Midtown Summer 2015 Alumni Newsletter

Dear Midtown Alumnus,


In this our fiftieth year, Midtown had its largest Summer Program ever with 440 students from 4th through 12th grade and some 50 college-age coaches, advisors, sports instructors, and support staff, the majority of whom are graduates of the programs. The One and MAP programs had their traditional blend of academics, character, and sports while the high school apprenticeships (Architecture, Business, Engineering, Law, and Public Relations/ Journalism) taught the skills and values of professional work and prompted some excellent results in projects, services, mock trials, a weekly newspaper, etc. Thanks to the following alumni who were among the many career speakers who shared professional and life experience with 7th through 12th graders: Umberto Brizuela, Randy DeVaul, Angel Diaz, Leo Gomez Sr., Leo Gomez Jr., Ricky Gardunio, Carlos Sanchez and Steve Vicenteno.

One highlight of the summer was filming for two media presentations. On successive Saturdays, July 25 and August 1, Midtown was featured on Fox cable news show "America's News Headquarters." The MEF segment, which does a great job of capturing the heart of our programs, is one in a series produced by Kelly Wright called "Beyond the Dream." Hub Arkush, a great friend and supporter of MEF, also contributed a clip for his website on the summer program. Check it out!

We think you will also find the 50th anniversary video interviews with students from each of our five decades interesting.  Midtown grads Al Castaneda (‘82) and Leo Gomez (‘81) discuss the early days of the programs and their continuing importance while Jeremy Malone (‘01) shares more recent perspectives.

This summer we held three sessions of Tutor U, an opportunity for school year volunteer tutors to get some extra training and keep in touch with us and each other.  The format is simple: an hour-long evening presentation on and group discussion of a relevant topic. In June, Mr. John McCartney, long-time tutor and author of the original character formation course, shared his thoughts on communicating effectively with parents. Kevin Ziolo, a professional grade school teacher and Midtown tutor, presented the July topic, motivating students.  Midtown Director Jerry Shepherd led the August discussion on character and the virtues. We also had a first in the Midtown history: advisor Greg Werner, a recent college graduate, proposed on the rooftop of one of our buildings with the other advisors present. Thankfully, Maria Villa accepted.

Can’t you spare two hours a week to tutor a Chicago youth and help him reach for excellence? We need 130 tutors this fall. Sign up now!


Team Herrera – captained by patriarch Jacinto (“Jumping Jack”) Herrera – dethroned Team Moses Ramirez as champions of the alumni Three-Man Basketball Tournament. The fiercely contested matches were moved inside this year to escape the rains by organizer Chris Michaels. Spirits remained un-dampened.

About 17 adults attended the annual Alumni Family Cookout on Saturday, June 20. Thanks again to the alumni reps who helped organize and especially to Rafael Padilla for his pulled pork, Leo Gomez for his on-time burgers and brats, and Cesar Martinez for his craft beers.

On July 18, MEF hosted a special 50th anniversary “Old-Timers” Reunion for alumni who attended the original Midtown at the Loomis Street buildings which now house the business and development offices of the foundation. Congratulations to Al Castaneda (‘82) and MEF staffer Bob Korneckifor organizing the event.  Participants and their families enjoyed Pompeii Pizza under a tent over the old basketball court, recognized old friends in a slide show of oldie photographs, and reminisced about dodge ball, street hockey in the indoor “rink”, and the many individuals who influenced their lives. Joe Major, who seemed to have recruited most of those present through school presentations, and former long-time Midtown Director Art Thelen, received special awards from Executive Director Glenn Wilke.

Upcoming events include the Auxiliary Board’s August 29 co-ed Kickball Tournament, which bonds current volunteers and introduces new young professionals to MEF.

The Annual Alumni Reconnect Party on Thursday evening, September 17, will provide a chance for camaraderie and networking over pizza, beer, and soda and the opportunity to hear Hub Arkush’s analysis of the 2015 Bears and NFL season. That same morning, the Midtown Advancement Council’s Breakfast for Champions will feature Tribune columnist John Kass talking about his vision for education in Chicago. Register for the breakfast online here. The Reach for Excellence Awards Dinner, our largest fund-raising event, takes place on November 3 at the Four Seasons. See here for details. Alumni are eligible for a reduced cost of $100.  Please email me, if interested.


Arturo Baranda, long-time Parenting Program Manager, is retiring this fall and returning to Mexico, where he and his wife have relatives, friends, and a home. We hope that alumni, especially recent grads who know Arturo well, will join us in thanking him for his dedication, wisdom, and fortitude in helping so many Midtown parents and students. (See the August 9 Catholic New World for an interview with Arturo on his Midtown work in parenting). You can email him at arturo@midtown-metro.org.  ¡Felicitaciones y gracias, Señor Baranda, por un trabajo muy bien hecho!

We are sad to see Arturo go, but the whole staff is happy that Carlos Martinez (‘92) has agreed to become Parenting Program Manager and that Gabe Avalos (‘09), who started in the One program and has served Midtown in a variety of positions for years, has accepted Carlos’s former position as Senior Programs Assistant.  It has always been a joy for us when we can fill positions from career speakers to volunteers to staff persons with talented Midtown grads who have imbibed the Midtown Spirit.

Speaking of people who want to give back, we have needs for the fall programs that some of you may be able to fill. We will need 120+ tutors for One-on-One’s 4th-6th grade program. If you can spare two hours a week to help a youngster to become a better student and person, see the description and registration button here.  If you’d like to be a career speaker, sharing career and life lessons with a small groups of for high school students on a school-year Wednesday evening, contact jshepherd@midtown-metro.org.  All programs begin their fall schedules the week of September 21.


