Catholic Schools Week

Catholic Schools Week was celebrated earlier this year. Thirty-five years ago, my husband and I started our family. From the moment we laid eyes on our little baby girl, we made a decision — we would do whatever it took for me to be a stay-at-home parent. Four years and two babies later (and another baby two years after that), another crucial decision was made — we’d send our children to Catholic schools, regardless of the cost.

From a completely objective view, my husband and I were probably the last people who should have been sending our children to private schools. After a downturn in the machining industry, John had taken a job with a start-up company and was barely making more than minimum wage when we started our family. It was hard enough making ends meet without adding in the cost of schooling for four children.

To be honest, John probably would have been fine sending our kids to a public school. He had attended public schools since he was in second grade and had turned out just fine. I had a few more years under my belt, having attended a Catholic school from first through eighth grade, but that experience was so impactful that I wanted our children to have that same experience as well.

I’m not sure how many couples would live the austere lifestyle that John and I did so I could continue to be a stay at home mom and we could send our kids to Catholic schools. It wasn’t always easy, but those were joyful days. I’d go back and live them all over again in an instant if I could.

My career was put on hold for 15 years until our youngest child started second grade. While John always worked full time days, I did various jobs around his work schedule so we didn’t have to hire babysitters — everything from being a Tupperware sales rep to selling plasma.

As far as money goes, we had a budget and we stuck to it. We were married eight years before we even had our first credit card and once we did get one, we paid it off every month religiously. Working with a Christian financial planner, we felt comfortable splitting our 10 per cent tithe between our church and the tuition bill.

We were thrifty, that’s for sure. We took one vacation each summer, staying with my brother and his family in Minneapolis and spending a day at the Mall of America. I invested in a hair clipper set so I could cut our son’s hair, the girls wore their hair long so very few haircuts for them. We had take-out food once a week, either from J.D.’s Drive-In where you could get six double cheeseburgers and a box of fries for under $10 or from Little Caesar’s where a large one-topping pizza was only $5. Most of the kids’ clothes were hand-me-downs purchased from friends who had older children, from the uniform sale at school, the occasional rummage sale or the neighborhood thrift store.

There were many a day that the featured meal for breakfast was oatmeal cooked on the stove and mac and cheese for lunch. That was back in the day when I was cooking three meals a day, all from scratch and usually with a homemade dessert as well.

It might be hard for couples now to imagine life with no cable TV, using cloth diapers, hanging clothes out on the line to conserve electricity, no date nights for mom and dad, and taking your kids to only one movie a year, usually the newest Christmas movie where we split one large popcorn and one large soda between the six of us. Once every two or three years, John and I got a weekend getaway which I earned by raising money for the Bowl for Life.

We taught our kids to live within their means as well. Each child got a stipend on payday twice a month (started at $15 and eventually went up to $20) and with that money they paid for their school supplies, clothing, entertainment with their friends, and gifts.

Thankfully, we qualified for tuition assistance, even if it meant mounds of paperwork to fill out to get it. One year we were even blessed by an anonymous person or couple in our parish who paid a year of tuition for our oldest daughter who was in middle school at the time.

For us, all the sacrifice has paid off. We have four wonderful young adult children, all in solid relationships and our married children each have three children of their own now. Our children are highly educated (Catholic undergrad and grad school — The Univeristy of Notre Dame, University of St. Thomas, St. Louis University, Marquette University), are working in their chosen fields, and, most importantly to us, they are still members of the Church. Can we say for sure that those decisions we made all those years ago brought about those positive outcomes? It’s hard to say, but I’d certainly like to think so. Our children have told us they appreciate the Catholic education they received. This beautiful cycle continues — all of our school-aged grandchildren are enrolled in Catholic schools now as well. The blessings keep coming and coming!

Coral or Jade? After 35 years, it’s all good!

For a 35th wedding anniversary, the traditional gift is coral, and the modern gift is jade. Since John and I consider every day we’re together a gift, we decided to skip exchanging presents and instead took a trip to Colorado to celebrate our momentous occasion. Spending five days together in that beautiful state gave us a lot of time to reflect on how this whole journey began.


For two kids getting married on that hot early fall day, September 11, 1981, there would have been no way we could have guessed how the next 35 years would unfold. When I say kids, I’m not kidding. I was 19 and John was 20. We met when I was a 17-year-old senior in high school. We dated nine months, were engaged nine months, and had our first child… three-and-a-half years later.


It’s kind of crazy looking back now because we thought we knew everything at the time but 19 and 20 is pretty young. But things were different back then. There really wasn’t the hook-up culture that we see now — for most of us as teens, the idea of dating was to begin the sorting process to find the person you’d eventually want to spend the rest of your life with.


