By Bob Uphues
For the past decade, Lyons Township High School has invited area veterans, particularly ones who attended the school, to participate in their annual Veterans Day assemblies.
Each campus will host an all-school assembly in their respective fieldhouses on Monday, Nov. 11, with the South Campus assembly at 9:15 a.m. and the North Campus assembly at 12:30 p.m.
At the North Campus this year, however, school official plan to publicly roll out the school's new Wall of Honor, located in a hallway on the lower level of the main building near the cafeteria, which honors alumni who have served in the Armed Forces.
A year in the making, the hallway display is something of a consolidation of memorials that previously had been scattered throughout the building, centralizing them in one space and augmenting them with student and alumni-produced artwork, including a large mural, and display panels showcasing yearbook and local press items regarding LTHS alumni and student involvement in, particularly, World War I and World War II.
But a focal point of the Wall of Honor is a new interactive touchscreen, where anyone can search a database of alumni from LTHS who have served. The database, compiled from a variety of sources by the school's Community Relations Department, includes photos and service information about war heroes like Maj. Robert E. Coulter – a B-17 bomber pilot who was killed when his plane was shot down over North Africa in World War II and for whom LaGrange's American Legion Post is named – to peacetime veterans who also attended LTHS.
"It's in a nice high-traffic area where kids can't help but see it, which is the plan," said Jennifer Bialobok, the school's community relations coordinator who led the effort to establish the veterans' database, along with the department's webmaster, Suzanne Andersen, and administrative assistant Robyne Recht.
"I was really pleasantly surprised when I brought this to the team and said, 'OK, this is a new project and it's never going to go away,'" Bialobok said. "They jumped at it."
Because the team also handles alumni relations, they already maintained an alumni database and were able to reach out to them and get additional information from alumni about their military service and photos.
In addition, the team scoured Tabula yearbooks, the archive of the school newspaper, visited the LaGrange Historical Society and worked with local VFWs to obtain as much information as they could.
"It was pretty multifaceted in order to get what we have," Bialobok said.
The idea for the Wall of Honor came from teacher Mike Morrison, said Bialobok, who enlisted her team as well as art teacher Patrick Page, LTHS' unofficial historian, who enlisted students and alumni to provide other visual elements.
Noah Denten, an LTHS graduate who is a storyboarding major at the Savannah College of Art and Design, painted the mural that depicts members of the various service branches and references to LTHS wartime contributions, like the P-51 Mustang fighter plane that students "bought" in 1944 through the sale of war bonds.
Display panels with images and text taken from old yearbooks and newspaper articles were created by LTHS graduate Natalie Kraus, now a senior at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, based on research done by Liz Becker and Megan Galbreath when they were students at the school.
Other recent graduates who helped with the project include Graham Voetberg, Brit Voetberg, Kelly Czarny, Faith Echeverria, Kaitlyn Lowe and Madison Waliewski.
"It's been a years' long effort to research and scan, which actually allowed us the resources to move forward on the wall," Page said. "And a bunch of the kids helped lay things out, as well as our outstanding buildings and grounds team that helped so much. It's really amazing the work the kids put in and what it shows about how they care for the school and its history."
Among the war memorials comprising the Wall of Honor display is a plaque honoring alumni who were killed in action, which hung for 60 years outside the school office. Research into some of the names on that plaque, like LaGrange resident William Mabin, were sober reminders of the sacrifices made by alumni.
Mabin was a crewman of the USS Lagarto, a submarine lost in the Pacific in May 1945 and discovered by a private group of divers led by Jamie MacLeod and Stewart Oehl in the Gulf of Thailand in 2006.
His daughter, Nancy Kenney, who was 2 years old when the submarine went missing, will be speaking at the North Campus assembly on Nov. 11.
The collection also includes a shadowbox honoring Brookfield resident and LTHS alumnus Anton "Bud" Jecmen, an Army private first class who was awarded a bronze star for heroism after being killed in action in Vietnam in June 1969.
In addition to his LTHS graduation photo, Jecmen's medals and citations are part of the displays.
Displayed on the same wall is a plaque honoring Air Force Maj. Wayne Pearson, an LTHS graduate who was killed in action in February 1969 when the F-4 Phantom fighter jet he was piloting was shot down while escorting B-52 bombers on a mission over Laos.
Any veterans interested in participating in the LTHS Veterans Day assemblies can contact Peter Geddeis in the Student Activities Office at 708-579-7444.
This story has been changed to correct information on who discovered the USS Legarto.