Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Tribute to Norbert Cudnowski: One Way Ticket to the American Dream

Born a child of Polish immigrants, Norbert Cudnowski ’50 always embodied the idea of the “American Dream”. He worked hard, portrayed passion and kept faith at the core of everything he did.

Fascinated by planes from a young age, Norbert oftentimes would spend hours watching the planes fly in and out of Midway Airport – the very thing that sparked his passion for flying. One Sunday, he decided to visit a parish outside of his own where, to his surprise, someone spoke about Lewis and the scholarships they were offering. He felt it was fate, and that God led him to that particular time and place for a reason. That is when Norbert made the decision to call himself a Flyer.

After graduation, Norbert served in the U.S. Air Force as part of the first generation of U.S. Air Force Jet Fighter pilots and a member of the 339th All Weather Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Japan and Korea from 1952 to 1955. He was honorably discharged and returned stateside to begin a long, successful career as a pilot at United Airlines. Soon after, he met Carole who had worked as a flight attendant. They got married and went on to have five children.

According to his daughter, Cathleen Cudnowski Dixon, “He was so thankful for the opportunities that Lewis had given him. He loved what he did and felt that Lewis played an instrumental role in making his dreams come true.”

Norbert unfortunately passed away in October 2020. To honor his inspiring legacy, Cathleen and her husband David established a scholarship at Lewis University. This generous gift, in honor of her parents, will help provide support to future Lewis University Flyers studying aviation.

“It is our hope that the important role that Lewis played in my father’s life to help him achieve his dreams will reverberate through current and future generations. My father and mother had an inspirational journey, one in which flight played a key role. As a result, their continued kindness created a ripple effect that has reached their children, their grandchildren and now, outward beyond our family. We want their story to be recreated through the experiences of students at Lewis,” says Cathleen.

For years to come, the Captain Norbert & Carole Cudnowski Aviation Opportunity Endowed Scholarships will change the lives of students following in Norbert’s footsteps and allow his Lewis legacy to live on.

“My father valued faith in action, so we want to take our blessings and pay it forward. For anyone who is passionate and works hard, like my father, I want to make it easier for them to achieve their dreams. And I know it is what my parents would want as well.”

In order to make an even more significant impact, the family has also decided to provide a generous $10,000 matching gift in support of the 2022 Day of Giving at Lewis. They will match every gift made to support aviation for Day of Giving, dollar for dollar. Cathleen hopes that this will make the Lewis community enthusiastic about the powerful impact their own gift can have on today’s Flyers. To learn more about Lewis’ annual Day of Giving, visit us online at alumni.lewisu.edu/Give22.

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Power of a Catholic Educator

Catholic Schools Week is a time to celebrate the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to our church, our communities and our nation.

For Lewis alumnus Anthony Lyen '14 '19, Catholic education has always been a fundamentally important part of life. He attended St. Daniel the Prophet School from preschool through eighth grade before attending St. Laurence High School in Burbank and eventually Lewis University.

"A Catholic education truly blends a rigorous, relevant curriculum while instilling Christ's values in the lives of our students," says Anthony. "The goal is to develop our students to be life-long learners whose spiritual values can guide them through the challenges of life. Ultimately, we want our students to take as much pride in their faith life as their academic achievements."

Group projects, retreats and trips, layout night for the Flyer newspaper, summer orientations as a leader, and late nights as a RA are some of Anthony's fondest memories from his time at Lewis. All very unique from one another, yet, all rooted by one thing - faith.

After graduation from Lewis, Anthony began working at St. Daniel the Prophet School - his alma mater. In 2019, he went back to Lewis to pursue a Master of Education degree. And as a result, he was recently named Assistant Principal in addition to serving as an eighth grade social studies and religion teacher.

"Not only do I get to continue teaching and help prepare my students for high school, but I get to help lead a school community I care so deeply about. Every day, I make sure I do whatever I can to make a positive difference for my students, helping them to learn, laugh, and grow in their faith. I can't wait to serve in a greater capacity with an amazing group of people to help our school continue to thrive," adds Anthony.

Anthony understands the critical role that a Catholic education can play in the lives of tomorrow's leaders. So much so, that in addition to teaching, he serves as a Lewis Alumni Representative to help make a differences in more ways than one. He has partnered with the Education Department and helped to recruit new graduates for potential teaching positions. As a leader at Lewis, he also encourages fellow alumni to stay connected and support today's Flyers.

