Students-Turned-Teachers Help to Advance the Friars’ Mission

Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?

By Mark Vruno

Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 38 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr./Coach Holmberg, who triples as the school’s clubs/activities director and the defensive coordinator of the varsity football team.

Alex Holmberg ’05

“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”

Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”

Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for more than five decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg:  “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Chair.

Roger Finnell in 1968.

“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Black Friars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”

Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012

Kevin Roche ’05

Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 55 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”

Grace Liliek ’08

Grace Lilek ’08, who is in her third year of teaching social studies at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Ms. Lilek, who also is a learning resource coordinator. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.” Lilek continues:

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The Fenwick Love Connection

On Valentine’s Day last month, the FHS Facebook page posted about how Cupid’s arrow struck the hearts of our ‘First Friar Couple.’ Turns out, romance is in the air more than we first thought!

By Mark Vruno

Father LaPata ’50 baptized the Ori’s son, Joseph Thomas, on March 11th in the Fenwick Chapel. Godparents are Janessa and Frank Perna. ’03.

With St. Patrick’s Day 2018 in the rear-view mirror, today is, of course, St. Joesph’s Day. In honor of the feast day of the patron of the universal church, fathers, families, married people and much more, here is a rundown of couples who are sweet on each other — and who have Fenwick in common.

The Keating children.

 

We thought that Brendan Keating ’97 and his wife, Christa Battaglia ’97, may be the first double-alumnus couple from Fenwick to have gotten married (based on their wedding date). Perhaps it is fitting this St. Paddy’s-St. Joe’s “long weekend” that theirs is one of several mixed, Irish-Italian romances. Brendan grew up in Oak Park and went to St. Bernadine’s, Fenwick and Loyola U. Christa is a St. Giles’ girl. The couple has two children, ages six and three.

The Thies Family

Fenwick Athletic Director Scott Thies ’99 and his wife  Lea (nee Crawford) ’03 are the proud parents of three children: two boys and girl. Admissions Director Joe Ori ’03 and his wife Jen (nee Morris) ’03, an English teacher for the Friars, in January celebrated the birth of their first child: a son, Joseph, Jr.

The Lileks gave thank for Baby Ernie this past Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

From the Class of 2005, Paul and Chrissy (Tallarico) Lilek welcomed home a baby boy, Ernest, born on Thanksgiving Day 2017. (In addition to being a new mother, Mrs. Lilek also is a new Spanish Teacher at Fenwick.)

Alex gave the new Holmbergs the thumbs up in November ’16.

 

 

Social Studies Teacher Alex Holmberg ’05 married former Fenwick English Teacher Georgia Schulte ’04 in November 2016. The couple is expecting their first child literally any day now (March 20 due date!). “I think Mr. Arellano may have introduced the Holmbergs and the Ori’s at our New Teacher Cohort Summer Orientation Program,” says Faculty Mentor Dr. Jerry Lordan.

Ryan Alexander Holmberg was born on St. Joseph’s Day: March 19, 2018.

Thanks to more than 20 alumni comments on Facebook, Friars and their friends have chimed in to inform us that there is at least a baker’s dozen more romances that blossomed within Fenwick’s hallowed halls and have matured, resulting in the holy sacrament of marriage:

Class of ’96:

John & Marianne (Palmer) Carrozza

The Fantasias have resided in the Cayman Islands for the past 13 years.

Anthony & Margaret (Arts) Fantasia were married in June 2004.  The couple currently lives with their three children (Isabella, 9; Leo, 7; and Joseph, 6) in the Cayman Islands.

Class of ’97:

Chris & Chrissy (Gentile) Carlson

Pat McMahon with his hands full.
Mina McMahon in the driver’s seat.

 

 

Patrick & Mina (McGuire) McMahon

Jeff & Suzanne (Sharp) Williams 

 

Class of ’98:

Larry and Katie Dolendi with their twins.

The Dolendis are married “but we didn’t date in high school or college,” writes Katie (Morelli) ’98. “It happened a in our mid-20s.” She and husband Larry Dolendi ’99 are the proud parents of six-year-old twins Reese and Riley.

TJ and Sue Maloney and family.

 

 

Andrea and Mike Mostardi ’98

Tim & Maureen (Goggin) Funke

TJ & Sue (Atella) Mahoney

Michael & Andrea (Geis) Mostardi

Class of ’99:

Lena and Kevin McMahon ’99

Kevin & Lena (Lloyd) McMahon

 

Class of ’00

Dan & Colleen (Dan) Doherty

 

Class of ’01:

Sam and Megan (Kenny) Kucia
The Kucia Family

“We never dated in high school, but we attended senior prom together and reconnected after college,” Megan reports. “We married in 2010, and we had more than 30 Fenwick alumni in attendance.”

Class of ’01 & ’02:

Paul & Jessie (Drevs) Wilhelm

The Wilhelm’s look of love.

