Mary Kay Ramirez: Happy Days

To meet the bright-eyed director of community relations with the constant smile and quick laugh, one might mistake Mary Kay Ramirez for an enthusiastic first-year teacher rather than a 35-year veteran administrator. What might also surprise people is that a lifelong career at St. Francis de Sales (SFDS) was not part of her original plan: “When I first interviewed for a teacher position here, I really liked the school. It reminded me of my high school: Catholic and diverse,” explained Ramirez. “I thought I would teach here for a few years to gain some experience and then move onto other things.”

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Ramirez’s main subject was art, but like many Catholic school teachers, she was also called upon to teach other courses, including world geography, earth science, and typing. After Dean of Students Kathleen Madonich passed away, Ramirez was asked to help take over dean duties. Juggling her new responsibilities while continuing to teach art proved to be a professional and personal test for the young administrator: “That was a very challenging year. I learned a lot about myself.”

After Ramirez had spent several years in the dean's office and was finishing her masters in secondary education in curriculum and instruction, the role of assistant principal became available. She transitioned into the role and began working side by side with then principal Richard Hawkins. When Hawkins’ position later became available, Ramirez seemed like a natural choice to succeed him, but she did not rush to throw her hat into the ring: “I had just been recently married and still had a daughter in high school,” she explained. “I knew the time commitment might take me away from my daughter's activities and put a strain on my new marriage.”

The SFDS president at the time, Rick Hussmann, convinced her otherwise, and she accepted the position, serving as principal for six years. “Being principal was one of the most challenging yet most rewarding times of my life,” recalled Ramirez. “My favorite part was being able to shake every graduate’s hand as they walked across the stage. I remembered what each student looked like back on the first day of freshman year and was proud of what they had accomplished in four years. I also knew that they had been given the tools and skills to be successful in the next phase of their life, and was confident they would be!”

Now, as director of community relations, Ramirez finds herself wearing many different hats, as she is responsible for recruitment, admissions, enrollment, marketing, website and social media, and alumni relations, and also sits on the school’s development team. Despite the differences between all of the roles she has held at the school, Ramirez has found some constants: “As I was moving into each new position, I learned that in order to be successful, you need to surround yourself with good people. Create a team that has a hard work ethic, is compassionate about all things SFDS, and is fun to be around.”

Ramirez has done just that, and in the process has made lifelong friendships with fellow faculty and staff members. She has also developed friendships with former students—and was even asked to be in a former student’s wedding. She plays Bunco with other SFDS alumni who are former students of hers, and every month she has lunch with the “SFDS Retired Ladies”: Ms. Lepore, Ms. Mikrut, Mrs. Keating, Mrs. Hroma, Ms. Gesmond, Ms. Bucur, Mrs. Roguljic, Ms. Archer, Mrs. Djukic, and Mrs. Mabs.


One of Ramirez’s most memorable experiences at SFDS was coaching boys’ golf for five seasons. “I was the only female coach in the league, which often caused problems at certain golf courses when we would hold our coaches’ meeting in the men's locker room,” she laughed. “I played golf on my high school team and had great memories of my experience. As a coach, I truly enjoyed being on each of the courses we played as well as mentoring the young men under my supervision.”

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Ramirez points to her own Catholic upbringing as a major influence on her professional ethos: “Being a teacher, dean, assistant principal, and principal, I sometimes had to make some hard decisions regarding students, families, and teachers. Having a solid faith foundation helped me treat those situations with compassion, even when tough decisions had to be made.”

As an eight-year breast cancer survivor who lost a sister to breast cancer, Ramirez says that spending time with family and remembering to smile and laugh each day are principles she lives by. Many of her colleagues and students are familiar with her favorite sayings, “Happy Day,” and “Life is too short.” When she’s not busy with her many SFDS duties, Ramirez loves spending time with her 14 grandchildren, walking on the beach, reading, attending Sox and Bears games, going to concerts, and traveling. Wherever her travels take her—including Germany for the birth of a grandson last year and Cabo San Lucas earlier this month—SFDS is blessed and proud to be the place she calls home.

