Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall

By Tim Fitzpatrick ’71

Tim Fitzpatrick afront East Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate as a Fenwick junior in 1970. (The gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution.)

I first visited Berlin in 1970 on a Fenwick High School language trip with Father Nicholas Aschenbrener, O.P.  After living through the 1960s’ Berlin Wall crisis with John. F. Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner Speech” and experiencing the wall in person, I joined the United States Army.  I returned as an infantry officer in 1980 and my twin boys, Tim and Danny, were born in Berlin.  I had previously led Cold War staff rides in Berlin for students in the Department of Defense Executive Leadership Development Program NATO deployments. In September 2018, son Danny, one-year-old grandson Asher and Shawna’s parents were able to watch Danny’s wife Shawna complete the Berlin Marathon, which I had done while stationed in Berlin. 

Fitz (left) at Glienicke Brucke (Bridge of Spies) in 1980.

The Berlin House of Representatives sponsors the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, founded in 1994.  The foundation runs the Welcome Home program to sponsor U.S. Military veterans to return to Berlin, to share their story with Berlin schools, government and other organizations, and for them to experience Berlin as it has emerged from the Cold War into a very lively city.

I was privileged to be the group leader for nine U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Berlin veterans, representing a good cross-section of America, whose service in Berlin spanned from 1959 to 1993, greater than the life of the Berlin Wall itself.  For each of us, the shared common bond and deep emotions about our service in Berlin, and connection to Berliners, caused us to form almost instantly into a tight-knit group.

We stayed in the Hotel Air, Berlin center near the “KeDeWe” department store. We had a warm and gracious “Welcome Home” dinner at the Europa Center’s Kartoffelkisten. On Saturday 11 May we started our tour at the Glienicker Brucke (Bridge of Spies) and a tour of the Russian Colony, Potsdam (including Sanssouci Palace), culminating with a tour of Cecilianhof Palace where the Potsdam conference at the end of WWII was held.

Fitz (left) with 98-year-old retired U.S. Army Air Corps/Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen. “Hal” is best known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and gained fame for dropping candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

What made this year’s tour so exciting was the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift and the following reception in our old Outpost Theater, now Allied Museum, which allowed us to shake the hand of the famous Berlin Airlift “Candy Bomber” Colonel (USAF, Ret.) Gail Halvorsen (98 years old!). The host was the German Minister of Defense, who gave a very moving speech about the Allies saving Berlin and about the importance of Freedom – Freiheit! She awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan. After receiving his medal he joined the BUSMVA vets for some soldier stories. The evening concluded with an honor guard and serenade by the Luftwaffe band and troops.

“Candy Bomber” Col. Halvorsen (later commander of Tempelhof Air Force Base), speaks at the wreath laying for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift.

On Sunday 12 May, we participated in the wreath-laying commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the End of the Berlin Airlift at the Luftbrucke Memorial at Tempelhof. Col. Halvorsen was the featured speaker along with senior representatives of Germany, Berlin and all participating Allied nations. A reception followed, with a greeting of Airlift veterans, other dignitaries, and ourselves by the Berlin Governing Mayor in the main Tempelhof terminal hall. An interpretive music and dance performance held at the Columbia Theater (former US Air Force base theater) featured children from Berlin’s Gail Halvorsen School and the Stiftung Luftbrückendank (Airlift Gratitude Foundation founded in 1959 by Willy Brandt). Daniel de la Fuentes performed an original work “Flying for Freedom.” You could see these things done in their honor having a profound effect on Airlift veterans of each nation. Most stayed to enjoy the mass celebration under the Templehof aircraft awning. The USAFE Band played, dressed in WWII-era, Glenn Miller band uniforms to huge crowds, with an Airlift museum set up in a the hanger. Tempelhof is no longer an active airfield but a massive park where thousands of people play and stroll.

The Minister of Defense awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson (the decorated one!) for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan.

