Fremd HS alumni create anti-bullying scholarship in classmate's memory

The unchangeable nature of the past can inspire pleasant nostalgia for some — but can be particularly painful for others.

And so, as emails were exchanged among members of Fremd High School's Class of '75 in joyful anticipation of this summer's 40th reunion in Palatine, for Mark Filosa there was a feeling of remorse as he noted one former classmate's name never mentioned.

Johnny Trout.

Even four decades later, Filosa can't forget how he stood by and did nothing while Trout was teased, tormented and bullied for what he believes would surely be diagnosed today as high-functioning autism.

Though well-read and highly intelligent, Trout had an unusual manner. He would cower in the school corridors after some classmates discovered with glee that making loud hissing noises at him would reduce him to a state of terror.

“If you were a sadistic person, it happened like clockwork,” said Filosa, who today serves as an attorney in a poor area of New Mexico. “He was a smart kid, but it scared him, and people laughed.”

The memory of what some classmates did — and others like himself didn't do to stop it — inspired Filosa to send an impassioned email to those on the reunion list reminding them that not every aspect of their shared past had been wonderful.

Filosa said reaction was mixed. Some said memories of Johnny brought tears to their eyes. Others accused Filosa of ruining the reunion over something he was overstating or should have gotten over.

But while he was pleased to learn that almost everyone remembered Trout clearly, it didn't ease the recollections of his own inaction.

“I just failed,” Filosa said. “I didn't do anything. People said it's easy now to be 58 and know that it's wrong. But the truth is, we knew it was wrong at 18.”

The memories stirred by Filosa's email inspired fellow classmate Pamela Olander to do something more to honor Trout's life.

Over the past several weeks she has spearheaded the creation of the John Trout Anti-Bullying Scholarship. She plans to make it the Class of '75's gift to the Class of '15, as well as many more graduating Fremd classes to come.

“We're making our reunion more meaningful,” she said.

Though no one from the Class of '75 appears to have befriended Trout into adulthood, it's generally known what became of him after graduation.

He earned a degree in accounting in Rockford and worked in that profession while continuing to live with his mother, Jeanne, a former Fremd faculty member who later became a special-education teacher. At 94, she lives in fragile health at an assisted care facility in the Northwest suburbs.

Trout, an only child, died of a massive heart attack in April 2011 at the age of 53.

Though the class reunion isn't scheduled until late August, Olander plans to award the first scholarships at the end of the current school year. The fundraising deadline is May 1.

The goal is to give two $5,000 annual scholarships to Fremd students selected by a small committee of faculty members. The students will be a boy and a girl, one of whom will receive the scholarship anonymously for having suffered bullying in high school, while the other will be recognized for standing up to bullying.

“Whoever is selected, I hope it makes their life a little easier,” Olander said. “It's a matter of teaching acceptance. We want it to be an ongoing thing.”

As of Wednesday evening, $3,454 in donations had already been received. One anonymous donor contributed $1,000. The goal is to raise $10,000 this month.

“It was Mark's email that totally captured my interest,” Olander said. “I think of Johnny as a victim, and I'd like him to be remembered in the same way as someone who died serving their country.”

She said she's even heard from some former teachers who also recalled the torment Trout endured.

“I don't recall any teachers ever putting a stop to it,” Olander said. “And that's not to say none of them ever did. We knew that something wasn't right (with Trout), but because he was in classes with us, we didn't see any intellectual disability.”

Filosa said that every conversation he had with Trout was like talking to someone with the maturity and knowledge level of an adult. But his combination of peculiar mannerisms, childlike voice, somewhat portly frame and slicked-over, '50s-era hairstyle always kept him an outsider.

“I'm not saying everyone has to be popular, but they don't have to be abused. Maybe this is a way to make amends,” Filosa said of the scholarship. “Maybe we're buying a little peace of mind. The letter was just a way of getting something off my chest, but Pamela really picked up on it. I had no anticipation of this. I'm very proud of my classmates.”

Too often, people can go through life blind to the injustices around them, Filosa said. His now 82-year-old father once realized the same thing had gone on in his predominantly Italian Catholic community in southeast Kansas in the 1950s.

It was only decades later, Filosa said, that his father noticed that the photos of his two African-American classmates had been placed at the end of the yearbook instead of in alphabetical order like everyone else.

“My dad said he'd never recognized that,” Filosa said. “He said some of these things can be so subtle, you don't even realize it's happening. I also think of the Catholic Church apologizing for standing silent through the Holocaust. Sometimes we're asleep at the switch.”

Mark Filosa

How you can help

To contribute to the John Trout Anti-Bullying Scholarship, mail a check to Township High School District 211, Attn: Becky, 1750 S. Roselle Road, Palatine IL 60067. Include the name “John Trout” on the memo line of the check. The deadline is May 1.

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