Mendel Monarch moments

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My April column covered a range of topics pertaining to Mendel Catholic High School, from teachers and tunnels to dances and athletic events. The number and passion of the responses from Mendel Monarchs was overwhelming, showing me how much their experience at that legendary high school meant to them.

The only way I could do justice to the tidal wave of nostalgia that washed over me was to print it word for word. The enormous number of comments I received demonstrates what a welcome part of my reader’s lives Petals from Roseland is, and the opportunity to connect with their history, their youth and their lifelong friends. Enjoy!

Mendel: A Character Builder

Ernestine and John Bruno, ’59
Interesting article. My husband John S. Bruno graduated in ’59. Followed by Loyola Chicago for Premed and Medical school; University of Miami for his General Surgery training; St. Louis University for Plastic Surgery; setting up practice in Ft. Myers, Florida in 1975. It’s been a memorable journey for us.

Leonard Grabowski, ’59
I graduated in 1959. Then U of I pharmacy school; U of I Med School; two years in the military; finally a UC Davis residency in internal medicine. Settled in Santa Barbara 1973. Mendel was a haul as I lived in south Chicago so it took a few transfers on the CTA to get to school.

Pete Panozzo, ’69
I was one of many Panozzos who walked the halls of Mendel. My brother Joe (class of 65) preceded me. I traveled daily to school on the CTA from the South Shore. In my senior year of 69 I finally had the opportunity to join the track team where I threw shot put. Mendel was a great school on so many levels. I struggled with my studies and upon graduation I opted to join the Air Force rather than go to college. When I finally did attend college in later years, I accredited Mendel to knowledge and skills I obtained years before.

The Sporting Life

George Luce, ’60
Mendel campus very definitely had a football field — just didn’t have any seats or bleachers. As a freshman I wallowed in the mud of that field until Joe Farrell knocked me into next week. I mention Joe because he went on to play four years at Notre Dame. Sunday night dances I remember, though I attended only a few. St. Sabina’s Hi-Club was easier to get to for their sock hops. And they were a bit more loosely monitored than the Augustinian version.

Phil Carter, ’68
About this time every year the track team would begin practicing by running inside. Quite a workout, all in low-cut sneakers. As the weather moderated we’d move outside and run laps of Palmer Park and time trials on Palmer’s 300 yard cinder track. Good times, good memories. I continued running as an adult and didn’t quit until I was in my early 70’s. Now I cycle.

Ernest (Skip) Dalle Molle, ’67
Like George Luce said, we did have a football field as I was team manager throughout my time at Mendel. Only tunnel I recall was down in the basement area where the maintenance team hung out. Not sure where it led to but I could recall all their equipment was lined up there. Thanks also for taking on Fra Noi and our Petals from Roseland. It’s always nice to read about the people I knew growing up around!

Robert Kasa, ’71
I grew up in South Chicago, didn’t attend much of the activities except my freshman year bonfire. I remember the wrestling team going for their 100th victory against Brother Rice. I remember them being undefeated the entire time I was in high school until that dreadful loss.

Bonfires Blazing

George Arthur, ’57
In the mid ’50s soon after the school was opened the Mendel Monarchs were a force in the Catholic football league. In 1956 someone from St. Rita set our bonfire ablaze a couple of nights early because we were to play them for homecoming. The bonfire was rebuilt in time for the festivities. We beat them the next year in the Catholic league final at Soldier Field.

Mike C, ’68
About those homecoming Friday night bonfires, don’t forget the old cars in the back parking lot painted with teacher’s names. For a quarter(?) you could take a sledgehammer to them. I think “the Skull” always got special treatment.

Jim Johnson, ’65
Mendel’s bonfire was held on the Friday night of homecoming weekend every year I attended from 65-69.

A Question of Tunnels

David Laroche ’68
I spent time in the tunnels trying to lose weight for wrestling. My recollection is they were steam tunnels that just went to the two wings on the sides of the main building. Four years wrestling, four Catholic league championships.

Tom Best, ’69
I never paid much attention to the tunnel saga. The only thing I remember is that the tunnels could be accessed through the door at the back of “The Pit.”