Monday 13 May we toured our former headquarters, Clay Compound, and McNair Barracks. Almost all is recognizable, but where we once did PT, or stood formation or lined up our reaction platoon armored vehicles, children now play — and the buildings are apartments. Throughout there are little memorials to our presence and the streets have retained their U.S. names. Andrews Barracks now houses the German National Archives and has some new buildings. While an archives employee was telling us about the buildings, it was fun to watch their little fork lift go by still marked “U.S. Army!”

“Ich bin ein Berliner” is a speech by United States President John F. Kennedy given on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. It is widely regarded as the best-known speech of the Cold War and the most famous anti-communist speech.

We ate lunch at the Schoneberg Rathause, made famous by President Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) speech. It houses a research library dedicated to memorializing those apprehended and killed by the Nazis. Students do the research and a Stolperstein (stumble stone) is embedded near the entrance of where the victim were last free. This stumble stone is a paver with a brass top engraved with their name, date of arrest and where they were murdered. Every time you touch one, you remember that person, what happened to them, and why the United States was in Berlin.

Stolperstein is a “stumbling stone,” (3.9 in × 3.9 in) concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.
Continue reading “Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall”

Fenwick Launches Engineering and Innovation Laboratory

Facility represents the ‘stem’ of flowering course offerings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

By Mark Vruno

Science Department Co-chair Mr. Dave Kleinhans (right) works with a student on a laptop computer in the new STEM-focused facility.

Fenwick High School has ushered in its 91st academic year with a new Engineering & Innovation Laboratory. At the Open House in late September, prospective students and their families had an opportunity to see the modular classroom (Room 57), which features 25 new drafting and programming laptop computers, six 3D printers and five interactive, “smart” monitors. These technology equipment upgrades are a major part of the more than $70,000 investment in the refurbished lab space.

“We are teaching in the lab to packed computer-science classes,” Science Dept. Co-chair Dave Kleinhans reports. In an effort to prepare students for business and STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) degrees in college, he adds, many of these courses were co-developed with a University of Illinois, student-run consulting organization. At professional-development sessions in mid-September, faculty members received training on the three-dimensional (additive-manufacturing) printers. 

Principal Peter Groom adds, “The development of our Computer Science curriculum has been a collaborative effort. We put a lot of faith in our faculty, and they really ran with it. In some cases, our teachers took existing courses and tailored them to the 21st-century world,” Mr. Groom explains. “In other cases, we started brand new courses. The opening of the new lab is just the beginning of a facilities transformation that will allow our excellent CS/Physics faculty to maximize the student experience.”

Fenwick’s Engineering & Innovation Lab “is what software labs look like at some of the companies I still communicate with in the private sector,” notes Kleinhans, who started up three software firms over two decades before embarking on a career change to become a teacher. IBM (Cognos) acquired one of his companies, but Kleinhans insists that teaching and mentoring young people bring him far more satisfaction and joy “than any bonus check for selling a company or being a CEO.”

Mr. Don Nelson (center) joined the Fenwick faculty this year to help run the computer-science segments of the new lab.

Joining the Fenwick faculty for this school year is Donald Nelson, who is “taking over a lot of our CS [computer science] classes,” according to Kleinhans. “Principal Groom made a great, strategic new hire in Nelson,” Kleinhans believes. “Don is a 30-year business person/nuclear engineer who wants to be involved with students as a second career.” Nelson, who previously has taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology and DePaul Prep, holds a B.S. in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.S. in computer science engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

Student input and involvement

“It was inspiring to watch Dave Kleinhans empower recent graduates and current Friars to be project managers for the new lab,” adds Math Teacher and alumnus Kevin Roche ’05.Kevin Brosnan ’20, Spencer Gallagher ’19 and Jack Vomacka ’18 [helped] make it all happen. They met with architects, researched the best equipment, presented to the Board and even were present for the painting and carpeting subcontractors to ensure the job got done. That was my favorite part of it all: those three gain valuable project-management experience thanks to Dave.

