2nd annual Hall of Champions Business & Industry class announced

JCA president/principal Dr. Jeffrey Budz is pleased to announce the 2nd Annual Hall of Champions: Business & Industry.  The mission of the Hall of Champions: Business & Industry is to honor SFA, JCHS, and JCA graduates for accomplishments throughout their professional careers ranging from medicine, law, education, entertainment, business, technology, and more. Last year’s honorees included Paul Arling ’81, The Hon. Robert Dow ’83, Sally (Nolan ’86) Giegerich, Tom Kennedy ’83, and Lynne Scheffler ’85.

With over 23,000 alumni and counting, the lessons instilled by both the Carmelites and Franciscans over JCA’s 150-year history of Catholic education in the Joliet community has consistently cultivated leaders that have produced a world-wide impact.

Dr. Budz said, “this year’s honorees once again represent the character, integrity, passion, hard work, compassion, and wisdom that make Joliet Catholic Academy one of the premier institutions across the state and nation. We want to thank them so much for all they do to make JCA a better place. We are indebted to their leadership and kindness towards our institution.”

This year’s honorees will be inducted on Friday, May 3 with a luncheon and ceremony in the Mary, Our Sister Chapel on campus at Joliet Catholic Academy.

Congratulations to the 2nd Annual Joliet Catholic Academy Hall of Champions: Business & Industry:

Mary Kay (Softcheck ’66) Blake

Mary Kay (Softcheck ‘66) Blake graduated from St. Francis Academy (where her most memorable teacher was the formidable but kind Soror Euphemia for four years of Latin and where she worked on the FOCUS newspaper). Mary Kay attended  the College (now University) of St. Francis (BA cum laude in English; 1970) while working at the Joliet Herald-News as a reporter and copy editor.

In 1974, she joined the Gannett Co. (creator of USA TODAY) as news editor at the Pacific Daily News on Guam and then moved through corporate recruiting and staff-development roles in Rochester (NY) and Washington (DC), rising to Vice President/Recruiting and Placement and sharing with two colleagues the company’s first Corporate Staffer of the Year Award.

She joined the Freedom Forum (a private operating foundation) in 1999 as Vice President/Partnerships and Initiatives, focusing on diversity programs. When the Freedom Forum decided to build the Newseum in Washington, she was named Senior Vice President/Development and began the Newseum’s first fund-raising programs.

Mary Kay, who has resided in Arlington (VA) since 1996, retired from the Newseum in 2013 but continues as a development volunteer and member of the Advisory Council of the Newseum’s Friends of the First Amendment Society.

Her career honors include a Gannett President’s Ring, the Diversity Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Association of Minority Media Executives and a Distinguished Alumna Award from the College of St. Francis. For several years, she has been a judge in the Scripps Howard Foundation’s National Journalism Awards and is a Regent of the Associated Press Media Editors.  

Mary Kay is the oldest of 11 children of John E. and the late Kitty Kilgallen Softcheck and is deeply grateful to her father for finding a way to send her and her siblings: Joanne, John, Barbara, Dan, Jeanne (whose twin sister Jane joined the Angels in infancy), Tom, Richard, Mimi and Brian to St. Francis Academy and Joliet Catholic High. Her sisters-in-law Mary Sue (Jehle) Softcheck (and many of the Jehle family) and Lynn (Scheuber) Odenthal, and her nephews John Thomas Softcheck and Jeffrey Robert Softcheck also attended JCA/Catholic High, with John Thomas in the first class to graduate from the combined schools.

Gerri Fehst ”66

Geraldine (Gerri) Fehst ’66 spent 35 years as a federal government attorney. Her law career began at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Chicago, followed by four years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) for the Northern District of Illinois, Criminal Division, in Chicago. As an AUSA, Gerri conducted grand jury investigations, participated in jury and bench trials in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, and delivered oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in cases involving tax fraud, mail fraud, counterfeit currency, narcotics, and violations of U.S. Customs laws.

For 29 years, Gerri served in various litigation, legislative, and international positions at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in Washington, D.C., starting in the Office of General Counsel and concluding with 10 years in the NRC’s Office of International Programs. She participated in Commission-level and U.S. Department of State delegations on assignments that took her to Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Austria, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Canada. She also served as an NRC in-house facilitator for stakeholder meetings around the country.  

Gerri graduated cum laude in 1970 from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with a Bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Journalism, a career path she first pursued after working for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In 1971, she earned a Master’s degree in Literature and Criticism from Northwestern University before launching her five-year journalism career as a general assignment reporter for the Joliet Herald-News and later the Chicago Tribune. In 1979, she earned her Juris Doctor degree from DePaul University College of Law.

