While many are sleeping in, LVHS Senior Owen Leon wakes up each day in the summer at 5:00am to drive to work as a golf caddie at Ridgemoor Country Club, miles outside the city border. This year, the hard work paid off for Owen with more than caddie wages and lessons learned from the successful members of Ridgemoor, but also with a full tuition and housing scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“They had a sign on the wall in the caddyshack,” Owen recalls, “But, it always seemed like something too far away from me – like I’d never be able to get it. It read, ‘Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship.’” This year, Owen joins 260 other hardworking golf caddies as 2016 recipients of the Chick Evans Scholarship, which “awards full tuition and housing scholarships to high achieving caddies with limited financial means,” according to the Evans Scholars Foundation (ESF).
“Currently, 910 students are enrolled at 19 universities, including 14 where the Evans Scholarship owns and operates scholarship houses. More than 10,000 men and women have graduated as Evans Scholars” (ESF). Included in the 10,000 Evans Alumni, is LVHS Principal Scott Grens and his two siblings, who all caddied at Midlothian Country Club from the age of twelve. “It’s more than a scholarship. It’s a network of support for the rest of your life. From job opportunities to personal friendships, the Evans Scholarship Foundation opened doors for my entire family that may have otherwise been closed.”
Growing up in Chicago’s North Center Neighborhood, Owen attended Bell Elementary School, where he realized early on that he was “terribly shy and apprehensive,” according to Owen who admits, “When caddying, I had no choice but to bond with other caddies and especially the members from the country club.” Owen quickly emerged as a leader in the caddyshack and in school. After 8th grade, he attended Lake View High School, his neighborhood high school, where he became captain of the school’s cross country and track teams. Owen’s always on the run, as he points out, “Aside from rigorous college courses at Lake View, sports practice every day during the summer and school year, I still try to remain committed to working as a caddie.”
When asked how he does it, manage his time and work, Owen says, “I don’t think I would have been as involved in extracurriculars, or know my teachers as well as I do, if I went to a bigger school; it’s just a lot more individualized here (at LVHS). And, the AP (Advanced Placement) courses really challenged me as well.” Owen is quick to always thank others for helping him, like his coach and LVHS teacher, Ms. Cervenka. And, while it doesn’t sound like Owen will need it, help from others is waiting for him at U of I. The Evans Scholars have already been invited to attend a personalized orientation to their new HOME and school. Owen shared his visit, “We toured the school and scholarship house. They sat the parents and all the new scholars down, had speeches for us from seniors and sophomores in the house, talked about our responsibilities and dealing with classes, and even paired me with mentors as Pledge Parents. Like me, they enjoy running; so, it’s almost like the first day of school again.”
Principal Grens knows Owen will continue to succeed and points out the Evans selection criteria as proof. “He’s going to thrive at U of I and in the Evans House. You have to have a record of academics, character, and leadership to even be considered by the Evans Foundation. That’s Owen. And, that’s what we’re about here at Lake View.” Other recipients of the 2016 Evans Scholarship will attend schools like Northwestern University, Notre Dame, and the University of Michigan after graduating from schools like Loyola Academy, St. Ignatius, Fenwick, U of C Lab HS, Walter Payton, and Jones College Prep – the only two other CPS High Schools with Evans Scholars.
For Owen, he realizes the magnitude of the scholarship award after years of his hard work, “This is the ultimate step in getting to where I want to be in the future; it’s a huge opportunity.”