Notre Dame Regional High School

Cape Girardeau, MO

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Lindsey Grojean

Notre Dame Regional High School hosted their 20th Annual Living Nativity on Friday, Dec. 13. 

Director of Campus Ministry, Sarah Strohmeyer said it’s become quite a tradition at the school, taking place each year following communion at their Advent Christmas Liturgy. 

As is the case with many traditions at Notre Dame, the living nativity started with the appointment of Brother David in 1999. A member of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, the former principal decided to give his students the opportunity to be involved in the solemn commemoration of Jesus’ birth, especially considering its attribution to St. Francis. 

“[St. Francis] was trying to teach the townspeople about the birth of Jesus. So he called local farmers in Greccio, Italy to bring their livestock, called a family who had a baby, and illustrated what that story is,” said Strohmeyer. “It’s important for our students to see the living nativity, and I love the way we do it.” 

A senior girl and boy are selected each year to play Mary and Joseph, with several students standing near as what Strohmeyer said can be understood as “angels.” 

“We have them walk down the center aisle two-by-two, onto the stage. They’re followed by Mary and Joseph, who are in costume,” said Strohmeyer. “We always have a baby from a couple in the community to play Jesus, and many times it’s the child of one of our teachers.” 

This year, Jesus was portrayed by the daughter of Notre Dame science teacher, Josie Menz. Once she was placed in Mary’s arms, faculty member Anita Layton read the poem, One Solitary Life by James Allen Francis, followed by a performance by Notre Dame’s Concert Choir. Strohmeyer said this moment has always been symbolic to her. 

“It’s kind of like they’re offering their child to the Blessed Mother,” said Strohmeyer. “Then, when the couple comes back to get their baby, it’s like the Blessed Mother then gives her child to the world.” 

Joseph was portrayed by senior Blake Morris, who said the living nativity is a great opportunity to prepare everyone for the coming of Christ. 

“It gets everybody in the spirit and sets the tone for the rest of the season,” said Morris. 

Senior Abbey Brandon was selected to act as the Blessed Mother and despite a fussy baby Jesus, was still able to appreciate the opportunity. 

“It was probably really hard for [Mary] because no one would take her in, and she had to go to a stable to give birth to the Son of God. But she was still accepting of her situation,” said Brandon. 

“Normally in textbooks, we’re just looking at a picture. But when you’re seeing the live nativity, you get to see real people, and it’s a clearer image than just reading about it.”

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It’s been 108 years since people first set foot on the geographic South Pole in Antarctica. Two years ago, Notre Dame alumnus William Lindman (‘05) did the same, serving as a water plant operator at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station - a scientific research base - for nearly ten months.

Lindman’s desire to travel to the bottom of the world came after his graduation from Lindenwood University, during his time with the Peace Corps in Uganda. Here, he served as a water sanitation volunteer for a little over two years, then he headed back home to work for the city water plant in Cape Girardeau. 

When he was looking for a new job three years later, Lindman settled into the habit of watching Netflix documentaries while he worked on his resume. “A Year On Ice” - which chronicles one man’s isolated journey of living for a year in Antarctica - began playing one night, and again piqued his interest. 

“I put everything down and started watching it. There were all of these people on Antarctica, and I thought, ‘They have to have water personnel there, right?’” said Lindman. “I did a Google search and sure enough, there were some open positions.”

Since the summer season was ending, he was quickly hired for the research station’s winter personnel, and flew out in January of 2016. 

A Small Civilization

Although it was winter back in the states, it was the end of summer and a balmy 40 degrees below zero in Antarctica when Lindman arrived. Transitioning seasons, the population at the base dropped along with the temperature, from 150 people to a skeleton crew of about 50. They had everything from carpenters to plumbers, from IT professionals to physicians. Collectively, their job was to keep the facility operational and to maintain projects until the summer crew could return.

“I’d like to compare it to everything that makes a community work, so it was quite a variety of backgrounds,” said Lindman. “It was pretty interesting to see how we were able to work together without really knowing each other.”

With the variety of people came a variety of nationalities, too. It was a U.S. base, but they had personnel from Germany, Canada, and New Zealand. Lindman said there were about seven scientists among the crew. Some were monitoring air quality and ozone restoration, while others were working on the South Pole Telescope (SPT). 

“Essentially, the South Pole is the only place in the world where you can look at one section of sky for a continuous amount of time, due to Earth’s rotation,” said Lindman. “They’re able to look so far back into the universe to try and understand the origins of the Big Bang - that sort of thing.”

In the summer months, more research is conducted on space through a program nicknamed “Ice Cube,” where scientists at the station send probes into a square-mile block of ice in search of a particle called “neutrinos.” 

