Barry McNamara  |  Published October 18, 2021

Family of the Year

Sondgeroths have left quite a legacy at their alma mater.

FAMILY OF THE YEAR: Sondgeroths pictured at a recent Fighting Scots track meet are, from left, Bl... FAMILY OF THE YEAR: Sondgeroths pictured at a recent Fighting Scots track meet are, from left, Blake, Kim, Lucas, Brock and Byron.NOTE: The following story first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Monmouth College Magazine.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – A family tree, as we all know, is full of great-grandparents and cousins, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, branching off to the past in all directions from a single person.

Equally complex are the various limbs and branches of a Monmouth College admission tree. When 1921 graduate John Oscar Firth began sending students to Monmouth from Murphysboro, Illinois, such as future M Club Hall of Famers Virgil “Tige” Boucher, John Weatherly and Bobby Woll, how many future Monmouth students did Firth’s recruits attract, especially Woll, who coached Fighting Scots athletics for 45 years? How many students can trace their Monmouth decision directly back to those original referrals made by Firth?

The same could be asked of Fielding Smith ’25, who sent scores of students Monmouth’s way from just up the road in Viola, Illinois. Surely Smith’s generation of Fighting Scots yielded even more future alumni? But how many?

And then there’s the case of Byron Sondgeroth, who graduated from Monmouth in 1988. Perhaps the first person that Byron helped to attend Monmouth was his younger brother, Brock Sondgeroth ’97. Brock would eventually marry his Monmouth classmate, Kimberly Marty. Brock and Kim are both longtime high school teachers in a popular in-state recruiting region for the College – Brock in Mendota and Kim in Coal City. Surely, they’ve suggested their alma mater to some of their students over the past quarter-century, and surely some of those students have matriculated.

Byron and his wife, Suzie, also influenced the Monmouth decision of three other Sondgeroths – their sons Blake Sondgeroth ’17, Lucas Sondgeroth ’20 and Reid Sondgeroth ’23.

“Suzie and Byron have also been incredibly helpful in support of our recruitment efforts. They have been so willing to assist with recruitment events and initiatives. And, of course, Lucas and Reid were also Scot Ambassadors. We are big Sondgeroth family fans over here in admission.” Kristen English 

And here’s where the Sondgeroths’ Monmouth College branches really start to sprout. After graduating, Blake worked as an admission counselor for two years, with his primary role to bring new students to Monmouth. Lucas and Reid both served as Scot Ambassadors, charged with helping prospective students learn more about the school on their campus visits.

“Blake was a great admission counselor, good at connecting with prospective students and their families but also skilled at data mining and analysis,” said Vice President for Enrollment Management Kristen English.

But the Sondgeroths’ effect on her department go far beyond Blake’s professional duties, said English.

“Suzie and Byron have also been incredibly helpful in support of our recruitment efforts. They have been so willing to assist with recruitment events and initiatives. And, of course, Lucas and Reid were also Scot Ambassadors. We are big Sondgeroth family fans over here in admission.”

Family of the Year

While calculating the number of Monmouth alumni who can trace their college decision to Byron Sondgeroth is likely an inexact science, one thing is certain. For their efforts to help Monmouth College – from admission to retention, and from Alumni Board service to membership in the Loyal Scots Society for regular annual giving – the Sondgeroths have earned this year’s honor as Family of the Year.

“The Sondgeroth family has shown their Fighting Scot pride through not just service to Monmouth College, but through a shared mission of the College to empower students to realize their full potential and live meaningful lives through education,” wrote their nominator for the award. “Their careers in education represent a noble profession.”

The recently retired superintendent for the North Pekin Marquette Heights School District in Illinois, Byron also served as a high school Spanish teacher and middle school principal.

His brother, Brock, is equally passionate about his role as an art teacher.

“I believe as a teacher it is my duty to be there for every student to guide them to better themselves in any way possible,” he said. “Art is full of life lessons – to never give up, to learn from our mistakes, to push through the hard times, to love what we do, to see things in a different light, and to open our minds to the unimaginable. It is my responsibility to demonstrate these traits to the students so they know that anything is possible if you work for it.”

Although Suzie is not an alumna, she worked with her husband to establish the College’s Parent and Family Council, serving as liaisons to the parent community and the administration. The council plans an annual fundraising project that is intended to improve the student experience and leave a lasting impact on campus. The Sondgeroths also offer advice through meetings with senior staff, roundtable events with parents, and helping respond to parent questions on the College’s Facebook page.

“Suzie is often the first to chat with a concerned parent on Facebook with useful direction and encouraging words,” wrote the nominator.

Former Fighting Scots men’s soccer coach Kooten Johnson got used to being around the Sondgeroth family, both at home and on the road.

“I believe the Sondgeroths would be a perfect nomination for Family of the Year,” he said. “There weren’t many Saturdays in the fall when I didn’t see Byron and Suzie, whether that was on campus supporting Lucas and Reid on the soccer field or on the road in Green Bay for an away game at St. Norbert. Monmouth is built on family bloodlines that keep the Fighting Scot tradition alive, and they exhibit this to full effect.”

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