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Alumni Spotlight: John Giannini, PhD., Class of 1980

Coach G. taught and motivated players on basketball’s big stage for 22 years, including one special season when his La Salle U. team ‘danced’ to the Sweet 16.

By Mark Vruno

As basketball season draws nearer, Fenwick alumnus John Giannini ’80 gets antsy. He hears the echo of his whistle and the orange, leather balls bouncing in the gym, but those sounds now are memories thumping in his head. It’s only natural because this past year marked the first time in 30 seasons that he was not coaching a college basketball team.

For 14 years (2004-18), Giannini, who was raised in Elmwood Park, IL, was head coach of the La Salle University men’s basketball team, an NCAA Division I program in Philadelphia. Giannini quickly turned the program around when, in his second year, the 2005-06 Explorers set a school record for Atlantic 10 Conference wins and tallied their first winning season in 13 years. Coach G. was named as a candidate for the National Coach of the Year. In 2011-12, La Salle won 21 games and was asked to participate in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).

A year later, the Explorers punched a ticket to the lauded NCAA Tournament, where they were seeded 13th in their region. They defeated Boise State in the opening round, and then beat Kansas State and Ole Miss. The run ended in the Sweet 16, where La Salle fell to Wichita State. The team finished with a No. 24 national ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Before La Salle, Coach Giannini built up the program at Rowan University in New Jersey. He led the team to a pair of Division III Final Four appearances, in 1993 and 1995, before the “Profs,” as they are known, won the small-college national championship in ’96. Coach G. came to the NJ school in 1989 by way of the University of Illinois, where he served for two seasons as a graduate assistant on Lou Henson’s coaching staff. (The 1988-89 Fighting Illini (31-5) danced their way through the NCAA Tournament, past Syracuse and all the way to the Final 4 in Seattle.)

Following his success at Rowan, Giannini accepted the head coaching position at the University of Maine, where he stayed for eight years. Under him on the hardwood, the Black Bears enjoyed a 20-win season, which never had before happened, and then another. Giannini achieved the best career winning percentage in school history. Over the course of his 29-year collegiate head coaching career, he compiled an overall record of 508 victories and 375 defeats.

Coaching path

Giannini (right) looks to pass to a Friar teammate.

Coach and his wife, Donna, have two daughters, but Giannini grew up with boys. The oldest of four brothers, he is a “Double Friar,” playing football and basketball at St. Vincent Ferrer in River Forest before enrolling at Fenwick in 1976. “I looked up to Fenwick’s coaches and athletes,” Giannini recalls. As a 13-year-old, the late coach “George Badke met with me, and I felt like I was meeting George Halas.” (“Papa Bear” was, of course, coach/owner of the Chicago Bears.)

“People thought Fenwick was the best school academically in the area, but I was not a motivated student at all in grade school,” Giannini admits. Even in high school, he says, he was “clearly in the bottom half of my class. But I was far more prepared for college and life after than I ever realized.” Why? The coach points to two primary factors:

  1. “I had wonderful, passionate teachers at Fenwick.”
  2. “I also had really motivated, smart classmates, so I had to keep up!”

Most importantly, though, he believes, “Fenwick taught me how to live. We were encouraged to leave Fenwick with a philosophy of life at age 18. I knew what was important to me.”

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Alumni Spotlight: Steve Twomey ’69

With his 50th Fenwick Reunion one month away, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author reflects on his days as a Friar.

By Mark Vruno

(Photo by Steve Hockstein/ HarvardStudio.com.)

Friar alumnus Steve Twomey ’69 is busy researching and writing, again — this time, for another book about World War II. And, he’s thinking. Twomey thinks a lot about, well, thought. Blame all that insight and thoughtfulness on Fenwick, he says.

“I took a course in high school that I loved. I think it was a religion class. Its premise was logic and explaining the rational processes by which we think,” recalls Twomey, a retired reporter/journalist and present author/freelance writer who has taught journalism at New York University. “At Fenwick we discussed the fallacies of logic and the traps that people get into with their thinking,” he relates. “This information was imparted on my brain forever.” (He also remembers classmates throwing fetal pigs on Scoville Ave. from the top window of a science classroom, while young Biology Teacher John Polka tried to remain calm. However, that’s a story for another article!)

