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Leyden inducts five alumni into its Wall of Fame

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Leyden inducts five alumni into its Wall of Fame

On Thursday, September 14, the Leyden High School District 212 Board of Education invites our community to join in honoring our Wall of Fame inductees in a ceremony and reception.  This prestigious honor will be bestowed upon four worthy Leyden graduates who have been selected through a rigorous process. Please join us in celebrating: Donald J. Chmielewski, West Leyden, Class of 1987; Lou Kurzeja, East Leyden, Class of 1965; Justyna Kedra, East Leyden, Class of 2010; Tommy "Mugs" Cain, East Leyden, Class of 1970, and, posthumously, Joseph M. Belback, West Leyden, Class of 1977.

Donald J. Chmielewski, West Leyden, Class of 1987: Dr. Chmielewski is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at IIT in Chicago. He earned his B.S. from IIT in 1991, and went on to UCLA for his graduate work, earning a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 2000.  He has received a myriad of awards in his field, including the Excellence in Teaching Award at IIT.  His message to Leyden students:  "Even if you fail early on, you can turn things around and be successful. Don't forget to put in your full effort."

Lou Kurzeja, East Leyden, Class of 1965: Dr. Kurzeja (Dr. Lou) is a veterinarian at Golf-Rose Animal Hospital in Schaumburg. She earned her DVM from the University of Illinois. She has received various service awards, and has volunteered at the Brookfield Zoo for over 18 years. Her message to Leyden students: "Don't give up on working toward what makes you want to get up every morning smiling, because you're doing what you really love doing."

Justyna Kedra, East Leyden, Class of 2010: Ms. Kedra graduated with a BFA from the Parsons School of Design, majoring in Fashion Design with a focus on entrepreneurship.  She is the founder of We Rule, which connects amazing visionaries to mentorship, opportunities, and investors in 30+ countries. Her organization has been recognized by the UN Women as Champions of Change. Her message to Leyden students: "Dream the biggest you can and ignore all of your limitations, whatever they might be. Explore what you are passionate about and meet people who will support you. Realize that meeting the right people is the key to success. I strongly believe that there is nothing that can stop you from achieving your biggest dreams, if you have the right tribe supporting you and you're doing something you absolutely love."

Tommy "Mugs" Cain, East Leyden, Class of 1971: Tommy Cain is a musician and musical director. He has recorded and performed with Grammy Award winning Michael Bolton, David Foster, Sammy Hagar, and Jonathan Cain. He has co-written and played tracks for the films The Terminator and If Looks Could Kill.  He has had numerous television appearances, and toured extensively with Michael Bolton, Foreigner, Sammy Hagar, and Heart. His message to Leyden students: "Don't give up on your dreams. Believe in yourself--always." 

--Janine Asmus, Wall of Fame Coordinator

Joseph M. Belback*, West Leyden, Class of 1977:
Joe’s mechanical genius and love of physics at Leyden eventually led him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) where he pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering. Joe went on to work on the original MRI machine technology. He later designed the hardware for several Electro Optical/Infrared high-resolution thermal imaging cameras used to secure our borders and our capitol after 9/11. “Joe left an incredible legacy both professionally developing leading edge technology, and personally, embraced life to the fullest, providing an example to inspire all,” said his brother Greg Belback. 

“Over the years coordinating this program, I am always amazed by how genuinely touched they are by the recognition,” said Janine Asmus, West Leyden Librarian and coordinator of the Wall of Fame recognition program. “When they reflect on their Leyden education, they realize all the tremendous opportunities provided to them. Leyden graduates are indeed the fruits of our labors as educators and, as such, we should all take pride in those who have made recognizable accomplishments.”

--Greg Belback, Brother of the late Joseph Belback  

The alumni will also speak with students at both East and West Leyden during their visit this fall, and will be honored during half-time at the home football game on Friday, September 15. 

*posthumous inductee