“I know there was a lot of core sampling going on, too,” said Lindman. 

Burning The Midnight Ice

Lindman’s main responsibility as a water systems operator at the base was ensuring safe drinking water for their personnel. The first step in that process was to melt ancient ice. 

“We were essentially cleaning water that was estimated to be around 2,000 years old,” said Lindman. “We were monitoring it and adding a small amount of chemicals to bring the pH level up to what humans can consume.”

He monitored the system with regulations set by the Department of Natural Resources, most of them requiring Lindman to “just record a lot of numbers.” 

“I had to keep track of how much chemical we were using, what the water flows were, making sure our chemicals were actually pumping correctly, and grabbing samples throughout the station to make sure weren’t actually losing water anywhere,” said Lindman.

In Antarctica, the sun rises and sets once a year, and the majority of Lindman’s term took place during the night: eight months of darkness. 

“All the windows were boarded up to prevent light pollution from exiting the station, because we had all of these cameras set up, capturing the auroras and star patterns,” said Lindman. “So it was pretty interesting to be in a building that you’re not seeing the sunlight at all. It’s not something you’re used to.”

Before working at the station, employees are required to go through psychological training and medical screenings to ensure they’re able to handle the isolation. Lindman fared fine, despite his nocturnal work hours. 

“I was working the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, so when most of the station was sleeping, I was awake. And when I was getting off work, the station was getting ready to go to work. So I didn’t have much interaction with people,” said Lindman. “That was kind of weird, because you can't really base your sleep schedule off of your circadian rhythms. It’s constantly dark, and breakfast was my main meal.”

With a low of negative 108 degrees, layering up became second nature for Lindman. This included the stereotypical, oversized, red coats people wear in pictures when you Google “Antarctica.” And, keeping his gear with him in the event of an emergency was a lesson he learned quickly.

“There were a couple of times that an alarm came in the middle of the night that I was a first responder to, since I was one of the two people who were up at that time,” said Lindman. “Once, there was a low oxygen alarm in the cryogenics building - that’s where they do the core sampling. I went out there and I had most of my gear, but not all of it. It got really cold.”

Back To Sunshine

Coming home proved to be a bit of a culture shock for Lindman. It was nice to eat a lot of food and meet with friends, but one basic task stood out to him immediately upon his return.

“At the end of the season, I remember flying into Chicago and renting a car to get to a job interview up north,” said Lindman. “But I realized I hadn’t actually driven a car in like, ten and a half months now. I literally had only been walking. I remember putting the car in reverse to back out of the spot, and going back and forth.”

Although there are parts of him that miss Antarctica, Lindman would most likely turn down an offer to go back. Being there was a challenge, especially when he missed out on events, weddings, and time with family and friends. 

“I’m almost 30 years old and I’m married now, so it would be hard to change all that,” said Lindman. “I remember the day I was leaving, I was with a group of people waiting for the plane and I wandered off by myself. I sat looking at the horizon, and I was thinking to myself, ‘This will probably be the last time you will ever see this.’ You know, I can go anywhere in the world, but this place is a challenge to get to, and I said my goodbyes then.”

The Notre Dame Effect

Reflecting on how Notre Dame has played a role in his personal growth, Lindman recalled one summer in particular where he had gotten himself into a bit of trouble. 

“I was grounded for the entire summer, and Brother David found out about that. There was a mission trip to St. Louis coming up, so he called and asked, ‘I know you’re not doing much, so what about going on this trip?’” said Lindman. 

He agreed, and even had a great time. 

“It sparked my interest in travelling and in serving others, which my parents had already instilled in me, but I was thinking, ‘Yeah, I could do more.” said Lindman.  

Sometimes Lindman wonders what would’ve happened if he hadn’t been reached out to that summer. Would his life have been completely different? He thinks so.

“The friends I made there were all so supportive of my life of service. My best friend, who graduated with me in 2005, we talk every couple of days and even send care packages,” said Lindman. “I think Notre Dame definitely gave me a lasting impact for my future, and I’m extremely grateful for that.”

Lindman now works in water treatment in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and travels regularly with his wife. The 29-year-old is angling to set foot on every Earthly continent, and he has just one more to go: Asia. 

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Ryan Eftink (‘95) has a passion for barbecue. He loves eating it, he loves cooking it, and he loves manufacturing tools to make the American pastime the best it can be through his family’s grill company, Smokin’ Brothers.

It Runs In The Family

As a kid growing up in Oran, Missouri, Eftink remembers shadowing his dad at the grill for many a summer gathering. When his parents started a grill distributing company in 2002, what was once a hobby became a business for the whole family. 