 

“We met in Madame Schnabel’s French II Class back in 1999!” Jessie writes. “We still look back on the pictures of us both from the French Club’s trip to France (over the summer of 2000, I believe). Although we didn’t find our l’amour while at Fenwick, we reconnected after college and were married in 2014. We are both proud to be Fenwick alums, but even more so we are grateful to be as we may not have found one another otherwise.”

Class of ’02:

Dan & Kate (Maloy) Ferri

Mike & Edna (Romero) Tallarico

Brian & Erin (Jones) Megall

Ben & Roselyn (Chanchai) Swan

Class of ’04:

Father LaPata married the Flahertys in November 2016.

Kevin & Bianca (Reggi) Flaherty

David & Teresa (Nierzwicki) Pollitz

 

Class of ’05:

Patrick & Sondra (Tenorio) Healy

The Italian destination wedding of Meg Scanlon & Michael McGillen ’07 was featured in Vogue magazine.

 

 

 

 

Class of ’06:

Tim & Nanci (Reggi) Gallo

Michael & Meg (Scanlon) ’07 McGillen

Class of ’07:

Brian & Anastasia (Tesfaye) DeMaio

Class of ’09:

Alex & Kim (Nelson) Furth

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COACH CORNER: PETE KOWALCZUK, WRESTLING

Meet the former U.S. Olympic hopeful from Oak Park (OPRF) who is relentlessly pursuing a state title for Fenwick.

By Mark Vruno

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The first observation most people make upon meeting Pete Kowalczuk, Fenwick’s first-year Head Varsity Wrestling Coach, is that he is a very large man with a broad frame. When he still was competing five years ago, Kowalczuk wrestled as a 265-lb. heavyweight. That weight class was trimmed down by 20 pounds from his high school days at Oak Park River Forest, where he was named All-State and finished as the #2 heavyweight wrestler in Illinois as a senior in 2007. (For three seasons, he also played on both sides of the line for the Huskies’ football team.)

Wrestling is the sporting circle in which the K name is best known. In 2008 after high school, Kowalczuk placed fourth at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Greco-Roman wrestling and was a Junior World Qualifier at the Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées (FILA), which is the sport’s international governing body (and changed its name to United World Wrestling in 2014). Since his days of grappling on the mat officially ended five years ago, the XL man known by friends and former teammates as “Big Petey” answers to a different moniker: Coach K.

The 28-year-old still likes rolling around on the Wrestling Room floor at Fenwick and maybe even clamping on a vise-like, “figure-four” leglock move, especially with 200-pound Jacob Kaminski ’20. Kaminski is last season’s All-State freshman phenom — 22-2 record, CCL and Sectional Champ — who has his sights set on being a legitimate state championship contender in early 2018. He was undefeated heading into the Christmas Break, currently competing in the 220-lb. class.

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Fenwick’s “Coach K” demonstrates a take-down technique on sophomore sensation Jacob Kaminiski.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines relentless as showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength or pace: unrelenting. There is a highly intense, physical brand of wrestling that Kowalczuk is trying to instill into FHS’s hallowed halls. “I was brought in here to change the culture,” he notes, “to bring an element of toughness back to Fenwick Wrestling.”

The young coach is beginning to make his tough, hard-nosed mark. During their daily practice grind, he preaches to his sweat-drenched matmen about “giving your best” and the quest for ongoing improvement. There are 21 wrestlers on Fenwick’s Boys’ Wrestling Team this season; Kowalzcuk wants to get that number up to around 35. “We will never be at 100 kids like a [large] public school,” he realizes, “but that [35] is a good number for us.”

Among the team’s members are nine freshmen boys, about half of whom played football and are in the process of losing their “baby fat,” getting into optimal shape. But Coach K is not happy about that number, either. “I want between 16 and 20 frosh next year,” he states, stressing that number as critical to his program’s growth, development and future success.

Kowalczuk and his creative coaching staff welcome inexperienced “newbies” and are trying their best to make practices more fun. On social media, they are employing hashtags such as #scratchandclaw and #enjoythejourney to help inspire their athlete-followers. “For me, it’s all about giving maximum effort and trying to get better every day. I tell my guys to enjoy the journey and not be as concerned about the outcome.” Kowalczuk adds what he knows from experience: that once the kids buy into his methods of teaching physicality and being relentlessness, the victories will come.

A Sophomore Shall Lead Them

Kowalczuk and Fenwick Wrestling are pinning their championship hopes largely on the strong shoulders of sophomore Kaminiski, who aspires to greatness and already is one of the best wrestlers in the United States, let alone in Illinois. Coach K knows who the national competition is. For the past three off-seasons, he has led Team Illinois’ frosh/soph Greco-Roman wrestling program to a national title and a third-place finish. So the 16-year-old protégé wants to prove to his new mentor just how dominant he can be. The coach admits to Kaminski being a “huge pull” for him taking the Fenwick job, and expectations already are sky high for late February at the State Farm Center in Champaign, IL. (Last season, Kaminski was undefeated heading downstate and was the only underclassman among his 16-man field.)

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