A trip to the University of Notre Dame became a annual event after the 2001 homeroom of 201 did it in grand style! (Find and read this inspiring story “Freshman Homeroom and the Notre Dame Trip of 2001“ in the Education category.)
Three years later, a senior young lady asked if we could make a senior college visitation as well to Notre Dame. I, of course, did not see any reason why we couldn’t, so we proposed the trip to the administration and received a thumbs-up! We started with 15 seniors committing to the trip originally, but only 8 people made the trip.
The students arranged the transportation, the program, and the accommodations! Each student spent a day going to class and spending a night in the dorms with a student of Notre Dame. This program was offered by the University to attract students.
After the Notre Dame experience, driving through Ohio on the way home, Melissa Martin and I were talking about the future of the wall in room 201, and how it came into existence. (Find and read this inspiring story “Passion of the Wall” in the Sports category.) At the completion of our chat, Melissa inquired how she too could have her name added to the wall. Melissa had already brought syndicated columnist, Pulitzer Prize-winning Leonard Pitts to speak at the school, but I had another gentleman in mind! Without hesitation, I suggested she find a way to bring Rudy Ruettiger to speak to the students of our school. She actually said, “Is that all? Where do I start?” I suggested it would take somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,000 to bring Rudy to our school. Melissa said, “No problem.”
A brief biography about Rudy Ruettiger: As a boy Rudy had a passion to attend Notre Dame and also to play football for the Irish! However, Rudy was neither qualified academically nor did he possess the size and talent to play football at the Division 1A college level. Of course, the story of Rudy is that he accomplished both dreams, and the movie “Rudy” was made of the young man’s struggle!
Since the movie has become so popular in an inspirational way, we have been showing the film to every freshman class since 1996! Needless to say, the students were well acquainted with Rudy’s story!
Getting Rudy to appear at our school would be quite an extraordinary accomplishment for Melissa, due to the fact she had no funding at all.
After returning to school, I presented Melissa with the names of people to contact for donations. These folks were the same people that helped with the funding of our first trip to Notre Dame.
Melissa was like a piranha attacking this project, and within two weeks, she had a date set with Rudy’s manager, a $1,700 check from Heisman Trophy Foundation via Chairman Rudi Riska, $2,500 from the PGA Junior Golf Association of our school, $500 from Bill Burns, president of the South Jersey Notre Dame Alumni Club, $2,000 from the Ralph Martin Foundation at school, and John Conklin from the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City donated a limo to pick Rudy up and drive him to and from school. John also provided accommodations at the Tropicana for Rudy. So, in less than two weeks, Melissa accomplished what seemed to be impossible and was delivering Rudy to our school!
Melissa signed up her good friend Lissa Bowen to provide a luncheon for Rudy on the day of his visit. The people who were most responsible for Rudy’s appearance were also guests. Lissa had an entire meal donated, and some 40 folks enjoyed lunch and a private meeting with guest of honor Rudy. In fact, Lissa’s father provided dinner for Rudy at the Baltimore Grill in the heart of Atlantic City on the night of Rudy’s arrival.
In the end, all funds were gathered, all other wrinkles ironed out for the classroom space, and on April 13, 2004, Rudy Ruettiger of Notre Dame drove up to the front door of our school in a limo. Melissa greeted Rudy and escorted him around all day. The local TV station was on hand to cover the event, as was Chuck Gormley and his son Tom from the courier post newspaper based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Gormley provided 2 full pages of coverage for the event. By the way, this was the most press coverage I have seen for an event at the school.
Rudy’s presentation was fabulous, as a very proud and beaming Melissa Martin achieved the impossible. Melissa, along with Rudy, saw her name added to the wall in room 201 that very day!
“What we do in life echoes in eternity”
~General Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator