‘Charlie’s Angels’ give high school helping hands

PHOTOgraph BY SEAN KRAJACICChuck Wood, a 1960 graduate of St. Catherine\'s High School in Racine, brought his fellow alumni together to do projects for the school.

Story by Heather Gascoigne

Think of “Charlie’s Angels” and, for most people, the thought that first comes to mind is not a group of 60- and 70-something men.

But to Racine’s St. Catherine’s High School, this group of alumni and boosters are surely angels.

“Charlie” is Chuck Wood, the school’s athletic director and a 1960 graduate of the school. Wood was the impetus behind the purchase of the building at 1220 Villa St., across the street from the high school. It was a known drug house and an eyesore in the neighborhood, as well as a safety issue for St. Catherine’s, Wood said.

It was his call to fellow alumni like Earl Wirtz and Jim Cramer in 2004 saying “we can do better” for their alma mater, that led to the purchase of the building and its renovation into the home of the school’s alumni association, a United Way agency and an upstairs apartment.

The building was just the beginning. “Charlie’s Angels,” as the eight original men were dubbed by the Rev. Cletus Uhen, went on to help the school in many other ways: installing donated smartboards in several classrooms, remodeling the teachers’ lounge, installing railings in the school’s gym. The list continues.

‘I came because Chuck called’

Tom Mielcarek, a 1963 St. Catherine’s graduate, gave Wood the credit when asked why he gives of his time and talent to help renovate the house as well as a laundry list of projects that the school needs.

“I came because Chuck called,” he said.

And because he and his “bunch of ex-jock” friends are maybe looking for some brownie points with the man upstairs.

“Hopefully it’ll help some of us get to heaven,” Mielcarek said with a laugh.

Wood, for his part, deflects any credit.

“It’s a loyalty to St. Cat’s,” he said. “We’re all of the same vintage. It just sort of snowballed and everyone’s got a different expertise.”

Dan Bentz, the school’s first nine-time letter winner and self-proclaimed “old guy” in the group, remembers the original group of eight being honored at St. Catherine’s 2008 graduation ceremony. Seated in a row behind the last row of graduates, the men were announced along with the year they graduated.

“I graduated in 1958 and that was announced and this girl in the row in front of us got curious,” Bentz said. “She had to turn around and look and see why I wasn’t dead.”

“I don’t blame her. I’m sure I would have felt the same way if there was somebody at my graduation who had graduated 50 years before,” he said, laughing.

Having fun while helping

Laughing and poking fun at each other seems to be de rigueur for this group, even when they are discussing the work the group has accomplished and the amount of money they have saved the school.

While he joins in the fun, Principal Andy Meuler is not joking about the work the group has done for the school.

“What don’t they do?” he asked. “Any time you need something, you just put it out there and they come up with someone. The only question is, ‘When do you want it done?’ The love they all have for their school is apparent. This is their second home, so they take care of it.”

And serving as inspiration, and occasional “spiritual guidance” for the group is Uhen, now 93.

Uhen, who speaks with an artificial larynx, said he is “in awe” of the dedication of the men, most of whom he taught and coached at St. Catherine’s.

“They put together something special,” he said.

Uhen got emotional talking about the work of “the boys,” as he refers to his former pupils. He said the work the group does “means more than anything to me. Any teacher that sees the success … It’s an indication of a good success regarding these boys.”

Some of the “boys,” who gather on Mondays for lunch and socializing at the alumni association office, aren’t even graduates of the school.

The late Ed Howard, one of the original eight “Angels,” wasn’t a graduate, but all of his children graduated from the school. John Burgess is a 1963 graduate of Park High. That doesn’t keep him from offering his services to the school his three daughters attended.

Burgess’ work with the group came because of “The Kid,” as Ralph Mazzie is affectionately known. He graduated from St. Catherine’s in 1970.

Mazzie said the group offers several benefits for its members — socializing and focus among them — but the most important aspect is the togetherness.

“Everyone has egos,” he said. “But with this group, when it comes to getting something done, everyone leaves it at the door. Nobody gets their nose out of joint. We all work together for the common good, to give something back.”

Spoken like a true angel.