Family, School, Town Combine to Create Distinguished Alumni

Image 7_copyIf you have the fortune to live in the world’s richest and arguably most beautiful country and can open your door to a stunning view of the Alps, why would you ever miss an industrial, farm town on the Rock River in the flatlands of Illinois. But I do.

Creating a sense of community in Geneva, international hub of the world, is the like building the foundation of the Taj Mahal in quicksand. The nature of the typical expatriate is transient; due to job relocation, everyone you meet eventually moves on. Though my friends include people from around the globe, few call Switzerland home and plan to retire here.Geneva

Sterling, Illinois offered more stable roots. Yet, other than lying in the richest soil in the USA, my hometown didn’t have much of a calling card. Sterling is not so much about the place; it’s about the people.

Next Saturday, May 10, some of those people will be inducted into the Sterling High School Distinguished Alumni Class of 2014. The Distinguished Alumni Award honors former graduates for their outstanding contribution to society. It is a tribute to a small town, to public education and to a community that teaches its own to pay it forward in their fields.

Some of the award recipients I never knew as individuals, but I knew their people. I don’t remember meeting Ruth Cooperrider, but I remember her family.

Every member of David Schrader’s family graduated from SHS and though I never knew him, his sisters and my sisters’ lives intertwined every step of our school years.

This year the award also goes to three inductees that I am proud to call friends. In each case, their families, too, have been a stalwart part of the community and, like me, they dedicated their lives to looking out for the underdog.

Carol Fitzgerald ‘68, CEO of the YWCA of the Sauk Valley since 1985, advocates for the national YMCA’s mission “empowering women and eliminating racism.” Her siblings all attended SHS and her mom, Dian, was a beloved English teacher at the high school.

Amy Eshleman ‘80, was my surrogate little sister in basketball and a member of the SHS 1st state championship team in 1977. She became the Assistant Commissioner of Chicago Public Library and helped develop the resource sharing partnerships for the 79 public libraries in Chicago. The Eshleman family was a pillar in the community.

Image 4_copyPhil Smith ‘67 and his family rose above the evil legacy of Jim Crow. Instead of succumbing to bitterness, he turned the other cheek and gave back to the community becoming the first African American coach in the conference. At SHS he inspired hundreds of athletes –including me- to believe in themselves. His loyalty to SHS is parallel to none. Like he always said, “I bleed Blue and Gold.”

During the turbulent 50s, 60s and 70s, at a time of civil unrest, gender inequity and social injustice, our community gave us stability. Through our families, our schools and athletic teams, we learned to work hard, demand excellence, advocate for equality, and give back to society. No matter if we moved to the opposite coast like David in California, or Ruth across the state border line, or regardless if we remained in the local area, like Amy in the greater Chicago land or Carol and Phil in the Sauk Valley Region, we carried the lessons from our community into our careers.

Unfortunately, I can’t be there on May 10th to shake their hands in person, but today I’m giving a special nod from abroad to our distinguished SHS alumni, to my hometown, and to the families that laid the foundation of our lives. Rock solid, Sterling.Sterling H.S. photos July 2011 029_copy

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39 Comments

  1. Thank you for this wonderful recognition, Pat, and let’s have a virtual handshake, anyway!

  2. Thank you for this wonderful recognition, Pat, and let’s have a virtual handshake, anyway!

  3. What a nice tribute to a great Sterling tradition and to the great people being nominated! As a board member of Sterling Schools Foundation, I am proud of this town, this school, this foundation and the Distunguished Alumni ceremony. Mostly I am proud of the strong foundation that Sterling has given these great individuals and it fills my soul to hear how their contributions are making a positive difference in the world! It is a very moving ceremony-thank you Pat for all you do to support Sterling!

    • Marilyn, keep up your great work as part of the Sterling Schools Foundation. I am not sure everyone realizes how extraordinary SHS is in having a group like this and such a strong alumni organization, not to mention the hall of fame room and the exceptional sports facilities and auditorium. And Sterling was a great place to grow up.

  4. Wonderful of Sterling High School to recognize these special people who have contributed to making the world a better place. Congratulations one and all!

    • Unfortunately, too often we only the criminals and social deviants make the news, so it is nice to honor those citizens who may rarely be in the limelight, but spend a lifetime just doing a good a job.

  5. Wonderful of Sterling High School to recognize these special people who have contributed to making the world a better place. Congratulations one and all!

  6. Pat, I was struck by your description regarding the reality of living as an expatriate, areas that are transient can be such a challenge. What a wonderful way to bring yourself to the celebration that you can’t physically attend, your community members and those recognized, will I am sure feel the grip of your warm hand despite the miles.

  7. Hi Pat, I appreciated your thoughts……. I must reply the opposite way around…….. I have been married 70 years my husband now gone to his reward but I have lived in my home 68 years coming from the state of Ohio. I love Sterling ! ! ! It has been home all these years…. Yes, you know Paul and I did visit Switzerland in 1985… but after 3 weeks we were happy to come back to STERLING.. I still love you and your messages….

    • Thanks, Mary Helen, for your endearing support. You should be a spokeswoman for the community. Now the big question are you an Illini supporter or an Ohio State fan or are the only teams you cheer for wearing the blue & gold of the Sterling Warriors?

  8. Hi Pat, I appreciated your thoughts……. I must reply the opposite way around…….. I have been married 70 years my husband now gone to his reward but I have lived in my home 68 years coming from the state of Ohio. I love Sterling ! ! ! It has been home all these years…. Yes, you know Paul and I did visit Switzerland in 1985… but after 3 weeks we were happy to come back to STERLING.. I still love you and your messages….

    • Thanks, Mary Helen, for your endearing support. You should be a spokeswoman for the community. Now the big question are you an Illini supporter or an Ohio State fan or are the only teams you cheer for wearing the blue & gold of the Sterling Warriors?

  9. Makes me proud to be a Midwesterner, Pat. Illinois is just chock-full of similar small towns where rock solid people give of themselves every day to build a better tomorrow for the next generation. This is a beautiful tribute, and I hope you’ll pass it along to the local newspaper so the honorees can enjoy it, too!

    • Yes, Debbie, I, too, am proud to be a Midwesterner and even abroad we have a reputation as being friendly and welcoming. There is nothing like the small town hospitality.

  10. Aaaaaaah chi wawa
    Skinnie wawa
    Sterling High School
    Rah rah rah!

    Loved the article, loved the pics!
    Thanks for paying tribute to special alums and for taking me back to the good ol’ days via the pictures!

  11. Aaaaaaah chi wawa
    Skinnie wawa
    Sterling High School
    Rah rah rah!

    Loved the article, loved the pics!
    Thanks for paying tribute to special alums and for taking me back to the good ol’ days via the pictures!

  12. Great tribute to your hometown Pat. As a proud Freeport Aquin Bulldog, just a little farther north, I also know the importance of roots and connection to what made you who you are. We have much to be proud of! Dave

    • Thanks, Dave. As you well know small towns shape great people. You are one of them. You have continued to lay strong foundations and build those lifelong connections in your teaching career.

  13. Great tribute to your hometown Pat. As a proud Freeport Aquin Bulldog, just a little farther north, I also know the importance of roots and connection to what made you who you are. We have much to be proud of! Dave

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