Longtime Helias Catholic High School Dean of Students retires
This updated version of an article in the Aug. 8 issue of The Catholic Missourian includes Mr. Ochsner’s “Random Advice for a Happy Life for You and Those You Love.”
By Jay Nies
“Have a good weekend. Make good decisions. Wear your seatbelt. Don’t text while you drive. And be sure to take your parents to church.”
Stan Ochsner won’t be at Helias Catholic High School to dispense those friendly Friday reminders over the P.A. anymore.
But he wants the students never to stop following them — especially the last one, which he considers an essential part of the first two.
“Religion can’t be just about taking notes and passing tests. You have to put it together with the love of God and radiate that love with real enthusiasm, every day, no matter what you’re doing — when you’re here and after you’ve moved on,” said Mr. Ochsner, former dean of students, who retired this spring after 26 years at the school he’s come to regard as his second family.
He said the years he spent as a student at Helias Catholic were among the happiest of his life.
It’s where he met his wife, Mary Beth, who he acknowledged “is a better Catholic than I am.”
Both took their faith with them after graduation, “and the love we have for each other — God and the Church have always been a big part of it,” he said.
Mr. Ochsner never lost the awe that overcame him the first time he visited the school.
“My dad brought me here to see a basketball game when I was 8, and I walked in and was like, ‘Wow!’” he said.
“That never left me,” he stated, “not when I was student, not when I was teacher and coach, not even when I came back as a part of the administration.”
In fact, Helias has played a key role in many of his life’s most important endeavors.
“I married my high school sweetheart,” he said. “My kids went through here, and it has been my mission to help make it as affirming and fulfilling for everyone else as it has been for me.”
“Light a fire”
Mr. Ochsner insisted that faith and total reliance on God are inseparable from the Helias experience.
“This is a Catholic school. It’s why we’re here, and our absolute No. 1 goal has to be to help young people know Jesus Christ and remain a part of the Church,” he said. “We have to keep finding new ways to inspire young people to live as Catholics, raise their families Catholic, and continue to enrich the faith life of the Church.”
That kind of an outlook changes everything, he said.
“It has to be about the kids and what we can do to help them lead a successful life,” he said.
“The truth is, we don’t know until about 10 years later whether or not we’ve been effective with the kids,” he stated.
Ninety-five percent go on to college. If they graduate and continue to practice the faith, “then I’d say we did a pretty good job,” he said.
“That’s got to be everybody’s goal, and not just everybody at Helias, but everybody in the Church,” he stated. “Our primary objective must be to make people want to be enthusiastic lifelong Catholics.”
That means energetically modeling the life of Christ — “being the kind of people who you can see Christ in.”
“Young people gravitate toward enthusiasm,” said Mr. Ochsner. “We need to light a fire in people that makes them say, ‘Wow! The Catholic Church is the real deal!’”
He pointed to Ron Dunn, who also retired from Helias this year, as an example.
“There just needs to be as many of that kind of people as you can possibly find — the ones who lay it out there and do it with such passion that you can’t help but be moved by it,” he said.
“I believe it all comes down to being passionate and sincere about what you do, to the point where they admire it and respect it and want to emulate it,” he stated. “If we can do that, we’re going to have a thriving Church.”
Coaching and teaching
Mr. Ochsner joined the Helias faculty in 1972 as freshman basketball coach and taught six classes a day.
“I came here to coach, but what I always enjoyed was the teaching, including the teaching part of coaching,” he said.
He started the baseball program in 1975 and also became head basketball coach in 1977.
He loved leading practices and imparting the fundamentals.
He did not love game days.
“They made me nervous, they made my stomach hurt,” he said.
He believes there’s a lot of overlap between teaching and coaching.
“Your job as a coach is to teach them how to play the game, demand discipline — and by that I mean be on time, do what you need to do, be a good teammate, and make it fun.
“In the classroom, you demand certain behaviors that are going to make the class effective,” he continued. “You do the very best job to teach everyone in there, realizing that some are really good at this while some struggle with the exact same thing.