Twomey began his career in journalism as a weekend copyboy at the Chicago Tribune as a 16-year-old kid. An uncle worked in the business office there and helped him land the summer job. “I loved being in a newsroom where people were finding out things,” he admits. Young Steve was hooked.

“I’ve distributed words for 30 years,” Twomey declared 15 years ago, upon occasion of Fenwick’s 75th anniversary. “You might not like journalism — so many folks don’t, be they of the political Left or Right,” he added then, somewhat prophetically. “But ever since Fenwick, being a newspaper guy has seemed the perfect way to sate a lust to know stuff, to see my name in black-and-white and to get paid for both.” 

Over the course of a 27-year media career Twomey traveled extensively and:

  • shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II aboard her yacht;
  • drank tea with Polish labor activist/politician Lech Walesa in his Warsaw apartment;
  • took cover in the Sahara Desert from shellfire from Polisario rebels.

In 2016 he published Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The 12 Days to the Attack (365 pages; Simon & Schuster), which traces the miscommunications, faulty assumptions and foul-ups that led to the ill-fated “day which will live in infamy” 78 years ago this December.

A critical thinker

A sweet 16 years have passed since Fenwick inducted Twomey into the its Hall of Fame. His prestigious Pulitzer recognition in journalism (feature writing/reporting category for the Philadelphia Inquirer while in Paris, France) came in 1987 for his illuminating profile of life aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. America, which had launched planes that took part in a United States’ attack on Libya in mid-1986. Twomey, who was 35 years old when he won his Pulitzer Prize, wrote about daily life for the mega ship’s personnel. He also questioned the strategic value of the U.S. military/government spending $500,000 a day (at the time, 32 years ago) to operate the massive vessel.

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Collegiate Friars: August 2019

Catching up with two young alumni from the Class of 2017: Rachel McCarthy, recently back from Japan, and Ellis Taylor, an American footballer in NYC.

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Rachel McCarthy (shown here in Tokyo) will be a junior at Illinois Wesleyan University in downstate Bloomington.

Fenwick Graduation: 2017

Hometown: Riverside

Grade School: St. Mary School

Current School:  Illinois Wesleyan University

Current Major: English Literature and Psychology

Summer Internship: This summer I was a teaching assistant at Technos College, where I spent an unforgettable seven weeks living in Tokyo and helping English students practice conversations/interviews with a native speaker. I also did a lot of behind-the-scenes planning for the college’s annual cultural exchange event with 10 other sister universities from around the world. 

Career aspirations: I’ve looked at a few different career options in the past two years, but right now I’m exploring the possibility of being an English professor. I’ve always had an interest in academia, and my experience at Technos College taught me the joys of working one-on-one with students to help them blossom. 

Fenwick Achievements/Activities: Lawless Scholar, Illinois State Scholar, Girls Cross Country, Blackfriars Guild and Novel Writing Club co-founder.

Fenwick teacher who had the most influence on you: A better question might be who didn’t inspire me, but one teacher I do think of on a regular basis is Mr. Arellano. Though his speech class was tough, the way he cared for each and every one of his students was readily apparent, and I still think of his encouraging feedback whenever I have to give a major presentation.

Fenwick class that had the most influence on you: My junior year AP Language and Composition class was pivotal in shaping me as a writer. That class pushed me to write critically about a wide range of fascinating, real-world topics, and I loved the freedom we were given to pursue our own interests. As I prepare to spend a year studying English as a visiting student at Oxford University, my heavily annotated APLAC textbook remains a valuable guide to this day.

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Faculty Focus: August 2019

Getting to know Science Instructor and alumna Elizabeth Timmons ’04, who is entering her ninth year of teaching at Fenwick.

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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.

