Zeolite Newspaper Articles

Jan. 1, 2000: Watershed Day for Zeolites and Mather High

--Charles Storch

IN 1963, OVER LUNCH AT THEIR usual Chicago high school cafeteria table, 10 classmates impulsively agreed to a test of their close friendship. They vowed to meet on an appointed hour, day and site in the distant future.

In 1963, over lunch at their usual Chicago high school cafeteria table, 10 classmates impulsively agreed to a test of their close friendship. They vowed to meet on an appointed hour, day and site in the distant future.

Yet as these boys moved into manhood, their paths diverged, and they had little contact. But on Jan. 1, 2000, eight of the 10 showed up at noon as promised on the steps of the Museum of Science and Industry.

And at that moment, the men were again the Zeolites. It was the name of their summer league softball team in 1963 and '64 and, oddly enough, of a mineral used in water softeners. It was their inside joke after the Culligan water-softening products firm in Northbrook had declined to sponsor the team and provide T-shirts

"We said we'd be there. And we were there," the Zeolites' Gerald Stein told then-Tribune columnist Bob Greene, who retold their story on Jan. 10, 2000.

Readers smiled, then turned their attention elsewhere.

But not the Zeolites. The old team found new purpose -- to provide scholarships for college-bound seniors of their alma mater, Mather High School.

"We were looking to go to the next level," said the Zeolites' Jeffrey Carren in an interview last week.

Mather is much changed since the Zeolites graduated in June 1964. The Northwest Side high then was 4 years old and predominantly served working-class but upwardly mobile Jewish families. Today, it is a multiethnic stew: More than half its nearly 2,000 students speak a language other than English at home, and it has teachers proficient in such languages as Assyrian, Cantonese, Gujarati, Arabic, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish and Urdu.

Yet Mather, at 5835 N. Lincoln Ave., remains of abiding interest to not only the Zeolites but another benevolent group of graduates, the Mather High School Alumni Scholarship Fund. It and the Zeolite Scholarship Fund were started about the same time and by members of classes a year apart. And they have provided similar amounts in scholarships: a total of $51,000 by the Alumni Scholarship Fund and $45,000 by the Zeolites.

Cynthia Greenleaf, Chicago Public Schools director of partnerships, estimated that only 10 city high schools receive continuing scholarship support from alumni groups. (Others may receive funds raised sporadically in conjunction with class reunions or school anniversaries.) Mather has the luxury of having two such active groups.

"We're thrilled to have them," said Mather Assistant Principal Renee Aloma.

There's even a friendly rivalry between the two groups.

"We try to do the best we can," Stein said recently, "but, inevitably, there is a little bit of that."

Stein, now a clinical psychologist in the Chicago suburbs, is one of three directors of the Zeolite fund. The others are Carren, a Chicago benefits lawyer, and Harmon Greenblatt, who has been an arts council chief in Evanston and Decatur and soon will teach arts management at the University of New Orleans.

Each May, the three return to Mather to present one or more scholarships, now as high as $8,000 over four years. Each time they relate the tale of the Zeolites to the senior class.

Much has transpired since that reunion in 2000.

Culligan contacted the Zeolites after reading Greene's column. It offered them the T-shirts sought 37 years earlier and a $2,000 donation to Mather in their name.

Eight Zeolites -- seven who had met at the museum and another who couldn't make it because his computer firm was on all-leaves-canceled Y2K watch -- each pledged $250 to match the Culligan gift. They established the Zeolite Scholarship Fund as a tax-exempt charity and gave its first scholarship, $4,000 over four years, to a Loyola University Chicago-bound senior, Margaret Khamoo.

Carren said Culligan later pitched in another $2,000 and the William Clancy Foundation of Chicago donated $80,000 over several years. The fund solicited contributions from members of the Class of June '64-January '65 and ultimately raised some $27,000 from nearly 90 alumni. All monies went into an endowment that now totals nearly $109,000, Carren said.

Greenblatt noted that all prior recipients have either graduated or are on track to from four-year colleges. He acknowledged that the Zeolite awards are small compared with college costs. "But people at Mather tell us this is the only aid some of the kids get," he said.

The Mather High School Alumni Scholarship Fund was conceived in fall 1999 by some members of the Class of '65.

"It was founded as a kind of gateway to the millennium," said the fund's director, Carol Dragon, a former English teacher at Grayslake High School.

She said the fund solicits contributions from all Mather graduating classes, not just its own, and puts nearly all it raises in a given year toward a scholarship for a college-bound senior.

