2016 Hall of Fame Inductees
Faculty and staff members who are past recipients of the Marian Award in the 2016 Hall of Fame are: Dr. Rebecca Heidlage, 2013, Judy Nickum, 2013, Elizabeth Vrabac, 2013, Iris Flournoy, 2014 and Tim Lillis, 2014 (Dec.).
Sheila was instrumental in establishing Extravaganza, hosting the first-ever Gift Gathering with her husband, Mike, and serving as the event chair in 1989, 1990 and 1991. She spent countless hours personally calling on members of the community to volunteer, contribute and attend, while laying the groundwork for a successful Saints tradition for years to come.
Sheila continued her service to the school through the Foundation Board, a fundraising group of parents and friends, and in the mid-1990’s created the Foundation Ball - a “thank-you” event for STA donors and volunteers. In 1997, she participated on the selection committee to hire a new school president. In 1998 she was appointed to the school’s governing board, the Order of Saint Thomas Aquinas -- predecessor to the Board of Trustees, of which she was a member until her retirement in 2005.
Sheila spent 28 years being a continuous advocate and speaker for Pro-Life activities through Saint Thomas Aquinas, Holy Trinity parish and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Through her Pro-Life/Respect Life involvement, she made hundreds of presentations and spoke to thousands of students across the Kansas City area. She chaperoned a group of Saint Thomas Aquinas students to attend the national March for Life in Washington D.C.
Sheila has also dedicated time to a number of other Catholic-affiliated organizations and activities: Gardner Institute (now the Catholic Education Foundation), Catholic Charities Snow Ball, “Kindness is Contagious” STOP Violence Coalition at Holy Trinity school, the Holy Trinity parish auction, and the Archdiocesan Call to Share Advisory Board all while working for over 40 years in her family’s business, White Haven Motor Lodge. Sheila continues to be active at Holy Trinity parish. She enjoys cooking, entertaining and spending time with family and friends.
Sheila and her husband, Michael, have two alumni children, Chris Berry, ‘91 (wife Lisa) and Laura Berry Brogdon, ’04 (husband Mike), and one grandchild, Tate Berry.
Dedicated, genuine, humble, faith-filled -- attributes that describe Joe Cisper, alumni-parent of Saint Thomas Aquinas High School and 1976 graduate of St. Joseph High School in Shawnee.
By trade, Joe has worked for JE Dunn Construction in a managerial/vice president role mostly in Healthcare construction for 22 years. As parents, Joe and his wife Marie Garies Cisper, '77, raised four children -- all Saints graduates. Both, of course, require a lot of energy and dedication. But over the years, Joe has found time to volunteer -- not only to help out teams and the school for which his children attended, but also in a big-picture way, paving the road for those who follow.
As many parents do, Joe and Marie became huge supporters of activities in which their children were involved, like cooking breakfast for the wrestlers after Saturday morning weigh-ins and volunteering for tournaments hosted at STA. It's what Joe took on even when it didn't directly affect his children that exemplifies distinguished service to Saint Thomas Aquinas High School.
Joe always made himself available to help implement projects and guide student athletes. His vision to improve facilities in and around the building on a tight or even non-existent budget has made a difference for many students over many years. His ability to get others on-board to donate time and financial support, along with his tireless effort to actually make things happen, enabled advancements that otherwise may not have come to fruition. From trenching the softball and football practice fields for drainage, water hydrants and electricity to improving storage and structural facilities such as fencing and flooring for the wrestling and softball programs, Joe Cisper was in it for the "long-haul," helping to improve the overall experience for students at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School.
Joe was the founder of the STA Kids Wrestling Club, which over the years has attracted many prospective students to Saint Thomas Aquinas High School. He served as assistant wrestling coach from 1998-2008, playing a key role in KSHSAA team state championships in 2005 and 2007. After a multi-year job-transfer to Texas, Joe returned to coaching at STA in 2013-14. He and Marie were also active members of the Parent Guild, 2003-2006, and are members of Holy Trinity parish in Lenexa.
Marie and Joe Cisper's children are Jessica Cisper Teddy, '99 (husband Chris Teddy, '99), Nolan Cisper, '02 (wife Sarah Alsbrooks, '02), Neil Cisper, '05 (wife Lauren), and Hannah Cisper Hettinger, '07 (husband Sam). They have 7 grandchildren (Lorelei, Charlotte, Jamison, Hudson, Leo, Keila and Shiloh)
A transplant from the Bronx, New York, Bob Durig influenced the lives of literally hundreds of Catholic high school students and families with his positive demeanor, selfless energy and dedicated spirit.
As parents, Nancy and Bob Durig were very supportive and encouraging of all four of their children and their participation in STA athletic and music programs. Yet Bob’s help with the Saints soccer program went far beyond.