Three years later, Eftink and his brother-in-law, Craig, decided to compete in a barbecue contest, what with their extensive knowledge on the cooking method. On a fall day in 2005, the two headed to Hermann, MO for the “BBQ and Brats” Festival. Thus, Smokin’ Brothers was born, and they were hooked on efficient grilling. 

“We started creating our own sauces and rubs, and we sold them through my parent’s company,” said Eftink. “As we grew, we modified the grills we were selling, trying to make them cook better.”

In 2011, they began manufacturing their own line of wood pellet grills, grill accessories and, of course, sauces and rubs. 

“We were tired of dealing with some of the companies and products we were receiving that were from overseas, and they were not the quality that we liked,” said Eftink. 

Boasting the slogan “Your family BBQ will never be the same,” neither were the Eftinks’. They have since found great success in Smokin’ Brothers, Inc, evolving to have a presence in 38 states and working with more than 350 dealers. Their headquarters are located across southeast Missouri with a retail store in Cape Girardeau, a factory in Chaffee, and a warehouse in Sikeston. 

Grills, Sauces, and Customer Service

As the company grew from a sales force to a manufacturer, many tough decisions had to be made on what products they would sell, specifically the type of grills. After doing their research, the Eftinks found two to be popular among local consumers. 

“One was a traditional steel grill that was more of an economical purchase, and the other was a top-of-the-line, premiere grill. Think of a Chevy Cobalt versus a Cadillac,” said Eftink. “And we knew there were clients for both of those grills.”

Honing in on accessories, the family considered it all - side shelves, bottom shelves, top grids, bottom grids, grate cleaners, grill cleaners, and more - but they made sure to focus on types that hadn’t been made before. 

“Last year, we came up with an insert for a pellet grill with another company,” said Eftink. “We’ve also got some other accessories we’re coming out with this year that will really revolutionize the pellet grill industry.”

Some of their newest innovations include the “Heat Wave,” a tool which allows consumers to sear their meat without the threat of flare-ups, and a small work station called the “Grill Companion.”

For sauces and rubs, Eftink likes to keep it simple by sticking as closely as they can to their original recipes. They started with a sweet rub, one they now call “Butt The Kitchen Sink.” The other two in the Smokin’ Brothers shop - “Plus The Kitchen Sink” and “Udder Than The Kitchen Sink” - are spicy rubs that were created during the brothers' competitive streak. Their four sauces on the market were named after the men in the family: Craig, Adam, “JR,” and Ryan himself. 

“Not everyone is a sweet barbecue guy. There’s a hot barbecue guy, and there’s also a steak guy. So there’s something for everyone,” said Eftink. “We also believe there are no secrets in barbecue. So we give our recipes out to anyone who asks.”

Products aren’t the only aspect of the business they offer with care in mind, though; quality service ranks equally as high. This in itself, Eftink said, is a “24/7 job.” 

“When you run your own small business, you’re always on call,” said Eftink. “And if there’s a problem, it’s up to you to solve it.”

And to be successful in the manufacturing field, Eftink emphasized the importance in being available, having your product available, and being able to answer questions at any hour - day or night. 

“For some people, your two in the afternoon is their two in the morning,” said Eftink. ”Most of the time the public is understanding, but you still want to be able to give the best customer service possible.”

Made In The U.S.A.

One of the core principles of Smokin’ Brothers is for all of their products to be made in the U.S.A. Eftink knows it sounds cliche, but he’s glad to join a wave of businesses bringing manufacturing and its jobs back to the states.

“Not everyone wants to go to college, and not everyone wants to sit in an office,” said Eftink. “For example, I’ve got a guy welding on the grills, and he’s perfectly okay with not sitting in a cubicle. Now, in a few years, I might need someone sitting in a cubicle answering questions about service, looking at reports and sales statistics, and what market we’d want to attack next.”

To sustain these jobs in the market, Eftink said they’re always looking at ways to be more efficient in production. One recent upgrade - a fiber optic laser - allows them to add an additional revenue stream while cutting production time. 

“It used to take 20 hours to cut my grills out for one week’s worth, but now we can do it in less than eight hours. So there are 32 more hours that machine can be cutting parts for other companies, or other accessories for me,” said Eftink, calling the new process their “manufacturing kickoff.”

Growing Pains

The company’s ownership is split among Eftink, his brother Adam, his brother-in-law Craig, and his mom and dad. Having five people in charge is helpful in the decision-making process, Eftink said, since there “can’t be a tie.”

