Walking for Gus

By Kevin Brennan '07
Notre Dame Alumni Association

It started with his right foot.

Gus Raspitha ’70 Ph.D. was in his 70s but seemed younger. He was in good physical condition, loved to play golf, and had coached track for 20 years. He hadn’t shown any signs of slowing down.

But now he was having trouble lifting the front of his foot, and it was causing him to trip. When the problem didn’t go away, he saw a doctor. It took a year of tests ruling out a host of other possible—and preferable—causes before he finally got the news.

Gus had ALS.


“It’s such a horrendous disease,” Ellen Raspitha says. “I don’t think I can underscore that enough. As soon as you hear those three letters, you’ve just been given a death sentence.”

Ellen watched her husband deteriorate, knowing there was nothing doctors could do to prevent the inevitable. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurological disease in which the nerve cells controlling voluntary muscles stop functioning. There is no cure. On May 11, 2009, Gus Raspitha passed away.

It was and continues to be a devastating loss for Ellen and their two children, Elena ’00 and Leo. Gus’ death also affected his larger Notre Dame family. But more than six years later, something beautiful has grown out of his tragic passing, and it continues to benefit patients who are struggling with the same horrendous affliction.

A key figure in making this a reality is Les McCarthy, who became friends with Gus through the Notre Dame Club of Mid-Hudson Valley in New York. Gus was a longtime member, and McCarthy, a Cornell graduate who grew up a Notre Dame fan and sent both of his children to the school, served as the club’s president for five years. McCarthy had already lost two close friends to ALS when Gus was diagnosed. Shortly after Gus’ passing, he approached Ellen with an idea: the club should hold an ALS walk in memory of Gus.

Ellen and her children were hesitant at first. “Gus was kind of a quiet, private fellow,” she says. “I think if they had asked when he was alive, he probably would have said no. But we thought, well, this could be part of his legacy. And, of course, Gus loved Notre Dame.”

On Nov. 15, 2009, six months after Gus’ passing, 55 club members and friends gathered at the Walkway over the Hudson, a 1.28-mile-long pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River that opened that year connecting the cities of Poughkeepsie and Highland. Carrying a banner with Gus’ name on it, the group walked across the bridge and then turned around and walked back to the other side. The event raised just under $5,000. When McCarthy mailed the check to the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, he included a note that read, “We’ll see where this takes us.”


Before long, the club started planning for the following year’s walk. Ellen credits McCarthy with constantly looking to grow its impact. “He’s kind of like the Energizer bunny,” she says. “There is no stopping him.” They set a goal of raising $15,000 in 2010. When the walk arrived that fall, more than 600 walkers participated, and they raised an eye-opening $50,000.

The club was thrilled with the progress they had made in just two years. Still, they dreamed bigger. “It became obvious to me after our 2010 walk that this is about as far as, with our resources, we can take this thing without a partnership,” McCarthy says. The club leadership enlisted the help of the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, and in 2011 the organization went from being merely the recipient of the funds generated to an official partner in the effort. This was a crucial development, as McCarthy, club president Linda Leagault Quinn ’84, and the other club organizers now, through this partnership, were able to reach out to the association’s contacts throughout the Hudson Valley.

In the four years since, the Hudson Valley Walk to Defeat ALS has grown exponentially. This fall, as roughly 2,000 walkers assembled at the same site where those 55 Notre Dame alumni and friends first gathered six years earlier, they celebrated a major milestone: The walk has now raised more than $1 million in the fight against ALS since 2009.

In the process, ALS patients living in the Hudson Valley have benefitted greatly. Before the walk, area patients had to travel roughly two hours south to New York City or roughly two hours north to Albany to receive specialized services. “There really was nothing before the club got involved,” says Dorine Gordon, the president and CEO of the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter.

The Notre Dame Club of Mid-Hudson Valley has changed that. “We were able to establish a regional care team of a nurse and a social worker in that area only because of the funds generated from this walk and this effort,” Gordon explains. These two full-time employees now make house calls to the roughly 100 ALS patients in the area. The funds also have allowed local patients access to medical equipment, and support groups have been set up for patients and their families. All of these services are offered to patients free of charge.

