Purtell chronicles Vietnam experience

Several months ago, I learned that alumnus, Jim Purtell, published a book about his experiences as a combat medic in Vietnam. It piqued my interest, so I ordered a copy of Vietnam There & Back—A Combat Medic’s Chronicle. I was only six years old when the Vietnam War ended. What I knew about it, I learned in history classes. But as I read the pages of Purtell’s book, I gained a greater appreciation of the reality of war and how the experience changed, sometimes permanently, the people who served. I asked Jim if we could feature his book, as well as some of his experiences, and I’m grateful he said yes. (Purtell’s book can be purchased online at http://www.Amazon.com.)

Karen Boehm, Advancement Director

When Jim Purtell graduated from Lourdes High School in 1967, he felt his options were limited—live at home and work, go to college locally while living at home, or go away to college. But he wasn’t interested in higher education, and he butted heads with his father and didn’t think they could coexist under one roof. So he looked toward the military.

        “The country was pro-Vietnam at that time,” Purtell said. “I was patriotic and wanted some adventure, so I joined the Army in June 1967.”

        Purtell didn’t want to kill anyone, so he requested to be trained as a medic. He was influenced by his father who was a WWII veteran and officer, and worked in the medical profession.

        He completed basic training at Fort Campbell in Kentucky then continued on to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for leadership school, after which he completed 10 weeks of medical training. His recruiting sergeant told him he’d be stationed in Germany or Hawaii, both places he was eager to visit. He eventually received orders for Cameron Bay in Vietnam, the “country club” of army bases, then returned home for a 30-day leave before deploying.

        “I told my family they had nothing to worry about,” he said. “I’m going to the country club of Vietnam. I was in Vietnam for three days and was ordered to get my stuff together and report to the helicopter pad. The infantry unit needed medics. I boarded the chopper with no way to communicate to anyone back home.”

        The pages of Purtell’s book share with brutal honesty stories of his experiences, from ambushes and gaining ground to losing friends and leaders. Vietnam was no country club.

        “There wasn’t anything good about where we were,” Purtell recalled. “The weather was hot and humid. There were insects and snakes, greenery that would cut you or prick you, leaches that attached to your armpits and groin. We all hated being there, especially when the country started turning against us.”

        Politicians publicly came out against the war, and music and television picked up on the anti-war fervor. The disdain people felt for the war trickled down to the soldiers themselves.

        “Walter Cronkite reported nightly on how many of our ‘American boys’ were killed. We were over there trying to fight it,” Purtell said. “People couldn’t separate the war from the warrior.”

        In February 1969, Purtell finally returned to Oshkosh. He was excited to be home with family and friends. But he realized quickly the transition back was not as smooth as he imagined. The anti-war sentiment was high, and he found it difficult to connect with people who didn’t understand what he’d experienced. He recalled veterans having a difficult time finding a job because employers believed what they saw in the media—”that we were crazed drug addicts and baby killers.”

        “After I returned home, I thought everybody had changed, and it bothered me,” Purtell recalled. “Then I realized I was the one that changed so significantly. That realization took months.”

        Feeling lost, Purtell reached out to Al Torsiello, who he served with in Vietnam. He discovered that Torsiello was having the same acclimation issues, and the short visit in New Jersey was time well spent for both of them. Forty-five years later, Purtell and Torsiello combined their musical talents to write a CD of songs about their war experiences, titled Vietnam: There & Back. Torsiello would later write the forward to Purtell’s book in 2018.

        While writing the book, Purtell recalled a quote that was etched into the exterior of the Lourdes building, “The truth shall set you free.” Purtell said it was paramount that he tell the complete truth about his war experiences—the good and the bad—and let the chips fall where they may. Writing the book, which he hopes also conveys the brave stories of his fellow infantrymen, did help set him free.

        Purtell had 18 months left to serve after leaving Vietnam. He was stationed in Savannah, Georgia, at the Tuttle Army Health Clinic. In June 1970, he enrolled at UW Oshkosh and graduated in three years with a degree in education with a social science emphasis. He later received a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling and moved to the east coast to help disabled veterans find employment.

               He worked for the federal government in several different agencies including the Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of the Navy, and the U.S. Department of Labor – OSHA. Purtell, now retired, splits his time between Oshkosh and Fort Myers Beach, Florida.