“When we come up with an idea, we all fill out a form. It’s kind of like a checks and balances where we try to see a product all the way through from the manufacturing to the selling, and to the repurchasing of that product,” said Eftink. “It basically outlines: ‘Does it meet our principles for Smokin’ Brothers? What’s the product? What’s the cost of the product? What’s the marketing scheme? What’s the return on investment? And, what’s the worst case scenario?”

As for communication, Eftink said they have an “interesting” dynamic among the family. 

“We don’t all live in the same area,” said Eftink. “My brother lives in Nashville, my brother-in-law lives up in St. Louis, and I live in Cape, so we have a conference call every two weeks.”

But the distance doesn’t change much in terms of the typical woes that come with running a family business. 

“If you’re doing [business] with your family, you better have a strong relationship,” warned Eftink. “Everyone has their opinions, and you know them well enough to know what buttons to push to get them upset.”

At the end of the day, though, Eftink said everyone understands when it’s time for business, and when it’s time for each of them to be present at home. 

“I’ve made Smokin’ Brothers more of my life than what my wife would like for me to do,” joked Eftink. “There are sacrifices. I have to travel a lot with my business, so I miss things.”

But when he walks through the door, he makes sure to set his phone down and focus on his family. 

“Family has got to be your focal point. You’re working to give your family a better life,” said Eftink. “And that’s what I do this for.”

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If you asked 2011 graduate Jessie Ritter to recall some of her most memorable performances from high school, singing Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen” to an incoming freshman class in Notre Dame’s gymnasium would be somewhere on that list. Less than a decade later would Ritter land a deal with the same record label as the famed pop singer, and not only be performing original songs on stages along the Gulf Coast, but over the air across the country.  

It’s All About Taking The Risk

Notre Dame was the “perfect starting point” for Ritter. As a senior, she organized the school’s annual benefit concert, which gave her insight to the music business world she hoped to pursue post-graduation. Being cast as the lead in the dance-heavy spring musical Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2010 also showed her that as a performer, you’re always learning something new.

“I’ve not tap-danced since then, but it’s that aspect of trying something that I didn’t think I could do,” said Ritter. “And taking a risk onstage… that I still do all the time.” 

When it came time for college, she had a choice to make. Medical school was sort of a tradition in her family, and a career in music has its challenges. But, according to Ritter, music “just gets in your blood.”

“I knew that I had to give it a shot, and I had to tell myself that I’d just do it until it didn’t work anymore. Just see what we can make happen. The fact that I have made it work like this is such a big blessing,” she said. 

She went on to attend Belmont University in Nashville where she majored in commercial music. Six weeks after graduating in 2015, life was uncertain. The lease on her apartment was up, her roommates were leaving, and things were at a standstill. That is, until she got a call from Carnival Cruise Lines. 

“They asked ‘Do you want to live on a ship? Sail six nights a week around the Bahamas and get paid every two weeks? I was like... yes,” said Ritter. “My roommate called it an ‘organized adventure.’ I’d get to travel and meet new people, but I was on a schedule, knew when I would get paid, and knew where I needed to be. It was the perfect combination.”

Ahoy, Full-Time Music Career!

When she boarded the boat, Ritter was in for a two-year gig. She worked four hours a night, six nights a week for entertainment-hungry travelers. She sang everything from Motown to disco, from soul to classic rock, gaining the necessary versatility for the career ahead of her.

“It greatly expanded my musical repertoire, but also it banished all stage fright. Because when you have to do it all week, it’s your job,” said Ritter. “When you go to work, you can’t be nervous about it, because this is where you have to be.”

The unfamiliar genres weren’t the only diversity Ritter had to acquaint herself with: as an international company, Carnival hires performers from all over the world. 

“Our guitar player was from England. Our drummer was from Colombia,” said Ritter. “And when you’re working with a Colombian drummer, you’ve got rhythms in there that you would never have if you had an American band full of 20-year-old white boys. That was an opportunity I would’ve never gotten if I hadn’t worked in this niche of a music community.”

She started on a ship in the Bahamas, as promised, but was later assigned to ships on other seas. 

“I was moved to Australia, and got to see all that part of the world, and then they sent me on the Europe ship. I got to go from Barcelona to Athens and back,” said Ritter. “Then we sailed a brand new ship into NYC.”

After her return to the states, Ritter finally felt she had gotten the best of what these itineraries had to offer. She had traveled, explored, and widened her skill set, but was ready to sing her own songs; to become “more of the artist, not just the musician.” 

The Girl In The Pink Hat

Ritter, again, had to decide where she would plant herself. The three contenders were Cape Girardeau, the bustling music city of Nashville, and Florida, where her boyfriend (now husband) Brian Toups called home. She chose the latter; not just for Toups, but for the career possibilities. 