Lou Sandoval: Pioneer at the Helm

During his years at St. Francis de Sales, Lou Sandoval (’83) looked forward to a career as a doctor. Accepted into DePaul University’s pre-med program, everything was going according to plan—until a week before graduation from undergrad, when Lou told his dad, “I don’t think I want to be a doctor after all.”

Lou traces the beginnings of what was to become his career path back to his experiences as a Boy Scout: “On my path to earning my Eagle Scout award, I pursued every science merit badge and was doing STEM long before it was a buzzword,” said Lou. “I learned a lot about science and technology, and it fascinated me.”

Lou with wife Sonia and daughters Sarah and Sofia, at the Grand Canyon

Lou with wife Sonia and daughters Sarah and Sofia, at the Grand Canyon

Sandoval began his career in sales, marketing, and management at Abbott Laboratories, moving onto other prominent healthcare companies in roles of increasing responsibility over the course of 17 years. “I’d like to say my career took place in thirds,” said Lou. “In the first third, I learned proper form and structure, how to do things. The Fortune 500 companies I worked for focused on training and development, and that gave me a jump start to learn things the right way.”

As it turns out, the subsequent phase of Lou’s career can also be traced back to his experiences as a Boy Scout. At the age of 10, Lou had gotten his first taste of sailing at a Scout camp in Michigan, an opportunity that might not otherwise have presented itself to the son of a steelworker in South Chicago. He became active in the sport again as an adult after being invited to sail on sailboats in Waukegan. Later, while living in Seattle, Lou developed a side business managing customer’s boats, an enterprise he replicated in Miami before his biotech/biomedical career brought him back to the Midwest.

After his return to Chicago, Lou, his brother, and two fellow Pioneers purchased a small yellow 1978 vintage boat that Lou says they “spent more on than it was worth.” A few years later, they purchased a 33’ sailboat they named “Karma,” and Lou befriended the owners of the company that sold it to them. When the owners retired,  Sandoval partnered with fellow De Sales alum Jack Buoscio (’82) and purchased their company, launching Karma Yacht Sales, a premier dealership of sail and power yachts.

In addition to vastly expanding his knowledge and love of boating, Lou says that this second third of his career allowed him to apply the principles he had learned in his previous work within his own enterprise. “At Karma Yacht Sales, we created a culture that engaged our employees in making the company perform well. I applied practices learned in corporate America to make customer service a focal point of our business.” Over 16 years, Lou and his team experienced significant success doing just that; his company earned national accolades for customer service and sales.

Being in business for himself taught Sandoval a lot about the need to keep one’s options open. His business partner departed the business in 2016 after some unfortunate circumstances; however, Lou’s tenacity had him press on. Always a consummate entrepreneur, Lou identified an opportunity to sell his dream business in 2017 and sought to identify his next venture. As luck might have it, a conversation over breakfast two months later led him to what he describes as the back third of his career, serving as National Director of Business Development for a new division of the Brunswick Corporation. “It happened on a whim. It was the right opportunity at the right time,” recalled Lou, who leads the commercial application of technology across Brunswick’s boating division, developing ways for people to stay in touch with their boat remotely. “I love to create things, and this opportunity gives me a chance once again to build something from the ground level up, to create and apply some of the same things I learned in chapters one and two of my career while still staying within the marine industry.”

Looking back at his St. Francis de Sales days, Lou is quick to give some credit for his success to his supportive guidance counselor: “When I was a sophomore at St. Francis, we took a career aptitude test,” explained Lou. “I came back completely demoralized when it gave me high aptitude for doing things with my hands—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but I remember going in and seeing John Cappello, my guidance counselor, and he was inspirational. He said, “Let’s put it in your file and not look at it again. I’ve seen your leadership in sports and the classroom, and I challenge you to dream big.” Lou says that Cappello continued to guide him through his college application process. “He embodied for me what a guidance counselor should be.”

