This article reprinted with the permission of The Beverly Review
by Kyle Garmes
Two staples of the South Side are celebrating their 90th anniversary this year, and on April 28, they united for a scoop of ice cream and a chance for some graduating high school seniors to receive career advice from their elders.
Students from Leo High School, which opened in 1926, visited The Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 S. Western Ave., which opened that same year, to chat with about a dozen Leo alumni.
The chilly weather wasn’t exactly ideal for enjoying ice cream, but Leo alumni of all ages, including several from Beverly, said they appreciated the chance to meet with students who will soon join them as graduates of the school that is located in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood.
“I tell the guys all the time: Leo was my first fraternity. That’s what it feels like,” said Mel Roberson, a 1994 alumnus who is now an actor. “Walking those halls years ago until now—I think we have one of the strongest alumni associations in the city. We just love the school. We do everything we can for it. And it doesn’t matter what class you came out in—it’s a brotherhood.”
As Leo students enjoyed their ice cream, Rainbow Cone owner Lynn Sapp urged them to network and cultivate strong relationships.
Roberson said he delivered a similar message, telling students to work hard, be determined fight for what they want and build good references.
“You’re the average of the five people you hang around with most,” Roberson said, “so try to hang with good people who will pour into you as opposed to people who are constantly taking from you.”
Don Finn, a Leo alum who is now business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 134, reminded students of the importance of money, education, student loans and networking.
By a show of hands, Finn asked how many were considering college, and about 30 of the 35 students responded yes.
“That’s a lot more than when we were going to school,” Finn said.
He also detailed options that students have besides college, noting the five-year education program for learning a trade that begins at $13.50 an hour for a 40-hour week.
Working in Local 134, Finn said, has provided more than enough financially.
“God willing, I’ll live long enough to enjoy all the money that’s accumulated in my pension,” Finn said, “but I know at the very least that my family will never have to worry because my career as an electrician has allowed me to provide and to save at the same time.”
Students also spoke one-on-one with alums, including senior Corielle Robinson, who played on Leo’s Class 1A state runner-up team this past winter and plans to stay involved in sports.
“What would I have to do to become a sports agent?” asked Robinson.
“Likely you should consider sports management at the undergraduate level and even consider sports law courses and law school at places like Marquette,” said Bill Figel, a Leo alum who lives in Morgan Park.
Jim McElherne, a 1971 graduate who works in the exhibit industry around the nation, said one student told him he wanted to work in the restaurant industry, and he informed him of the upcoming Restaurant Show at McCormick Place.
McElherne said he visited Rainbow Cone often as a child, and he was happy to return.
“To us, it’s an institution,” he said.
One student lined up a job experience as a result of the gathering. Mike Nix, Class of 1981, now owns The Red Palm restaurant in Evergreen Park, and he agreed to train Leo senior Antione Dunning in open-pit pizza preparation and other culinary techniques.
Leo doesn’t draw as many students from the area now, but alumni remain steadfast in keeping the school up and running.
“I think it’s a true testament for people in the middle of the day to give up their day, leave their jobs, whatever they have going on, to do it,” Roberson said. “It just shows you how much we care about the school and how important it is that we let the younger generations know they’re part of something bigger than just what they saw their four years at Leo.”
Editor’s note: Bill Figel contributed to this report.