Gerri appreciated her single-sex education at St. Francis Academy, which provided life-long friendships, leadership opportunities, and academic excellence. She is grateful that her parents, Walter and Zora Fehst, put family first, always, and supported value-based education for their five children, all of whom are college graduates and successful professionals thanks, in  no small part, to the academic and spiritual beginnings at the Cathedral of St. Raymond School, St. Francis Academy (Barbara (Lausch) ’60, Christine ’70,  Nancy ’72), and Joliet Catholic High School (Walter ’64). Gerri’s father believed that education equaled empowerment, while her mother valued Catholic education as vital to a well-rounded life. Gerri especially appreciates the time and love her parents shared as grandparents to her two married sons, Alex and Josh Idaszak. Gerri owes so many thanks to her husband of 42 years (and counting), Jerome Idaszak, trusted guide and best friend. They live in Potomac, MD.

John Manner ’63

John Manner ‘63 is an Executive Vice President with Brown and Brown Insurance. The company has 240 offices in 43 states, London, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. They have over 8,600 employees and an annual revenue approaching $2 billion.

The John Manner Insurance Agency was purchased by Brown and Brown over 16 years ago. Since that time the Joliet Agency has received numerous Brown and Brown awards: number one retail agency, number one employee benefits agency, and in 2010 John personally wrote the largest new commission commercial account in the county for Brown and Brown.

John attended the Cathedral of St. Raymond School until the opening of St. Paul the Apostle School. He graduated from Joliet Catholic High School in 1963 and graduated from Joliet Junior College in 1965. He went on to Millikin University and graduated from Millikin in 1967 with a Bachelor of Science degree and finished his formal education with a Master of Science degree from Indiana University. While at Indiana, Manner was a graduate assistant while also working part time. His first full time job after college was as an Associate Director of Admissions at Millikin University where he worked for six years before beginning his insurance career.  

While attending Joliet Junior College, he was a starter on the 1964 Junior College National Championship Wrestling team. In 1966, he was co-captain of the Millikin University football team. While attending Millikin he met the love of his life, Susanne Elliott, and they were married in 1967.  

The Manners, Dwyers, and Wagner families have resided in the City of Joliet for over 120 years. They were one of the founding families of the Cathedral of St. Raymond and the St. Raymond School. Mary Dwyer, John’s mother, graduated from St. Francis Academy in 1935 and his uncle, Raymond Dwyer graduated from De La Salle High School before it became Joliet Catholic Academy.  

John was co-chairman of the 1989 Cathedral Fund Drive and co-chairman of the last Capital Campaign for Joliet Catholic Academy. He served on the Joliet Catholic Academy Board where he was named alumnus of the year and served for 21 years on the University of St. Francis Board of Trustees. He also was named Citizen of the year for Joliet Township High Schools.

John and Susanne have been married now for 51 years and reside in Joliet. They are blessed to have all three of their children and their seven grandchildren all living next door in their own homes.  

Julie (Periu ’91) McMahon

Julie (Periu ’91) McMahon is the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Canon Solutions America for the Enterprise Services and Solutions Business Unit. In her role, she is responsible for Product Marketing, Vertical Marketing, Demand Generation, Marketing Technology, Content Marketing and Sales Planning. She also serves as the Vice President of Corporate Communications for all of the Canon Solutions America Business Units. 

McMahon joined the Canon organization in 1995 and started her career in Sales in the Chicagoland area. She held various Sales positions and transitioned to Marketing in 2002. At that time, Julie was responsible for Marketing in the Central part of the U.S.  Julie continued to receive additional responsibilities and was relocated by her company in 2011 to the Canon America’s Headquarters in Melville, NY.  Today, she is responsible for the primary Marketing functions for a $1.2B+ operation. 

Julie graduated from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1995 with a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. Julie is a committee member of the Long Island Association’s Women’s Collaborative. This organization is an innovative new model that is bringing together, empowering and engaging Long Island’s leading businesswomen while encouraging partnerships and providing support, education and growth opportunities. This year she is a committee co-chair for the Collaborate with Edge Conference for women in leadership in New York.  She is also an active member of the Canon WILL (Women in Leadership Levels) program and has been a mentor for several years. 

Julie resides in Huntington, NY with her husband Pete and their daughter Amelia.  They are parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church of Huntington and are active volunteers at St. Patrick’s School. In her spare time, Julie enjoys spending time with her family and friends, travel and supporting her daughter’s many activities. 


1994:  Dean’s List, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, College of Business

2004:  Canon Solutions America Employee of the Year

2014:  Canon America’s President’s Award for Change

2015:  Canon America’s President’s Award for Sustainability

2015:  Canon Solutions America President’s Award for Brand Awareness

2016:  Canon Solutions America President’s Award for Demand Generation

2017:  Canon Solutions America President’s Award for myCSA Customer Portal

2018:  Canon Solutions America President’s Award for Cost Efficiency

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