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.”

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight: John Giannini, PhD., Class of 1980”

Forever Friars: The Late Franklin Capitanini ’50 of Italian Village fame

Like Fenwick, the storied downtown restaurant has stood the test of time for nine decades — and for three family generations.

By Patrick Feldmeier ’20

Alfredo Capitanini opened the Italian Village on Monroe Street in the Loop in 1927.

The impact that the late Franklin Delano Capitanini, Class of 1950, left on Chicago cannot be justly put into words. Instead, his impact resonates in his family, friends, Fenwick High School and the famed Italian Village Restaurant(s). Born in America in 1932 and named after U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Frank lived a life founded on strong family ties and treated everyone who dined at the Italian Village as if they were old friends. Today, the Italian Village serves as a reminder of the kindness that Mr. Capitanini spread for 85 years.

Located at 71 W. Monroe Street in Chicago’s “Loop” for almost 92 years, the Italian Village was opened by Frank’s father, Alfredo, in September 1927 – two years before Fenwick opened its doors. Frank and his kid brother, Ray (Fenwick ’53), grew up knowing that the restaurant someday would be theirs to manage. Frank’s early years working there included responsibilities such as food preparation for the chefs and waiting tables, according to his close friend, Fenwick classmate and President Emeritus Father Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50. Learning how to talk to adults and serve their requests at an early age benefitted Frank greatly in the years to come. Frank’s son and fellow Friar alumnus, Al Capitanini ’81, says that the “best internship is waiting tables because you learn about customer service and how to handle people.”


Franklin’s 1950 yearbook portrait from Fenwick.

Frank continued his work at the Italian Village when he attended Fenwick, where he participated in football, basketball and track. Unfortunately, his athletic career was cut short due to an injury. Al remembers hearing how his father had to divert all of his attention to education after the injury because Frank’s parents highly valued education. Frank’s father, an Italian immigrant, wanted him to have a strong caring for education due to his own limited schooling opportunities in Italy. When Frank was not hitting the books, he left his friends drooling in the school cafeteria because of the sandwiches he brought daily from the Italian Village. The aroma of Italian lunch meats and cheeses made their palates jealous.

Frank and Fr. LaPata both went on to Notre Dame, but their paths did not cross much at the university: one entered the seminary while the other (Frank) was in the ROTC program. It was not until Father LaPata became president of Fenwick in 1998 that he developed a friendship with Frank, eating at the Capitanini home around once a month.

A Culinary Institution

Once out of college, Frank immediately went back to work at the Italian Village. In the 1950s and ’60s, opera drew huge crowds in big cities like Chicago, so the Capitaninis became well acquainted with some the world’s most famous opera singers. When asked about the relationship between it and the Italian Village, the Lyric Opera Company kindly stated, “American singers and Italian singers of the 1950s and 1960s dined at the Italian Village.” However, opera stars were not the only celebrities to frequent the restaurant. The walls of the Italian Village are lined with autographed pictures from well-known celebrities and sports figures, including Frank Sinatra, Lou Holtz, Mike Ditka, Florence Henderson, Ryne Sandberg and Jon Bon Jovi.


The Village, the upstairs restaurant, features dimmed lights that hang low and walls painted to mimic a scenic view in Italy.

The Italian Village has maintained its reputation of great service and hospitality because of Frank’s leadership and family values: “Hundreds [of restaurants] closed, but the Italian Village stayed strong due to its hospitality, charm and kindness,” praises Father LaPata. With an old-fashioned aura and breathtaking architecture, the Village has stood the test of time by adhering to its roots; something that many restaurants in Chicago have failed to do. Upon entering one of the three restaurants in the Italian Village, patrons are engulfed in a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. The Village, the upstairs restaurant, features dimmed lights that hang low and walls painted to mimic a scenic view in Italy. No windows are present, and it truly feels as if you are dining in Italy.

Frank greeted everyone with that smile!

Later in Frank’s life, he began to teach his kids how to manage the family restaurant. Fortunately, his four children, Lisa, Gina, Frank II ’78 and Al, had hands-on involvement for years. Al vividly remembers growing up at the Village: waiting tables and making food just like Frank did years ago. “We ate more than we actually learned,” he admits. Gina still works in the family business.

When the kids were a bit older, Frank would take them to the restaurant for breakfast, then walk with them to catch a Bears game. Al describes his father as an “old-school type, hardworking, honest to a fault, always there, and would help anyone in an emergency.” Frank served as a great mentor to Al and his other children, and they work hard to emulate their dad. His philanthropic contributions to Fenwick are greatly appreciated as well.

Visiting the Village

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Al this spring at the Italian Village. We talked about the history of the restaurants and Frank’s long-lasting impact on them. When the topic of Frank’s years in high school arose, Al was quick to mention that Fenwick was essential in molding Frank into the man he wanted to be. Frank may have had a career already set through the Italian Village, however, his success and achievements in life required the lessons learned from Fenwick to come to fruition. Through the stories Al shared about Frank’s life at Fenwick as well as his own, I was truly able to understand that Fenwick is great at preparing its students for life ahead.

Frank passed away one year ago at age 85. His funeral was held at his grade school, St. Vincent Ferrer in River Forest, and Father LaPata touchingly led the Mass. His presence will be missed, yet his spirit will live on in the lives of those around him. Frank Capitanini will forever be a Friar, and his impact on his family, the Italian Village and Fenwick High School will last for generations to come.

Coming soon: The Frank Capitanini Classroom at Fenwick


World Languages students in Fenwick’s “Italian Room” (Room 14), which is being renamed in honor of late alumnus/restaurateur Frank Capitanini ’50.