"I try to model my faith through my teaching as well as my involvement in the parish community. My hope is that students see my passion for both teaching and my faith in my words and actions. I can only hope through my service to the school and community, my students can be inspired to proudly live out their faith."

Thursday, January 20, 2022

It Takes a Village

Joey Ancel, Class of 2021

On his first day of preschool, Joey Ancel '21 came home and said to his family, "I want to be a teacher when I grow up!" He would oftentimes force his family to play school so he could pretend to be a teacher. That passion never faded and now his dream has come true - and this time it wasn't make believe!

On Wednesday, August 18, 2021, Joey walked into Troy Hofer Elementary School to enjoy his first day of school...as a teacher (yes, a real one!)

Joey left the first day of his teaching career not only feeling excited for the future, but also grateful for the past. He sat at his computer and began to write an email...
"You are receiving this email because each and every one of you made some sort of impact on my life at some point during my educational journey and I can only hope to make these kinds of impacts on my students as they enter my classroom. Whether you were my teacher, principal, nurse, secretary, lunch lady, professor, colleague, friend, mentor, administrator, etc., you have inspired me to join this crazy world of education and I am forever grateful. It truly takes a village to run a school!"
After one day on the job, Joey recognized the important role every person he had encountered played in his journey to pursue his calling, including many faculty and staff members from Lewis University.

For Joey, being a teacher is a very rewarding profession. And Lewis was a place that fostered his passion to pursue it.

"I learned the importance of loving the job and loving the students. The work I do as a teacher leaves an important impact on the lives of my students, just as so many at Lewis did for me. Each person on that email made a difference in my life - and I wanted them to know. Whether it is in the classroom, in a counseling center, in the lunch line, or on the walk to school - every person plays a vital role. I love being a teacher, but I know I cannot do my job without the important work of so many others. I hope to be a good role model and do work that will allow my students today to come to that realization in the future themselves."

Joey graduated from Lewis University with a B.A. in Elementary Education in 2021 before starting his career as a second-grade teacher this past summer. He is excited for this chapter in his life and looks forward to inspiring tomorrow's leaders throughout his new journey as a teacher.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Legacy of a Lifelong Lasallian

Joe Falese ’78 ’84 began his 42nd year at Lewis University knowing it would be his last at the school. “I reflected on my experiences at my alma mater and all that I am grateful for. I considered not only the ways I currently support Lewis but also how I can create a permanent legacy for the future,” Joe shared.

Lewis University has been a special part of the Falese family since 1974 when Joe began pursuing his dreams of becoming a teacher and playing collegiate baseball. After graduation in 1978, Joe spent the next 42 years working at Lewis. In that time, Joe has had a front-row seat to our transformation into a premier mid-sized university.

Recently, Joe and his wife, Kristen ’88, established the Falese Family Endowed Scholarship. “It is our hope that this scholarship will help students for many years to come as they pursue their academic dreams.”

Joe describes the profound impact Lewis has had on his family by reminiscing on three guiding values in his life: Faith, Family and Friends.

For Joe, and his family, a strong and deeply placed faith has always been a foundation . The De La Salle Christian Brothers model the importance of a strong faith, service to students and a commitment to the Lasallian mission. “They have guided us as faculty and staff members to serve our students with zeal and to look at our work as a calling,” Joe said.

The Falese family has obtained a total of five degrees from Lewis. Both Joe and his youngest daughter, Maria ’15, pursued education degrees. Kristen and their oldest daughter, Elena ’11, are both currently working in the criminal justice system. “The scholarship we have established is special to us, and we are honored to assist students pursuing degrees in these fields.”

As a freshman at Lewis in August 1974, Joe met several new Flyers, and they quickly became friends. “I can proudly say that 47 years later, the people in this group are my dearest friends, and we still get together regularly.”

These friends have also been loyal supporters to Lewis over the years and have all adhered to the philosophy of “paying it forward” to future Flyers.

As Joe looks forward to retirement, he shares one request to others who love Lewis as much as he does. “To grow our scholarship further, we made Lewis the owner and 100% beneficiary of our whole life insurance policy. Please consider including Lewis in your estate plans. The advancement team can help you find opportunities that best meet your values and interests.”

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Shining Light Around the Globe

Did you know that nearly 1 billion people live without electricity? That means more people live in darkness today than when the first light bulb was invented, according to Watts of Love – a global nonprofit focused on distributing solar lighting and solar technologies to people living without access to light or reliable energy.

