Driscoll alum helped save school's spirit
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It's hard to tally all the hearts that were broken the day officials announced Driscoll Catholic High School had to close in May 2009.
The 43-year-old Addison school graduated thousands of students, drew scores of parents and staff into its community, and launched several state champion sports teams, including a 7-year football dynasty.
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The pain hit Peg Senese of Glendale Heights hard. A Driscoll alum along with her five siblings, her four sons also graduated from Driscoll between 2002 and 2007. All four played on the state champion football teams.
And when the Driscoll community decided to raise money and create a proposal to take over the school from the Christian Brothers of the Midwest, who were its proprietors, she said the mood was grave.
"You could just feel the angst and anger and the confusion the night of that first meeting," Senese said.
Despite their best efforts, the Christian Brothers ultimately rejected the group's offer and the school closed. Driscoll sat vacant for more than a year until it was sold this fall to the village of Addison for $2.9 million. Demolition on the building, which officials said was outdated, started this month.
But even as the building crumbles, Driscoll hasn't completely disappeared. Shortly after they realized the school couldn't be saved, Senese and fellow Driscoll supporters Gene Faut, Kevin Hanrahan, Joan Sinnott and Dave Zaval met in summer 2009 to decide how to lessen the blow.
"I said, 'I don't think we can just not do anything,'" Senese said. "That's when I came up with the idea of a monument, a statue of a Highlander (the school mascot). But the more we realized they were going to trash everything in the school, we wondered 'Why can't we get permission and just take that stuff?'"
And so they collected trophies, flags, yearbooks, school uniforms and more. Then they coordinated with Addison officials to use an vacant area in village hall. And the idea of a museum-like exhibit, the Driscoll Legacy Corridor, started becoming a reality.
To complete the $55,000 project, Senese organized fundraisers for the group and reached out to local media to raise awareness. She and her colleagues also worked with artists and craftsmen to fashion the exhibit in a way that honored Driscoll nostalgia.
"It was like putting a 5,000-piece puzzle together without the picture," Senese said.
When the exhibit opened in April, the Driscoll community flocked to opening night and shared tears, hugs and gasps when they could see and touch the remnants of their alma mater.
Today, former students are starting to organize class reunions in the hall, with the class of 1985 holding its 25th reunion there this fall.
Alumna Veronica Togtman of Lombard was at the reunion and called the hall "fantastic."
"It's nice to have somewhere to go that still is part of Driscoll, where you can look at things that are part of your memories" she said this month at the school's building demolition.
And that, said Senese, is precisely the point. She said she hopes more groups will schedule reunions there, and she is pleased that scores of alumni will still have a place to take their children, point to something physical and say "This is where I went to school."
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