Mather High School Class of '64-'65
Contributors to the Zeolite Scholarship Fund have been asked for their thoughts about their years at Mather and why they give back to Mather High students.
Margo Mansfield Serlin
Mather is a microcosm of the world. It is amazing to see the diversity of cultures and ethos represented by the student population. Each year that I attend the scholarship ceremony I have renewed hope in the future. To see the caliber of the students and their commitment and dedication to the community is an example to everyone, young and old. If we as Mather alumni can help these students realize their hopes and dreams in some small way, I am grateful to be a part of it.
Many of us also came from poor and immigrant families and were able to succeed because others reached out to help. Its an honor to be able to assist Mathers current graduates achieve their ambitions and find their place in our society.
Judy Wernick Rosenzweig
Letters. Do you receive letters? I don't mean ones from companies asking you to use their credit cards or the notice from the dentist ofice to remind you to make an appointment. I mean a personal letter. Now we use cell phones, text messages, or E-Mail to announce engagements, births, new houses, or new jobs.
The Zeolite Scholarship Committee receives wonderful letters from bright young men and women. These are personal letters of thanks from former Mather students who have received money from the Zeolite Scholarship Fund. Not only are they letters of thanks, but the young men and women write about how they are doing and what they are doing with their education. These are our future doctors, lawyers, teachers, and scientists. They needed money to attend school to fulfill their dreams, and the scholarship fund was there to help them. Everyone who donates money to the Zeolite Scholarship Fund is helping deserving students. Yes, the neighborhood has changed, but there are still many, many bright students who need financial help. The class of 1964 can be there for them.
Sue Leff Ginsburg
I first heard of the Zeolite Scholarship Fund when we were planning our 40th reunion. Connecting with classmates I hadn't seen for 40 years and getting to know those I really didn't know well in high school, inspired me to 'pay it forward.'
I know for many, high school was not filled with pleasant memories. For me, it was the opposite. It was a gateway to the future, filled with memorable teachers, wonderful friends, and life's lessons well learned.
After teaching 31 years, 20 of which were in a culturally diverse district, I know the struggles and challenges many of these students face. Being a Mather alum made it personal and the Zeolites gave me the vehicle to contribute my time and money to make a difference in the lives of some of these terrific students. Thanks, Zeolites!
It wasn't until I was older that I appreciated both the importance of a good education and the high quality of the education that I received at Mather High School. Life doesn't ever go as planned but a good education is with you forever and can give you better choices when life goes in unexpected directions. Remember that no one can steal an education from you and it lasts longer than a car or a high definition television set. That is why I contribute to the Zeolite Scholarship Fund and why I am so proud of my fellow classmates for organizing and supporting this fund.
Much has changed at Mather since we graduated in 1964, but much has stayed the same. All of our teachers are gone, replaced by men and women just as dedicated and talented as they were but products of a very different generation, some of them no older than our own children. There are metal detectors at the doors now, and visitors must sign in as they enter the building, though there's nothing in the cordial and enthusiastic chatter of the students in the halls to suggest that any of this is needed. The 37-cent hot lunches and those wonderful sugar cookies are gone, but the spirited kids eating hot dogs and fries in the cafeteria don't seem to notice.
Most striking of all is the visible change in the student body. A school whose students were exclusively white in 1964 now teaches teenagers of every race and dozens of nationalities, born not just here in the United States but in an astonishing range of places stretching from the Balkans in the west to Indonesia in the east; and a student body that was once overwhelmingly Jewish now supports three different Muslim student clubs.
But the most important thing about Mather, and about hundreds of urban public high schools like it across the country, then and now, remains the same: its role as an incubator of the American Dream. Like many of us, I am the child of working-class Jews who came to the United States as Yiddish-speaking children. My parents struggled to adapt to life in America and aspired to respectability and the middle class, for their children if not for themselves. And with a good deal of help from others along the way, my sister and I have lived out their dream and truly become Americans, fully integrated as citizens and individuals into the many blessings of this free, tolerant, open and prosperous society.
In fulfilling that dream, we have left the old country of our parents far behind, with its language and customs, its mores and prejudices. Now, later in life, some of this culture, the part that's compatible with being an American, seems more valuable to us than it once did, and we try to recover it as best we can. But other parts of it, the inward-looking narrowness of mind, the clinging to ancient superstitions and bigotries, are not compatible with being an American, and we have tried our best to leave them in the past.