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Collegiate Friars: July 2019

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OLIVIA EVANS

Fenwick Graduation: 2018
Hometown: La Grange, IL
Grade School: St. John’s Lutheran
Current School: The University of Wisconsin-Madison
Current Major: Animal Science (Pre-Vet)

Summer Internship: I do not have a formal internship through the university this summer, but I work as a groom for a few Argentine polo pros. I gain experience through working with the horses as well as by assisting the vet when the horses need treatment. I am also involved in a biomedical research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This lab work will extend through my entire undergraduate schooling.

Career aspirations: I aspire to go to go to vet school.

Fenwick achievements/activities: I was a member of the National Honors Society, Tri-M Honors Society, Friar Mentors, was an Illinois State Scholar, a Eucharistic minister and was on the State Team for WYSE. I also ran track for three years and was in choir for four years.

Fenwick teacher who had the most influence on you: Mr. Kleinhans had the most influence on me. I learned a great deal in his physics class, but most of all I learned from his example as a role model, teacher, mentor and WYSE coach. Some of my favorite class memories are from his “feel good Fridays” where he connected life experience to prayer and the importance of being a genuine person while working hard and enjoying life.

Fenwick class that had the most influence on you: AP Biology with Mr. Wnek was one of my many favorite classes. Mr. Wnek is a fantastic teacher, and what I learned set me up for success in college biology and other lab work.

Fenwick experience you would like to live again: I would relive the whole experience. From classes, sports and clubs, to friends, I had a great experience at Fenwick. I am extremely grateful for the community and for the way it set me up for success in college and in the future. I am thankful for the relationships I formed with teachers and the way that impacted my growth as a student and as a person.

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What a Father Means to Me

In a post-Father’s Day reflection, a Fenwick senior remembers his late father – and thanks his big brother.

Fenwick soon-to-be senior Patrick Feldmeier wrote this essay for the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative. Patrick was honored, along with his older brother, Danny (Class of 2018), on June 6 at the Union League Club in Chicago.

By Patrick Feldmeier ’20

“One, two, three: Hi Daddy, we love you and we miss you.” (Mom always adds, ‘You’re in my heart, Sweetie.’)

Patrick (left) and Danny Feldmeier with their Dad, Bob, before his untimely death seven years ago.

These are the words my family says after grace every time we sit down for dinner. And simultaneously look at the open seat at the head of the table. Our hearts yearn for the man that God called up to Heaven seven years ago: Dad. It sends a shiver up my spine saying the word out loud, yet his presence still resonates in my family.

Every once in a while, his cologne can be smelled from his closet. His faded blue Ralph Lauren hat still hangs on the wall in my mom’s bedroom. His 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee may have finally been towed, but his K-Swiss “dad shoes” rest untouched in our mudroom. To say that Bob Feldmeier is a role model to me is an absolute understatement. Words will never express how much I miss him; how much I need him in my life; or how much I love him. Through my actions, I attempt to be like him every day.

Their father’s faded cap and “dad shoes” still can be found in the Feldmeier’s Western Springs home.

As a partner at Schiff Hardin, long hours seemed to swallow his work-week. Yet, somehow, someway, he always had time to play catch or take us to watch a White Sox game. After little-league games, my dad would take my brother and me out to “men’s dinners,” where he would teach us lessons such as, “It’s ok to admit it is cold, but it is not manly to complain about the cold.” He was also an avid Notre Dame alumnus and taught us the essence of hard work. The impression he left on me is what is most important. Through watching the way he treated my mom, my siblings and me, and kept God as a focal point in his life, I truly learned what it meant to be a father. His etiquette, manners and gentlemanliness are values I strive to model because I want my children to look up at me the way I look up to my Dad.

My father’s ultimate goal was for his family to live a life like his, which includes strong family bonds and an excellent, Catholic education. He continued to set an example of how to be a father and how to find strength through tragedy by protecting us until the very end.

