I have a few problems with Walter and Marguerite Bloch. For starters, there's not enough time in the dayâ€"or at least, during a two-hour interviewâ€"to discuss all of the Blochs' interests and accomplishments. A mere list of the organizations they support would fill a quarter of my space. The most logical place to start a story about this pair of 60-somethings might be at the beginning: with their backgrounds, or how they met. They'd rather focus on their current passions.
One of those passions is Concordia University, which recently honored the couple with one of two 2005 Awards for Excellence in Learning and Leadership. The Blochsâ€"Wally and Mardy to their friendsâ€"have lived across the street from the Lutheran university in River Forest for five years, after 26 years in south Oak Park.
"We bought this townhouse so we could be near Concordia â€¦ also the [Dominican] Priory, because I like to go to daily mass," said Mardy.
A longtime educator, Mardy has taught at Concordia as an adjunct professor since the early 1980s. She currently reviews doctoral and masters' dissertations and is working on a handbook for adjunct professors.
For five years, both Blochs have also been Concordia students. That's how long the university has offered a program called Sixty Plus, which allows those over 60 to audit courses with available space for $15 a credit hour.
Wally is currently tackling his 24th and 25th classes: History of Illinois, and Age of Reason and Revolution.
"Mardy is taking Music of World Cultures," he noted.
Walter doesn't believe the Sixty Plus Program is well enough known. Not only do seniors get semester-length courses for less than $50, they can use Concordia's gym and swimming pool and dine in the cafeteria at student rates.
"I pick up the menu at the beginning of the week," he noted, handing me a copy.
Two years ago, when Mardy's brother passed away unexpectedly, the Blochs partially funded an exercise room in his honor at Concordia's south gym.
Brian Becker, Concordia's senior director of advancement, met the Blochs six years agoâ€"his first week on the job. "I have probably seen them every week since," he said.
Becker points to the Blochs numerous contributions to Concordia. Typically, it's the Blochs themselves who identify needs and offer funds, he said. For example, the couple established a music scholarship at the school, awarded for talent and financial need. They've also purchased more than one defibrillator.
"They really see it as stewardship," Becker said. "They don't see the wealth they've accumulated as really theirs at all. It's a gift that's been entrusted to them."
"We've really been blessed," noted Wally. "Mardy had wonderful positions. Getting married later in life, we didn't have any children. We're not going to take it with us."
Becker emphasized that the Blochs have contributed as much time and talent to Concordia as "treasure."
"If we could clone themâ€"and duplicate the Blochs' donation of time and talent and resourcesâ€"wow, the world would be a place that's a lot better off," he said.
The Blochs have given defibrillators to many organizations, including Dominican University, Taylor University in Indiana, University of St. Mary of the Lake in Chicago, River Forest's West Suburban Temple Har Zion, and Ascension Church in Oak Park.
"We just feel it's a lifesaving piece of equipment. We hope it never has to be used," commented Mardy.
The couple attends services at an equally long and diverse list of religious organizations.
"We're Roman Catholics. Ascension is our parish," Wally said firmly. He then filled me in on their other attachments.
He is a lector (reader) at three churches: Ascension and St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Oak Park, and Holy Cross Monastery in Bridgeport. He sings in the resurrection (funeral) choir at St. Luke's in River Forest and in the "fifth Sunday" choir for the St. Giles family mass in Oak Park.
Mardy regularly hosts coffee hours with her own home-baked goodies at Ascension, St. Christopher's, and Holy Cross Monastery.
"We started going to St. Christopher's for ashes [on Ash Wednesday]," said Mardy, noting that Catholic churches eliminated some traditions after Vatican II reforms.
"We bought a set of stations [of the cross] for St. Christopher's," added her husband.
One of the Blochs' favorite places to go to services is Dominican University's Sunday evening mass.
"We really like the college atmosphere," explained Wally.
For almost five years, he's also been taking part in minyan (communal prayer) at River Forest's West Suburban Temple Har Zion. His regular Tuesday attendance earned him the nickname "the Tuesday Jew" from fellow participants. One of his first courses at Concordia, the History of Religion, sparked this interest.
Not surprisingly, the Blochs' enthusiasm for religion is longstanding. Wally grew up in Berwyn and attended Catholic schools. Mardy started out in a farming community near Dixon. Through eighth grade, she was one of two students in a one-room schoolhouse. She attended a Catholic high school in Clinton, Iowa.
The couple met when Wally was an assistant pastor at an inner-city parish on Chicago's South Side, looking to recruit a talented principal. Mardy, then a nun and principal at a Catholic school in Chicago Heights, came to consider the challenge. Their paths crossed and changed. The two married in 1974.
To keep his former parish in working order, Wally had been handling a lot of construction activities. He launched a career in property management.
"I was always kind of interested in that mechanical side," he said.
He earned his broker's license and degrees in savings and loan operations, ultimately supervising property management companies for Northwestern Mutual Life.
Mardy worked as vice president of a merchandise mart-style education center, then as a professor at Northeastern University, and then as principal at Oak Park's Longfellow School. Along the way, she earned her Ph.D.
Her husband added that many in Oak Park felt Mardy was the perfect candidate for superintendent of District 97 in a prior national search, but that her local status was seen as a disadvantage. Soon after, she was recruited to a superintendent post in Oak Brook. She retired in 1993, three years after her husband.
The Blochs have retained strong ties to their Catholic roots while expanding their religious horizons. Mardy currently serves on a committee for the Archdiocese of Chicago that looks at the commonalities between Lutheran, Episcopal, and Catholic religions.
"We're all so much alike. We all have common roots," she said.
"All of the religions are united in this idea of charity," added Wally. "That's one of the reasons we're so active in the Peace Corps."