The kids at Mather, almost all of them, are just like I was. Those that go to college will be not just the first in their families ever to do so, but often the first to finish high school, or grade school. English is the second language of their homes, and their parents, if not they themselves, are recent immigrants from that broad, unfamiliar swath of the world that provides constituencies for the "ethnic festival" that is a part of everyday life at Mather.
Like my parents, theirs have left the old country in search of a better life in America, freedom for themselves and prosperity for their children; and many of their parents, like mine, not quite able to create themselves anew in the new world, have brought the same sort of narrowness and superstition with them that mine did. But their children are just like I was, determined to become Americans, embracing the way America works and the attitudes and aspirations that Americans generally share. Like our own generation, they will succeed, and as with every generation that has preceded them, as they become Americans they will strive to retain what is compatible with America in their parents' culture, and reject the rest. And like every generation before them, once they have become Americans, America itself will be different, and in important ways better, than it was before.
At the second of our Zeolite award ceremonies, we left the auditorium to have lunch with our recipient, a lovely girl named Arjumund
2001 Zeolite Scholarship winner Arjumand Zaidi with her father and the Zeolites
whose parents had brought her to America from Pakistan and who hoped to use our scholarship to attend the University of Illinois in Urbana to study pharmacy. We sat at a long table with Arjumund and her father, and enjoyed a very cordial, if not very delicious, meal together. Our classmate Carolyn Bell, a dean at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, sat next to me, across the table from the guests of honor, and all of us conversed pleasantly for perhaps half an hour.
Later in the day, we were told by Mather's college counselor that Arjumund's father had not been pleased that his daughter had been awarded this scholarship, that he did not like the idea of his daughter leaving home, especially to attend a university, and that he was suspicious that eight old Jewish men would be willing to give her money to do it. The counselor suggested that he come to the ceremony and meet us before making a decision. Now the counselor reported to us that Arjumund's father had been persuaded to allow Arjumund to accept the scholarship and, perhaps impressed with what a girl who graduates from the neighborhood high school in America can become, would allow her to go to Illinois, from which she graduated four years later. Life doesn't get any better than this.
Like Isaac Newton, who said that he stood on the shoulders of giants, all of us have been helped in the course of our lives by many kind and generous people whom we never met and whose names we never knew. These kids deserve nothing less. The Class of 1964/1965's Zeolite Scholarship Fund gives all of us a chance to be one of those people for a young person who looks a lot like we did.
Gerry Stein, for the reunited Zeolites:
Ron Ableman, Rich Adelstein,
Jeff Carren, Harmon Greenblatt,
Steve Henikoff, Bernie Riff, and
THE ZEOLITE SCHOLARSHIP: CONNECTING MATHER HIGH SCHOOL'S PRESENT AND PAST
The story of the Zeolite Scholarship Fund begins with a softball.
Or, more precisely, a softball team called the Zeolites who played in the summer softball league in Chicago's Mather Park back in the early 1960s. A long time ago, to be sure.
A reunion of that team in the year 2000 led to the Zeolite Scholarship Fund. All because of a promise 10 friends made over 44 years ago--
Back when we were all 16 years old.
Back when Mather High School was shiny and brand new.
Back when Stevenson, Eisenhower, and Kennedy were statesmen, not yet expressways in Chicago.
In the summer of 1963 we entered a softball team in the Mather Park League, just as some of Mather's students still do today. We hoped to get the Culligan Corporation to sponsor us. The idea was to call ourselves "The Culligan Men," imitating the tv & radio commercial that Culligan ran in those days. And we hoped that Culligan would buy us t-shirts that said "The Culligan Men," since none of us had very much money.
Culligan didn't and so we called ourselves "The Zeolites" instead. Why? Our chemistry book said that a "zeolite" was a water softener, one of the things that the Culligan Corporation used with their water. Since we couldn't be the Culligan Men, we decided to be the Zeolites. But we played without the jerseys we had hoped to get from Culligan that summer and also in the summer of 1964.