“It’s one of these things that you start, and I sincerely believe the wind to your back is the Holy Spirit,” McCarthy says, looking back on the growth and success of the walk. “And it pushes you forward.”

While the walk continues to grow, it hasn’t strayed from its roots. Each fall, when the Notre Dame Club of Mid-Hudson Valley members and their families and friends gather together, they still walk in honor of Gus.  

“When I see that banner come out … it’s very emotional,” Ellen Raspitha says. “It really is. It’s hard to start the walk with a dry eye, even after seven walks.”

Ellen continues to serve on the board of the Notre Dame Club of Mid-Hudson Valley. She hopes that someday a cure for ALS will be identified. In the meantime, she is proud of what the club has accomplished in her husband’s name. And she suspects someone else would feel the same way.

“I do think Gus would be pleased,” she says. “I think that he’s smiling in his quiet way.”



Responding to Tragedy in Chattanooga

By Kevin Brennan '07
Notre Dame Alumni Association

You never think something like this will happen in your hometown. You watch news reports with horror and sadness when there is a mass shooting or another incomprehensible act of evil in some other city. You feel for the victims, the families, and those affected. But you don’t think it will happen to your community.

Yet, for the people of Chattanooga, Tennessee, it did. On Thursday, July 16, 2015 a gunman opened fire first outside a military recruitment center and then into the main building of the city’s U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center. Five members of the military died as a result of this heinous act of terror, and the city of Chattanooga was left to mourn the losses and sort out what had happened.

“As you can probably imagine, it was a pretty shocking time in the city,” says Steve Chardos ’70, a psychologist who serves as the president of the Notre Dame Club of Chattanooga. “It was in the neighborhood right near many of us. It was on the street that we drive on all the time. The place that we walk, ride our bikes, it was right next to where all the shootings happened.”

In the aftermath of the shootings, with the city still reeling, Notre Dame alumni and friends in the area decided they needed to do something to help. “We like to think of ourselves as a service club,” Chardos explains. He met his fellow club board members, and they brainstormed different ways to help. Karen McGrath ’04 finally made the best suggestion: What if they did something to aid those who were investigating the crime and working to keep the city safe?

Following the shooting, a number of law enforcement officials, from the FBI to the ATF, descended upon Chattanooga to team with the local police force. Hundreds of officers worked around the clock to ensure the safety of the city’s residents.

On the morning after the club’s board meeting, Chardos showed up at the city’s Police Services Center and asked how the club could help. The authorities, who spend their time serving others, weren’t used to having to ask for assistance.


“They were hesitant,” Chardos remembers. “I guess they didn’t want to say, we need this, this, and this.” He realized he was going to have to find out what the authorities needed by drawing it out of them through suggestions. Eventually, he asked if they needed any extra food.

The police officers’ eyes lit up. They had lined up food for that day, but they didn’t have any coverage for the weekend. Chardos emailed the club’s entire membership, which includes 28 Notre Dame alumni and friends. The members responded immediately, offering to chip in money for the cause.

Later that day, Chardos and his wife purchased as many hero sandwiches and snacks as the $400 they had collected could buy. He then met up with the five other club members and delivered the food to the police center.

The police officers were very appreciative, but the club wasn’t satisfied. After some additional maneuvering to get the authorities over their reticence, the Notre Dame volunteers learned about one of the small challenges the authorities were facing. It was the middle of the summer in Chattanooga, and officers were stationed throughout the city for 8-hour shifts. Getting cold water to all of these officers was proving difficult.

On Monday morning, Chardos returned to the station, this time with his car packed with cases of bottled water. The club members had chipped in more money to keep the officers hydrated.

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Chattanooga is a small club, but they are proud of their service work. Throughout the year, they hold a number of events, from working with homeless families twice a year to regularly teaming with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The club’s response to the shooting wasn’t the most money they had ever raised for charity. It required less manpower than many of their previous projects. But it may have been the most meaningful.

“A number of people said this is the best thing our club had ever done,” Chardos says. “I’m glad that we represented Notre Dame in the community because the people at the police station, at the headquarters, when I went the second time, commented on the fact that we were from the University of Notre Dame.”