John Angelini (‘75) has been married nine years and has a step-daughter who studies graphic design at DePaul.  John takes care of the IT needs at Oak Park-River Forest High school, a position he previously held at Morton High School. Val Castaneda (‘80) lives in Buffalo Grove with his wife and four boys.  An ‘84 grad of Notre Dame with an MBA from DePaul, he is currently the Director of Procurement for the YMCA National Office.  Fred Flores (‘81) is a field engineer for IBM. He is married with three children in college. Billy McGuire (‘82) taught for 15 years at the Armour School, where he received a reward from Mayor Daley for his efforts, hosted his own cable show, The Billy McGuire Show in the 90’s, and currently is a care-giver for his ninety-two year old father. Ralph Alvarez (‘84) holds a degree in Management from Illinois Benedictine and is a Lieutenant in the Chicago Fire Department’s 3rd District.  He has two girls, ages 14 and 17, who attend Trinity High School in River Forest.  “Midtown taught us that you have to finish things well in your life and strive to be a good person. Everything we heard at Midtown sank in, but we would never admit it at the time.”

Alex Herrera (‘84) lives with his wife in Houston. He is Vice-President of Sales for Aetna Insurance, where has worked for 22 years. He volunteers as a confirmation teacher at the local parish. Peter Herrera (‘90) has been in retails sales of industrial paints, cars, and most recently Harmony Health Insurance for the Medicaid population. He is currently recovering from major surgery. Rafael Tolentino (‘94) has two boys, John Carlo and Grayson and is currently Assistant Principal at Pheasant Ridge School where he has worked for eight years.  The Monday August 10 edition of the Chicago Tribune has an article on Emile Cambry’s (‘98) plans to expand his business. Emile, the article says, “the founder and CEO of Chicago-based Blue1647, the coworking space that says it wants to make tech development more accessible to a diverse community, says he’s about to set up shop about 300 miles south of here. Emile Cambry Jr. says he’ll leave Chicago August 11 to establish two St. Louis centers that, like Blue1647, will offer coding boot camps, workforce development and training and startup accelerators.”  See the whole article.

Christian Gauna (‘02) and Elizabeth Wilkie married at St. Mary of the Angels on June 13.  Christian’s brother Fabian (‘03) was best man. Tony Vaca (‘04) and Varitssa Arlette Elizalde married on July 25.  Tony’s brothers Eduardo (‘09) and Saul (‘06) were best men and cousins Hector (‘07) and Jaime (‘02) were in the wedding party. Vincio Paz (‘05) graduated from DePaul in June with a degree in Animation. Jose Chavez (‘06) is currently a personal trainer at Xsport. He has certification from NASAM and us working towards anther certification in nutrition. Jesus Garcia (‘09) has completed his degree in physics at IIT and worked again as a math teacher in the Midtown summer program.  Edourdo “LaLo” Vaca (‘09) has been accepted at Chicago’s Rush Medical and start attending this fall.  Ricardo Lopez (‘10) completed his degree in electrical engineering at Southern Illinois University, survived his internship working as an administrative assistant to Mr. Parker in the MAP summer program, and is now working as an automation and communication engineer with the City of Naperville. He will complete a second degree in computer engineering from Southern this December.

Bart Radzik (‘10) married Patty Bartela on June 27 at St. Hyacinth Basilica.  Herman Johnson (‘12) is working for Alderman Leslie Hairston as an intern this summer.  “My job is to send out emails and flyers about events, update information, answer phone calls, make phone calls, go to events, and do anything else that the alderman or her assistant don't want to do. It's great, I love it, and it’s a great starting step towards my future.” Luis Munoz (‘12) is studying Business Administration with a concentration in Economics at Robert Morris and is working as a supervisor at Fresh Market Place. Efrain Sotelo (‘13) has an internship with the public accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers this summer. “I am a Start intern and it is a three year summer internship where during the first two years, I work with internal firms services.  During the last year, I would do actual client service and work with a team of accountants.  I would most likely go into the audit practice during my time doing client service.”  Pedro Gonzalez (‘14) has completed his first at UIUC on an Evans Scholar and plans on majoring advertising. He served this summer as the Assistant Instructor for Midtown’s Business Apprenticeship.  Humberto Ochoa (‘15) graduated from St. Lawrence Seminary School, will be attending University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign this fall, and plans to major in business.

Former volunteer student councilor at Midtown from 1990 to 1994, Ron Tolentino now works for W.M. International Engineering developing fuel-injection systems. “I have brothers that were also involved with Midtown at some point in the early 90's, and their names are Ramon, Raphael, and Ronald.” Former Midtown teacher Bob Bajek was one of three journalists to receive the Ethics in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for their ethical journalism practices. “The Ethics in Journalism Award honors journalists or news organizations that perform in an outstanding ethical manner demonstrating the ideals of the SPJ Code of Ethics.” 

Current Testimonial from a seventh grade parent: “Midtown has been so good for us. [My son] is happy and has gained a lot more confidence in himself.  The other day we had a presentation with his football team (which is also sponsored by the Chicago Bears) at Hamlin Park and [my son] was the first one in asking questions.  I noticed that and I told him I was proud of him because he is asking questions, and he said his teacher at Midtown told the class that they have to ask questions and not to be shy.  "That is why I am asking more questions, Mom, and I am trying not to be shy because my teacher told me I can do it" Mr. Parker, that meant a lot to me.  I definitely want [my son] to continue at Midtown during the year.” 

That’s it for now!  Be in touch if you’d like to help or need help. We hope to see many of you at the September 17 Alumni Re-Connect event.  Invite other Midtown grads you might know!

Best to you all,

Jerry Shepherd, Midtown Director on behalf of the Midtown staff: Brian Parker, Carlos Martinez, Oscar Calderon, Mike Walsh, Arturo Baranda, and Gabe Avalos