Dragon said a recent donation, made in memory of the late Sandi Port Errant, Class of '67, will allow the fund to install an alumni liaison in Mather this fall.

The staffer will seek to identify opportunities for alumni to help students, for example, with mentoring or internships.

Dragon said the most active fund contributors are alumni from the '60s to early '70s.

"It was a cohort that grew up in a time of prosperity and high energy," she said, "one that believes in philanthropy and giving back."

And in fraternity.

In his remarks to seniors last May, the Zeolites' Stein spoke of "the value of having people in your life you can trust, laugh with, and who remember the same things you do ... who know you're not perfect and like you anyway. ...

"The Zeolites never won a championship in the Mather Park summer league. But, as it turned out, we had something that was more important: our friendship."

This article was originally published by the Chicago Tribune on July 28, 2005.

The Story Behind the Men on the Museum Steps

--Bob Greene

WHEN YOU MAKE AN APPOINTMENT, you're supposed to keep it. Of course, if you're 16 or 17 years old when you make that appointment, and the appointment is for 37 years in the future. . . .

The year was 1963. There were 10 of them -- juniors at Mather High School, on the North Side of Chicago. They weren't the most popular bunch of guys, they weren't the biggest sports stars. They were. . . . Well, they were best friends. Ten guys who, during the course of their high school years, became each others' best friends.

They even had a name for themselves. They had planned on calling themselves the Culligan Men -- they had a summer softball team, and they asked the Culligan bottled-water-and-water-softener company (whose advertising slogan was "Hey, Culligan Man!") to sponsor the team, pay for the softball jerseys. But for whatever reason, the Culligan company said no. So the 10 guys decided to name their team -- to name their group of friends -- after a chemical that one of them recalled learning about in class. Zeolite, the chemical was called. If they couldn't be the Culligan Men, they would be the Zeolites.

One day junior year -- they were eating lunch at the table they always shared in the Mather cafeteria -- one of the 10 came up with an idea. He said that the 10 friends should make plans to meet up again some day far in the future -- that no matter what they were doing or where they were living, they should agree to meet on a specific day at a specific place.

They wanted to choose a day that would be easy to remember. They came up with Jan. 1, 2000 -- the first day of a new century. They set noon for the time. And for a place, they wanted to choose somewhere that, even in 1963, they could be pretty certain would still be standing 37 years later.

They chose the Museum of Science and Industry -- specifically, the outdoor steps of the museum.

How serious were they, that day at the lunch table in '63?

"Well, we meant it," said Gerald Stein, who was one of the Zeolites at the table, and who now is a clinical psychologist in the Chicago area. "But we didn't spend a whole lot of time talking about it."

Because they thought that none of them would really show up?

"It wasn't that," he said. "It was just that we knew that, on the first day of the 21st Century, we would all be 53 years old. We could never picture ourselves being that old, so it didn't seem real to us."

They graduated from Mather in '64. They went out into the world, and did not stay in especially close touch. They moved to different parts of the U.S., took different kinds of jobs. There were marriages, children, some divorces, more children. Years would go by between the times they spoke to each other.

But they never forgot. They never forgot when they were best friends, and when they made the appointment for Jan. 1, 2000.

During the year just past, they began to make contact with each other. They were, in fact, 53 now; it no longer seemed to be such an impossible age.

And they made their plans. Vacation days were put in for; airline reservations were made.

One of the 10 had to be at work on New Year's day -- he worked in the computer industry in Texas, and was assigned to Y2K duty. Another simply chose not to come -- he was going to be on a vacation with his family.

But the other eight -- the eight would-be Culligan Men, the eight Zeolites--were there. They wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Three live in Illinois; two flew in from California, one from the state of Washington, one from Connecticut, one from Michigan.

And at noon on the first day of January -- at noon exactly -- they walked together onto the steps of the Museum of Science and Industry.

"There is nothing in the world that feels better than being with people who remember the same things you remember -- who remember the reasons that you liked each other in the first place," Gerald Stein said.

The meeting on the museum steps didn't last all that long -- they had meals and other activities planned for the weekend. But the steps were what mattered -- keeping the appointment they had made when they were 16 was what mattered.

"The people you can laugh with," Stein said. "The people with whom you don't feel the need to be guarded -- how many people do you find like that in your life?

"We said we'd be there. And we were there."

This article was originally published by the Chicago Tribune on January 10, 2000. It can be accessed online here.

© Dr. gerald m. stein 2017