ELMHURST – Dozens of IC Catholic Prep alumni lined the front walk of their alma mater, laughing and hugging while keeping an eye on Cottage Hill Drive.
After teaching at IC for 45 years, Joe Schram is retiring, and his students – old and young – wanted to greet him on his last day in style.
“He gave us 45 years; the least we could do is give him 30 minutes,” said alumna Maria DeAngelis-Vesey.
She remembers Schram joking about how on his last day of school, he wanted to pull up in a limo. So she and her 1981 classmates made it happen.
“We have our own Facebook page that we don’t let anyone else into,” said DeAngelis-Vesey, who said even 32 years later, she and her high school friends still keep in touch regularly.
When Schram – who turns 67 next week – found out what his former students had planned, he was overwhelmed.
“Somebody cared that much about me, wow,” said Schram, who dressed in a tuxedo for the May 10 occasion.
As word of Schram’s limo arrival spread through social media and by word of mouth, DeAngelis-Vesey said everyone wanted to help. Students got competitive, claiming to be Schram’s favorite.
Flowers sent from alumni living in other states and balloons filled DeAngelis-Vesey’s home in preparation for the big day.
“He encouraged us to write and to read and to use better vocabulary and to be strong and to do the right thing,” she said.
Patrick Reedy, who graduated from IC in 1988, remembers when the cross-country team was left without a coach and Schram, an Elmhurst resident, stepped up – even though he wasn’t an avid runner.
DeAngelis-Vesey recounted endless other tales former students shared with her about how Schram inspired them. Many became teachers, too, and one alumnus had told her he is the man he is today because of Schram.
“He’s the one who put in the extra time,” said Judy Scheibel, IC ’81 alumna.
Schram denied any need for special attention.
“I just thought it came with the territory,” he said of his career. “I want kids to succeed. There’s enough failure in the world. Why would I want to add to it?”
One lesson Schram said he’s always tried to instill in his students is one he learned from one of his own teachers, Northeastern Illinois University professor Robert Payne.
“He let me think and said it was OK even if [the answer] wasn’t what he thought,” said Schram. “That is one of the best gifts the man ever gave me.”
It’s a gift DeAngelis-Vesey said Schram passed on to her and other students.
“He taught us how to think for ourselves,” she said.
The saying goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” but Joe’s wife, Dee, emerged from the white limo ahead of her husband last week. Dee teaches Advanced Placement biology at IC.
“The best thing that ever happened to me at IC was that I met and married my wife,” Joe Schram said.
And “Mr. Schram” – as his former students still call him today – couldn’t forget to be grateful for the estimated 4,500 he’s taught during his career.
“They were all perfect,” he said with a smile. “Every last one of them.”