Catholic New Year’s Eve Celebration

Elementary School Celebrates the Catholic New Year

Happy Catholic New Year’s Eve! The Elementary School started a new tradition this week as students rang in the Catholic New Year.

They started the celebration in church with a prayer service, saying good bye to the old year and asking for God’s blessings on the new year. Afterward, they moved into the gym for a New Year’s Eve countdown, complete with a balloon drop, noise makers, and party hats.

Students then danced the afternoon away, prior to leaving for Thanksgiving break – enjoying juice, popcorn and fun dance music.

Battle of the Books 2019

This year’s Battle of the Book Tournament Champions, team “You’re Killin’ Me Smalls.” Team members, left to right: Olivia Gelhar, Jasmine Saiyed, Ryder Mullen, Clair Kollat, Sabur Machiros, Delaney Ruedinger, Claire Trofka, Emma Dillenberg, Isabelle Dietzler, and Braeden Ridenour.

For the past several weeks, 57 middle school students on 6 teams have been busy reading books and preparing for the Annual Lourdes Academy Middle School Battle of the Books Tournament.

Battle of the Books is a voluntary reading program with a simple purpose of encouraging students to read good books and have fun while competing with peers. Six teams consisting of 6th, 7th and 8th graders were formed the first week of October and given a list of 30 books to read. Team members choose books to read and during the following weeks, parent coaches met with their teams weekly to check in and quiz students in preparation for the upcoming “battle.”

The culmination of the program was a week-long “battle,” consisting of a double-elimination tournament, played out in mid-November during the students’ lunch periods. Teams were asked questions about the books on the reading list, and teachers volunteered to judge the battles.

“The kids really love Battle of the Books! The excitement during the battles shows it. Most students come back and participate each year of middle school.”

Nancy Ralofsky, 2019’s Battle of the Books lead parent coordinator

Congratulations to all this year’s Battle of the Books students – they did an incredible job!

Lourdes Academy High School Recognized as Top STEM High School in Oshkosh Area

Lourdes Academy Middle and Elementary Schools were also recently honored for their commitment to STEM learning programs.

Lourdes Academy’s Chemistry Club performs an experiment for younger students during STEM Knight 2019.

Earlier this month, Newsweek announced its ranking of the country’s top 5,000 STEM high schools, honoring excellence in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Lourdes Academy is listed as #3,372, placing in the top 8%* of all high schools nationally, and higher than any other high school in the Oshkosh area.

The top 5,000 schools were curated from STEM.org Educational Research™ using a proprietary scoring logic that took into consideration a broad set of quantitative and qualitative data inputs collected from Q2 2015–Q3 2019. The purpose was to determine which primary/secondary institutions in America best offer students experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math, while also preparing them for post‐secondary outcomes. Additional factors, including affluence and median household income, were taken into consideration in compiling the rankings.

“We are extremely honored to be recognized as a top STEM high school,” said John Dinegan, Lourdes Academy System President. “Helping students to become interested in and familiar with STEM principles is an important part of how our teachers are helping students identify their God-given talents.”

The Newsweek recognition for the high school comes as Lourdes Academy Elementary and Middle Schools were also recognized for their STEM learning programs in 2019. Both the Middle School and Elementary School are Project Lead the Way Distinguished Schools.

Only 148 middle schools and 214 elementary schools across the U.S. received the Distinguished School honor in 2019.

For more information and to see the complete list of the Top 5,000 STEM High Schools, visit the following web page: https://www.newsweek.com/americas-best-stem-high-schools-2020.

For more information about about Project Lead the Way’s Distinguished Schools program, click on the link below: https://www.pltw.org/our-programs/program-recognition/distinguished-schools.

* Source: Percentage calculated using a total of 43,497 public and private secondary schools, sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 214.10.

Mathe dedicates career to serving

Ben Mathe (class of of ’95) and his family: Sons Ethan (13), A.J. (5), and Mason (10), along with wife Heather.

When Ben Mathe graduated from Lourdes Academy in 1995, he planned to attend UW River Falls and play football with a friend. But after a semester, he realized he wasn’t quite ready for the discipline required for college. He moved to Arizona with former classmate Adam Wiatrowski who was attending Arizona State University. It was a fun time in his life, but Mathe felt he was lacking direction.

