Saint Patrick High School Chairman Emeritus Lowell I. Stahl ’52 Passes Away at Age 89

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Saint Patrick High School Chairman Emeritus Lowell I. Stahl ’52 Passes Away at Age 89

Stahl’s leadership and generosity propelled Saint Patrick High School into the 21st century

January 30, 2023

Lowell Stahl ’52 liked to joke that he owned the world’s most expensive suit.

When asked to give a speech at the Saint Patrick Academy Class of 1952 commencement, Stahl, the senior class president, politely refused. Embarrassed because he didn’t have a suit to wear, the school’s Christian Brothers leadership directed Stahl to visit nearby Sufferin Clothers. There, the store manager handed Stahl a new suit, wished him good luck, and sent him on his way.

Stahl never forgot the Christian Brothers’ generosity and returned it in time, wisdom, and philanthropy through dedicated involvement to his alma mater.

The first chairman of the Saint Patrick High School Board of Trustees and, later, its Chairman Emeritus, Stahl’s business and marketing savvy shepherded the school’s evolution into the Millennium. He was also Saint Patrick’s largest benefactor, donating more than $5 million to Saint Patrick over his lifetime – repayment, he would say, for school leadership covering the cost of his graduation attire.

“The truth is that I owe everything I was able to accomplish to the Christian Brothers,” Stahl once said of his commitment to Saint Patrick. “They gave me the only formal education, the only training I’ve ever had, and they accepted me for what I was.” Stahl passed away on January 20 at the age of 89.

“Lowell exemplified the Shamrock spirit,” Saint Patrick president Dan Santucci said. “He was passionate, humble, and lived for others, playing a critical role in where Saint Patrick is and where it is going.”

Stahl finds a home at Saint Patrick

Born in Chicago on December 5, 1933, the only child of a single mother, Stahl endured a nomadic, unsettled childhood in a city reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. Stahl and his mother, Elinor Ryfeldt, bounced between different rented apartments on a near-annual basis and Stahl attended five different elementary schools. By his 14th birthday, Stahl had peddled newspapers, worked as a short-order cook, logged hours as a relief janitor, and sold toy trains at the Woolworth’s on State Street – all efforts to maintain a hardscrabble life.

After graduating from Holy Name School in 1948, Stahl intended to follow many of his classmates to Mundelein High until a chance encounter with Saint Patrick Academy’s then athletic director, Brother Leo, shifted those plans. Brother Leo promised Ms. Ryfeldt that Saint Patrick would “work something out” on the $100 yearly tuition and also assured her that the Christian Brothers would take care of her lone son.

“Little did I know the turning point before me, how the Christian Brothers would guide me down a new path and open my eyes to new realities,” Stahl later said of his altered high school plans.

At Saint Patrick Academy on Des Plaines and Adams Streets, Stahl found the stability, guidance, and brotherhood absent in much of his early life. He captained the football team, participated in the camera club, served on the dance committee, and was elected a class officer. Though a self described “mediocre student,” Stahl said the environment at Saint Patrick provided him discipline and direction.

“During my time with the Christian Brothers at Saint Patrick, I gained a stronger feeling about who I was and what I could do. The Brothers allowed me to be a leader and the school served a fundamental role in my development,” said Stahl, a member of the Academy’s final graduating class as Saint Patrick left its Des Plaines and Adams campus in mid-1952.

An enterprising businessman

After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Stahl returned to Chicago in 1954. He married Nancy Hamann, his wife of 51 years, on October 1, 1955, and launched a successful entrepreneurial career that would touch the insurance, real estate, and banking industries.

Stahl turned a $6,000 loan to purchase a family-run real estate and insurance office on Chicago’s North Side in 1958 into a $300,000 exit 18 years later; he spearheaded Century 21’s franchising growth in northern Illinois and eventually oversaw Century 21 offices across seven Midwestern states; and he transformed Chicago-based Labe Bank from a middling outfit into one of the area’s most successful banks with customer-centric initiatives and spirited leadership. Most recently, Stahl served as owner and chairman of PFS Financial, LLC.

Stahl found success as a businessman by combining a creative eye for marketing with a keen self-awareness, unapologetic optimism, and strict pragmatism. He favored pithy lines – aptly named “Lowellisms” – more likely to be heard in the neighborhood than the boardroom. “Don’t tell me about the labor pains, just show me the baby” and “A camel is a horse designed by committee” were two favorites.

Forever a Shamrock

Stahl brought his individualistic brand of energy and foresight to his involvement with Saint Patrick. As the school’s first board chairman, Stahl recruited many of the board’s earliest members, steered efforts to create a computer lab in the late 1980s, and guided strategic planning. He was an active force in developing the Vision 2000 plan that transformed Saint Patrick’s physical campus at Belmont and Austin and introduced a robust fine arts curriculum.

After school leadership announced the ambitious Vision 2000 plan and an accompanying $4 million capital campaign at the Crystal Shamrock Dinner in 1995, Stahl stood up and unexpectedly pledged $1 million to the effort, the largest gift in Saint Patrick High School’s history.

“We needed a lead donor and I was the one most positioned to pull that first big olive out of the jar,” Stahl said, whose legacy endures at Belmont and Austin with the Lowell I. Stahl Cultural Centre and Stahl Family Theater.

Mick O’Rourke ’86, a longtime colleague of Stahl’s on the Saint Patrick Board of Trustees and now its chairman, called Stahl a transformative and visionary leader. “Lowell led his life in such an impactful manner, and his generosity and commitment were so instrumental in making Saint Patrick what it is today,” O’Rourke said. “The entire Shamrock community will forever be indebted to Lowell.”

Preceded in death by his wife, Nancy, Stahl is survived by his son Jeff (Patricia), his daughter Suzanne (Tim), and eight grandchildren: James (Jay), Mackenzie, Karlee, Blaine, Madison, Christopher, Gina, and Elizabeth. A celebration of Stahl’s life will occur at a later date and time. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Stahl Family Charitable Foundation, a 501(c) 3 organization, to help fund medical research, 600 Andrew Lane, Lake Zurich, Illinois 60047.

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