Mad for…Steve

There is no better relation than a prudent and faithful friend. –Benjamin Franklin

When our six (collective) boys were quite small, I had taken possession of Vinny, Dom and Anthony Ferrucci one afternoon. As good friends with little ones know, this was not at all unusual. I always found it easiest to entertain my guys when friends were around anyway. We adored those kids then, as now. The Ferrucci boys and Thieme boys have truly grown up alongside one another. This particular day, I pulled into the Ferrucci driveway to return their three guys, and I opened the sliding door on my minivan. As I tussled with car seats, plastic “Happy Meal” toys fell out onto the ground, along with a few stray french fries and a partially smashed bag of goldfish crackers that the toddlers, Anth and Zach, had been munching on. My dear friend Steve Ferrucci happened to be outside working in his perfectly coifed yard, and I am fairly certain he began to twitch a skosh.

Ferruch came bounding towards me and he encouraged me to go inside with the guys and chat with Julie while he cleaned up the van. Forty-five minutes later, after having essentially detailed the interior of my mom-mobile, Steve smiled and handed me a Mike’s Car Wash coupon and suggested I drive through on the way home and then I would officially have a fresh start for the week! Now, some folks might be a touch humiliated by this unraveling of events, but as for yours truly…not a chance!! I have no pride and thought my cleaned up minivan was SPECTACULAR! This was the day, however, that it finally occurred to me to look around and notice that Steve’s garage was cleaner than any room in my home HAS EVER BEEN. Also, now my van looked like it could be for sale on the used car lot down the street, and OH MY GOODNESS my friend Steve is most certainly OCD!

As a surprise to me, one year while I was out of town on vacation, Steve broke into my house and completely cleaned and reorganized my pantry. He texted me when he had completed the job. “Shell, do you have any idea how many bags of freezer pops you own?” I smiled to myself and replied, “Umm…lots?” Suffice it to say, we would NEVER make it as a couple. However, as a friend, Steve is absolutely top drawer.

Because his work ethic is second to none, and his generosity of spirit is laudable, I have deep respect for my uber-intelligent lawyer friend. I am certain without a doubt that if I called truly needing him at any time of the day or night, Ferruch would be on my doorstep in short order. Steve is also compassionate, faith-filled, honest and funny. After a couple of beers, his east coast accent starts to reveal itself and his already terrific laugh takes on new volume. He has a deliciously wicked sense of humor and is fiercely competitive.

For instance, when our youngest boys were about 7 years old, he was coaching them both and his Skiles Test “Red Sox” (of course) baseball team, trying hard to encourage them to a come from behind victory. It was hot, and they were a tad lethargic. Steve strided over to the dugout and at top volume he asked his players, “Are you guys going to MAIL IT IN today or what??!” At that point, one little man raised his hand high for all to see and hollered back, “I’ll do it, Coach! I’ll mail it in!!” AND THAT IS WHEN I LOST IT! I don’t know if I have laughed so hard since then to be honest.

Coach Steve has given countless hours to so many children and families by coaching kids over the years in various sports, but most notably baseball. He loves everything Boston– the Patriots, Red Sox, and his alma mater Boston College just for starters. He’s ministered to friends at their time of greatest need, and he’s been deeply involved at his parish, St. Louis de Montfort. He’s often spotted attending early morning daily masses, and I am certain that it’s the grace of frequent receipt of the sacraments that sustains him.

He’s a loving dad to his three guys and his incredible wife Julie is one of my dearest friends. As you can see in the above photo of my Zach with Steve after a big hoops victory, my guys are crazy about him too! One of my most favorite verses in the bible is from the book of Sirach, “Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them.” This is exactly how I feel about the Ferrucci family.

Today is Steve’s birthday, and I’m fairly certain he may have been dreading this edition of “Mad for 2019” because, frankly, there’s just so much phenomenal material available. The truth is, though, he’s a terrific man and think his presence in my life is a blessing from the Lord. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FERRUCH!! I love you. You’re the only person who could make me ever consider cheering for the Patriots– that is real love my friend!!

Mad for…Fr. Dan

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. (Jer. 3:15)

Meet Fr. Dan Gartland! He’s currently the pastor at Holy Spirit at Geist Catholic Church in Fishers, Indiana. However, Fr. Dan spent most of his ministerial life in my hometown of Lafayette. He spent quite a bit of time as the pastor for my parents at St. Lawrence on the north side of town, and also at St. Mary’s Cathedral parish. He’s made a few others stops as well. However, I’m pretty sure every Catholic in Tippecanoe County knows this man who hails from Marion, Indiana. He’s pretty much a local celebrity in my hometown.