Residents of Chattanooga will always remember July 16, 2015. When something like that happens in your community, it’s hard to erase it from your mind. But the members of the Notre Dame Club of Chattanooga will always know that when their city faced one of its darkest days, they did what they could to make a difference.



The Friendship That Fostered an International Collaboration

By Kevin Brennan '07
Notre Dame Alumni Association

Stephanie “Tephy” Frank ’07 and Maria “Kitty” Bosch ’09 have been friends for as long as they can remember. They both grew up in Guatemala City, where their families are close. Just two years apart, they attended the same school growing up, and they both chose Notre Dame for college.

“I’ve known Kitty since she was born,” Frank explains. “We’ve been around each other for our entire lives.”

They are around each other less frequently these days, though. Bosch lives in Guatemala City, while Frank moved to Dallas a year and a half ago. That hasn’t stopped the pair from continuing to speak nearly every day. And last year, their enduring friendship made possible a joint service project that two historically vibrant Notre Dame clubs count among their most notable initiatives in years.

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It started when Frank began attending Notre Dame Club of Dallas events. She learned that a few years ago the club began exploring the idea of setting up an international partnership with the Notre Dame Club of Guatemala. While discussions had taken place between the two clubs, they hadn’t launched any substantial initiatives.

Frank volunteered to help, and in May, the club made her the project lead. In addition to the fact that she was from Guatemala, Frank brought another inherent asset: she is close friends with one of the leaders of the Notre Dame Club of Guatemala, Kitty Bosch.   

The longtime friends immediately started brainstorming ways for the two clubs to collaborate. In honor of the late Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., they set out to plan a service project in Guatemala that overlapped with the issues Father Hesburgh cared about most. They developed a list of potential options, but one idea clearly stood out from the rest.

Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes runs an innovative school and community center for impoverished children in Jocotenango, a town about 15 minutes from the city of Antigua. He was inspired to found the school after watching many of the friends he grew up with enter a world of violence, crime, and drugs as adults in this struggling area of Guatemala. He established his program, Los Patajos (“Little Ones”), to provide young people with the right foundation to resist these temptations and, hopefully, make Guatemala a safer and more stable nation.


Located in an extremely dangerous neighborhood, Los Patajos aims to make its students socially and civically responsible, financially literate, self-sustaining, and entrepreneurial. It accomplishes these goals through a variety of programs centered around developing critical thinking skills. Students take classes in art, music, theatre, dance, and other creative subjects. They learn about social and political issues, develop leadership skills, and explore ways to reduce violence. The program also offers children a nutritious meal each day and provides basic medical services.

The success of Los Patajos has attracted international attention. In 2014, Romero Fuentes was chosen as one of 10 CNN Heroes from a pool of more than 50,000 worldwide nominees. Frank and Bosch were inspired by his work, and they asked Romero Fuentes what a group of Notre Dame alumni and friends could do to help. He explained that the large school desperately needed to be re-painted, but the school could not afford that amount of paint.  

Painting the school would provide students with a fresh, attractive environment, but it also would serve a deeper purpose. “The point of the school is to keep kids out of the streets,” Bosch explains. “One of their objectives is to introduce them to change so they can learn how to adapt.” By learning to adapt to small changes, like new, different colored walls, the students will be more likely to adapt in the outside world. The freshly painted walls would also offer students new space to work on murals and other artistic projects.

Frank and Bosch successfully convinced the leaders of their respective clubs that Los Patajos was the perfect option for a joint service project, but they faced a new challenge: raising enough money to make it possible. On Oct. 20, Frank emailed the leadership team of the Dallas club with her full project plan, explaining that they needed $3,140 to make it a reality.

The plan must have impressed the Dallas leadership group. Within 12 hours, they had already raised half the money they needed. Only two weeks later, they were fully funded. “The fact that it happened so quickly is just mind blowing,” says Sean McIntyre ’09 M.B.A., who served as the president of the Notre Dame Club of Dallas in 2015. “And that’s a tribute to the club’s generous donors.”

McIntyre works for American Airlines and was able to secure the small group traveling from Dallas affordable international flights on short notice. On the weekend of Nov. 20-22, Frank, McIntyre, and Jim Murphy ’76 met up with Bosch and 11 other Notre Dame alumni and friends who live in Guatemala. Armed with high quality paint in the colors Romero Fuentes had requested, the group got to work.