In 1992 Bob volunteered to announce the girls soccer games at STA. After his oldest daughter graduated, Bob announced both the girls and boys soccer games without compensation (sometimes up to four games a day during tournaments) for the next 17 years until his untimely death in 2010.
The year before his death, the Kansas State Activities Association asked Bob to announce the state semi-finals and finals of boys soccer. In 2012 the Mo-Kan Classic, arguably the highest profile soccer tournament in the Midwest, was renamed the “Bob Durig Mo-Kan” in his honor.
Often referred to as “Mr. STA” by fellow parents because of his loyalty and devotion to the Saints, Bob was always a great ambassador for the school. Over the years, Bob hired many Saints to work at Tippin’s, and he provided -- at his own expense -- literally hundreds of pies for the annual Extravaganza auction. Athletes and coaches from other schools noted Bob’s impact as well, exemplified by a plaque donated by Olathe South commemorating the professionalism and enthusiasm that Bob brought to each game.
Saints Soccer Coach Craig Ewing, said of his good friend, Bob Durig, “He embraced service with a big heart -- always seeking to assist, encourage and motivate students to do their best.”
Bob and Nancy Durig’s four children are Dan Durig, ’94 (wife Catherine), Kerry Durig Smith, ‘95 (husband Ian), Shannon Durig, ’00, and Michael Durig, ’02 (wife Emily). Grandchildren are Ryan Durig, and Ellie and Lila Smith.
The Saints community became very familiar with the Koch family through the successful “new millennium” Saints Girls Basketball program under the direction of current head coach Rick Hetzel. Their two daughters and “adopted” daughter Ebony Haliburton, ‘02, played integral roles in the Saints’ multi-year march to its first-ever (6A) Kansas State Championship in 2002.
Janet (dec) and John Koch first met Ebony through AAU summer basketball when she and their daughter Molly were on the same team. The Koch family learned that if Ebony wanted to fulfill her dream of going to college, she would need some assistance changing high schools. Janet took the lead, working with Ebony’s family and Saint Thomas Aquinas administration. The result was Ebony attending STA beginning her sophomore year. Ebony moved to Overland Park to live with the Kochs, becoming one of the family. Janet served as Ebony’s surrogate mother amid the daily routine of juggling work and parenting responsibilities with encouragement from the rest of the family. Ebony currently works on the women’s basketball staff at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.
Highly successful accountants and business owners as well as active members of the Saints community, Janet and John were always willing to roll up their sleeves to help out. In addition to the Kochs’ dedicated involvement in their children’s activities, the couple served as Blue & Gold Annual Fund Steering Committee members, 2001 Extravaganza Live Auction chairs, Extravaganza Treasurers in 2003 and 2004, and two-time chairs of Project Graduation in 2000 and 2005.
Desire to help others, especially young people, is what motivated Janet Koch. She left the world too soon, passing away in 2012 from auto-immune disease complications. She loved to open her heart to others. A devoted wife and mom who could make the simplest occurrence seem like a celebration, Janet was a “pied piper” who personified what it means to live a respectful and dignified life of humility and grace.
In her memory, friends and family established the Janet Koch Memorial Scholarship Fund in 2013, providing annual scholarships to young women in need of financial assistance to attend Saint Thomas Aquinas High School as an avenue to achieve their dreams. The scholarship, as a result of many generous donors, is currently the largest named scholarship fund at STA.
Janet and John’s children are Shannon “Shaun” Lueker, ‘90, Kacie Koch Joyner, ‘00 (husband Carson), Molly Koch Spencer, ‘02 (husband Ross), and Andy Koch, ‘05. They currently have nine grandchildren.
Janine DiVita, ’03, is a critically acclaimed stage and screen actress and singer with an impressive body of work for her young age. Currently, Janine is playing the principle role of Anne in the original cast of Broadway’s 1st National Tour of If/Then, starring Tony Award winner Idina Menzel. Janine is also the cover for Ms. Menzel in the starring role of Elizabeth.
Since a young girl at Holy Spirit Catholic School in Overland Park, Janine loves to make-believe and transform herself for her audience. At Saint Thomas Aquinas, Janine was a member of Drill Team, Show Choir and Concert Choir, and starred in STA Performing Arts department musical productions as Marian in The Music Man and Laurey in Oklahoma!
After graduation from Saint Thomas Aquinas, Janine earned a double-major Bachelor’s Degree in Musical Theatre and Communication Studies from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While at Michigan, Janine was an anchor for Wolv TV and a member of Alpha Phi sorority.
