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”

Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values

A Forty-Niner alumnus and former Fenwick teacher reflects on the heels of his 70th class reunion.

By Jack Spatafora, PhD. ’49

In addition to reforming curricula, Fenwick alumnus Jack Spatafora, PhD. was a White House speech writer.

Everyone agrees that a good education is good for the nation. It gets thornier when it comes to defining a ‘good education.’ For 90 years, Fenwick High School has been addressing this issue the best way it knows how: by graduating hundreds of students each year equipped with both the academic and moral gifts needed to become the kind of citizens our complex times’ need.

From Aristotle to Aquinas to Jefferson, the ideal citizen is one who knows not only what to think but also how to think: clearly, logically, passionately. I experienced this at Fenwick, first as a student and then as a teacher. The day General MacArthur was accepting the surrender of Japan in September 1945, I was entering the old Scoville Avenue entrance as a freshman. Seven years later, I returned to teach U.S. History. That is experiencing Fenwick from both ends of the classroom!

Jack Spatafora as a Fenwick junior in 1948.

Fenwick was much smaller and less equipped during the 1950s, and yet it was already sending some of the best and brightest into post-World War II America. Young men equipped and motivated with three of the academic tools most required for good citizenship: 1) facts, 2) ideas and 3) values:

  1. As a faculty, we had this funny notion that there were facts, not alternative facts, be it science, math or history. Facts are stubborn, objective things that the student needs to confront, process and use in reaching conclusions. 
  2. When properly assessed and connected, facts become the essence of ideas. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
  3. There is a third feature to good citizenship: values. If facts and ideas are essential as a foundation, values are the super-structure to the edifice — including respect for truth, honor, country and God. The ideal citizen embraces each, both profoundly and efficaciously. For as Alexander Hamilton put it: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Mr. Spatafora’s Fenwick Faculty photo from 1957.

Gazing back over these last 70 years, this is some of what I proudly remember. Both as a member of the Fenwick student body and later the Fenwick faculty. You might say I was twice blessed. Frankly, I say it all the time.

Continue reading “Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values”

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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FACULTY FOCUS: Fenwick Theology & Film Teacher John Paulett

Renaissance Man: Clevelander, Golden Apple winner and Fenwick Theology/Film Teacher for the past 12 years, Mr. Paulett also is a writer, musician and theater aficionado.

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Mr. Paulett enjoying his vacation in Paris, France, this summer.

What is your educational background?                  

JP: My undergraduate degree was in Linguistics and Classical Languages from Georgetown University. I have a Master’s degree in Theology from Felician University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. During my Golden Apple Sabbatical, I began a doctoral program in religious studies at Northwestern University.

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

JP: I taught for 10 years while I was in my twenties — at Lake Catholic High School in Cleveland and then at Kent State University, where I was doing doctoral work in theater and film. I then left teaching for family reasons and went into business. I had planned to work in business for two years but it turned into 25 years. I had always planned to return to teaching. When my daughter was through college, I had my opportunity and joined Fenwick.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?               

JP: I always have several books going at the same time. Right now, I am reading David Brooks’ new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. I am also reading a history of the Second World War in the Aleutian Islands. Rounding that out is Wasn’t That a Time? — the story of the folk singing group The Weavers. 

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

JP: I am a theater fanatic. In most weeks, I attend two or three performances. I love opera and subscribe to the Lyric Opera. I also subscribe to the Chicago Symphony, the Music of the Baroque and three theater companies. I fill in the other nights with smaller theaters and films at the Gene Siskel Center. I am a writer (I have four books published) and am active writing almost every day. I have a new book in progress that I hope to finish by fall. I play music (guitar, banjo, mandolin) and usually pick up an instrument for a few minutes every day.

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

JP: When I was in high school [at St. Ignatius in Cleveland], I was a member of the Debate Team and was fortunate to have some success. I was also in the theater. I acted in several plays and, during my senior year, wrote and directed a play. I sang in the choir and played in a rock band. I was a dreadful athlete and got cut from every sport I attempted. I wrote for the school newspaper and, for a while, published an underground newspaper. The teachers caught me running this off on the mimeograph machine and the paper was ended.