“I experienced life a little bit before I entered the military,” he explained. “But I needed some guidance and direction.”

He had an uncle in the Navy who challenged him to “get his stuff together,” and in July 2000, he enlisted in the Navy as an E2 and enrolled in college. He made rank quickly. In 2009, Mathe was selected for chief petty officer (E7) after only being in the Navy nine years, about two to four years faster than normal.

“The military provided discipline and direction in my life,” Mathe said. “I knew I wanted to be an officer, but I had to get a degree to earn a commission.”

Mathe continued to take online classes for about 10 years as he was able, and in 2012, he completed a degree in Aerospace Engineering through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He completed Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as an officer in the Navy in 2012. He later earned a Master’s degree in Sports Management through the American Military University.

Throughout his military career, Mathe has traveled all over the world. He completed boot camp in Chicago, followed by school in Pensacola, Florida. He spent three years at his first duty station in Spain and married his wife, Heather, on the Rock of Gibraltar. He was stationed on the USS Nimitz and has been deployed in the Middle East, Malaysia, Guam, Hawaii, and India to name a few.

Their sons, Ethan (13) and A.J. (5), were born in San Diego and Mason (10) was born in Japan. They’ve weathered hurricanes and survived earthquakes. But they’ve enjoyed many benefits of military life too.

“What I enjoy about the military is the people,” Mathe said. “The people who join are essentially one percent of the population in the United States. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for their country and for the greater good. The ability to work with them and lead them is inspiring and motivating. Seeing what people will do for the greater good—that’s why I keep coming to work every day.”

Mathe is currently a Lieutenant in charge of improving maintenance efficiencies and effectiveness for nine squadrons responsible for the deployment of an aircraft carrier. He specializes in Continuous Process Improvement and ensures that business practices and processes for aircraft maintenance are being done in a certain way. The crew is adopting practices that are effective and efficient.

Mathe recognizes that family support is an important aspect of any military career. Mathe has been married for 15 years. He’s spent time apart from his wife and children on deployment and would like to finish his career in the states.

“Being in the military, if you’re fortunate enough to have a good spouse, and that process is done well, your kids become resilient and confident. They’ve moved around and have had to make friends. They are good kids, and they work hard. But the impact of good-byes are difficult.”

He currently coaches football at El Capitan High School where they live in Lakeside, California. He has enjoyed his military career and plans to retire in 2022.

Alumni network provides career direction

When Emily Dolan (’17) was younger, she dreamed of being an orthodontist, although her career choice was based more on pleasant memories than actual career research. She recalls having “funky teeth” and making frequent visits to the orthodontist where she enjoyed hot chocolate from the Keurig machine.

Graduating high school, Dolan set out to pursue a nursing degree at St. Norbert College. She was on track to graduate early, but realized after a year in the program that it wasn’t the right fit for her. She changed her major to Biology and spent time researching other careers. She job shadowed a genetic counselor, physician’s assistant, dentist, orthodontist and oral surgeon. Her experiences helped her realize that she didn’t want to work in a lab, and that while she enjoyed dentistry she also didn’t want to work in a specialty area of the profession.

“Teeth are interesting and wild,” Dolan said. “I enjoyed the patient interaction and found it to be an interesting bridge between science and people.”

Ultimately, it was a job shadow experience with Lourdes alumnus Michelle (Kapral) Wihlm (’99), owner of Wihlm Dental, that helped her hone in on general dentistry. Dolan was baby sitting for Wihlm’s children when Wihlm offered her the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a dental office.

“It’s a great way to get a better feel for a career before you spend a lot of time and money on it,” Wihlm said of hiring Dolan as an assistant in Spring 2018. “You get a feel for if it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life. You can observe, but it’s different to get involved and do things day to day because every day is different.”

Wihlm had a similar experience after high school. During the summer of 2000, she worked with Dr. Roger Jacobson in his dental practice. Patty (Brown) Benz (‘72) was working in Dr. Jacobson’s office as a receptionist and learned of Wihlm’s interest in dentistry. This experience helped solidify Wihlm’s decision to practice dentistry. She graduated from Marquette University in 2007 and purchased Jacobson’s practice in 2008 when he retired.

In Wisconsin, as long as an individual is properly trained, they can assist chair-
side—handing instruments, setting up an exam room, and typing up notes, for example, Wihlm explained.

