Jim Sczepaniak 

Jim ’60 and Fran Sczepaniak have always embraced a deep appreciation for education. After both earning college degrees and retiring after successful careers, they began to evaluate the various ways they might give something back to future generations of college students, resulting in scholarships at Lewis and other area universities.

“After graduation from Joliet Junior College, I was called into the service for two years and stationed in Germany. When I came back to Joliet, I thought I’d be a carpenter because woodworking has always been popular in my family. Well, that lasted until a frightening episode where I was working on a roof. It was December and I started slipping down the side of the roof, sure that I was about to plunge to the ground. One nail that had popped up from the roofing caught my foot, and I was saved from going over the side. It was that day when I realized carpentry wasn’t for me. A friend of mine, Dr. James Zelko – who also provides a scholarship at Lewis - encouraged me to go to school. I was accepted at Lewis and worked towards becoming a social studies teacher,” says Jim.

Upon graduation in 1960, Jim performed his student teaching at Lockport Township High School and worked in Valley View School District in Romeoville and Bolingbrook. He then moved to teaching at Lockport West (now Romeoville High School) and spent more than 33 years in the field of education. Jim and Fran didn’t marry until November of 2009, though they knew each other before that through their late spouses. Jim’s first wife, Mary Clare Gordon, was a friend of Fran, while Fran’s first husband, Albert Naal, had built a friendship with Jim. After the loss of their significant others, they found a future with each other and began to look at ways to honor the love, friendship, and dreams of giving back that all four of them had believed in.

“About three or four years ago, we began these scholarships at the different universities that were important to Fran and I and our  late spouses. We had always talked about how we might help out the colleges we attended and how we can give back to people what we were so fortunate to have. When you see the love and attention and financial care that students need, you can’t help but want to give back. We are so blessed to be in a position to be able to do that. We are both so happy when we meet the students and wish we could give more. All of the students who have received our scholarships have been such nice, hardworking persons and will do great things in their fields.”

While at Lewis, Jim was a day student and alternated between classes and work. His favorite classes were taught by Father John Brennan, although he felt a deep respect for all the professors paving his path to teaching.

“Father Brennan just made you think about your Catholicism,” says Jim. “We are so blessed to have a very good Pope now who is very down to earth. It’s important to have a strong Catholic background and a belief in giving back and helping others. Lewis was a great school and my classmates were all very good, too. We had the same goal – to get out there and make a change in the world, big or small.”
Now, Jim enjoys coming back to see the growth on campus.

“Lewis has come such a long way; it really is a big time school now. I think that Brother James has been tremendous for the school. He is forward looking and an innovator. He remembers people and is always willing to talk to you. I’ve been so happy watching him walk around the school and how he greets and talks to students, staff and faculty. The staff members are the same way, always willing to help those on campus. It’s a great organization all around.”

While Jim and Fran are grateful to be able to provide scholarships for students, Jim says the gesture is nothing extraordinary, but rather something ingrained into his family by parents and grandparents who strongly believed in the power of kindness. His mother in particular was very active in the church and in helping senior citizens. During World War II, Fran’s parents ran a vegetable farm to help people and donated to charitable organizations. Jim’s maternal grandparents came from Slovenia and whatever they had, they gave to help others. Homeless would come, he says, and his grandparents would have a place in back of the house where they could come eat a warm meal before going back on their way.

“We were always raised that you should help your fellow man. It was just sort of bred in us that we should give to others who needed help, and it was never just a phrase bellowed at us but a living example in the leaders of our families. School is not just the books; it’s learning how to get along with people and  cooperate; to have people depend on you and at times, you depend on other people. In today’s world there is so much technology and ways to talk without being face to face creating this lack of closeness between people and sometimes we forget the important things in life.

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