Joseph S Rohaly, ’56
I never heard of the tunnels until your article. Most likely, if they do exist, they were built by Pullman Tech, the original owner of the property. I graduated U of I ’61 and began my career as a Mechanical Engineer. I retired in 2003 from Panduit Corp as Chief Engineer of Product Engineering. I like to tell people that by the time I retired I had a PhD in cable tie engineering.

Randy Pettenon, ’72
I do remember the tunnels at Mendel.  The wrestling team practiced every day of the week. Someone in the group knew about the tunnels. After running we would walk through the halls to wind down from our run. The building was empty, except for us. Needless to say, young inspiring minds, we did walk through tunnels. Two things I am sure of: There was a tunnel that led to the boy’s locker room in the gym. There was a very dark tunnel that led to a working sauna somewhere near the “pit,” which we would sit in after our run.

Jim Panozzo, ’60s
We would explore the tunnels from the pit area and would go east toward Pullman Bank. There were food rations and rats down there and after a certain point it was blocked. Also, going the other way, the tunnel would lead to a door to the main varsity.

George Hagenauer, ’66
I don’t know about the tunnels to Palmer Park or the Bank but there were tunnels — definitely one to the rectory and they were used to store Civil Defense supplies. These were not just groceries but actual U.S. Civil Defense supplies placed there as a fallout shelter: special crackers, medical supplies, huge containers to be filled with water as we waited for the bombs to drop etc. along with actual Geiger counters. Jim Johnson organized the Civil Defense Club as an exercise in surreal humor to see if he could pull it off. Basically though they sat around and munched crackers, occasionally borrowing the Geiger counters to check for radiation/uranium deposits in the neighborhood and lots of tunnel exploring.

Music in the Air

Bill Sarter, ’66
I played in a band “The Scene” at the Mendel Sunday dances in 1966. I played bass and Ray Reher was on keyboard and sax. The Royals were sponsored by Zordan Music House. I remember talking to John Panozzo (became Styx drummer) about his experience trying out as a studio musician.

George Hagenauer, ’66
The Panozzo Brothers who played in Styx were in the Mendel band so a lot of us from those years can say we sort of played with at least half of Styx. I remember John teaching me to play tenor drum in the 20 minutes before a particularly insane umpteen mile parade the band was in. Several of the drummers had rationally gotten sick and not shown up so Gino yanked me from the woodwinds and put me into the drum section. My leg was sore for a week after.

Brian Crawford, ’72/’73
I attended Mendel in 72 & 73. Great school and a lot of incredible memories for sure, especially the dances with bands like TW4 (who became Styx), M&R Rush, and The Tellstars (incredible Santana covers)! And then there was that Carefree Sugarless Gum contest in ’72 where St. Willibrord’s sent in all of those wrappers and won. The prize was The Raspberries and The Grass Roots playing at your school, which ended up being held in Mendel’s gym. Still remember that show well!

Marcia Hein, ’60s
My uncle went to Pullman Tech. I still have his toolbox and tool and books. I went to the dances and was in the musicals. One of the guy friends at the time was Tom Jensen. He became my division coordinator when I taught in Bloom HS District 206, Chicago Heights. Small world!

Mary Lynn Dreger Greicus Willys, ’65
In the 60’s Mendel was putting on a musical show with a New York producer; they needed girls, so they came to Willy’s! I wish someone had taken a video, it was such a great time. We rehearsed a lot and when it was over we all cried because of the great experience. The show was “What a blast!” and it sure was. The Sunday dances were great fun, especially when crazy Dick Biondi would show up.

Pam Pecora Wagner Willys, ’70
Was at the Mendel dances almost every Sunday night — such fun! And the bonfires — great memories. We won a concert by Tommy James & the Shondells and held it at Mendel because our auditorium wasn’t big enough.

Barbara Corate Giron Willys, ’70
I did all the same things as Pam, so fun. Willibrords was the best!

Karen Hamick Fenger, ’70
I absolutely loved those dances. We were very fortunate to have those great bands. I graduated from Fenger in 1970 but lived on Edbrooke just four doors down from St. Willy’s.

