Mother of bullied Fremd student wills $50,000 to scholarship

 
 
Posted7/25/2015 2:30 PM
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  • John Trout

    John Trout

  • Jeanne Trout

    Jeanne Trout

Heartbroken she was unable to stop the incessant bullying her son endured at Palatine's Fremd High School 40 years ago, Jeanne Trout found a new peace in the last months of her life after members of the Class of '75 committed to fighting such injustice in her son's name.

Trout's late son was the inspiration for the new John Trout Anti-Bullying Scholarship at Fremd. And when Jeanne herself died earlier this month at age 94, she left $50,000 to help perpetuate the scholarship for years to come.

Jeanne was a retired Fremd faculty member -- and one of its first special-education teachers. Her specialization came after her son, John, was notoriously bullied while attending the school.

During the past few months, in preparation for their 40th anniversary reunion in August, some of John's former classmates organized the scholarship in his name. Two members of Fremd High School's Class of 2015 received $5,000 each for their further education in May.

Jeanne's attorney, George Drost, said she had been very moved by the effort to memorialize John -- who died of a heart attack four years ago at the age of 53 -- with the aim of instilling a sense of justice among young people.

"That resonated with Jeanne. She knew exactly what it was for," Drost said. "Jeanne was an elegant lady. She was a model for women. She had her crosses to bear and did so with humility and strength."

Her only son, John, had a vocal impediment that kept him from speaking until therapy helped him when he was about 7 years old. But even after he could communicate, he spoke with a high-pitched voice that caused him embarrassment and shame in high school, Drost said.

Classmates like Mark Filosa and Pamela Olander, who helped organize the scholarship, said he also suffered from an auditory sensitivity that caused him to cower in terror in the hallways when fellow students made hissing noises at him -- a not uncommon occurrence.

Olander campaigned hard to raise $10,000 from among the Class of '75 for the first year of scholarships, barely reaching the goal, and she was almost moved to tears by the fact that John's own mother ultimately helped her toward the hope of making the scholarship an annual event.

"This woman was all about education and encouragement, and that's what this scholarship is all about," Olander said. "I never thought it would be this big. I'm getting a little emotional, but when I found out about this gift, it took my breath away. We made a difference!"

But Olander is also painfully aware that having some influence on the culture of Fremd High School makes only a small difference in combating the societal causes of bullying.

In speaking with others at Jeanne's funeral last Wednesday, she said most agreed that bullying today is even worse than when John was a student. She's also worried about current anti-bullying programs being lost to the state's budget crisis.

"I see this as looking at the tip of the iceberg," Olander said of the Fremd scholarship. "I think (bullying) is pervasive in our culture and there have to be fundamental changes. I don't necessarily expect to see a major change in my lifetime."

She said her top challenges now include getting the money invested well and fighting the possible complacency of potential contributors who might think Jeanne's $50,000 will last forever.

But Jeanne also asked for others to make memorial donations to the scholarship fund upon her death, and several checks were received from those who attended her wake and funeral.

As with this first year, Olander wants the scholarship to be awarded to a boy and girl in each graduating class at Fremd -- one who has been bullied and the other who has significantly stood up to bullies.

Even those who stop the bullying of another probably understand the pain of being bullied themselves, she said.

Though John remained reclusive into adulthood and continued to live at his parents' Palatine home, he ran a small but successful accounting business and was popular with his clients, Drost said.

Olander recently learned that John was very fair with his fees -- including charging some low-income seniors 50 cents to do their taxes, just to make his service official.

"He had a big heart and we can learn a lot from him," Olander said of her late classmate.

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