After working in Human Resources for nearly 15 years, Lewis University alumna Christie (Dunne) Owens ’10 was called to change the world, one light at a time.

Christie graduated from Lewis with a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management and served in various roles throughout the beginning of her career. Most recently, she worked as the first-ever HR manager for a startup company that provided digital gaming to restaurants and bars. Helping the company grow from 30 to 300 employees, as well as building out a full portfolio of benefits for them, she enjoyed her work – but something was always missing.

After a few years, Christie got sick and was out of work for 6 months. It was during that time that she took a step back to reflect and turned to God for guidance on her next step.

“I attended a mission trip to Bolivia in high school and fell in love with the idea of serving as a missionary. God put that desire on my heart many years ago, but I never pursued it. A few years back, I heard a missionary talk about a mission trip to Uganda and it rekindled that desire. After that, I prayed a lot and ultimately knew that me getting sick was a sign from God that I needed to make a life change. It was a huge risk to leave my steady job and shift into the non-profit world, but I truly felt this was my calling.”

In 2016, Christie took a leap of faith and became a special part of the team at Watts of Love based in Downer’s Grove.  

Christie currently serves as the Director of Operations, a position in which she manages logistics for short-term domestic and overseas missions in Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Philippines and many other countries.

The team at Watts of Love works tirelessly to provide light to communities around the globe, many of which still use kerosene or cannot afford, or do not have access to, electricity.

But light is not the only thing they aim to provide; they also give these people hope for their future. Christie and the team teach people living in these communities how to break the poverty cycle and pursue their own dreams to live a meaningful life and provide for their families.

Take Ruth for example; after her daughter passed away from HIV, Ruth was left to raise 10 grandchildren in a small thatch in Uganda. Last year, she received a Watts of Love solar light, and with her savings from this new source of energy, she was able to buy two chickens which eventually gave her 10 chicks, as well as eggs to sell. With that money, she then purchased a pig which gave her several piglets. She was able to raise the piglets and eventually trade them for a cow. She sold that cow and was not only able to send her kids to school, but also buy a tin roof for her house.

“I had nothing before this light. I saved my money from not buying candles and now all of this has possible,” says Ruth.

Christie is proud to be part of a team that intentionally seeks out under sourced, marginalized, or misrepresented communities that truly need their help. After all, this type of mission felt very familiar to Christie after having attended Lewis.

“I think Watts of Love and Lewis University have many shared values. Although we are a secular organization, we believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect and providing a safe, inclusive environment for those we serve.”

Lewis helped build a foundation on which Christie has built her career and found her true calling. She even recalls a Foundation in Christianity class she took as a student and how it has left a lasting impact on her over the years.

“The professor gave us an assignment to visit a religious service that was not our own. I ended up going to an Ethiopian Jewish temple in the South Side of Chicago. That class taught me how to open my eyes to the world around us and step out of my comfort zone, which is so critical in the work I do now.”

Having been with the company about five years now, Christie loves going to work every morning and is confident that this is exactly where God wants her to be.

To learn more about Watts of Love and the work they do, please visit wattsoflove.org. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Lewis Mission Moment: A Chance Encounter

Lewis alumna Bernetta Cannon ’20 and current graduate student Kristlin Weathersby ’21 both worked in the medical field before making the decision to return to school and pursue a career as nurse practitioners. Little did they know that a chance encounter in their Health Assessment class would be the start of something very powerful.

Lewis is known for its outstanding reputation in nursing education, creating innovative leaders in a safe, supportive environment. Bernetta and Kristlin were no strangers to that feeling, especially as adult students trying to balance work, personal life, and now school.

They arrived in class early to prepare and stayed late to review material and study with one another. Bernetta recalled several times where staff at the Oakbrook campus happily agreed to stay late so they could continue studying. “The Oakbrook campus was so conducive to learning for us graduate nursing students who were juggling a lot.”

Bernetta and Kristlin even put in extra hours and each practiced on rag dolls at home!

After all of their hard work, Bernetta was not ready to let it all go so quickly.

“I was so impressed by all of my classmates. We learned together, we struggled together, and, most importantly, we could just be us together. I wanted to find a way to hold on to that comradery and also allow future students to feel the same type of support.”

Bernetta proposed the idea of starting a scholarship for future nursing students, and to no surprise, Kristlin agreed!