I met Fr. Dan when I was in high school at Lafayette Central Catholic. He taught my religion class while I was a CC Knight, and I still smile and laugh when I think of him as a result. Fr. Dan has the gift of gab. He’s gregarious, affable, and just plain fun. He made us giggle with his humor and he knew how to draw in teenagers…plus his giftedness in the sarcasm department often came in handy. We were always testing him in one way or another. I vividly recall a classmate of mine asking him during Lent if there are any exceptions to the “no meat on Fridays in Lent” rule, and he gave us a few common sense thoughts on the matter, which I am sure were NOT intended to have the outcome for us that they did. One of those was about how the Lenten rules might be relaxed in extenuating circumstances, such as when you are traveling. It’s possible that several of us felt that “traveling” to West Lafayette might qualify for this exception, for instance! I mean who were we to argue with the wise and powerful Fr. Dan Gartland? Ha?!!

When he preaches a homily at mass, he can weave a story in such an accessible way that he draws everyone in to the love of Christ with his naturally outgoing temperament. His eyes smile and his laugh is infectious. What really makes him special in my mind, though, is his witness of living his vocation in a joyful way. People like Fr. Dan who do their best for the Lord with their life, wearing a smile, make a huge difference for others. Fr. Dan grows disciples because of his friendliness, authenticity and compassion. Working for Jesus in the priesthood hasn’t made this man sour-faced, despite the hours, the hand-holding, or the walking beside folks at their worst moments. He’s still smiling and using his intelligence, wit, and sharp tongue (mostly) for good!

I’ve run into him several times over the years, but most recently when my youngest son was playing CYO baseball on the field behind his rectory. His warm greeting truly made my day, and it was an easy conversation that left me grateful for the sunshine. Today is Fr. Dan’s birthday and I am LONG OVERDUE to thank him for all he has done for me personally and for so many family members and friends that the list is truly endless. YOU are a treasure, Fr. Dan, and your life is certainly worth celebrating! I hope your special day is terrific!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FR. DAN!!

Mad for…Joe

Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime. (Dale Carnegie)

Several years ago, I spent about a week in the hospital following a rather “eventful” hysterectomy. Sore and scary looking, I was not having one of my finer weeks. Just down the hall and around the corner from me in another hospital bed was Nula Harmon. She was just a gem of a woman and she also happened to be the mother of a dear friend of mine, Julie (Harmon) Ferrucci. I’ll definitely talk to you about Julie some day soon, but today it’s her older brother Joe who is on my mind. He’s pictured above on the far right, with his siblings, Mike, Julie, and Nick, along with his little nephew, Liam.

Because Joe was spending quite a bit of time with his mom in the hospital that week, he stopped in to see me too. My healing was going slower than expected and I’d had a few post-op complications, so it was particularly encouraging to me when Joe, who is an OB-GYN, offered me his expertise and many words of encouragement. I’ve never forgotten his kindness to me at that time, and it’s gone much the same way in every interaction I had before or after that one.

Jokingly, I tell Julie that he’s the big brother I never had. I met both of his parents while they were still around, so I can’t for the life of me figure out how he is so soft-spoken. Genetically speaking, I’m thinking he inherited a recessive gene there…ha?! The truth is, Joe is accomplished, but courteous and humble. He’s kind and with the most genuine smile. Neither of those things cost a dime, but they are priceless qualities. Joe is a man who showers blessings on others by his presence.

He’s a husband and wonderful Dad to four terrific young people. Since I know him tangentially through his sister, I can’t say for certain what it’s like to live with Joe. However, he strikes me as a man who might underestimate the value of his finer qualities. The smallest act of care and concern truly does mean everything. In his roles as a physician, father, uncle, brother and friend to many, Joe is a treasure. He lives in South Bend and I live in the Indy area, and that fact is crystal clear all the same. How blessed are his patients and his children? They are IMMEASURABLY blessed!!

Yesterday was Joe’s birthday, and as we all should know by now, I am BIG on the festival approach to birthdays, and Joe’s life is one worthy of a large celebration that goes on for days! Celebrate loudly all weekend, Joe!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY to a truly fantastic human…my “adopted big brother”…Joe Harmon!

Mad for…Mitchell

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. (Steve Jobs)

A Purdue educated engineer, Mitchell Volpe is now gainfully employed as a mechanical engineer and is living in Chandler, Arizona. He’s pictured here with his beautiful and absolutely incredible (and faith-filled) mom, Karen. He’s the younger brother of William and Samantha and the son to Mark and Karen Volpe. I couldn’t resist the Steve Jobs quote because Mitch is absolutely the kind of person Jobs was speaking of when he said it!

Today, as I filed into the parking lot full of cars at St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School for the very last carpool experience after 16 years, I couldn’t help but think of Mitch. You see, this big smarty pants was one of my very FIRST carpool kiddos. He has long since moved on, but I have still been in that parking lot all this time Mitch!! Ha!!? That’s a tad crazy, isn’t it?