“I knew there was a lot of entertainment on the Gulf Coast, just like on the ship where we’d been playing for people on vacation who wanted to go to the beach, hang out, and listen to music at night,” said Ritter. “It’s really the same thing, but it’s just on land.”

This made for an easy transition. She was hired instantly by a rock band because she knew all of the songs, already had great costumes, and was well-prepared. She booked more clubs and venues as word spread, and eventually evolved back to her solo show. 

“I’m mostly playing my songs on my own, which is really cool. Now I’ve worked up to playing my songs with a full band again,” said Ritter. “It’s kind of a 360-degree morph of the music.”

At the end of July 2018, Ritter unveiled her first full-length album, Coffee Every Morning. It wasn’t too long before strangers started requesting original songs during her sets.

“Maybe they’re a friend of a friend or maybe they actually have heard it on the radio, but it’s really neat to see people I don’t know singing along,” said Ritter. “It’s this once-removed effect of touching people with your music.”

Shortly after the release, Ritter entered one of the album’s songs - Meet Your Mother - in Nash Next, a talent competition offering the chance to land a recording contract and airplay on Cumulus Media affiliate stations. She won the Fort Walton Beach division of the contest, and after another judging round, was one of ten selected from 52 preliminary winners across the country to compete in the live finals in Nashville. 

When it came time for her performance, Ritter said it wasn’t a question of who was going to do great and who was going to mess up; it was about who the label was looking for. 

“Do they want the tough country dude who wears leather jackets and rides motorcycles and smokes cigarettes? Or do they want the little girl who writes love songs and wears lace dresses and pink hats?” said Ritter. “Apparently, they went for the pink-hat girl that night, because we ended up winning the whole thing!”

She signed a deal with Big Machine Records - the label home of big-name stars such as Florida Georgia Line, Rascal Flatts, Brett Young, Brantley Gilbert, Reba McIntire, and Ritter’s idol, Taylor Swift. 

“I should be like “Oh my gosh, I got a record deal,” but what I’m really thinking is ‘I’m on the same label as Taylor Swift!” she said.

This win was the first in a string of many Ritter would experience over the next year. In October 2018, she opened for Easton Corbin, a country music artist she’d once seen perform at the Show-Me-Center in Cape Girardeau as a 17-year-old. In May of this year, she released her first collaborative single with Big Machine called “Nothing But You,” which has since been gathering national radio play. 

In June, she played her biggest show to date when she opened for Hunter Hayes - and a crowd of 10,000 people - at the Pensacola Navy Base. She also made an appearance in Cape Girardeau for the outdoor concert series Tunes at Twilight, and has played countless shows along the Florida panhandle. 

“I can reach so much of the country staying here. It’s like a reverse tour where they come to me instead of me going there,” said Ritter. “That’s the best little niche of this area that wouldn’t happen anywhere else. I can play the same venue six nights a week and everybody in town rotates.”

While the big venues are exciting for her, she still appreciates the small set, the humble lugging of equipment from gig to gig, and the occasional songwriter’s night.

“It’s like when I played the Pensacola Songwriters Festival, and I got to sit and play onstage with people who have written number-one hits for people like Tim McGraw,” she said. “And, you know, the one-hour Jessie shows are what I like best.”

Now, Ritter is looking to expand to places like Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, other cities in Tennessee, and will hopefully make a run through the Carolinas next spring. She currently has a new batch of songs awaiting release, and she can’t wait to share them.

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There was never a doubt in Karla and Robert Essner’s minds that their kids would go to Notre Dame Regional High School.

“It was just head and shoulders above any other choice for so many reasons: academics, spirituality, and environment,” said Karla. “It really is a community, a family. They enforced what we were trying to teach at home.”

Robert graduated from Notre Dame in 1973, and Karla has been working as an administrative assistant at the school since 2007. Their kids, Nathan, Bonnie, and Lee graduated from Notre Dame in 1999, 2000, and 2004, respectively.

In 1999, when Bonnie was a senior, a certain newly appointed principal approached Karla with the idea of a “senior tree” tradition. She was an active volunteer at the time with in the Pawprints newsletter, a publication sent to Notre Dame parents, that was in its early stages.

“It was a Brother David calling,” said Karla. “It was a way to create a lovely memory for seniors, and a way to bring the class together at Christmas time.”

Two decades later, the Senior Tree Tradition is going strong.

Robert has served on the Notre Dame Foundation Board since 1986, long before their kids were enrolled. As a C.P.A., Robert has provided the foundation with sound financial advice.

“I knew they would be going there in the future, and I wanted to build it up,” said Robert. “I thought it was a good mission, and I had the skill set.”

He currently serves as the Treasurer of the NDHS Education Fund Foundation Board of Trustees.