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

JP: I have moderated a variety of groups at Fenwick. I was the chess coach and the moderator of Touchstone [the student literary magazine] for several years. I directed the spring musical and was music director for Banua. I have been the moderator of the Photography Club for the last few years. Next year, I will guide the new Film Club.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

JP: Fenwick students generally have a seriousness of purpose that sets them apart. I teach Moral Theology. In that class, we study philosophers such as Kant, Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Most students will not encounter these thinkers until junior year of college. Fenwick students deal with this advanced content with thoughtfulness and diligence.

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

JP: I was deeply affected by several teachers in high school, probably none more than my speech teacher Mr. William Murphy. He was an intense, rigorous and sometimes difficult man who drove, excited, demanded and inspired his students. I suppose that my desire to become a teacher started with a hope to be like Murph. I have been very blessed in my life, and I think I have an obligation to give back. Teaching has been the best way I have found to return what I have been given.

Continue reading “FACULTY FOCUS: Fenwick Theology & Film Teacher John Paulett”

Alumni Friars Teaching in Academia

It’s “cool” to be smart at Fenwick, and these Ph.D. scholars have taken their intellectual talents to a higher level as university professors.

By Mark Vruno

Fenwick instructors have honed developing minds of highly intelligent people over thecourse of 90 school years. From physics and politics to English and French, some of those students took their passions for learning to the next level by pursuing research, education and scholarship at some of the world’s most prestigious private and public universities.

Holder Hall at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, where two Fenwick alumni teach.

At Princeton, the Ivy League research school with New Jersey roots dating back to 1746, two Fenwick alumni-turned-professors can be found teaching on campus: Thomas Duffy ’78 (geophysics) and John Mulvey ’64 (operations research/financial engineering). In Boston, Professor William Mayer ’74 has been a political-science guru at Northeastern University (established in 1898) for the past 28 years. After Fenwick, Mayer attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from which he also earned a Ph.D. (in 1989). “I don’t like to move,” he dead-pans, “plus my wife loves the New England area.”

On the West Coast, one of Prof. Duffy’s classmates, Larry Cahill ’78, is a neuroscientist and professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California at Irvine. And in the Midwest, Robert Lysak ’72 is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis – Saint Paul.

Additionally, two members of the Class of 1961 were college professors and are now retired: Terrence Doody (English Literature) at Rice University in Houston and Thomas Kavanagh (French), most recently at Yale University in Connecticut. Another Professor Emeritus isJohn Wendt ’69, who taught Ethics and Business Law at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) for 30 years. (Read more about them.) Spread out geographically across the United States, Fenwick is the common denominator for these seven Ph.D.’s and college professors. Read on for a glimpse at their impressive works.

A Computing Love Affair

John Mulvey in 1964.

John Mulvey is a professor within Princeton’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) Department, which he founded. He also is a founding member of the interdisciplinary Bendheim Center for Finance as well as the Statistics and Machine Learning Center at the university. Mulvey is captivated by the ongoing revolution in information and machine-learning. The ORFE Department focuses on the foundations of data science, probabilistic modeling and optimal decision-making under uncertainty. “Our world is a very uncertain place,” he stresses.

The work Mulvey does has applications throughout the service sector, including in communications, economics/finance, energy/the environment, health-care management, physical and biological sciences, and transportation. In the past, he has worked with aerospace/defense-technology firm TRW (now part of Northrop Grumman) to help solve military problems, including developing strategic models for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (U.S. Department of Defense).

“Today we work with major firms, including some of the largest investors in the world, which are interested in integrating their risk,” Mulvey explains. For example, “hedge funds and private-equity firms need to manage their portfolios over time to protect themselves. When the crash occurred in 2008, people thought they were diversified. The banking and finance world refers to systemic risk as contagion,” which is the spread of market changes or disturbances from one regional market to others.

Mulvey also analyzes data for supply-chain management, which he calls a “transformative industry. Production and distribution models were separate before,” he points out, “but we’ve brought it all together now. Amazon has built its whole system based on this commerce model.”

Prof. Mulvey at Princeton.