Gerry Stein, 2008
Later that year, 1963, sitting around the table we always occupied in the Mather lunch room, Ron Ableman proposed that the Zeolites plan a reunion for some time in the distant future. We quickly agreed on a date, January 1, 2000 at noon, because we thought it would be easy to remember, even though it was 37 years ahead of us at that time. And Harmon Greenblatt suggested that we meet at the Museum of Science & Industry because that building had been standing since the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and we were pretty sure it would still be there when the new century came.
We all graduated in June of 1964, went to different colleges and, within a few years most of us were scattered around the country and had pretty much lost touch with each other. But we all remembered the promise we made to meet on January 1, 2000.
And, on that date, eight of us came from various parts of the USA to meet at the Museum; from California, Washington State, Connecticut, Michigan, and, of course, from Illinois--and had a wonderful day together remembering our time at Mather.
We felt extraordinarily lucky that day--to be alive, in good health, and to be reunited. But little did we know that our good luck had only just begun.
A few days later Bob Greene of the Chicago Tribune wrote a column telling most of the story I've just told you. And then something else wonderful happened. The people at Culligan read Bob Greene's story too and offered to give us the t-shirts we'd asked for 37 years before!
Even better, they said they would donate $2000 to Mather in our name, the Zeolites.
We agreed to match Culligan's $2000 gift so that we might give a $4000 scholarship to Margaret Khamoo, then a Mather senior.
And that's why we have come back every year since, to give something back to Mather in the form of a scholarship, with the help not only of our original lunch room/softball group, but also over 100 of our other classmates. Indeed, this scholarship has become the scholarship of Mather's Class of 1964/65.
Thanks to Jeff Carren, we have also been fortunate to receive significant financial support from the William Clancey Foundation.
Over the years we have begun to honor some of the best of Mather's teachers from the time we spent there. Thus far we have given (or plan to give) scholarships in the names of Robert Kapolnek, Joann Rosow Greenblatt, Burl Covan, Hy Speck, Patricia Daley Martino, and Peter Miscinski. More will follow. It is the least we can do for those teachers who made a difference in our lives.
Mather is a rather different place today than it was back in the early 1960s. Our classmates remember Mather as a hopelessly overcrowded, but brand new building with one way halls; they remember that some students began the day early and others stayed late to accomodate the Post-War "Baby Boom" of which we were a part. They recall a student body that was almost all white and predominantly Jewish. And there was not a metal detector in sight.
The building that is today's Mather is older and, frankly, pretty beat up. The student body is extraordinarily diverse, with over 75% of the students speaking a language other than English in the home; and the families of today's students are often economically disadvantaged, unlike their counterparts of the 1960s. Some of today's students have escaped from dictatorship, revolution, and ethnic cleansing, just as some of our parents survived the Holocaust.
Devon Avenue has gone from the home of "deli" food to a street like something from New Delhi.
But, in some of the most important ways, the background of today's Mather students and those of our generation have a lot in common, in particular, familiarity with the challenge of making a living:
Our parents went through the economic hardship of the Great Depression; they fought in World War II; most of them didn't get a chance to go to college.
Jim Lustig's father was a policeman and Jan Kozin Gordon's dad worked in the produce industry.
Bernie Riff's father painted houses, Rich Adelstein's dad worked in a factory, while Jeff Carren's father and my dad were post office employees.
Neil Rosen's father ran a general merchandise store, while Ron Ableman's dad, who served as a waist gunner on a B-17 "Flying Fortress" aircraft during World War II, came home to make a life, raise a family, and do something that his war experience told him just might be an important thing to do: sell life insurance.
Our mothers worked too, but mostly at home. They all hoped for better things for us, their children. To some degree they lived for this. They knew that much was possible, if only we worked hard, educated ourselves, and didn't give up.
The best of Mather's students, present and past, value education, just as our parents did.
Today's students are hoping to make something of themselves, improve their lives, and fulfill some of the hopes that their parents have for them, just as we hoped to.
The Zeolites and the Class of '64/65 have come to know what a team of friends can do, whether its a softball team or a group of middle aged people who many years ago happened to live in the same buildings, walk the same streets, and learn in the same classrooms as Mather's students do today.
It is a group that started out as 10 guys around a lunch table on a day just like any other day, and that today numbers over 100 former classmates, all of whom wish only the best for all of today's Mather students.
The Zeolites never won a championship in the Mather Park summer softball league. But, as it turned out, we had some things that were more important than that: our friendship and a commitment to try to lend a hand to the Mather students of today.