The Pratl Family

Dr. Don Pratl, a 1981 graduate and a member of the Lewis University Alumni Association Board of Directors, says his family’s tradition of being involved goes back to his parents and grandparents – role models who he says were very active in their community and church. Don and his wife Rita have also been involved in church and community, leading by example and instilling that sense of volunteerism in their three children.

Don is active in the family’s Chicago Ridge community as a volunteer coach, in church ministries and by serving on the local Library Board and Village Board.

“It’s easy to take on those roles,” Don humbly said. “It’s important to me and I’m grateful that it has affected Lauren and my other daughters in such a positive way.”

Lauren ’14, who graduated with her degree in Accounting and works as a Junior Accountant at Tripp Lite in Chicago, has been volunteering from an early age. Lauren said, “I get involved because of my family and everything I’ve seen them do. My parents have always volunteered - that’s been a big part of my life growing up.”

As a dedicated student-athlete at Lewis, Lauren spent most of her time with the women’s softball team. Although she was very happy being a part of a team, by the end of Lauren’s junior year she felt that something was missing in her life.

“I loved it. I got lucky because I had a family of 22 girls, a kind of huge sisterhood. But I wanted more,” she said. “I was used to being more involved in my school.”

An opportunity to fill that void manifested itself in the form of an e-mail that was sent looking for applicants to fill open positions within the Lewis University Student Governing Board (SGB). Lauren applied and landed an interview. She told the coordinators of SGB that if they were willing to work with her softball schedule, she knew she would do a great job for the organization.

“They took a chance on me,” Lauren said. She was elected SGB Treasurer during her senior year.

One of the goals that Lauren set out with – and achieved – was to bring the student-athletes and the members of student organizations together according to Sean Fagan ’10 (M.A.), Associate Director of Student Development and Leadership.

“Being a student-athlete, Lauren was able to be a voice for students that had not typically been a strong presence within SGB. More than that, Lauren helped bridge a gap between the athletes and SGB. This brought about an unparalleled amount of cooperation between these two groups. SGB events saw increased athlete participation, and when athletics asked for some extra student support, SGB helped deliver,” Fagan said.

One specific example of Lauren working to bridge the gap was when SGB hosted a Spring Leadership Retreat last year and students were invited to hear from professors and members of the administration speak about their areas of expertise.

“I helped advertise this program with athletics and we had several groups of athletes come for the day. It was great to see a mix of students from Greek life, academic clubs and athletics all come together, “Lauren said.

Although it was a challenge balancing school work, softball practices and SGB meetings, becoming the Treasurer of SGB provided that missing piece of service for Lauren and getting involved at a deeper level at Lewis gave her great satisfaction. She remembers being dressed up for SGB General Assembly meetings, changing into her softball clothes and sprinting to practice. Other times she would leave softball practice and head straight to her night class. Somehow, Lauren even found time to be a member of the 2014 Senior Challenge Committee, a student-driven fundraising effort which ended up raising $10,755.87, an event she’s especially proud of.

“When I was wondering what I was missing, I realized I wanted to do more at Lewis and for Lewis. During my senior year, working as Student Government Treasurer, it all came together.”

Being a part of student government also runs in the family. Don was the President of Student Government during his senior year at Lewis. He even has a Heritage Circle Brick outside the Sancta Alberta Chapel that reads, “Don Pratl, The Prez” (Lauren said that her brick will join his soon) and he spoke at the SGB Spring Leadership Retreat that Lauren worked on as a former President.

As the President of Student Government, Don worked closely with Joseph Falese ’78 ’84, Senior Vice President for Student Services and Special Assistant to the President for Alumni Development (formerly Director of Student Life and Housing at the time) and Dr. Paul Kaiser, who was the Dean of Students and with whom Don became “fast friends”. (Dr. Kaiser retired from Lewis in 2007 as Professor Emeritus.)

“Don was very bright and very hard-working. He looked at SGB in a broad perspective. He wanted to make it a formal structure, a link between students and the administration. He took his job seriously,” Falese said of Don.

“I remember him to be very forthright and direct,” Dr. Kaiser recalls. “He had a great sense of humor and a winning personality.”
Before becoming “The Prez” of Lewis’ student government, Don attended another university but left because it wasn’t the right fit for him. He began working for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) at the facility on Caton Farm Road and spent a lot of time driving up and down Rt. 53, passing Lewis while cleaning the road in the summer and plowing it in the winter.

“I drove past Lewis thousands of times. One day I sent a letter to the registrar, Bob Kempiak ’66, asking how to apply to Lewis. I drove the plow up the driveway and onto campus to deliver my transcripts.”

As a working student, he had late afternoon and evening classes and it was in one of those classes that he met Rev. Kevin Spiess, Professor in the College of Business, who was a caring and influential professor for Don.

“He wanted to help me. He knew I wanted to be successful and that I was on my own figuring out college and my future. He became a mentor. I think very kindly of him,” Don said.

Don and Father Spiess often talked about education, something that Don has always been very passionate about. Although he went to Lewis to become a teacher, Don earned a position at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) after he graduated and made a career for himself there.

On September 11, 2001, the company that Don worked for, Carr Futures, was greatly impacted by the terror attacks on the World Trade Center towers. All of their New York employees were killed that day.

“After 9/11, I thought a lot about how all of those people never got to do what they really wanted to do,” Don recalls with tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat.

He decided then to return to his true passion for teaching. He received his Ph.D. from Capella University, and as a result, a steady stream of adjunct teaching positions flowed in from Moraine Valley Community College, Robert Morris University and Olivet Nazarene University. Yet

Don recalls a special encounter that helped him earn a teaching job much closer to his heart.

At one of Lauren’s softball games, Brother James Gaffney, FSC, President of Lewis University, asked Don which player was his daughter. They struck up a conversation about Lauren and how Don is an alumnus of Lewis, and Don gave Brother James his business card. When Brother James commented on the Ph.D. in Don’s title, he asked Don if he ever thought about teaching at Lewis.

“I think about it all the time,” Don told him. He recalls that Brother James responded by saying, “I think you should. This is your home.” Don applied for a teaching position, and he has been an adjunct business instructor in the School for Professional and Continuing Education since 2012.

“It’s been a great two years,” Don said. “I loved returning to Lewis with Lauren, and I love continuing on as an instructor.”

Both Don and Lauren Pratl continue their service within their community and at Lewis. Don is a member of the District 218s Board of Education, which includes his alma mater, Richards High School. He has been on the Lewis University Alumni Association Board of Directors for the past six years. Both Don and Lauren are Eucharistic Ministers in their parish. Lauren will be volunteering as a coach for the 6th grade girls’ volleyball team at Our Lady of the Ridge School and is looking to stay connected to Lewis through different volunteer initiatives.

Don and Lauren Pratl exemplify a family working together to extend the value of their Lewis education in the community by giving back.

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