Both of my parents came from communist Poland. My father defected from Communist Poland
to Italy in early 1970’s. A few weeks before he defected, he was in jail for speaking
out against the government and he knew what happened to his friends that defected
before him. My dad was in a refugee camp in Italy before coming to Chicago that had
the largest population of Poles in the United States. He only had 5 dollars and spoke
no English when he came here. My mom came here on a special visa from Poland, but
that created more burden for her family when this happened. When I was born, we lived
in a one bedroom apartment in the Jefferson Park neighborhood and once my dad had
enough money working in a factory we moved to suburban Streamwood, Illinois where
we lived in a townhome most of my life. Unfortunately, my mom didn’t adjust in the
USA and alcoholism really affected her. My parents divorced and I lived with my hard
working dad until I was 18. We were really tight on money, but my dad is a staunch
fiscal conservative and we always had food on the table. He is a good man that understood
the importance of discipline and hard work. He has a heart of gold. The Catholic faith
was important in our household. All the Poles in Chicago had a picture of John Pope
Paul II in their homes!
Before college, did you know what you wanted to do?
I already knew I wanted to go into the military. Since I was a kid I loved watching
G.I. Joe and it just really got me thinking military.
Where did you go to college and how did you achieve that? What was the application
process like? Any challenges?
After the military I went to Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale under the Montgomery
GI Bill® and the Illinois Veterans Grant. Two great benefits for veterans that received an
honorable discharge. Applying was easy. At the time before 9/11 and PTSD, student-veterans
had one of the highest graduation rates in the country so they liked us. We were accepted
no matter what. However all that changed after 9/11. The wars were tough on our military.
I know because I was called up for active duty after 9/11 and served in the middle
east for 1 year.
What was your motivation during your college years?
I guess seeing how hard my dad had to raise me as an immigrant father.
What did you do after graduation?
I was a TV news reporter! But the minimum wage was tough. I was on my own and my dad
couldn’t support me so I went into coaching several years later. I was also back in
the Navy as a reservist for four more years. I loved the military!!
What's some advice you would give your past self?
Honestly, I would of told my past self to be more involved with school and athletics.
Studies show student athletes tend to be more successful in school than many groups!!
Having been a first-generation student, how does it affect you today?
I guess more so that I understand students who have parents that are immigrants coming
to this country with no support and money. My wife’s parents are from Mexico and are
devout Catholics as well so we can relate which is why we are married! We get it.