“It’s a win/win situation, especially for someone interested in dentistry,” said Wihlm who is committed to growing interest in dental careers in Wisconsin.

“When you’re vested, you pick things up quicker. I can share what I do and why. The profession is going toward corporate dentistry so it’s nice to show the private practice side. You don’t have a boss over you dictating decision making. We can make our own decisions about what is the best care for patients.”

Dolan plans to graduate in a year and a half and will apply to dental schools in Summer 2020. She hopes to start immediately following graduation and would like to attend Marquette University. In the meantime, she is enjoying learning all aspects of the dental profession through her experience.

“I’ve never had a cavity so I didn’t even know what went into a filling,” Dolan said. “I’m learning different instruments, how to sterilize equipment, etc. Everything I’ve learned about dentistry I’ve learned here. It’s a really good experience. In high school, I didn’t think going on to graduate school was an option. I’m extremely grateful that she’s [Wihlm] willing to let me come in and work here and get experience.”

Dolan also credits another alumnus, Lourdes Academy High School Chemistry teacher Barb Muza Reed (’74), for inspiring her love of science and ultimately her career path. Small, hands-on lab experiences were valuable for Dolan. Students felt comfortable asking questions and learning together throughout the year.

“Going to Lourdes and having these connections has helped me,” Dolan added.

“I got the job baby sitting through a Lourdes connection. Knowing Michelle and
being able to job shadow has been extremely helpful.”

“I encourage anyone to find someone they’re comfortable with to spend time with them,” Wihlm said of exploring careers. “The first meeting is always difficult until you get comfortable asking questions. The more information you can get ahead of time helps.”

“I see how Michelle is able to balance family and career and be involved in other things too,” Dolan said. “I used to look at a job as a far off thing. You understand people do it but you don’t think about what it looks like to live that life. This has taught me what that looks like.”

Knight of Interest

Middle School and High School Preview Night ~ October 16


  • Future 5th Grade Families
  • Future Middle School Families
  • Future High School Families


Look ahead to how Lourdes Academy’s 5-12 campus can help your students achieve their best – in the classroom and beyond. Tour the building, meet our teachers, and learn how our faith-filled environment prepares students for success.

Where: Lourdes Academy 5-12 Campus

110 N. Sawyer Street, Oshkosh, WI 54902

When: Wednesday, October 16

  • 6 p.m. – Future 5th Grade Families
  • 7 p.m. – Future Middle and High School Families

To help us plan for the evening, please register to attend.

Attend for a chance to receive a $100 tuition credit

Every future 5th– 9th grade student who attends Knight of Interest will be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a $100 tuition credit for the 2020-21 school year.

Questions? Please contact our Enrollment Coordinator, Heather Thorson at hthorson@lourdes.today or (920) 426-6421.


New Club Provides Middle School Students with the Opportunity to Explore Outdoor Activities

The new middle school Adventure Club got off to a great start last week, as students spent a few hours after school fishing. Students met up with parent volunteers at Menominee Park in Oshkosh and learned some basic fishing techniques. Afterward, students enjoyed grilled hot dogs and chips with their fellow fishermen and women.

The Adventure Club was started this school year as an opportunity for middle school students to explore new activities – things they probably wouldn’t try on their own. Primarily coordinated by parents, the club has monthly activities planned through out the school year.

Future Adventure Club Activities
  • Get Over It – Obstacle Course: Take the obstacle course challenge and test your strength, speed & flexibility. Climb, crawl, jump and have a blast as you complete the course as a team. Date: Wednesday, October 9
  • Take a Hike: Enjoy the outdoors on a hike at either High Cliff or Kettle Moraine State Park. Come and see wildlife and nature at its finest. Date: Wednesday, November, 6
  • Protect & Serve: Visit FVTC’s Public Safety Training Center, a national training ground for SWAT, Homeland Security, law enforcement and fire safety. Experience the MILO interactive program to test your skills in an emergency situation. Date: Wednesday, February 5
  • Take Aim – Archery: Start with an archery lesson to learn the parts of a bow and archery techniques. Then take aim and see if you can hit your target. Session includes bow and arrows. Date: Wednesday, March 4
  • Ultimate Scavenger Hunt – Geocaching: You’ve never explored Menominee Park like this before. Gather your friends and look for treasures hidden around the park. Date: Wednesday, May 6

For more information about Adventure Club, watch for information in the weekly e-newsletter. Permission slips for each activity will be available in the school office. Or, for additional questions, please contact PE teachers, Ms. Stacy Smith or Ms. Kim Strebe.

