Jan. 1, 2000: Watershed day for Zeolites and Mather High
IN 1963, OVER LUNCH AT THEIR usual Chicago high school cafeteria table, 10 classmates impulsively agreed to a test of their close friendship. They vowed to meet on an appointed hour, day and site in the distant future.
In 1963, over lunch at their usual Chicago high school cafeteria table, 10 classmates impulsively agreed to a test of their close friendship. They vowed to meet on an appointed hour, day and site in the distant future.
Yet as these boys moved into manhood, their paths diverged, and they had little contact. But on Jan. 1, 2000, eight of the 10 showed up at noon as promised on the steps of the Museum of Science and Industry.
And at that moment, the men were again the Zeolites. It was the name of their summer league softball team in 1963 and '64 and, oddly enough, of a mineral used in water softeners. It was their inside joke after the Culligan water-softening products firm in Northbrook had declined to sponsor the team and provide T-shirts
More than half [Mather's] nearly 2,000 students speak a language other than English at home...
identifying players as "The Culligan Men" (after the famous "Hey, Culligan man!" slogan).
"We said we'd be there. And we were there," the Zeolites' Gerald Stein told then-Tribune columnist Bob Greene, who retold their story on Jan. 10, 2000.
Readers smiled, then turned their attention elsewhere.
But not the Zeolites. The old team found new purpose -- to provide scholarships for college-bound seniors of their alma mater, Mather High School.
"We were looking to go to the next level," said the Zeolites' Jeffrey Carren in an interview last week.
Standing: Ron Ableman, 2000 Zeolite Scholarship winner Margaret Khamoo, Rich Adelstein Kneeling: Gerry Stein, Jeff Carren
2000 Scholarship Award Ceremony
Mather is much changed since the Zeolites graduated in June 1964. The Northwest Side high then was 4 years old and predominantly served working-class but upwardly mobile Jewish families. Today, it is a multiethnic stew: More than half its nearly 2,000 students speak a language other than English at home, and it has teachers proficient in such languages as Assyrian, Cantonese, Gujarati, Arabic, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish and Urdu.
Yet Mather, at 5835 N. Lincoln Ave., remains of abiding interest to not only the Zeolites but another benevolent group of graduates, the Mather High School Alumni Scholarship Fund. It and the Zeolite Scholarship Fund were started about the same time and by members of classes a year apart. And they have provided similar amounts in scholarships: a total of $51,000 by the Alumni Scholarship Fund and $45,000 by the Zeolites.
Cynthia Greenleaf, Chicago Public Schools director of partnerships, estimated that only 10 city high schools receive continuing scholarship support from alumni groups. (Others may receive funds raised sporadically in conjunction with class reunions or school anniversaries.) Mather has the luxury of having two such active groups.
"We're thrilled to have them," said Mather Assistant Principal Renee Aloma.
There's even a friendly rivalry between the two groups.
"We try to do the best we can," Stein said recently, "but, inevitably, there is a little bit of that."
Stein, now a clinical psychologist in the Chicago suburbs, is one of three directors of the Zeolite fund. The others are Carren, a Chicago benefits lawyer, and Harmon Greenblatt, who has been an arts council chief in Evanston and Decatur and soon will teach arts management at the University of New Orleans.
Each May, the three return to Mather to present one or more scholarships, now as high as $8,000 over four years. Each time they relate the tale of the Zeolites to the senior class.
Much has transpired since that reunion in 2000.
Culligan contacted the Zeolites after reading Greene's column. It offered them the T-shirts sought 37 years earlier and a $2,000 donation to Mather in their name.
Eight Zeolites -- seven who had met at the museum and another who couldn't make it because his computer firm was on all-leaves-canceled Y2K watch -- each pledged $250 to match the Culligan gift.
Standing: Neil Rosen, Rich Adelstein, Ron Ableman, Jeff Carren, 2002 Zeolite Scholarship winner Viola Koti, Gerry Stein, Harmon Greenblatt Seated: 2005 Zeolite Scholarship winners Sudha Kode, Xuan Nguyen, Jason Zhang
2005 Scholarship Award Ceremony
They established the Zeolite Scholarship Fund as a tax-exempt charity and gave its first scholarship, $4,000 over four years, to a Loyola University Chicago-bound senior, Margaret Khamoo.
Carren said Culligan later pitched in another $2,000 and the William Clancy Foundation of Chicago donated $80,000 over several years. The fund solicited contributions from members of the Class of June '64-January '65 and ultimately raised some $27,000 from nearly 90 alumni. All monies went into an endowment that now totals nearly $109,000, Carren said.
Greenblatt noted that all prior recipients have either graduated or are on track to from four-year colleges. He acknowledged that the Zeolite awards are small compared with college costs.
All monies went into an endowment that now totals nearly $109,000
"But people at Mather tell us this is the only aid some of the kids get," he said.
The Mather High School Alumni Scholarship Fund was conceived in fall 1999 by some members of the Class of '65.
"It was founded as a kind of gateway to the millennium," said the fund's director, Carol Dragon, a former English teacher at Grayslake High School.
She said the fund solicits contributions from all Mather graduating classes, not just its own, and puts nearly all it raises in a given year toward a scholarship for a college-bound senior.
Dragon said a recent donation, made in memory of the late Sandi Port Errant, Class of '67, will allow the fund to install an alumni liaison in Mather this fall.
The staffer will seek to identify opportunities for alumni to help students, for example, with mentoring or internships.
Dragon said the most active fund contributors are alumni from the '60s to early '70s.
"It was a cohort that grew up in a time of prosperity and high energy," she said, "one that believes in philanthropy and giving back."
And in fraternity.
In his remarks to seniors last May, the Zeolites' Stein spoke of "the value of having people in your life you can trust, laugh with, and who remember the same things you do ... who know you're not perfect and like you anyway. ...
"The Zeolites never won a championship in the Mather Park summer league. But, as it turned out, we had something that was more important: our friendship."
This article was originally published by the Chicago Tribune on July 28, 2005.