Over the years, the couple has been active at the high school wherever they could be of help, including Booster Club and bingo.

When it came to establishing a new school building, they both served as major gift solicitors during the first capital campaign. During the second capital campaign, Karla served alongside Dennis Vollink and Danny Essner as co-chair. Recently, Karla served as editor of the redeveloped alumni magazine.

Outside of Notre Dame, they are extremely active at their home parish of St. Augustine in Kelso. They’re both Eucharistic ministers and serve as facilitators for the FOCCUS marriage preparation program. Robert serves as a lector and is a member of the parish finance committee. Karla has been a member of the parish council and school board, worked on St.

Augustine’s confirmation program for nearly 20 years, and has served on St. Anne’s Sodality in multiple capacities.

Although sustaining Notre Dame for their own children was an important factor in their service, they always had future generations on their mind.

“The teenage years are formative years,” said Robert. “If you start them in the right direction, you’re improving society.”

Receiving an Annunciation Award was an honor the Essners did not expect. Karla suspects “It all goes back to that darn monk!”
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Notre Dame Regional High School wouldn’t be where it is today without the dedication of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

74 of them, to be exact. Sister Jean Ann Weyer did the math.

“I checked! I found out that there were 74 nuns that taught either at St. Mary’s, Cape Catholic, or under the current name: Notre Dame Regional. And I counted how many years combined,” said Weyer. “It was 317 years of teaching.”

So, when the former Notre Dame teacher was told she was the recipient of an Annunciation Award, she wanted to make it clear that her acceptance was on behalf of all those who taught at the school since its inception.

“I only taught for four years, and there are so many other teachers who are more deserving,” said Weyer. “But I’m still teaching; after hours, but still going. So the only reason I’m accepting the award is because it’s in the name of those 74 sisters.”

During her assignment at Notre Dame in Cape Girardeau from 1957 to 1961, Weyer taught biology, typing, and home economics. She was also in charge of the Living Rosary.

“Practically the whole school volunteered. It was truly a very spiritual experience,” said Weyer. “It was an opportunity for the entire student body and their parents to give glory and honor to our Blessed Mother.”

The school, called Cape Catholic at the time, was just one of many stops across her 52 years of teaching high school. She’s served at institutions across the St. Louis region, including St. Laborius, St. Gabriel’s, St. Barbara’s, St. Francis Borgia, and the all-girls Notre Dame High School.

“I love working with teenagers. They’re just so interesting!” said Weyer. “I personally had such wonderful teenage years, and it’s such an exciting time for them.”

Teens have also taught her quite a lot. This statement rang especially true in 1982, when she began teaching at an alternative high school in East St. Louis. It was for troubled students ages 17 through 24 who had dropped out due to drugs, pregnancy, or incarceration.

“There was a lot of pain to cope with,” said Weyer, which she combated through a fierce prayer life.

“Most teachers learn to bring all of their experiences through prayer to God, because you can get kind of burned out,” said Weyer. “You need to pray, pray, and pray. I couldn’t live without prayer. It’s what gives me life.”

Her days never ended at 3:00 p.m., either. For over 20 years, she would then volunteer at the New Lifestyle Program - a high school equivalency program for women working their way out of prostitution - or to teach inmates at the Medium Security Institute.

In 2003, she began working at the Notre Dame Tutorial Center in St. Louis, and in 2009 began her current volunteer post at the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program. Here, she assists students in learning English to achieve citizenship in the United States.

“The longer I teach them, I realize how blessed we are here in the U.S.,” said Weyer. “We take so many things for granted that people throughout different parts of the world cannot take for granted. One of my students from Croatia came here with just a pillowcase and a few pieces of clothing. That was it. And if they don’t have citizenship, there’s a lot of things they’re missing. They can’t vote, and they can’t get Social Security.”

Many religious leaders come through the program, too. She’s in the process of teaching a priest from Madagascar, and recently she not only helped a priest from Indonesia with his English, but with inclusivity.

“He was writing his homilies for church every day, and I made sure he used inclusive language,” said Weyer. “Over half of our Catholic congregation are women, and many churches still say ‘brothers.’ I don’t like that. If there are women in church, then they use ‘brothers and sisters.’”

Weyer is celebrating her 89th birthday this month. Despite her age, she still drives herself, is very independent, and still accepts God’s call to serve each day. She’s capable of retiring, but just “can’t sit around doing nothing.”

“I love teaching, and I plan to continue doing so as long as my health and the good Lord wants me to,” said Weyer.

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On Monday, Oct. 14, Notre Dame Regional High School Senior Victoria Collom signed to play for Central Methodist University's Esports program. Collom has accepted an Esports scholarship to play League of Legends and Hearthstone at the university, the first scholarship of its kind for the Bulldogs.