60th Anniversary Homecoming Family Night

Lourdes Academy High School is celebrating 60 years of preparing students for good… and kicking off a year of celebrations with an invitation to all students, families, alumni, and community members to a special family night and homecoming football game on Friday, September 20, starting at 5 p.m.

Enjoy free music and yard games, watch the Homecoming parade, take a campus tour, dine at one of the local food trucks, watch your favorite Catholic hometown football team, and much more.

Got a prospective student?

Register to attend homecoming and stop by our Welcome Tent the night of for free giveaways and a tour of the school. Friday, September 20 is your night to have fun, celebrate 60 years of Catholic pride and learn how Lourdes can help your student achieve their best—in the classroom and beyond.

Are you a Lourdes Academy Alum?

All alumni are invited to be part of the tradition by joining us September 20 for all the homecoming festivities. Walk in the parade, be recognized at the game, and join us for a traditional bonfire afterwards. Visit the 60th Anniversary Homecoming page for more details on these and other fun activities. If you’re planning to attend, please RSVP at alumni@lourdes.today and let us know how many will be attending and if you will be participating in the parade.

Schedule of Events:

5-7 p.m. – Food trucks, music, games, dunk tank , and stop by the Welcome Tent for free giveaways and a tour of the school

5:30 p.m. – Homecoming parade (Josslyn Street)

7 p.m. – Pep Rally and Human Tunnel, as we send the football team off in style to Titan Stadium

8:15 p.m. – Football game at Titan Stadium


Prospective families – please contact our Enrollment Coordinator, Heather Thorson, at hthorson@lourdes.today or (920) 426-6421.

Alumni – please contact Karen Boehm at kboehm@lourdes.today or (920) 426-3626, ext. 546.

New Food Service Program to Focus on New Flavors, Events, and Wellness Education

Lourdes Academy and Chartwells K12 are excited introduce a brand new partnership that includes a school café full of new flavors, events, and wellness education.

New Menus and Café Spaces
Chartwells K12 chefs and dietitians have been hard at work testing and developing a fresh, new menu designed specifically for Lourdes Academy students that includes a wide variety of healthy and delicious options. Menus were created using student input from surveys, tastings and everyday conversations, as well as local food trends, flavors and produce. The new menu includes:

  • Fun lunch options for Elementary Students
  • Grab n’ Go items for MS/HS Students
  • Pizza offered daily for MS/HS Students

Lunch Prices for 2019-2020 school year:
Elementary – $2.95
Middle & High School – $3.05         

Mobile Menus are in Your Hands
We are also happy to introduce you to Nutrislice, our mobile and web app that brings the school menu, nutrition and allergen information all together, right to the palm of your hand. In addition to nutrition information, Nutrislice tells the café menu story with real photos taken by Chartwells chefs in schools, full menu descriptions, as well as café event information, nutrition education and food stories that help students connect the foods they eat in the café to its origins and health benefits.

Download the free Nutrislice App from the App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android) and search for your menus. Or, find them on the online at https://lourdesacademy.nutrislice.com/

Refreshed Café
In addition to a great food experience, the high school/middle school café has been refreshed with new signage and food stations.

Culinary demonstrations and new food samplings
All year long, students will have the opportunity to learn about healthier food options through fun and engaging activities that we have planned in the school cafeteria.  An emphasis will be put on healthier meal options, especially ones with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.  Students will have the opportunity to meet and engage with Chartwells chefs through culinary demonstrations and new food samplings. Look for more information on these special events coming soon.

From the Café to the Community
Chartwells K12 and Lourdes Academy are also partnering on new community programs for the coming school year, including our shared commitment to anti-bullying awareness and prevention. As a part this commitment, we are introducing anti-bullying training to all of our café team members as well as sharing with students #JustStandUp ! #JustStandUp is Chartwells’ student and family-focused social campaign that challenges students to stand up for those being bullied. Students will continue to see positive social behavior modeled and discussed throughout the café. For more information about the program and how to support discussions with your child, please visit www.ChartwellsK12.com.

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