Latest distinguished alumni honorees share local ties

Lindsey Pruett and Zain Habib

“Once you walk across that stage on graduation day, you become a member of another amazing group, the NCHS alumni,” Dean of Student Activities Lynne Nolan said.

For 21 years, Central has been recognizing alumni for their accomplishments in life after high school. The alumni recognition program was started so the Naperville community could hear the stories of former students, according to Nolan.

This year, Central inducted four alumni into its Alumni Hall of Fame — Arthur Zards, Class of 1987; Arlene Staffeldt, Class of 1961; Andrew Lardner, Class of 1996 and Mayor Steve Chirico, Class of 1978. They have all been recognized as outstanding alumni due to their contributions to the community.

This year’s class of inductees are different than in past years, with all four alumni still residing in the Naperville area.

Staffeldt was born and raised in a house on South Washington Street and attended Central for her last two years of high school. She eventually returned to Central as a biology teacher for over 20 years and impacted the lives of many of her students.

“The classroom is my domain and I always wanted to make it as happy as I could,” Staffeldt said. “I wanted to give kids the sense of belonging, and I wanted to make them want to come to class.”

In addition to being a biology teacher, Staffeldt was also an assistant girls volleyball coach and the Sophomore Class Council advisor. Before she went into teaching, Staffeldt was told that she was too old to be a teacher.

“That was all the motivation that I needed, and I had to prove that they were wrong,” Staffeldt said.

Central alumni Zards reflected on his experiences of not fitting in with a specific group in high school, but later in life proved that anyone can accomplish anything.

“You can also make an impact if you are someone like me, someone who just floated around,” Zards said.

Zards and a few former high school classmates founded one of Chicagoland’s first Internet companies called XNet. The company eventually rose in popularity and inspired Zards to change the way people viewed the world.

Since then he has gone on to create several more companies and the TEDxNaperville organization. An early pioneer of TED, Zards brought the organization to Naperville in order to inspire others. The 2016 annual conference had a record number of people in attendance and the 2017 conference is likely to be even larger.

As a very involved high school student, Lardner competed on the soccer, track and debate teams and was an Illinois State Scholar.

“Team sports and organized activities like band and orchestra […] bring people together in a way that not much else can,” Lardner said. “This is a theme that I have noticed throughout my career. The things that you can do as a group is tremendously larger than things you can do by yourself.”

After graduation, he joined the United States Army Reserves, eventually becoming a Sergeant Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Warfare Specialist. He currently works at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as a Senior Systems Engineer. Lardner has been honored with the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal and Meritorious Service Medal.

Chirico is the last distinguished alumni that was inducted. Chirico used wrestling and theater to stay on track in school but had a setback when his coach, Bill Young, wasn’t sure if Chirico could be a reliable captain for the team.

“It was pretty clear that I had some work to do [to become a leader],” Chirico said. “So that was a defining moment in my life and I reflect upon it many times.”

Addressing the audience, Chirico gave current students at Central some parting advice.

“You need to have balance in your life and you can’t get worked up about stressors,” he said.