This was back before the days when the vast majority of kids headed to college right out of high school. I would guess that less than 10 percent of our friends made the decision to further their education at a four-year university. Most people went into a trade after high school graduation.


It wasn’t quite that cut and dried for us. For John, being the 10th youngest of 12 children in his family, he never gave serious consideration to going onto college. Instead, he followed his dad’s footsteps and went into the industry his dad worked in. For me, when I was a senior in high school, my two older brothers were in college and my dad was encouraging me to go onto school and get a degree in engineering (following his passion) because as a woman I could “write my ticket to the world by having a degree in a male-dominated field.”


I was accepted at Marquette University and UW-Madison and enrolled at Wisconsin. My path looked clear until that fateful night, March 8, 1980 (which by chance happened to be five years to the day before our first child was born). It was a Saturday night and I was at a nightclub with my girlfriends (who all were 18, the legal drinking age at the time, I’ll admit I was the one sneaking past the bouncer).


We were sitting in a corner booth at The Regency when in walked a couple of guys, one of whom immediately caught my eye. I’ll admit it — it was John’s good looks that got my attention! My job the rest of the night was to catch his eye when my friends and I hit the floor dancing to the disco tunes.


My plan worked. A slow song came on and John came over to our booth and asked me to dance. We introduced each other and started telling a little about ourselves as we danced. When John mentioned he had 11 brothers and sisters I said, “Awesome, you’re Catholic!”


Well, that slow dance led to many more slow dances over the course of the next few weeks and then on April 19 John asked if he could drive me home. That night, in my dad’s driveway, he asked if I would go on a date with him to see a movie the next night, April 20, 1980.


Of course I said yes. I couldn’t wait to see him the next day and as the time he was supposed to pick me up came and went, he wasn’t there. He did get there eventually. Apparently he had been playing football with his brothers and cousins and went home afterwards to take a shower and catch a quick nap and ended up oversleeping. Not sure how impressed my dad was with this guy when he came to the door but the date was on, we got to the theater before the movie started and halfway through “Die Laughing,” John grabbed my hand in his. From that moment on we were pretty much inseparable.


That was until I left for college in late August. That was a sad day. I threw my suitcase and a record player in my dad’s sedan (that was before the extreme packing that college kids go through in this day and age). I wondered when we’d see each other again.


It turned out, it wasn’t too long. I got Badger season tickets so John came down for one of the first home games. After that we knew we wanted to see each other as much as possible so I either arranged to get a ride home for the weekend or grab a bus home or John would drive down and pick me up or come down to Madison to spend his weekends there.


School was going well, probably because I did more studying than socializing. I was studying chemical engineering but I was beginning to wonder about my major. It didn’t seem like engineering had a lot of flexibility and if John and I were going to get married and have a family someday, I really didn’t see myself devoting 50 to 60 hours to that career every week and missing our kids growing up.


One of those weekends when John was in Madison we went to a mall and picked out an engagement ring. At the end of the semester, several days before Christmas, John picked me up from school and we packed everything I had brought down to Madison into the trunk of his Chevy Nova. It was at that point that we knew I wouldn’t be going back.


On Christmas Eve John picked me up at my dad’s and was driving over to his parent’s house for their celebration and on the way there pulled into the parking lot at a park and stopped the car. He pulled out a box from his pocket and opened it to reveal the ring we had picked out. He asked me if I would marry him. Of course I said yes!


After the holidays I gave notice at UW-Madison that I would not be returning for the next semester of school. I applied for jobs and got a job as a proofreader at Home Mutual Insurance. The next several months went by fast as we planned our wedding. It was fun because several of the girls I worked with were engaged as well so a number of us were in the middle of wedding plans.


September 11 dawned bright and beautiful. It was an unseasonably warm day — nearly 100 degrees. It was warm with my long-sleeved Victorian style wedding gown and for John and his groomsmen in their black tuxedos. The day turned out perfectly and was a beautiful start to our lives together. We were young, definitely didn’t have a lot of money, but with some frugal decisions were able to put on our entire wedding (including the meal for 125, beer, my wedding dress, our rings, hall rental, etc.) for less than $1,500. I still find that pretty amazing.


The future certainly was as bright at the clear blue sky that day. We would have never been able to predict the trials and tribulations we would be faced with over the next three decades but we also wouldn’t have been able to imagine the joy and fun our lives would bring (particularly because of our four children and our three grandchildren).


It’s been quite the adventure! I wouldn’t go back and change a thing! Like they say, what didn’t kill us made us stronger. I can happily say that meeting John 36 years ago was the best day of my life. I must have done something good to have a man like him choose to be my life partner. We are best friends, there is no one on this planet I’d rather spend time with than him. Every day it is such a joy to wake up next to him. I can’t wait to see what the next 35 years brings!