“Everyone at Lewis was so kind and I loved the idea of being able to pay it forward through a scholarship,” says Kristlin. “Many say that the Lewis mission comes to life on campus, and I can truly feel that. I am so connected to Lewis and everyone there, and I ‘m excited to be able to give back to such a great place!”

“The nursing program at Lewis is challenging. I want to make sure that future students feel supported and get the encouragement, as well as financial resources, they need to feel confident enough to go after what they want,” adds Bernetta.

From the young age of 8, Kristlin has been passionate about helping others after having to care for her great grandmother who suffered from cancer. For Bernetta, her passion came a little later in life; after the birth of her first baby to be exact. As a new mother, she turned to her nurses in the hospital for extra support and guidance – that is when she knew it was her calling to be a nurse and provide for others as they did for her.

Bernetta and Kristlin both faced obstacles that have allowed them to understand the importance of this type of work. They have been called to serve others in this special way, just as future young men and women will be too.

“This is our opportunity to encourage future students; to show them that we pushed through and persevered and got to where we are today, but not alone. We want them to know that they can do it, and that one day, they can give back too,” says Bernetta.

“It is my hope that whoever is the recipient of this scholarship in the future feels inspired to pay it forward. I want them to look at us, two women who were once struggling nursing students but are now one step closer to success, and see us as role models,” adds Kristlin.

Their annual scholarship will allow current and future Flyers to explore their passion and pursue their calling as a nurse. And in each person that those students serve in the future, Bernetta and Kristlin’s gift will continue to be at work. Their act of kindness to change one life will, in turn, impact thousands.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Lewis Mission Moment: Michael Phipps ’13 – Life through "Eyes of Faith"

Although unable to always discern the big picture, Michael Phipps ’13 continued to turn to his faith and took comfort in the fact that he was being led by the wisdom of the Spirit, similarly to De La Salle. There have been twists, turns, and long winding roads throughout his journey which, in a way, have all brought Michael back to the place where his journey started.

Michael graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado in 2009. Not entirely sure of what the future held, he took a leap of faith and applied for Lasallian Volunteers (LV). Soon after, Michael made the move to Providence, Rhode Island where he began living in community and working at The San Miguel School as Director of Graduate Support.

His journey after LV continued right here at Lewis University where he worked as a Graduate Assistant for University Ministry and pursued a M.A. in School Counseling.

“In undergrad, I wanted to pursue a career in forensic psychology, but I felt inspired by my LV experience to switch gears and pursue school counseling. After helping to support the students in my volunteer program, I knew I had to find a way to make a career out of that. The counseling program at Lewis stood out to me because it taught you how not only to be a great counselor, but also how to infuse the Lasallian mission into your work. It was the perfect fit and shaped me into the counselor I am today,” says Michael

After graduating from Lewis in 2013, Michael was called to serve in a different way; he entered into the formal formation program and began living in community with the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Although this experience allowed him to open his heart and mind in many ways, Michael ultimately discerned away from brotherhood and continued working as a counselor.

Which all leads us to the here and now. Michael was recently appointed as Recruitment Coordinator with Lasallian Volunteers, the same program which he entered nearly a decade before in 2011.

“I have always approached my work as my vocation, which is essentially what led me to this career choice!” says Michael. “This program changed my life completely, even in some ways that I still cannot see or understand. Having the opportunity to grow up emerged in Lasallian heritage, be in formation with the Christian Brothers, and serve abroad, I feel that I have a unique perspective. These experiences will allow me to walk with and help others discern. I do not take lightly the place and space that discernment has in helping young people.”

Michael was born in Haiti but grew up near Yakima in Washington state. Throughout his life, he heavily relied on reflection and guidance from his support system, including his mother and twin sister, to openly discern. He always made it a priority to continue to grow and figure out how he could best meet the needs of the world.

“This is not just my job; it is my way of life. I like to consider myself a ‘lifetime Lasallian’, as many would call it. My new role, as I am learning, is embedded in so many aspects of the Lasallian world. I believe I have been called to exercise the ministry of presence in this role, which is so cornerstone to the Lasallian mission,” Michael adds.

Michael’s journey has brought him a deeper awareness of his vocation and the ability to continue to see the world through “eyes of faith.” Michael is confident that everything that happened in his life, happened for a reason – which is to be here in this new role guiding young men and women through their own journeys.