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Tosa grad's dad helps schools teach other special needs kids

He creates scholarship fund in son's name

June 20, 2012

A scholarship fund for those who commit to working with special needs students and adults has been established by a Wauwatosa West High School parent whose own challenged son graduated from the school June 9.

John Schwab announced to the West faculty that he is establishing the Ben Schwab Scholarship for $1,000 per year for the next five years to go to students who intend to work in the field of special needs.

The scholarship is the first of a two-phase gift. Schwab said he has committed $10,000 to help West improve its special education classroom in any way the school sees fit. He also is actively involved in seeking grants or other outside funds toward the same cause.

Graduation announcement

The announcement came the day before Ben, 20, gathered with his classmates at commencement. Schwab asked to address faculty members on their last official day.

"They thought I had just wanted to thank them, but I wanted to start this scholarship because the school has meant so much to Ben and our family," Schwab said. "I still need to work out some details, but I wanted to praise them for being educators not only helping students become more intelligent, but for being teachers by example and having the tolerance and caring attitude for special needs kids. This is in honor for what they have done."

Appreciates community spirit

Schwab's gift is based not only on the caring attitude of faculty, but also on the student volunteers who have worked with Ben and others. He also appreciates the inclusive attitude of West students.

"Everywhere we go, kids come up and greet Ben," he said. "Ben has an outgoing personality. These kids really go out of their way to make him feel included. It's always happens with a genuine tone."

The opportunities for those moments include making Ben a tennis team manager and including him as a cast member in a play.

John and Ben Schwab volunteer at a variety of community activities, including serving meals at Ronald McDonald House and for events sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club.

Thankful reaction

Ben's personality and his father's gift are gifts, said Sarah Chavez, his special education teacher and Frank Calarco, West's principal.

Chavez said Schwab's address to the faculty touched many teachers.

"It was very touching, and I think that is was a really great way to end the year and start the summer," Chavez said. "He so eloquently put into his speech a perspective that is the reason why we do what we do. It was great to know that we make a difference."

Calarco said he offered a forum for Schwab, who originally wanted to address graduates.

"We couldn't do that, but his speech (to faculty) was just fantastic," Calarco said. "He complimented everyone, including teachers, aides, secretaries, students and everyone who Ben had been in contact with. There wasn't a dry eye in the house."

Calarco normally gives an inspirational message to his teachers as they break for summer, but he said there was no need to after hearing Schwab's remarks.

"The fact is that Ben taught us as much as we taught him," Calarco said. "He taught us about getting along with everyone, no matter what our differences. It's a great lesson."

ABOUT THE GIVER

Occupation: Retired since 2009, John Schwab was an electrical inspector for the city of Wauwatosa for 20 years.

Quotable: "Parents lose their children as they go off to college or get married," Schwab said. "I will get something those parents don't get. I will get the joy of having Ben with me for the rest of my life."

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