Machines running algorithms and computer optimization became passions for him at a relatively young age. At Fenwick, Mr. Edward Ludwig helped mathematics to make sense for young John. “He was an amazing math teacher,” Mulvey says of Ludwig. “His class was fantastic. I didn’t necessarily want to be an engineer but felt I could go into a technical area.

“In the 1960s we were at the cusp of computing, and the University of Illinois had one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at the time,” recalls Mulvey, who grew up on the West Side of Chicago and attended the old St. Catherine of Siena Parish. “That’s why I wanted to go there, and I fell in love with computing.”

The ILLIAC IV supercomputer is what drew Mulvey to the University of Illinois in the mid-1960s.

He next ventured west to study business administration at the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California (Cal), then earned a second master’s degree in management science in ’72 from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Three years later Mulvey completed his Ph.D. at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management. His dissertation topic, “Special Structures in Large Scale Network Models and Associated Applications,” won the 1976 American Institute of Decision Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Competition.

Mulvey taught for three years at the Harvard Business School and, 41 years ago, came to Princeton “to have an impact at a smaller school,” he says. (Princeton has some 5,200 under-grads.) “I came here to grow the basic, general engineering program for undergraduates.” The 72-year-old thoroughly enjoys his work: “If you had a job like mine, you wouldn’t want to retire.”

Continue reading “Alumni Friars Teaching in Academia”

Baseball Alumni Playing in College

19 of Coach Hogan’s boys are running the bases at the next level.

FENWICK FACT: 19 Friars’ alumni student-athletes are playing baseball collegiately this spring. Ian Crowell ’16 (not pictured) is a pitcher from Elmhurst who plays for the Boston University Terriers’ Club Team. Three others also are not pictured:
  • Oak Parker Zack Pacer ’17, an outfielder for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Scarlet Hawks.
  • Owen Wauun ’18, a catcher from Western Springs who plays for the DePauw University Tigers out of Greencastle, Indiana.
  • KJ Slepicka ’18 (River Forest), is a pitcher/outfielder for the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Fightin’ Engineers in Terre Haute, Indiana.Here are the other former Friars players still playing:
Class of 2015

Quinn Snarskis (Chicago), Pitcher –  University of Illinois

Kevin Forde (Western Springs), Pitcher  – St. Joe’s/ Valparaiso (injured)

Justin Rodriguez (Wood Dale), Catcher – Concordia University of Chicago (River Forest) 

Class of 2016

Sean Herbert (Riverside), Pitcher – Viterbo University (La Crosse, Wisconsin)

Class of 2017

Anthony Cavalieri (Western Springs), Middle Infield – Lewis University (Joliet, Illinois)

Mike Fiorito (Franklin Park), Infield – Cornell College (Iowa)

Ethan Gerstner (Riverside), Catcher – University of Wisconsin at La Crosse

Casey O’Laughlin (Glen Ellyn), Outfield – Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois)

Justin Sosa (Chicago), Pitcher – Benedictine University (Lisle, Illinois)

Continue reading “Baseball Alumni Playing in College”

79th Edition of March Madness Has Fenwick Ties

Three Fenwick Friars are among the teams selected for the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments this year.

By Mark Vruno

Loyola-Chicago (28-5) won the Missouri Valley Conference this season and punched its ticket to the Big Dance. (Chicago Tribune photo)

The 2018 edition of March Madness commences today as the NCAA Basketball Tournament play-in games tip off. There’s still a buzz coming from Rogers Park on the North Side of Chicago, where the Loyola University men’s team is in the “Big Dance” for the first time in more than 30 years (since 1985). Presently, there are 17 Friars enrolled at Loyola, including Kevin Latz ’16, who exclaims, “Students are more excited about Loyola basketball than ever before! I know some students who are even flying to Texas for their first game. A lot of students are talking about watching their basketball games for the first time, which is great for school spirit.” Latz and his classmates are cheering loudly for the 11th-seeded Ramblers, which take on the 6th-seeded Miami Hurricanes on Thursday afternoon at 2:10 p.m. in Dallas.

Fifty-five years ago, the Ramblers defeated Mississippi State to win the National Championship amid Civil Rights tension.