When I first met this kiddo, he was a kindergartener. We had two small boys and Mitch was our new neighbor. He spotted us unloading our moving trucks and he parked himself on the garage floor and began reading “Winnie the Pooh” to my 4 year old, Nick, who was mesmerized. He was only 5 or 6 at the time himself, but he was sharp as a tack and completely polite. He’s a lot taller now, but not much else has changed. He’s still the same character filled young man.

During some of his formative years, his mom was awfully sick. I recall having many conversations with Mitch over that time that make me look back and smile. For example, I recall the Volpe fridge often being full to the brim with casseroles that friends brought to help the family cope through moments of struggle. Karen never said no, because she knows that giving is a gift to the giver too. This particular day, though, Mitchell was in maybe grade 4 or 5 and he had JUST ABOUT ENOUGH of chicken casserole. From the front passenger seat of my minivan he looked at me and said, “I don’t mean to be rude but I just can’t eat one more of those casserole things today, Mrs. Thieme.” I giggled at his honesty and marveled at how smartly he handled his predicament. I asked him what sounded good and he immediately said, “Subway!” So, we went and grabbed Subway sandwiches, and his handsome little grin was my reward. The kid just has the most beautiful smile. I know, I know, he’s a grown man now. He’s still that cherub faced boy to me, and probably he always will be!

Mitch was the bartender at Nick’s HS graduation party and he stayed until all hours working his tail off for us. He went above and beyond the call of duty keeping our guests in cold beverages all evening! His work ethic is impressive but also he’s truly brilliant. A talented musician, he’s kind, quick-witted and authentic. Mitchell is not a man to be underestimated. He’s incredibly competent at everything he tries, but also he can joke around and he knows how to have fun. There’s just not one mediocre thing about Mitchell Volpe. I have always respected him, from the very moment he showed up in my garage. He just does what he does…stunningly well. He’s a loving son and a terrific brother to Will and Sam. TODAY is his birthday so I wanted to celebrate him with a few affirming words. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MITCH!! All of the Thiemes think you are THE REAL DEAL, kid! BOILER UP!!

Mad for…Joe

A negative mind will never give you a positive life. (Unknown)

If you find this joyful guy in your day, then you have chosen well! Joe Kiffmeyer, pictured on the left with his oldest son, Andrew and his beautiful and amazing wife, Julie, is the original REAL DEAL. He’s a mood lifter. Sunny, optimistic, and witty, Joe is the father to 4 pretty terrific kiddos. He has three sons, Andrew, Jim and Matt as well as his “baby” Sarah, who is graduating from the 8th grade at SLDM on Thursday with my Zach. He was already a fixture at the school when we arrived with Nick 16 years ago, and we’ll be heading to Guerin Catholic together with our two youngest for one last spin around high school! I can’t wait to do that one more time alongside the Kiffmeyers!

Joe is flat out one of the most positive people I have ever been around. He’s got an incredibly genuine laugh and a grin that goes from ear to ear. He’s a man who has taught me, through his example, that beautiful things happen when you simply choose to distance yourself from all the traps of negativity. He’s the sunshine! It’s not that Joe hasn’t had struggles or doubts in his life, because he has had them just like the rest of us. The thing is, he seems to have just the right perspective because he just carries on despite them.

Except for the fact that he’s a pretty rabid IU fan, I can’t find many faults with the guy if I’m honest. He’s served his parish over the years in many capacities. In fact, he’s kind of run the gamut from CYO football coach to Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion! He and his family never fail to join in on our Christmas fun every year when we gather together friends, locate some other folks that could use a holiday lift, and spread some of our collective blessings to the community. They are always willing to help others.

There have been adult beverages too numerous to count which we have shared alongside Joe and his gang. We’ve cheered on each other’s kids in CYO and high school sports and celebrated loads of milestone events together. I can’t imagine what joy would have been lost by our family had we never encountered Joe and his faithful, kind, compassionate crew. Joe seems to innately understand the difference between what things are important and those that simply are not…and he smiles in all circumstances!

Joe, as you celebrate your birthday tomorrow, I just wanted to give you a little shout out and let you know how much the Thieme family loves and respects you! You’re such a powerful witness about how fantastic life can be when we choose positivity and happiness. Your smile for me has truly been a light of Christ in my life! Thank you for the gift of your optimism and for all the shared laughter!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FRIEND!!

Mad for…Cathy

A good teacher is like a candle– it consumes itself to light the way for others. (MK Ataturk)

One quarter on “report card day” when my oldest son was in the 7th grade, he came bounding in the door with a big mischievous grin on his happy little face. “Guess what, Mom??!! DREW GOT A B!!” Nick’s joy was evident. I’ll admit, I silently chuckled to myself. Drew Thieme is now heading back for his sophomore year at Purdue in the fall and that “B” in Mrs. Cathy Cederholm’s 5th grade English class is STILL the only “B” he has ever received! Honestly, I have thanked our good and gracious God numerous times for that tiny bit of imperfection back in Mrs. C’s class because perfect is hard to maintain over a lifetime…and it’s not a fate I would want for any of my three boys in all honesty. For perfectionistic right-fighters like my smarty pants, Drew, ripping the band aid off early is the best kind of gift for a parent!