Another big influence throughout Lou’s life has been his parents, but not because they placed an emphasis on success. “My parents gave me the latitude to fail,” said Lou. “They said, ‘I’m not going to tell you what you should do, but allow you to fail and learn from your failures.’ I’ve learned more in the times that I’ve failed than in the times I’ve succeeded; it takes you into different areas and teaches you to persevere. It shows you what you are made of.”

A longtime member of the Chicago Yacht Club Board of Directors, Lou was recently elected to the position of commodore. One of his goals in this new role is to expose more young people to the boating experience. “We want to give them life skills. As a kid from the South East Side, relating to things outside of my immediate experience was difficult at times. When as a young businessman I was able to fit into a new circle because I knew my way around a boat, that made a difference and fostered inclusion. If I can do that for a group of kids through our programs, I would gauge that a success.”

In forging new paths, Lou truly identifies as a Pioneer: “I was the first Hispanic commodore of the Chicago Yacht Club, and the first Hispanic commissioner of the Chicago Area Council of Boy Scouts of America. I don’t like to be the only one, but I don’t mind being the pioneer. A pioneer might go there first, but creates the path for everyone else to follow.”



SFDS Girls Soccer Player Signs Letter of Intent for CCSJ

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On Saturday, March 16, 2019 Ileana Gallegos, current East Side resident and current senior at St. Francis de Sales High School signed her official letter of intent to play Women’s Soccer for Calumet College of St. Jospeh Crimson Waves.

We are absolutely excited to announce this news. Ileana is one of many players from the SFDS girls soccer team that have had the opportunity to continue their playing career at the collegiate level. 

Alongside her family and coach she accepted this amazing opportunity and took the next step toward achieving her dreams. 

“I am extremely proud of the player that Ileana has evolved into, she is the type of player that makes coaching easier. I will miss her dearly. I wish her nothing but the best and the utmost success at the next level.” 
⁃ Coach M. Flores

Congratulations Ileana Gallegos!

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Jalen Kent: Finding his Rhythm

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When freshman Jalen Kent found out last summer that he had been selected to receive the 2018 Kavanaugh, Keating, and Weber Scholarship to St. Francis de Sales, he was astonished: “I couldn’t believe it,” said Jalen. “I was really excited.”

The four-year, renewable legacy scholarship, funded by the school’s annual Alumni Raffle, made a big difference for Jalen’s family, who moved to Chicago from South Holland last year to give Jalen more academic opportunities. “When we were first looking at St. Francis, I definitely heard a lot about how my mom went here,” laughed Jalen. His mother, Enid Kent, is a 1995 alumna.

“One thing that drew me here was the challenging curriculum,” said Jalen, whose rigorous schedule includes honors classes in English, algebra, and biology. He points to a recent biology project as one of his favorites: “We were on a food chain and made a poster of who eats who. My biome was the tropical rainforest. It was fun, and I learned a lot.”

Jalen admits that the social adjustment to a new school was difficult at first, and that developing new friendships required him to be open: “I had to learn to trust new people.” His patience and perseverance paid off, and he says that the Homecoming dance was a highlight of this year because he got to spend time with all of his new friends.

A drum player since the seventh grade and member of the school band, last summer Jalen joined the South Shore Drill Team, a prestigious community ensemble that performs at more than 100 events each year. “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun,” said Jalen.

Despite some growing pains, Jalen says he is grateful for all of the new experiences he has had: “High school is a big step in life, and St. Francis definitely improves on your learning skills. From a good band to challenging classes, everything is unique.” Jalen credits the staff with playing a big role in helping him feel comfortable: “The staff are really funny, nice, and encouraging.”

As for what the future holds, Jalen says that his dream since he was five years old has been to become a Hollywood actor, a passion he discovered at the Kingdom Performing Arts Academy in South Holland: “I found out that I loved theater, and that’s what I want to do.”

Based on the talent and tenacity Jalen has demonstrated during his short time at St. Francis de Sales, we should all be lining up for autographs now.


Want to help other promising students like Jalen? Buy your ticket to the March 2nd Alumni Raffle today!