Fenwick’s own math-teaching whiz Roger Finnell ’59 was a student on campus in the early 1960s, when the Ramblers won the National Championship. Mr. Finnell’s memories of that special time:

“1963 was my senior year at Loyola. I remember everyone being amazed at all of the really good teams we were beating, including Ohio State early in the season — sort of like how Loyola first got noticed this season when they upset Florida, ranked top 5 at the time.

“First semester I was in a tough Political Science class with two basketball bench players. They did not survive to be eligible second semester!

“I remember the night of the championship game. It was a Saturday night, and the game was only on the radio with a television replay that night at around 10:00. Certainly nothing like the coverage these days.

“I remember the famous story of when we were going to play Mississippi or Mississippi State in an early tournament game. The Mississippi governor was threatening not to let the team play us because we had African-Americans on the team (four of five starters). Their coach literally snuck the team out of the state a day early to prevent the governor from blocking their travel to the game site.

“The championship game was very exciting to listen to and very close all the way. I remember the play-by-play announcer (Red Rush?) going wild when we won in overtime.

“I believe the present Loyola team is only one victory shy of matching the 1963 win total. Go Ramblers!”

Selection Sunday

Planek and the “other” Friars are in!

The Friars of Providence College punched their ticket to the 2018 NCAA Division I Tournament by beating Creighton in overtime in the Big East Tourney quarter-finals last Thursday. Fenwick double-Friar Tom Planek ’14, a 6’7″ senior forward on Provie’s men’s basketball team in Rhode Island, walked on and subsequently earned a scholarship. Those Friars have posted a win-loss record of 21-13 and lost an exciting overtime game to Villanova on Saturday night in the Big East Tournament. On Friday, their 10th-seeded team will play Texas A&M (#7 seed) at 11:15 a.m. in Charlotte, North Carolina (so-called West Region). Planek, who has seen action in 12 games to date this season, earned his bachelor’s degree in three years and will graduate this spring with an M.B.A. He is from Oak Park.

Danny Dwyer is the second of seven members of FHS’s Class of 2014 who played college basketball in the 2017-18 season. Dwyer is a 6’8” senior forward for the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), which won the Ivy league conference tourney on Sunday with a 68-65 victory over Harvard. In the Midwest bracket, the 16th-seeded Quakers will take on the mighty Kansas Jayhawks in the first round on Thursday at 1 p.m. in Wichita. Originally from River Forest, Dwyer has faced some health-related challenges this season but still is on the team.

Nixon’s MSU team is in the NCAA Division II Tourney.

Jamal Nixon is a 6’4” freshman guard for the Minnesota State Mavericks (Mankato) in the Northern Sun Conference; hometown: Plainfield. The 24-9 Mavs earned an at-large berth in the Division II NCAA Tournament and are seeded 8th in the Central Region. On Saturday they upset defending national champion Northwest Missouri State, then defeated Southwest Minnesota State 74-70 in the semifinal game on Sunday to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Next, they face Northern State (from South Dakota) for the region championship and a berth in the final eight. Tipoff is 7 p.m. on Tuesday night in Maryville, Missouri.

Nixon, Dwyer and Planek join these other Friars who hooped it up at the next level this season:

Continue reading “79th Edition of March Madness Has Fenwick Ties”

STEM Studies Can Lead to Biotech Careers

 

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Fenwick alumnus Ray Bandziulis says he has spent his entire, 28-year career in the biotech field. 

By Mark Vruno

Courses related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are some of the more popular classes among Fenwick’s student body. Several members of the Class of 2021, for example, are enrolled in Freshman AP (Advanced Placement) and Honors Biology taught by Ms. Amy Christophell ’06. They, along with upper-classmen and women, were treated last semester to a visit by a distinguished Friar alumnus and biotechnology expert Ray Bandziulis, PhD.,’76.

Dr. Bandziulis is Vice President of Quality Assurance & Regulatory Affairs at Lucigen Corp. in Middleton, WI, near Madison, where he helps to design and manufacture reagent tools for DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) research as well as molecular diagnostic devices for infectious diseases. With annual sales of approximately $15 million, the 20-year-old company now sells internationally. Bandziulis defines the biotech industry as “an interesting blend of science business and engineering skills – working together to solve problems in the life sciences and in human medicine by the application of DNA technology.”

