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Former students fondly remember 'tough' Mr. White
By Joan Broz | Daily Herald Columnist

Joan Biskupic


James McManus


Mark DeCarlo


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Published: 9/22/2008 12:09 AM

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In his 50 years at Benet Academy, Timothy "Tim" White has taught generations of students and influenced countless careers.

Here's what some of his former students had to say about him as the Lisle school prepares to honor his longevity:

James McManus, Class of 1969:

Since 1981, McManus has been a professor of literature and writing at The School of the Art Institute. He has written four novels and three books of fiction, including "Positively Fifth Street" in 2003 based on his fifth-place finish in the World Series of Poker championship.

"I was Tim White's student at St. Procopius/Benet in 1968-69. He introduced me to Faulkner and Welty, Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor and a few others I no longer remember. In any case, my problem was that I didn't do the reading for many of the classes, so much of what he and those writers had to teach for many of the classes was lost on me, except maybe by osmosis. He seemed slightly sad that I didn't do the reading, instead of being punitive. I remember that he took literature seriously, encouraging us to think of it as morally and aesthetically important and very often funny. I've spent a lot of time wishing I'd paid more attention to him when I had the chance. As an English teacher now myself, I try to emulate Tim's effort to semi-gently break through to the students who, for whatever reason, aren't fully engaged by the books."

Joan Biskupic, Class of 1974:

Her coverage of the Clarence Thomas hearings got the attention of The Washington Post, which hired her to cover the Supreme Court. She authored several Congressional reference books and wrote, "Sandra Day O'Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became its Most Influential Justice" in 2005.

"Taking English classes with Mr. White enhanced my understanding of literature - and of life. After nearly 35 years, I can still remember every single word I read in his modern American lit class and my deep response to it. Even as I write this, I believe I can see exactly where I was sitting in his classroom as we discussed Faulkner's 'Sound and the Fury.' His teaching of the great works of literature was that indelible."

Mark DeCarlo, Class of 1980:

DeCarlo is an entertainer, film actor, television personality and host of Travel Channel's "Taste of America with Mark DeCarlo." He appeared on the NBC game show "Sale of the Century" and became its all-time champion. He was a founding member of the West Coast Second City sketch company. He voiced Hugh Neutron in "Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius" in the Academy Award-nominated film and television series. In the Chicago market, he is on WGN Radio every Friday afternoon on the "Steve Cochran Radio Show."

"I was in the drama troupe at Benet. I loved (Mr. White's) English and writing classes. Getting credit for making up stories and arguing over punctuation, the hour always flew by. What I liked most was that there were no black-and-white answers. He would attack a choice or idea, but if you could explain and defend, he'd stop screaming and spitting and pat you on the back. I remember I wrote one hilarious satire piece about a gas station. He ripped it apart. Then years later I found out he was teaching it in his class as an example of good satire! To this day, every time I sit down to write something, I hear his voice in my head, exhorting me to be ruthless, and I see those red pen lines! Was he one of the best teachers I ever had? No. He was the best and his influence and energy lives in me every day."

Katie Wilson, Class of 2004:

She is currently working in marketing in Chicago and planning to go to graduate school to earn a master's degree in creative writing.

"I was about two weeks into the hardest class of my life, Mr. White's British literature class, when I realized that I needed to do something English-related for the rest of my life. Though the class was hard, we learned the first 16 lines of "Canterbury Tales" in Middle English, a Shakespearean sonnet, the Kings and Queens of England in order and the authors of every piece of writing in the "Elements of Literature" text book. Mr. White showed us that we really could learn in that class. When I was teaching 10th grade English, I often told stories of 'The Master,' Mr. White, and what he expected of his students. Then I would proudly recite the "Canterbury Tales" in Middle English and watch as my 15-year-old students went into shock."