With only two days remaining in the SLDM timeline for the Thieme family, today I feel called to write about a truly fantastic teacher and even better human being named Cathy Cederholm. She taught both Nick and Drew during their time at SLDM, but she moved out of state a few years back so she never experienced the Z-man. Cathy started the first Mathbowl team at St. Louis de Montfort and she was a teacher who knew how to impart so much more than the basics– she is a teacher who makes sure kids are exposed to what really counts. Her positive, faith-filled influence on countless kiddos made a mark in the SLDM community that can never be erased.

A former Naval petty officer, Cathy also began what has become a truly meaningful Veteran’s Day tradition at SLDM. Each year, that event reminds me that I should be very proud to be an American! She was a teacher for my kids that really mattered because she set high standards for her students and wouldn’t settle for less. In fact, I vividly recall my oldest coming home one day in the 4th grade very upset about the grade he got on an essay answer in religion. He had apparently compared his work with that of a classmate and felt strongly that his answer was better…and yet his score was lower. I suggested that Nick talk to Mrs. C about his concern. The next day, he came home fairly miffed. “She said she expects my best work and this isn’t it.” I smiled and said, “Well, was it your best effort Nick Fred?” He quickly replied, “I’m probably able to write a little better than I did here, but it still seems unfair to me.” His work ethic improved.

Cathy also took his chair away from him and left him standing during class because, I’m sure, he was tipping his chair back or something of the sort. Mind you, Nick never mentioned this to me, but I had my inside sources. I am pretty sure that Nick knew better than to complain to me about such a thing. Cathy is compassionate, talented, sarcastic, and no nonsense. She was AWESOME for both my boys and scores of others. Good teachers are a treasure!!

When one of her former students became very ill and needed to sit out some school due to chemotherapy and other treatment, Cathy stepped in to help and was a constant support. There are SO MANY examples of her Christian witness to the entire community that I simply cannot do it justice here. However, knowing her as I do, I am certain that her integrity and faithfulness are doing for families in Virginia the very same things she became famous for at SLDM.

As the Thieme clan exits SLDM this week, it seemed important for me to let you know, Cathy, that your time, talent and genuine care has had a lasting impact for our family. You are a quality mom, wife, and teacher and we are all better people because you shared a bit of yourself with us. We feel truly blessed that our lives intersected with yours and we wish you, Dave and your kids so much happiness now and in the years ahead! THANK YOU for being a stunning witness of what it means to be a magnificent teacher and faithful Christian woman.

Mad for…Wendy

“Good moms let you lick the beaters…Great moms turn them off first.”

I remember hearing it said that a wise person knows that there is something to be learned from everyone. That certainly was the case for me with an old friend I haven’t seen for a few years– Wendy Wardell. Wendy is pictured above with her beautiful family, including her husband Tom, daughter Abbey, and sons Jake and Matt. Her baby girl is about to graduate from high school, and I kind of can’t even believe it! I know I sound like my grandmother but time definitely does fly!

Before they moved home to Sullivan, Indiana a few years ago, they spent several years in our neck of the woods and their two younger kiddos went through St. Louis de Montfort school with my boys. In fact, my husband recalls his time coaching Matt in basketball VERY fondly. Matt and my son, Drew, were 4th graders the year Coach Thieme discovered Matt and his “magic shoes”. You see, Matt had been struggling with confidence and his sassy mama bought him a new pair of kicks to solve the problem. Coach Thieme and WW decided to share with young Matt that the shoes were definitely MAGIC because when Matt wore them, the kid was a new man on the court!! My Tom so enjoyed that year with those cute boys. That little incident just totally defined Wendy as a mom in my eyes– no one is a more positive supporter of their children!

Life is full of surprises, and we don’t know exactly where the journey is taking us, but with a mom and wife like Wendy in their lives, the Wardell clan is incredibly blessed. She’s sparkly, and like yours truly, she’s got issues with her volume control system…in the BEST POSSIBLE WAY. She’s real, and she’s crazy, and her heart is golden.

Today as Wendy celebrates her birthday, I just wanted to give her a shout out and tell her that Hamilton County is not the same without her! We sure do miss you up here. Thank you, Wendy, for all the times your presence was a beautiful reminder to me that life is a joyful gift that should be lived loudly, even better if there’s a feather boa around your neck…am I right?! You are a great mom and a beautiful human being who makes the world a more “smiley” place! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WENDY!!