gratitude for the opportunity to be part of the Fenwick community. Rather, I want to share with my Fenwick family some concerns that several members of the mental healthcare community, including myself, have felt compelled to be outspoken about lately, given the recent direction taken by lawmakers regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Stated simply, marijuana is not the benign substance that many in the media and the legislature have made it out to be. Its effects can be quite devastating, and as it becomes more readily available, we anticipate a significant rise in the medical and social problems that are connected to regular marijuana use. For example, the American Academy of Family Practice recently cited several studies that link marijuana to the development of schizophrenia.

These studies indicate that regular users are six times more likely to develop and exhibit schizophrenic* symptoms. These same studies also point to decreased motivation, increased lethargy and a lack of focus and mental clarity that persists beyond the time that a user is “high.” Other studies point to a correlation between marijuana use and reproductive difficulties, particularly in males. These studies indicate that regular male users of marijuana have an exceptionally high risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED), and that medications such as Viagra and Cialis are ineffective in treating marijuana induced ED symptoms.

*Schizophrenia is a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.

Even though full recreational marijuana use laws do not go into effect in Illinois until January 1, 2020, we are already seeing the results of a more relaxed atmosphere and increased availability in our clinic, Mensah Medical, located in Warrenville, IL. At Mensah Medical, we specialize in the natural treatment of psychological, cognitive, and neurological health disorders. We identify the biochemical imbalances that most frequently contribute to those disorders and prescribe nutrient therapy to overcome those imbalances. We regularly treat patients who come to us with Autism, ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, OCD, Eating Disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, Dyslexia, Parkinson’s and several others.

Of late, we are seeing a significant increase in the number patients with Schizophrenia, and far too often, those patients indicate that their symptoms started or worsened as they began or increased their use of marijuana. It is important to note that the vast majority of these patients are young males between the ages of 18 and 27.

Apathy: the real cost

We certainly recognize that there is another side to this debate. We are aware that many people have used illegally obtained marijuana for years with few obvious or lasting side effects. We acknowledge that there are medical cases, such as cancer and chronic disease, in which controlled, physician-monitored use may make marijuana a viable and effective pain-management option. We also recognize that combatting the illegal distribution of marijuana leads to costly law enforcement efforts and the incarceration of many non-violent offenders, most often from communities of color or economic disadvantage. There are reported state and local income-generation benefits that will come from taxing what is already a robust industry. 

Continue reading “Legalized Pot Could be a ‘Scary Bag’ for the U.S. Health-care System”