Written for the March 2017 edition of FAITH Grand Rapids magazine by Paul R. Kopenkoskey. Photography by Holly Dolci. Pictured: Denny and Cherie Quam's children, five of whom claim West Catholic as their alma mater: Betsy (class of 2005), Audra (2006), Ian (2008), Olivia (2010) and Nathaniel (2014). Daughter Michaela is a junior this year.
Denny and Cherie Quam are realists. They knew enrolling their six children at West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids would stretch their faith and their pocketbook. But they are also grateful. As they look back in the rearview mirror at their children’s lives so far, they readily affirm it’s been worth every dollar and every intentional sacrifice they’ve made.
“They’re steeped in their faith,” Cherie says of her children. “They know what their priorities are. For me, it’s a joyful thing.”
Five of the Quams’ children claim West Catholic as their alma mater: Betsy (class of 2005), Audra (2006), Ian (2008), Olivia (2010) and Nathaniel (2014). Daughter Michaela is a junior this year.
The Quams have been parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in northwest Grand Rapids since 1993, following Denny’s job transfer from Kohler, Wis. They enrolled their kids at St. Anthony Catholic School, and later West Catholic.
Denny and Cherie credit West Catholic for the faith, purpose and character their children exhibit today. They praise the high school’s academic standards, which taught them achievements and success matter
more when they are forged with faith and character.
“We wanted to provide a great foundation of our Catholic faith in our children,” says Denny. “The academics are important to us because we want our kids to have every opportunity to excel and accomplish. And we wanted to instill in our kids that you give back to society, you give back to your community, to volunteer. That has all been a strong basis for them to go to West Catholic.”
Throughout their 34 years of marriage, Denny and Cherie knew providing Betsy, Audra, Ian, Olivia, Nathaniel and Michaela a Catholic school education would require them to ferret out the difference between what they wanted and what they needed.
Their commitment to their children’s education has meant driving two vehicles with high mileage, a fact Denny is reminded of every day when he makes his 80-plus-mile round-trip to his job in Hastings, where he’s vice president of human resources at the Viking Group. His current minivan just registered 234,000 miles.
Family vacations were usually kept within Michigan or Wisconsin. Cherie primarily remained a stay-at-home mom, periodically preparing taxes for an accounting firm and earning tuition credit as coordinator
of St. Anthony’s SCRIP program. For the past three years, she’s worked as the bookkeeper/donor manager for HELP Pregnancy Crisis Aid, a Catholic nonprofit organization.
Eating out was a luxury. The family’s dinner menu would often include the venison Denny brought home after his deer-hunting excursions. Memories of those meals are still vivid for Betsy.
“We grew up on venison – venison steaks and hamburger,” says Betsy, who’s been married for three years and lives and worships in Chicago. “It’s good stuff.”
At one point, the Quams had three children enrolled concurrently at West Catholic. And although they can’t recall what tuition cost when the three were there, tuition for two of them was approximately
$12,000 a year.
“I can’t sit here today and say it was easy, but it’s getting your priorities aligned and deciding what’s important to you,” says Denny. “It means you drive cars with lots of miles on them. You don’t have the cottage on the lake. You don’t have all the toys and you don't take extravagant vacations.”
For the Quams, the benefits of Catholic education far outweighed the sacrifices.
“Step into West Catholic and you immediately get the sense that this is a community deeply invested in faith, reflected in the school’s patron saint, St. John Paul II,” says Cherie.
Moreover, every day while school is in session, parents, grandparents, alumni and high school staff can be found praying before the Blessed Sacrament on behalf of the students in the school’s chapel. Cherie
volunteers as co-coordinator of the ministry.
“I feel from the oldest to youngest, I’ve seen a lot of growth in my children as they recognize faith is not present just in the religion class,” says Cherie. “It’s part of the whole culture of the school. To me to have somebody there interceding and praying for them during adoration is huge. When new families are considering West Catholic and they see that, they say that’s for their children.”
Denny says it’s important to mirror the faith and values expressed at West Catholic at home. For example, they have a grotto in their backyard where they and other families have gathered in the past to pray the rosary.
“It takes hard work and good family values at home, too,” he says. “Every meal begins with prayer. We frequently say the rosary, attend daily Mass when possible and participate in family retreats.” Daughter Audra and her husband want the same Catholic moorings for their children that her parents modeled for her. They live in Burlington, Ky., and two of their three children will be attending Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School this fall.
They’re expecting their fourth child this spring. “I attended Catholic grade school and high school and the values, support system and expression of faith I had are what I want for our kids,” says Audra.
“It’s especially tough in the world today and it’s tough to be a parent in general, so if we can be supported by other Catholic believers who share the same values we do, that’s what we want for our kids.”
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