League of Legends is a team-based online battle arena video game and Hearthstone is a strategy card game. 

“Victoria brings a lot of excitement and experience to the game and we are excited that she is joining the program," said Head Coach Aaron Shockley about his new addition. "When Victoria tried out for our team last fall, we knew she would be a great addition to the program and the university.”
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At 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23, over 250 students at Notre Dame Regional High School kicked off their annual freshman-senior lockin. At 6 a.m. the next morning, they headed home after a night full of fun, bringing back with them the comfort of being able to recognize a few new faces. 

According to faculty organizer Angie Schaefer, the all-nighter originated as an action plan in 1988 created by the Notre Dame Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention team. 

“It was designed as a way to help our freshmen coming from a variety of feeder grade schools to get to know one another in an evening of games and activities,” said Schaefer. “We also bring in speakers that have a message of alcohol and drug prevention.”

This year’s speaker was Missy Lane of Jackson, who shared her story of driving while intoxicated and the consequences that followed. Brad Lively, a patrolman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, also dropped in to discuss various laws that will apply to students when they’re of legal age to drive. 

Senior Perri Poe said although the talks were similar to those that took place at her freshman-senior lockin, she still thought they were a good refresher.

“It was definitely one of the lower points of the night, I guess you could say. But it’s good to be serious and really get the point across to make sure we’re safe throughout the year,” said Poe.

As is typical of the lockin, seniors were tasked with the planning and implementation of activities. This structure allows the class to both take on a leadership role at the school and develop a mentoring relationship with incoming students. The summer before the lockin, they gather for several planning meetings and decide on a theme. The 2019 theme? The popular 90’s sitcom, Friends.

“A lot of us knew the background of Friends, and we thought everyone kind of knows about it anyways. So it wasn’t specific. It was more general so everyone could relate to it,” said Poe.

One way they incorporated the theme was while students were writing down personal short-term and long-term goals. One goal was on a coffee mug, and the other on a gold frame - similar to the one seen in Friends - which were then posted onto a large replica of the show’s iconic purple door. 

Poe’s little sister, Ava, was a freshman this year. She happened to be in Perri’s small group during several outdoor games, including earth ball, wiffleball, frisbee, and flag football. Other activities included verbal games, such as “Never Have I Ever” and “Truth or Dare.” The most popular attraction of the night was the sudsy slip and slide, which, before his new appointment, Brother David Migliorino joyfully operated year after year. 

Ava admitted her trepidation upon arriving at the lockin, but said that feeling didn’t last long as there was “really no time to be nervous.”

“I saw my friends and then I saw my sister, and [the activities] were nonstop,” said Ava. “I got to meet a lot of new freshmen, but I also got to meet a lot of the seniors. After that, if I didn’t know where I was going at school, I got to see the people I met at lock-in and ask for help.”

In comparison to the ample orientation events Notre Dame hosts for incoming freshmen, Ava said the lockin outshined them all. 

“We got to get a lot closer with people because we were there all night. The other activities are just a few hours or during a class, and with less people. Like Peer Helpers - there’s maybe 30 people in that,” said Ava. “At lockin, you get to meet more people you didn’t know before.”
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On June 17, over 30 students and faculty from Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau headed out west for their annual week-long mission trip. 

Since 1996, the Joan Strohmeyer Mission Trip has served impoverished areas in many different locations across the U.S. - including Dulac, LA, San Antonio, TX, and Montgomery, AL - but this year, it returned to its roots in Tuba City, AZ. 

“In the 90’s, my mom and dad went on vacation with a priest friend who had another priest friend stationed in Tuba City,” said Sarah Strohmeyer, director of Campus Ministry at Notre Dame and daughter of the trip’s namesake. “He said there was a lot of poverty there, and I was doing youth ministry at St. Vincent-Cape at the time. So he told my parents I should bring the kids out for service work, and we’ve been going there every few years since.”

One of Strohmeyer’s goals in hosting the trip is to inspire students to be of service back home by bringing them out of their comfort zone. Throughout the course of the week, they’re provided with the experiences of service, prayer, and community. This year, as is typical of the Tuba City trip, they were also exposed to quite a culture change.

“Our home base is at a Catholic parish, St. Jude. It’s on a Navajo indian reservation, and right by a Hopi village,” said Strohmeyer. “So we actually get to work with two different drives of native american.”

When they arrived, the students were split into groups of four or five and sent to various locations for various jobs. Many served at the Diné Association - a daycare for severely handicapped adults. 

“Most of the people are in wheelchairs and many are non-communicative. We basically spend time with them, take them for walks, and play games,” said Strohmeyer.