Dad’s Gift of Peace

Robert Feldmeier
(1965-2012)

When he was first diagnosed with melanoma, he told my mother, “Do not tell the kids about my disease. I want to give them the gift of peace.” He truly was the perfect role model for a dad. It was more important to him to keep us happy and successful in life than for us to crumble under fear. His ultimate goal was for his family to live a life like his. Instead of succumbing to anger after his death, I honored his memory by achieving goals and setting the bar high for myself. I aspire to attend the University of Notre Dame, like him, and to provide for my family the same way that he did. His spirit lives on in my heart every day, and every day I thank God for one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me: my Dad. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from my Dad was that a man is not solely defined by his career and accomplishments, but by his display of love to his family. Perhaps that was why he was able to stay strong during his last days, because he truly had reached his ultimate goal of success in life: to love and be loved by his family.

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A Mother’s Legacy of Caring

A Fenwick alumna’s post-Mother’s Day reflection on how being a good neighbor means loving your neighbor as yourself.

By Quiwana Reed Bell ’96

The author’s mother, Jacqueline Reed, founded the Westside Health Authority in 1990.

I was born the snowy winter of 1979 in Maywood, Illinois, to Jacqueline and Ronald Reed. My father, Ronnie, was born and raised a tough bi-racial kid from the west side of Chicago, near Pulaski and Roosevelt. My father never knew his mother.

My mother, Jackie, was born and raised in 1950 Natchez, Mississippi — a famous plantation town near the ports where slave-produced cotton and sugar cane was once exported. She is the oldest of seven children and grew up on family-owned land that also included homes for her grandparents (both paternal and maternal), aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors, who were like family. Her father, Oliver, was a handyman and janitor with a stuttering problem and a heart of gold; and her mother, Josephine, was a stern yet dignified seamstress who also worked for more than 20 years at the pecan factory. Her family of nine lived in a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house. They went to church on Sundays. They socialized and cared for each other. They didn’t have much but never felt poor. They were a community. And they were happy. 

Natchez, Mississippi, is about 850 miles south of Chicago.

My mother left Mississippi after high school, after having a child out of wedlock with a man who was unwilling to marry. She came to Chicago in the summer of 1969 to visit her Aunt Mavis, her dad’s older sister. She lived on 13th and Pulaski in a brick two-flat building on the west side of Chicago. Aunt Mavis had 10 children of her own with her entrepreneur husband Ed, who ran an auto mechanic shop. Although they owned the entire building, they lived in only one of the units which had two bedrooms, one bathroom and a back sun porch. Ten kids, two parents and now visiting cousin Jackie from Mississippi all in one unit. The block was lively. People sat on their stoops in the evenings for entertainment. The kids would play loudly up and down the streets.  Neighbors knew each other; supported each other; fought and gossiped about each other. It was a family. A community. And they were happy. 

During her summer-time visit, Jackie met Ronnie, who was a friend of her cousin Roger. They quickly fell in love and married only three months after meeting on February 14, 1970.  Jackie never returned to Mississippi to live. In Mississippi still was her infant son, Derek. He had stayed with her family while she traveled to Chicago. This was not a big deal. The family was seen as a unit. Jackie’s son Derek was not her property, but a member of a larger family unit where everyone contributes, supports and belongs.

Sharing brings happiness

This was a sentiment taught to my mother very early on in her childhood. She was born in segregated Mississippi where black people were still forced to live separately. This separation, however, was not all bad. Black communities had viable businesses — bakeries, dentist offices and insurance companies. It was a community where people looked out for one another. I would often hear stories of how if one person on the block killed a cow, then everyone on the block would have meat. Similarly, during my summers that I spent in Natchez, MS, I would often hear my grandmother say, “Go run this pot of greens that I picked and cooked over to Ms. ‘So and So’s house.” It was natural to share. It was natural to help others. It brought happiness. My mom never felt poor. She didn’t have a lot of fear and anxiety. Her family lived in peace. Even amid all the stuff going on in the world — they were shielded in “their community.”

A riverboat lights up the Mighty Mississippi near Vidalia, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi.