On Broadway, Janine has been seen in several productions directed by acclaimed Tony Award recipients, such as Rizzo in the latest revival of Grease, Anything Goes (Reno cover) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (sole cover for Edwin Drood and Rosa Bud). Janine also played Elizabeth -- the role created by Madeline Kahn in the film and Megan Mullalley in the stage adaptation -- in the 1st National Tour of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.
Janine’s Off-Broadway/NYC appearances have included A Walk on The Moon, Bess Houdini in Houdini, and Excalibur. Regionally, Janine has starred in roles at Tony Award winning regional theaters including Nancy in Oliver! (Philadelphia, PA), Eva Peron in Evita (Long Island, NY), Lady of the Lake in Monty Python's stage adaptation of Spamalot (with a stop at Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre), Sophisticated Ladies (Washington, DC), and Bye Bye Birdie (Sacramento, CA).
Janine’s concert work spans the globe and her commercial work includes print, V/O, on-camera work for Mercedes Benz, Brother Sewing, Cannon, Magic Touch Razors, and Hana Green Tea.
On-screen, Janine can be seen in Irish Tenor Paul Byrom's PBS special, "This is the Moment," in which Janine is a guest-artist singing the iconic duet "Somewhere" from the Tony Award Winning Broadway Musical, West Side Story. She also played in the feature film Boychoir in the supporting role of Sally opposite Josh Lucas and Dustin Hoffman, under the direction of Francois Gerard.
For her performance as Nancy in Oliver! at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, Janine was nominated for a Barrymore Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical. She is the winner of the Alan Eisenberg Award/Actors Equity Association award for achievement in Musical Theatre.
Janine is a current ambassador for Global Citizen, and lives in the New York City area. She enjoys exercise, journaling, children and cooking.
Although Renee’s love of cooking began during childhood, she didn’t immediately start her culinary training after graduating from Saint Thomas Aquinas. Active in sports and the Arts, and a very good student while in high school, Renee was studying pre-Med at Texas A&M University when she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a chef. Renee earned her Culinary Arts degree with honors in 1992 from the Art Institute of Houston, Texas. She completed an internship at the prestigious River Oaks Country Club, also in Houston, and earned the title of Certified Sous-Chef from The American Culinary Federation in 2007. Renee’s professional experience is diverse, living and working in many places including California, Texas, South Carolina and New Hampshire.
Originally opened as Renee Kelly’s in Caenan Castle in 2004, Renee converted the restaurant to Renee Kelly’s Harvest in 2012 after lingering health issues were attributed to food allergies. Adopting a clean diet while “eating with the seasons,” Renee regained her health -- and providing gourmet farm to table cuisine became her focus. This commitment to creativity through serving delicious local food is what Renee Kelly’s Harvest is known for today.
Renee volunteers for many different groups in the community including Autism Speaks, Boulevard of Dreams, Healthy Kids Healthy Communities, Lakemary Center, Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Sunflower House. She has hosted benefit events, taught youth classes on nutrition and etiquette, and donated food and meals for area auctions just to name a few of her activities.
Renee recently competed on the Food Network’s America’s Top Chef and has been featured on several local broadcasts including KC Live, Better KC and Fox 4 Mornings. She writes for the Kansas City Star’s “Chow Town” as a featured food author/blogger. Ann Renee Kelly Neighbors is the daughter of Nancy and Roger Neighbors. Her twin brothers, Ryan and Aaron, are also Saint Thomas Aquinas graduates.
Brad Robbins, then sports editor of the Sun Newspaper in Overland Park, Kansas, announced to his readers that Kansas City Soccer would forever be regarded in a new light as a result of the 1994 Saints Boys Soccer team. He said, “This ranking is great, because it helps bring national attention to Johnson County. Coaches and soccer fans around the nation will sit up and pay attention to athletes and teams … who have competed against St. Thomas Aquinas."
Nearly 20 years later at the 2012 season-opener halftime presentation of the 1994 and 2009 national-champion boys soccer teams, Channel 41 Sports Director and WHB Talk Show Host Frank Boal singled out the '94 team as initiating what now is the soccer capital of the United States. Speaking at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School’s 25th Year Celebration and Field Dedication, Mr. Boal said, “It is no coincidence that the sport of soccer exploded in Johnson County, Kansas, and in the entire country, as a result of this team’s success.”
The Saints 1994 National Championship was the first ever high school national title for any Kansas City area high school team, exemplifying that anything is possible right here in the center of the Midwest.
And the banner and team's success inspires Saints still today. There were not many banners hanging in the school gym in Fall 1994. Since the unveiling of the coveted gold national-championship banner, Saints teams of many sports have collectively earned 89 state championships to-date, with banners for each adorning gym rafters at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School.