In addition to their generous classroom-naming donation, the Capitanini family also has created an endowed scholarship in their father’s memory. The fund will provide tuition assistance for a Fenwick student in need.

The students of Italian Teacher Ms. Shawna Hennessey (left) recently sent a “Grazie mille” video to the Capitanini family.

Read a Chicago Tribune article about Frank.

About the Author

Patrick Feldmeier is a finishing up his junior year at Fenwick High School, where he is an Honor Roll/National Honor Society student and president of the Class of 2020. Pat also plays on the Friars’ football and rugby teams. He lives in Western Springs, IL (St. John of the Cross) and is hoping for acceptance this coming fall into the University of Notre Dame, where his Evans Scholar brother, Danny ’18, will be a sophomore.

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FUTURE LEADERS: Fenwick Boasts at Least 13 Highly Accomplished Scouts This School Year

Eight Friars have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout – plus, two Gold Award-winning girls.

By Mark Vruno

Throughout the course of 90 school years, Fenwick High School has seen its fair share of high-achieving scouts pass through its storied doors. Earning the Boy Scouts’ distinction of Eagle Scout or receiving the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award are akin to graduating as a Friar: They are highly significant accomplishments that, quite frankly, may never get removed from someone’s résumé.

Ian Havenaar ’19 (LaGrange Park/St. Francis Xavier)

 

Jacob Marchetti ’19 (Forest Park/Ascension)

Eagle Scout is the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) program. The designation “Eagle Scout” was founded more than 106 years ago. Only 4% of Boy Scouts are granted this rank after a lengthy review process. The requirements necessary to achieve this rank take years to fulfill. Since its founding in 1912, the Eagle Scout rank has been earned by nearly 2.5 million young men. Fenwick senior Ian Havenaar reports that he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in May 2017. Classmates Ethan Baehrend, Daniel Barry, Erik Janc, Jacob Marchetti, Sam Patston, Salvatore Siriano and Matthew Nolan Walsh also are Eagle Scouts, as are juniors Patrick Barry and Billy Brown as well as sophomore Aidan Janc.

Sam Patston ’19 (Oak Park/St. Giles)

 

Billy Brown ’20 (Berwyn/Ascension)

Requirements include earning at least 21 merit badges. The Eagle Scout must demonstrate Scout Spirit, an ideal attitude based upon the Scout Oath and Law, service and leadership. This includes an extensive service project that the Scout plans, organizes, leads and manages. For example, Sal Siriano’s Eagle project was planting a garden at Fraternite Notre Dame in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood near Fenwick.

Eagle Scout Sal Siriano, a senior, and Dr. Jerry Lordan are all smiles in front of the garden, which will look even better this spring.

 

Sal Siriano ’19 (Berwyn/St. Celestine)

It’s “a Mother House that serves Austin with childcare, food pantry, [and] clothing drives, among other things. Dr. Lordan helped a lot, finding a project with me as well as getting the project started,” says an appreciative Sal.

“The … sisters explained that they had nothing on the side of their convent, and they asked me to build a garden in the fall that will bloom this spring,” he explains. “We mulched, planted bulbs, bushes and existing perennial flowers.

Some Girls Are Golden

Anai Arenas ’20 (Brookfield/S.E. Gross Middle School)

Riverside senior Natalie Skiest has achieved the gender equivalent to Eagle Scout rank : The Gold Award is the highest achievement within the Girl Scouts of the USA. Junior Anai Arenas is working toward her Gold Award as well. Earned by Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts in high school, only 5.4% of eligible girls successfully complete the Gold Award: In 2018, approximately 5,500 girls received it nationwide.

The award allows young women to make lasting change on an issue about which they are passionate — from human trafficking to ocean pollution to education access to expanded STEM training for girls in underserved communities. By the time a girl puts the final touches on her Gold Award, she will have taken seven steps to develop a lasting solution to the challenge:

  1. Identify an issue: Use your values and skills to choose a community issue that you care about.
  2. Investigate it thoroughly: Use your sleuthing skills to learn everything you can about the issue you’ve identified.
  3. Get help and build your team: Form a team to support your efforts and help you take action.
  4. Create a plan: Identify the root cause of an issue, and then create a plan to tackle it.
  5. Present your plan and gather feedback: Submit your Project Proposal Form to your Girl Scout council for approval.
  6. Take action: Lead your team and carry out your plan.
  7. Educate and inspire: Tell your story and share your results.

Gold Award recipients also have a competitive edge in the college admissions process and are eligible for scholarships, says the Girl Scouts organization.

Future Eagle

Conor Kotwasinski ’20 (Cicero/St. Mary’s)

Junior Conor Kotwasinski is close to completing his quest for prestigious Eagle status. This past October, he partnered with CVS Pharmacy in Brookfield to organize a preservative-free Flu Vaccination Clinic (for ages 10 and up) at St. Mary Church in Riverside. Now that his service project is complete, he only needs his “Personal Fitness Merit Badge and to complete my Board of Review,” says Kotwasinski, a member of Troop 92.

More Scout Photos

New Eagle Scout Ethan Baehrend ’19 of River Forest (Roosevelt Middle School), flanked by his parents Diana and Ed, at an April 2019 ceremony.

 

Elmhurst brothers Erik ’19 and Aidan Janc ’21 pose with proud Cross Country Coach and Fenwick alumnus Dave Rill ’87 at their Eagle Scout ceremony.

 

Daniel Barry (Elmhurst)

 

Patrick Barry (Elmhurst)

 

Matthew Nolan Walsh (St. Vincent Ferrer, River Forest)