Ravenna Rotunda Willys, ’70
I remember Chicago’s Buckinghams performing many hits and memorable Buckingham songs from 1965-1967. When St. Willibrord High School won the Tommy James & The Shondells concert/dance in competition with other area high schools from writing up the most 3×5 index cards with Pine Bros. Cough Drops written on them back in 1969 that was the main highlight of our High School career. And of course this event was held at Mendel because there were no accommodations for such a huge event at St. Willibrord. The nuns along with the Ccergy were very supportive in St. Willibrord’s winning this contest & allowed the students to write out the cards during classes. It was a hoot to see our Latin nun, who was largely a stern personality, on stage w/Larry Lujack. It was all very exciting. Great good times & memories!

I’ve covered as much ground as I could without overdoing it. I’d like to thank Peter Panozzo, who is responsible for the entire Mendel column because in his first email to me he asked about the tunnels, which got the ball rolling. I regret not being able to include all comments and sincerely thank all those who took the time to commit their memories to paper.

Mendel did have tunnels, but mostly they ran steam pipes and were meant to give access to work on those pipes. However, they seem to have been large enough to accommodate, over the years, students going to Palmer Park for electronics classes; the teaching Augustinians going back-and-forth from their housing to the school; the storing of Civil Defense Supplies including Geiger counters, crackers, and jugs for water; work out space for student athletic teams.

The Sunday night dances along with special events were a major social happening involving all of Roseland. A number of musical shows were also performed, however there doesn’t seem to be any remaining programs, videos, advertisements or posters. It would be great if someone could find such memorabilia.

Mendel athletic teams had their day in the sun, especially their football team and the wrestling teams. The wrestling team almost hitting 100 straight victories.

Combine all of these memories and you get stories from a great high school for Roselandites across the country and around the world to share. To keep your Mendel memories alive, check mendelchs.org.

My book “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” has sold more than 800 copies since it became available. Copies are available from me at $20 + $5 s&h.

Contact me at petalsfromroseland@gmail.com or 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; res: 773-701-6756. My book is also available at D & D Foods, 1023 S. Halsted, Chicago Heights, at Bookie’s New and Used Books, 10324 S. Western Ave, Chicago and at Miles Books, 2819 Jewett Ave., Highland, Indiana.

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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4 comments

  1. I was at that wrestling match where Mendal was going for their 100th win. There was electricity in the air. Much anticipation and excitment as one of the best dual meets ever held. Few gave Brother Rice much of a chance as Mendal had the Basile brothers, kubiwicz, Bugiski, Farrel Rainey and many other top notch grapplers. Rice had some pretty fair wrestlers also. Lamb, Patten, and of course Tom Coyle who beat Jack Farrell in the last match winner take all, in the heavyweight division. Truely this was an unbelievable cat and mouse meet. One thing that made it memorable was that many Fenger folks were there as well. Mendal represented the whole of the Roseland, Pullman, West Pullman area. Fmily, friends and neighbors, had a keen interest as to the outcome of this event. Wrestling is intrinsic and very much inate. I know! My twin brother Bryan wrestled that night for Brother Rice. Mendal turf, Mendal crowd, it was fun. Mendal fans who rember this event are still pissed. Well they should be. There were the yardstick which measured Chicago high school wrestling, Public or private. Thanks to ALL the wrestlers and people there that night. Bryan who is totally blind won that night. He has never once talked about it. But I will. That’s what brothers do. Peace to all Blair McMurray Fenger ’71

  2. I graduated from St. Thomas High School Class of 1961 in Rockford ,Illinois. I remember hearing about Mendell High School and how it was a First Class High School. Congrats !

  3. What an incredible find. And good to read about the Sunday dances because after all these years, I questioned whether I was confused and that they were on Saturday – why Sunday when school was Monday. But there is your notes that it was Sunday. I was telling my 14 year old granddaughter about my life then and she couldn’t believe we all had so much fun and fun with the dances and the football games. I guess it started because I said I had a small football necklace from the football teams 1957 win. It has a blue M on it, 1957 And my boyfriend’s name on it. She was amazed I still had it and had not returned when we went different ways in college. But I trasusre it.It was something I was a part of – watching them win in the last couple of minutes in 2 degree temperature and after many people had already left. Life now and life then. We wee blessed to be able to have had such an incredible time. And I went to the Academy of Our Lady. I don’t write on Facebook and don’t usually write responses on the internet but this reawakened the past!

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