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A scientist at work in the Lucigen lab near Madison, Wisconsin.

Essentially every cell within each person’s body contains the same hereditary DNA – and this is where the differences begin to emerge. “Our unique ‘DNA signature’ identifies us as individuals,” Bandziulis explained to four groups of about 150 curious Fenwick students assembled in the school’s Auditorium in mid-November. He returned to visit his alma mater and reconnect with John Polka, his former biology teacher who retired last June after 52 years at Fenwick. Continue reading “STEM Studies Can Lead to Biotech Careers”

Forever Friars: The Dobber

Fenwick High School periodically profiles people affiliated with our community who have since passed on …

Dan O’Brien ’34 (1917-2003)

Remembering DOB, “the Dobber:” a coaching/training legend affiliated with Fenwick for seven decades.

By Mark Vruno

In the basement of Fenwick High School sets the Dan O’Brien Natatorium. Our swimming Friars will host the 30th Annual Dan O’Brien Relays this coming January. Younger alumni and present-day students may wonder: Who was this O’Brien guy and why is he a such a legend at Fenwick?

DanOBrien_plaque

Dan O’Brien was more than a stellar swim/dive guru; he was versatile. DOB was a FHS student (Class of 1934) who then served as a physical education teacher at his alma mater. “Dan’s first Fenwick paycheck predated the Social Security system and had no social security withholding,” deadpans Jerry Lordan, PhD., who teaches social studies at Fenwick and wrote the preface for O’Brien’s oral history, a hardcover book entitled Fenwick Over the Years.

In 1937 Football Coach Tony Lawless hired O’Brien to lead his freshman team. Football was O’Brien’s first love in sports. In the fall of 1930, seven years earlier, Fenwick was only one year old. Dan was a scrawny, 128-pound freshman who showed up for tryouts at the new school, only to be snickered at by burly classmates and upper-classmen. “Sorry, son,” said Lawless, according to a 1972 Oak Leaves article. “I can’t use you. You’ve come out for the wrong team.”

O’Brien, however, was determined and refused to give up easily. Here’s how reporter Ted Londos recounted the story 42 years later:

“The kid faced the wise, young coach and replied firmly, ‘Mr. Lawless, I’ve come out for the team. You’ve asked for candidates. Here I am. You’ve got to give me a chance to show you what I can do.’ And so, to get rid of that reckless kid, Tony put him into a scrimmage – just for laughs. But on the first play, Coach Lawless’s eyes popped when he saw the tiny freshman bring a varsity giant down with a devastating tackle. Again he tried him out, and another regular bit the dust. Young Lawless shrugged his shoulders and decided to let the gutsy little guy hang around. ‘What’s your name?’ asked the coach.”

But the feisty O’Brien’s gridiron career with the Fighting Friars was short-lived. As a sophomore he suffered severe medical complications from the surgical removal of a kidney, which kept 15-year-old Daniel out of school for an extended period of time in 1931-32. “His surgeon warned him that the procedure may either fail and/or kill him,” Lordan later learned. “Dan outlived the surgeon and saw the surgeon’s grandchildren (twin boys) attend Fenwick.”

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Dan O’Brien circa 1954.

 

Fast-forward 45 years, to when two of his former swimmers-turned-doctors came to O’Brien’s aid. “I had come back to Chicago in 1977,” recalls Leonard Vertuno ’57, M.D., a Loyola-educated nephrologist (kidney specialist), “and Pete Geis knocked on my door.” Dr. Peter Geis ’60 was a transplant surgeon and an All-State swimmer three years ahead of Vertuno at Fenwick. “Pete said, ‘Dan needs a doctor, and you’re it.’”

So began a reuniting of player and coach – and an adult friendship that would span more than a quarter-century. It was Dr. Vertuno who would give the eulogy at Dan O’Brien’s funeral in 2003. “He was an amazing man,” the retired doc said in early November from Sarasota, FL. “Dan was renowned nationally and internationally. He chose to stay at Fenwick and work with Tony [Lawless].”

From field to pool

Continue reading “Forever Friars: The Dobber”