Aquin Marks High School’s Centennial
By Sharon Boehlefeld, Observer Staff Writer
October 5, 2023
FREEPORT—More than 100 people gathered in front of the stage at Aquin Catholic Schools Sept. 23 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the high school, the 50th anniversary of the Class of 1973, and the 23rd multiclass reunion.
Blue and white balloons, tables with memorabilia and a revolving display of the photos of members of the honored classes provided background to the constant chatter among friends and family, faculty and staff who were celebrating Aquin’s legacy.
Aquin Superintendent and Principal Elizabeth Heitkamp welcomed everyone to the event and led them in grace before junior high school students, in blue shirts, khaki-colored trousers and blue latex gloves served the lasagna dinner as the program began.
Bob Steinman, a member of the 50th anniversary class, emceed the evening’s program. Various members of the class presented memories of their years at Aquin, covering highlights from sports, theater and classroom activities. 
To kick off Aquin’s “Century Club,” The Class of 1973 gave the school $16,152 donated by its members.
“It’s not a challenge,” Steinman said of the first donation of its kind. “It’s a benefit.” He encouraged other classes to generate similar benefits for Aquin.
Heitkamp thanked the class, saying, “The students really appreciate it. They value their Catholic education as much as you do.”
The Class of 1973 also presented a photo of a courtyard brick donated in memory of their late classmate Mike Jenkins, to his parents Jim and Lynda Jenkins, also Aquin alumni, from the 1950s. Jim Jenkins was a long time coach at Aquin, including 55 years with junior high basketball. He and his wife sent all five of their children to Aquin.
Theirs wasn’t the only multi-generational family at the celebration. Several at the reunion were also parents and grandparents of graduates and students. 
Other special guests were former teachers, Father Robert Sherry, Sisters Barbara Dannhausen and Mary Ellen Green, both Sinsinawa Dominicans, and Dr. Kim White, the new diocesan superintendent of schools.
Pat Steinman Udell (1964) and her husband, Steve Udell, of Belvidere attended, as did her brothers Bob, the emcee, and “Topper” (1966). 
She remembered a couple of teachers dozing off in classes while students wondered what to do about it. She also recalled several of the sisters fondly. One, Sister Janviere, got a trip to visit relatives in France courtesy of Udell’s uncle.
Bob praised the education he received at Aquin. “The teachers were outstanding,” he said, saying they prepared students “to help us through college and created lifelong skills for us.”
David and Carol (Mullarky) Nilles were both 1957 graduates. “We had a good time here,” she said. “We’re still having fun.”
Carolyn Chang Talbert (1973) helped with the decorations, even bringing her high school cheerleading skirt. “Look at how short it was,” she said, holding it at her waist. “I loved coming here.”
She was one of seven siblings who attended, she said, and her three sons and some of her grandchildren also are Aquin graduates and students.
Her classmate Alice Duray Wagner who traveled to Freeport from San Diego for the reunion said prom was one of her favorite school memories. 
Talbert and Wagner believed their classmate Sue Peterson probably traveled the greatest distance for the gathering. They explained, at times finishing each other’s sentences, that Peterson came from Liverpool, England. She earned multiple degrees, including a doctorate, and teaches at a university in Britain.
But the night wasn’t all about Aquin’s first 100 years. It was also about the future.
While the reunion celebration went on with oldies songs coming through speakers in the auditorium, outside on the Aquin courtyard today’s high school students gathered for their homecoming dance. 
Under stars and white twinkling lights, they too danced and talked, through the sounds of contemporary music. 
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