Classmates keep memory of OHS student alive : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Classmates keep memory of OHS student alive |
|Organize Nick E. Haben Foundation to help prevent bullying, hazing|
|by John Etheredge|
Members of Oswego High School's class of 1990 are now reaching what class member Maria Dripps-Paulson calls "that certain birthday": the Big 4-0.
But as they settle into middle age, Dripps-Paulson said she and other members of her class have always remembered one of their classmates who never reached the age of 19: Nick Haben.
It was 22 years ago this month that the 18 year-old Haben died of acute alcohol poisoning as a result of a freshman hazing incident on the campus of Western Illinois University in Macomb.
Dripps-Paulson remembers Haben as "just an all-around great guy" who stood out in a class that she believes was unique in its ability to relate to one another.
Though he was a standout baseball and football player at OHS, Dripps-Paulson said Haben had many friends who had other interests and were involved in theater, band, music and foreign language clubs.
"I was a theater-drama person and he (Haben) was an athlete and yet we hung out all the time and we were fast friends until the end," she continued. "And that's how it was with Nick's teammates, too. There didn't seem to be that differentiation (among the students) that was common to those times and probably still is now.
"Nick was one of those great, 'bringer-of-everyone-together' people," Dripps-Paulson added. "He smiled at everyone. He talked to people and he listened to people and knew what was going on their lives. Maybe it was that quality that made it so hard to lose him."
Dripps-Paulson said one of her classmates, Carie Compton, recently started a Facebook page in Haben's memory.
The Facebook page has provided the opportunity for Haben's classmates to share their memories of Nick, which led earlier this spring to a meeting of several former classmates.
At the meeting were Dripps-Paulson, Compton and two other classmates, Mark Ebert and Jennifer Walker Williams, and Alice Haben, Nick's mother.
"At first we weren't sure what we wanted to do, but we knew we wanted to do something to honor and remember Nick." Dripps-Paulson said, adding, "We considered whether we should buy equipment for some of the activities that Nick was into at school or should we start a scholarship."
But the group instead decided to organize the NEH (Nick Edward Haben) Foundation to work with the school district's BIONIC (Believe it or Not I Care) program in its continuing efforts to prevent bullying in district schools.
She said the NEH Foundation has been chartered as a non-profit 501.3c organization under the umbrella of the Oswego Foundation for Educational Excellence.
The group's mission statement is as follows: "To honor the life and legacy of Nick Haben through encouraging positive camaraderie and friendships and contributing to the needs of the students of Oswego School District 308."
Given Haben's personality and his ability to relate to his fellow students regardless of their interests, working with BIONIC seems like a perfect fit for the foundation, Dripps-Paulson believes.
Dripps-Paulson said she and her classmates representing the NEH Foundation met last week with over 100 student leaders now involved in the district's BIONIC program.
"We've struck up a partnership and told the students we are interested in helping them by starting this foundation," she said.
Dripps-Paulson noted the BIONIC program focuses much of its efforts on anti-bullying and peer medication to resolve conflicts.
"At the very least we are hoping to educate the students about hazing," she said.
"We want to make today's students aware of the issue of hazing and that it happens and oftentimes it happens without even the knowledge of the person being hazed," she continued.
Dripps-Paulson remembered that weeks before he died, Haben spoke to her and with other friends of his disdain for alcohol and pledged "never to put himself in that state."
"It was always far shocking to us that this great representation of a human being would go and do something so completely opposite of his very nature," she recalled. "When we learned that Nick's death was alcohol-related I'm sure none of us knew what the term 'hazing' meant. We were just 18 years-old."
To make the public aware of the foundation, Dripps-Paulson said members were set to ride in yesterday evening's (Wednesday's) OHS Homecoming parade and will have a table set up at Ken Pickerill Stadium during tomorrow evening (Friday's) football game. Dripps-Paulson noted that foundation members had arranged to ride in a 1965 Pontiac GTO, Haben's favorite car.
Those who stop by the table can participate in a raffle and pick-up flyers for Scoreboard's Pub & Grill at 1100 Douglas Road in the village. Scoreboard's has agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds to the foundation from every receipt turned in with a flyer this Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
In addition, Dripps-Paulson said more information on the foundation is available via their website at nehfoundation.org. Those interested can also send an e-mail to email@example.com.
"We will never stop talking about what a great person Nick Haben was, because he truly was. That's important, but the take away from this is that we want today's student to know that Nick's story is kind of the 'nuts and bolts' of why hazing is harmful.
"You can have all the conviction in the world, but when you're 18 years-old and they rope you in and tell you you're going to be part of this organization or this group and this is the way in, you often will say, 'How high do I jump?' or 'How far do I go?'"