Black folks have always had to be communal with each other in America in order to survive: 

  • We had to help each other as we were packed like cargo at the bottom of slave ships.
  • We had to help each other as we sang songs together in the long days in the hot cotton fields in Mississippi.
  • We had to help each other as we navigated our way through lynching and rape and beatings.
  • We had to support each other in demonstrations and boycotts fighting for equal rights.
  • We had to support each other through redlining/housing and employment discrimination.

Today we still have to support each other through families being ripped apart as a result of mass incarceration, disinvestment of neighborhood schools and economic opportunity, and the resulting crime that plagues our communities.

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Faculty Focus: Science Teacher Mr. Tom Draski

Science Teacher Tom Draski retired earlier in June. The biology fanatic, tennis coach and longtime Catholic Leaguer has spent the last 21 years of his career in education at Fenwick.

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What is your educational background?

TD: I have a bachelor of science degree in biological sciences [from Southern Illinois University] and a master of science degree in biology [from Chicago State University].

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

TD: I have always been a teacher and coach. I began my teaching/coaching career at St. Laurence H.S. where I taught biology and human anatomy/physiology. I started as the frosh/soph boys’ tennis coach and six years later became the varsity boys’ tennis coach. I came to Fenwick in 1998 where I have taught amazing students in biology and human anatomy/physiology. I have had the pleasure to coach both the boys and girls’ frosh/soph tennis teams. I was the Varsity Scholastic Bowl coach at Fenwick from 1999 to 2011. I have coordinated the Fenwick Quetico trip and the Fenwick Willis Tower stair walk fundraiser.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

TD: I tend to do more reading in the summer. The books I have read in the last few summers that I have enjoyed have been The Devil in the White City, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Shack, Mrs. Magrady’s book Lines and The Alchemist.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

TD: I love to do things outside. I enjoy gardening, camping, visiting state and national parks, and playing tennis. I also enjoy the creativity of cooking. I never use recipes.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

TD: As a student at De La Salle, I was involved in intramurals, the camera club, student government and, naturally, the Science Club.

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

TD: I have for 21 years, and still, coach the girls and boys’ frosh/soph tennis teams. Each year they provide excitement and great satisfaction. I have been able to bring the Quetico trip experience to Fenwick. Over the years I have taken hundreds of Friars to experience true nature.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

TD: I have been so impressed with Fenwick students. They strive for excellence in the class and in athletic competition. Students learn the great traditions of Fenwick. I have enjoyed my time with Fenwick students who are friendly, teachable and receptive to change.

When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

TD: Interestingly, a freshman in one of my classes asked that question a few months ago. My reply was that I thought teaching would be fun. There was no follow up question to my answer. Later, I relayed this story to Mr. Groom. He asked me the right follow up question. “Has it been fun?” My answer was a big “YES.” I have always enjoyed the stimulation of teaching in the class, in the labs, and on the tennis courts. I still do. When students and athletes can see you have a love and passion for what you do they respond with the effort they need for success. If you love what you do, you will never have to work a day in your life. Teaching and coaching have been magic.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

TD: I love to get excited for every topic I teach and coach and show passion in my teaching. Every class, every year, has been a chance to teach and coach a new story, to an inquisitive audience. Some days have been diamonds, some days have been stones. I strive to be fair, and teach for success.

What is your favorite class to teach?

TD: Definitely biology! It is what our lives are about. I want my students to understand they are citizens and stewards of our planet. We can control our health and affect the health of others around us. I hope my students understand that we are not alone on our planet, but together we make up a beautiful tapestry of life.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?

TD: When my students have experienced success when I encouraged them to think. I ask many questions in class as I teach. The answers to those questions are not as important as having my students think about possible answers. My students should not be afraid of a wrong answer, as they should know they can learn with a right or wrong answer. I encourage my students to reach conclusions on their own, then they can experience success on their own. I love and appreciate the personal notes I have gotten from students and athletes over the years. Whenever I read them, they inspire me and remind me of my humanity.

What challenges face students today?

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Science Teacher Mr. Tom Draski”