The 1994 National Championship squad consisted of senior captains Scott Besch, Nick DiCarlo, David Grimsley, Josh Lents, and Eric White, and senior leaders Jacob Ketter, Mark Maguire, Danny Martinez and and Tony Shaw. Junior talent was Matt Bruson, Frank Governal, Mark Roennigke, Furman Santos and Matt Wilson. Super sophomores were Brian Spitzkeit, Jason Hilgers, Tommy Jennings, Shawn McCullough, Mike Shaw, Michael Thies and Phil Thies. Freshmen Jake Gutierrez, Michael Gary and Burt Schreiber contributed added punch.
The 1994 team, recognized by USA Today, Umbro and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in the season's final polls as the highest ranked high school boys soccer team in the United States, changed the course of history for not only Saint Thomas Aquinas High School and Johnson County soccer, but also for Kansas City area high school sports.
In his concluding comments, after pointing out to an audience of nearly 5,000 fans that the one constant in the success of the Saint Thomas Aquinas girls and boys soccer program is head coach Craig Ewing, Frank Boal said, “The Saint Thomas Aquinas soccer program is second-to-none in the entire country. You should be very proud.”
Nigro Brothers Auctioneers is known as a Kansas City institution and easily recognized for their big hats, matching ties and commitment to “leave nothing on the table” as a result of their high-energy auctioneer skills at fundraising and charity auctions . The Nigro Brothers’ slogan is “to raise money for as many good causes as we can.” The “brothers” who all have families and full-time jobs, spend nearly every single weekend and a lot of weeknights attending an average of 140 auctions annually, raising $5.5 – 6 Million dollars each year for non-profits in the Kansas City area. While the Catholic faith community of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has especially benefited from the generosity of the Nigro Brothers, Saint Thomas Aquinas truly considers them an important part of our family and history.
In the early 1990’s Tony Nigro and his sons began offering entertaining, enthusiastic and winning tactics to Saint Thomas Aquinas’ annual fundraiser, Extravaganza. Nigro Brothers Auctioneers now consists of brothers and graduates of St. Joseph High School in Shawnee: George Nigro, ’68, and David Nigro, ’75, Toby Tyler, 1980 Aquinas graduate, Ron Stricker, Billy Nachbar, 75, Kevin Nachbar, ’79, and Ben Aldrich. George, David, Toby, Billy & Kevin are also alumni parents of twelve Saint Thomas Aquinas graduates: Katie Nigro, ’02, and Angie Nigro, ’08 (George & Patty); Serena Nigro, ’02, Austin Nigro, ’04, and David Nigro, ’06 (David & Anita); Mike Tyler, ’08, and Samantha Tyler, '12 (Toby & Michelle); Kevin, ’04, and Kelsey, ’08 (Kevin & Mary Pat); Darcy, ’00, Abby, ’02, and Maggie, ’05 (Bill & Cheryl).
When George and David were growing up, their father Tony owned a western shop in Kansas City, KS. That store has sold “pretty much everything” since 1955, and is now operated by David. George runs the Shawnee Mission Nigro Brothers Western Wear store that opened in 1964. The “brothers” decision to donate thousands of hours to help others is rooted in their upbringing. David says, “Our parents taught us about giving back to people in the community who are less fortunate.”
Growing up, George enjoyed working with his dad in the Kansas City, Kansas, western store but what he really thought was “pretty fun” was his dad’s other job, running auctions in Linwood, Kansas. Tony Nigro told his son he thought auctioneering was a fine idea. After quite a while of home study, the final step for George was attending the Missouri Auction School where he earned a diploma from the two week course. He was the youngest to ever become an auctioneer in Missouri -- at just 12 years old! With that title under his belt, he was selected to be the classroom auctioneer at St. Joseph and then became the auctioneer for the all-school fundraiser. That is how the Nigro Brothers got started in the “charity business.” Since then David and Toby have also become licensed auctioneers.
In addition to several Archdiocesan parishes and schools that benefit from their expertise, Nigro Brothers Auctioneers also assists many well-known local organizations such Wayside Waifs, Dream Factory, Ribbons of Pink, Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals, Shawnee Mission Medical Center, and Bill Self’s Basketball Boogie.
The auctioneers have generated a lot of money to help others while having a lot of fun, making many great new friends and feeling fortunate to live in a community where giving back is second nature. And even though their group is the hottest item a charity can obtain for their fundraising auctions, Nigro Brothers Auctioneers refuses to accept a dime for their time and efforts. They have missed many of their own children’s activities to help good causes, but their kids say they are proud and continue to learn the lessons passed down from their dads about giving, charity and a way to make a difference in the community. We thank the Nigro Brothers Auctioneers, their wives and children and recognize them as a humbling example of service to all.