Many other service locations involved outdoor work, such as shearing sheep for a Navajo family and gardening at a Hopi village. 

“The Hopi are known for having these lush gardens and fields, and it’s in the middle of the desert. It’s unbelievable what they’re able to accomplish,” said Strohmeyer. 

And, with a weekend of ceremonial dances ahead of them, the Hopi enlisted the help of several students in preparing yucca plant fibers for baskets.

“They saw the whole process of stripping these yucca, dyeing the yucca, and then the weaving of baskets out of it,” said Strohmeyer. “Just stuff you wouldn’t see. Like shearing sheep: that’s just not something we usually do around here.”

Although service projects are the main focus of the trip, Strohmeyer said they still start and end each day in prayer. To break up the monotony, each group of students plan a different prayer service each night. 

And, they always have one service dedicated to sharing a personal moment where students and faculty “really saw the face of Christ” in what they were doing.

“It’s a very profound night,” said Strohmeyer. “This is where we realize it’s more than just digging a hole for a fencepost. This is where we realize it’s having an encounter with Christ through the people who are there.”

As for being situated between two indian reservations, students saw firsthand how the Navajo and Hopi weaved stories of Christian faith with their cultural faith. 

“I think sometimes, people who have never been there think of the native americans as having their own spirituality, and that they kind of do their own thing. That’s true, but there’s also a rich Christianity. Many of them go to the churches in the area,” said Strohmeyer.

From the poverty, to the climate, to the terrain, to the people, and to the culture, Strohmeyer said the experience was - and is always - unlike anything the students and faculty may see anywhere else. 

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The daughter of a pediatrician from Poplar Bluff, 2011 graduate Mary Katherine Montgomery has been immersed in the healthcare system from a young age. While she intimately understood the importance of medical delivery, there was one facet she always wanted to explore: access. 


Montgomery, known as ‘MK’ to her friends and family, recently earned her Masters in Public Health (MPH) from Yale. But health education, especially for youth, is where she has found her stride. 


Before starting grad school, Montgomery fulfilled her interest in equity and health disparities while working as a seventh grade science teacher with “Teach For America” in Baton Rouge, LA. Here, she thought a lot about how to achieve long-term, sustainable solutions that would allow kids across the country to thrive. 


“I’ve realized that there’s a whole slew of things that determine outcomes for children. Two of them are education and healthcare,” said Montgomery. “But oftentimes, there are other systemic things that are entrapped with one another, and I was really fascinated by this system.” 


One instance, Montgomery said, was with one of her students originally from New Orleans. He had been displaced to Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina, and still had a cleft palate which was never fixed. She said this had impacted his development, growth, and was now affecting his peer interaction. 


“I realized that when his family was displaced from the storm, his entire network of people who are supposed to help you make sure that these things get taken care of, weren’t around,” said Montgomery. “And when that happens, a lot of kids fall through the cracks.” 


She said this was a “tangible example” of when one system breaks. 


“I thought about my students in the classroom, and how getting the highest grade on the next test and things like that were going to be great for them. But in the long term, there were so many systems at play outside of my classroom that they were still going to face, and they would potentially fall through those cracks,” said Montgomery. 


This has caused Montgomery to focus on pushing change and measuring outcomes by intertwining healthcare, law, and education. She hopes that with her understanding of each system, she will be able to show others how to think about them as “interconnected, as opposed to individual pieces.” 


“I’m thinking about how traditionally, when we follow these systems, we get really great at being professionals within those spaces. And we don’t have a lot of folks who can build the bridges between those systems, because they just don’t have the same comprehensive knowledge or understanding of each of those different faceted areas,” said Montgomery. 


In her endeavors, Montgomery recently worked with a group of other MPH candidates and local neonatologist, Dr. Alan Barnett, on an HPV vaccine campaign in the southeast Missouri region. They delivered the project manual, which promotes disease prevention, on June 1. 


Other projects include her work with All Our Kin, a non-profit organization which creates child care programs for vulnerable children. Montgomery has also informed state policy in pediatric care at the Yale Child Center. 


Montgomery is slated to return to school next fall at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to receive another Masters, this time in education, policy and management. 


Career-wise, Montgomery doesn’t have a specific goal. But she’s expressed interest in combining healthcare and education at a local level, and eventually hopes to work with people who are thinking about doing the same on a broader scale across the country. 


Montgomery is also interested in policy, where she said she can make the most change. 


“There’s a lot of opportunity in healthcare and education, and how we set them up in the political arena,” said Montgomery. “Sometimes it looks like government policy, and sometimes it looks like non-governmental organizations like foundations.”

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