As Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum prepares for next week's New Hampshire primary, one of his former classmates at Mundelein's Carmel Catholic High School is rooting for him from Lake County.
Former state Rep. Al Salvi, who graduated from Carmel in 1978, two years after Santorum, was buoyed by the former Pennsylvania senator's second-place showing in Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses Tuesday night.
"I am so excited, not only for him but also for the country," said Salvi, of Wauconda.
Santorum graduated from Carmel in 1976. He attended the Mundelein private school for only one year as a senior, following his family's move to this area from Pennsylvania.
Santorum's father was a doctor at the Great Lakes Naval Station near North Chicago.
Santorum returned to his home state for college and stayed, eventually being elected to the U.S. House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1994.
Santorum was among the senators who came to Illinois in 1996 to campaign for Salvi, who ran for Senate that year but lost to Dick Durbin.
Salvi didn't know he and Santorum attended Carmel together until a 1996 fundraising dinner at Chicago's Drake Hotel.
"I was seated next to Rick, and he said, 'You know, I graduated from high school here,'" Salvi recalled. "I asked him where, and he said Carmel High School in Mundelein. And I said, 'That's where I went.'"
Salvi said he and Santorum, who left the Senate in 2007, have remained friends. Now that Santorum is running for the White House, Salvi is co-chairing his Illinois campaign and trying to get enough signatures for him to appear on the state's March 20 primary ballot.
The deadline is Friday, but Salvi hopes Santorum's success in Iowa could give his effort in Illinois a boost.
"We're trying to use the momentum from yesterday (Tuesday)," Salvi said.
Salvi has been talking about Santorum's campaign on his Facebook page. Other Carmel alumni, including Lindenhurst resident Linda Panszczyk, have been buzzing about their former classmate, too.
A 1978 graduate, Panszczyk described herself as a liberal Democrat and doubts she would vote for Santorum, a staunch conservative.
"Even so, although I disagree with him politically, in some ways I feel proud of his accomplishments," Panszczyk said. "His strong showing in Iowa will give him a better platform to articulate his views."
Not all Carmel High alumni are keen on Santorum's political rise.
Matt Muchowski, a 2002 graduate, created and maintains a Facebook page called "Carmel Catholic Alumni Against Rick Santorum." He is incensed by comments Santorum has made about gay people and opposing gay rights.
"I wanted to create this group to show that many Carmel alumni do not agree with his views," said Muchowski, who grew up in Gurnee and now lives in Chicago. "Many of my friends from Carmel feel shocked and embarrassed about Santorum and his connection to Carmel."