On Saturday, Nov. 21, they painted the walls at Los Patajos from Noon until 6 p.m. It was hard work in rainy and humid weather. By the end, the group was painting in rhythm to Michael Jackson songs to keep moving at a fast pace. But the Notre Dame alumni and friends were inspired by the work and grateful for the opportunity to give back to Los Patajos and the students.

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“We basically were able to give over 100 kids something beautiful before Christmas. And it was such a blessing for us to be able to do that,” Frank says. “A little paint—well, a lot of paint—can really change a human being’s perspective. It was big.”

Later that night, the representatives from the two Notre Dame clubs gathered at a bar for dinner, a few drinks, and to watch Notre Dame defeat Boston College in the Shamrock Series. The next day, the representatives from Dallas flew home, but the leaders of both clubs were confident that this wouldn’t be the last project the two came together to tackle. “I only see it growing from here,” McIntyre says.

The clubs are already discussing options for 2016. They’ve considered partnering with Los Patajos again, adopting a new cause in Guatemala, or collaborating on a service project in Dallas. One thing is certain: Frank and Bosch, who is now the president of the Notre Dame Club of Guatemala, are excited to continue working together.

“Kitty and I just have this kinship,” Frank says. “We just gravitate toward each other.”

With these two young alumnae leading the way, the relationship between the Notre Dame Club of Dallas and the Notre Dame Club of Guatemala should continue to flourish.



A Pre-Game Tradition

By Kevin Brennan '07
Notre Dame Alumni Association

This New Year’s Eve, a group of Notre Dame alumni and friends gathered in Phoenix to spend the day together. They had traveled, many of them clad in Notre Dame apparel, to Arizona to watch the Fighting Irish take on Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl the following day.

But on this day, they had no plans to enjoy a few drinks, talk about the crucial match-ups in the big game, or sample the pizza at the renowned Pizzeria Bianco. Instead, this group of 80 Irish supporters washed feet, served food, and engaged with homeless people in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.


They were there for a Notre Dame Alumni Association service project with Andre House, a Congregation of Holy Cross ministry serving the local homeless population, and St. Vincent de Paul. The event was part of a continuing tradition: When Notre Dame football fans flock to a city for the Shamrock Series or a bowl game, the Alumni Association offers an opportunity to make a difference.

“Our goal is to give back to the communities that have so warmly welcomed us,” Alumni Association Executive Director Dolly Duffy ’84 says. “It’s inspiring to see so many of our alumni and friends so eager to volunteer their time to help the less fortunate.”  

The event in Arizona was the second major service project organized by the Alumni Association this football season. On the Friday before the Shamrock Series game in Boston in November, a group of Notre Dame fans packed 37,000 pounds of fresh produce into more than 1,500 bags that were delivered to needy families in Boston in time for Thanksgiving. Jack Shields '83 and his wife, Kathy, generously donated turkeys to accompany the bags. 

In previous years, the Alumni Association has supported different communities in need in cities around the country. From planting an urban garden to support the homeless in Miami before the 2012 BCS national championship to creating care packages for soldiers in Afghanistan during the Shamrock Series in New York, these events have made a measurable impact and offered rewarding experiences to the participants.

In Phoenix, the Notre Dame volunteers helped the homeless and impoverished in tangible, meaningful ways. Andre House, named for Saint Andre Bessette, C.S.C., was founded in 1984 by two Holy Cross priests hoping to offer hospitality and relief to the local homeless. The Notre Dame alumni, students, and staff members participated in many of the services Andre House offers, from doing laundry and working at Andre House’s clothing distribution store to washing the feet of homeless people who opted to receive foot exams from a medical non-profit on site. Many also went to nearby St. Vincent de Paul to prepare and serve lunch to hundreds of homeless patrons.

The following day, Notre Dame fell to the Buckeyes in a hard-fought contest. While Irish fans left Arizona disappointed in the outcome, the 80 volunteers who aided the homeless the previous day returned home knowing they had lived out Notre Dame’s mission by serving those most in need.

The next time you plan a trip to a Shamrock Series or bowl game, please consider joining your fellow alumni and friends at an Alumni Association service project.