Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don Flynn Way is not just an Honorary Street - It is the Heart of Catholic Giving and the Blood and Soul of Leo High School

On Monday, Columbus Day, Leo President Dan McGrath and I took a group of Leo students to the Parade. We were marching with The Big Shoulders Fund, a private charity that supports inner city Catholic schools and eases the financial strain on families who want their sons and daughters to receive the best education in Chicago.

Catholic schools provide the best education, not because of dollars, but because of Faith. Faith is the spine of good living. Along with our brothers and sisters of St. Rita, Mount Carmel, St. Francis De Sales, Maria, Mother McCauley, Gordon Tech, Queen of Peace, St. Benedict, Our Lady of Tepeyac and St. Gregory high schools, we celebrated the accomplishments and contributions of Italian Americans.

Leo High School is largely African American as a student demographic though there are now a few white and Hispanic students returned to the Miracle on 79th Street.

After the parade, we fed the Lions at Schallers Pump one of Chicago's oldest family restaurants, owned by Leo Hall of Fame basketball legend, Jackie Schaller ( Leo '43).
Along with the great feed, the young gents were schooled by a real Lion. Jackie Schaller played for the great Leo Basketball teams that won consecutive National Basketball Titles in the early 1940's. Most importantly, the life-long tough guy commanded, " Stick to your business. Learn as much as you can. Don't be smart-asses. Stay in Leo." Nothing passive agressive in those imperatives.

I drove three of the guys to their homes in South Holland, Brainerd and Ashburn. The second drop-off was between 87th and 88th & May Streets - the very block that was home to arguably the most successful graduate of the Leo High School Class of 1957- Donald F. Flynn ( 1939-2011).

I drove my last charge home and headed home myself. The minute I got in the door, I received a phone call from Mr. Bill Plunkett, who had worked with Don Flynn at Waster Management. " I have some very sad news; Don Flynn passed away in sleep last night,"

Mr. Plunkett and I talked for some time. I related the stories that I heard about Don Flynn from the great Bob Foster '58, the man who kept Leo open by dint of his heroic presence alone.

Bob told the story of a game against Gordon Tech. Helmet face guards were new to football and very few Catholic League teams sported them. The Rams had a few. Leo had none. Don Flynn, a guy that Bob Foster said, 'transformed from a studious and sweet guy into the Incredible Hulk the minute he stepped into the locker room' had a broken arm and was wearing plaster cast.

Flynn was a lineman and great field goal kicker. At some point in the game, the guy over whom Don Flynn was lined up, begged the referee to do something about the madman Flynn. " He is going to kill me!!! He said, so; ' I am going to kill you.'

The referee, probably the immortal Frank Strochia replied, "This is the Catholic League Kid. Kill him back."

A few plays later, the same referee stopped the action and signalled the sideline to take the kid out. He noticed that in fact, the young man's brand new face guard was not only in serious disrepair, but it was caked and crusted with not only young man's blood and field turf & sod, but plaster - lots of plaster.

The Leo Alumni reproduced every yearbook going back to 1931. I have posted Don Flynn's page. Note his high school accomplishments and his stated ambition in 1957 Click that yearbook photo, please and get a good look.

Don Flynn -Top row;second from leftDon Flynn and Bob Foster played on the 1956 City Championship team together. That was last time Leo won what is now called the Prep Bowl.

Don Flynn # 91 top row extreme right; Bob Foster #56 Front Row second from the left. Coached by the legendary Jimmy Arneberg & Bob Hanlon.Flynn went on college; played football and a knee-injury ended his playing days. He transferred to Marquette University and then lit the business world afire.

Bob Foster, a year later, went on to play for Purdue and returned to Leo as a history teacher and coach.

Thirty years later, when the Irish Christian Brothers departed, Bob Foster took the helm of his beloved school. Leo High School needed a great deal of help.

Don Flynn, along with Frank Considine '39 and Andy McKenna '47 buckled up the monetary and moral chin-straps.

Don Flynn made payrolls, pumped in tuition support, funded capital improvements, because he had made what many consider to be a fortune. That was only money.

Don Flynn's fortune was made between 87th & 88th and May Streets, at St. Kilians, in the classrooms of Leo, and on the broken beer bottle and cinder strewn grounds that were Leo High School's Shewbridge Field.

I had the privilege to meet Don Flynn a few times. Like every Leo Man I have ever met he was sweet-natured, witty, uncompromisingly generous and suffered no fools gladly.

Bob Foster, like Don Flynn and all Leo Men, looks for no tributes; therefore, it is always important to give tribute to the team. Foster petitioned the Alderman of 17th Ward Terry Peterson to have 79th & Sangamon designated 'Don Flynn Way.'

Don Flynn's way is followed by every person with a Heart and a Hand.

Heavenly Harps are plucking the Leo Fight Song!

Leo Fight Song
Oh, when those Leo men fall into line,
And their colors black and orange
are Unfurled,
You see those Brawny stalwarts wait
The sign,
And then their might against the foe
Is hurled
For then the foe shall feel the lions might,
And spirit of our team’s attack,
For with every heart and hand,
We will fight as one strong band,
For the honor of the orange and black!

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