“And you have to figure out a way to make it fun. Otherwise, they’re going to turn you off.”
He believes a well-rounded college-prep curriculum means a lot of ups and downs for the students.
“The purpose is to introduce you to things you might never have considered in the past,” he said. “That way, you can say, ‘This is something I really like,’ or weed out the things you know you aren’t good at or don’t enjoy.”
It also means learning how to give the best effort to all things — “those that you like and those that you don’t like.”
“Because when you get out in the real world, there are going to be a lot of things you really don’t like,” he said. “You’ve got to do those things, and you’ve got to do them well.”
He’s always been happy to see former students come back and say they’re thriving amidst the rigors of college, the military or other responsibilities because Helias Catholic helped get them ready.
Dean of students
Mr. Ochsner left Helias in 1981 to pursue a master’s degree in recreation and park administration. He then served as director of recreation for the City of Jefferson Parks and Recreation department for 14 years.
He came back to Helias in 1997 as part of the administration and later became dean of students.
That job, among many other things, involved arbitrating disputes among students and meting out discipline.
He let a variation of the Golden Rule be his guide.
“I made a sincere effort to treat kids the same way I would have wanted someone to treat my kids in the same situation,” he said.
That approach usually led to good results.
Whenever it didn’t, he doubled back and tried to make things right.
“I’d call the kid back in the next day and say, ‘I screwed up. Here’s what we’re going to do instead,’” he recalled. “The kids certainly appreciate that.”
A sign behind his desk stated: “It’s better to make a mistake in forgiving than make a mistake in punishing.”
“I hung that up because I believe it,” he said.
Mr. Ochsner is confident that the administration of Helias Catholic High School remains in very good hands.
He’s excited about the school implementing the strategic plan Father Stephen Jones, now entering his second year as the school’s president, and the rest of the Helias Catholic community spent the past year crafting.
The plan sets a course for maintaining the school’s academic excellence and faith-centered education while marketing it to families and ensuring its growth and vitality for generations to come.
“Helias is a great place, and we do great things for kids,” said Mr. Ochsner. “For those who want to set themselves on a track for a happy and successful life, it’s an absolutely fantastic opportunity.”
He challenges parents to step up and make the necessary sacrifices to provide a quality Catholic education for their children.
“Our goal here has always been to make this school so good that people can’t afford NOT to send their kids here,” he said. “I believe the greatest gift you can give to your child is to put him or her through Helias.”
Keeping in step
Mr. Ochsner is looking forward to travelling and spending more time with his wife, as well as their three grown children and three granddaughters.
As he makes the transition from full-time administrator to retired empty-nester, he asks for prayers for the patience it will take to live in the here-and-now.
“At Helias, so much of my job involved looking forward — five years ahead or to an event next month, or whatever,” he said. “Now, I need to be able to settle into more of ‘How can I make today a very good day?’”
For him, it may well boil down to one of his famous pieces of “Random Advice for a Happy Life For You and Those You Love”:
“Enthusiasm is the key to happiness. Stay excited about everything you do.”
He compiled the “random advice” when his oldest daughter was in high school, and made an annual tradition of sharing it with each class at their senior convocation.
He said he’s been reasonably successful at following most of his own advice.
One exception: “Dance.”
“I wish that when I was a kid, I had learned how to dance,” he said. “I may be the world’s worst dancer.”
Perhaps, then, another tidbit from his trove: “Always know that you can trust God to help you when you really need it.”
Here is Mr. Ochsner’s compendium of “Random Advice for a Happy Life for You and Those You Love”:
Enthusiasm is the key to happiness, stay excited about everything you do.
Don't buy anything with a credit card that you can't afford to pay off at the end of the month.
Pick a career based upon the satisfaction and enjoYm.ent you think it will provide.
Study your insurance needs and buy insurance only from reputable companies.
Carry a note card in your wallet on which you can jot down key words to help you remember good jokes.
Don't say, "I will love you and honor you all the days of my life" until you really, really mean it.
Play with your children. Nothing you can give them is as valuable as your time.
Great times aren't great because of where you are but because of whom you are with.
Never allow yourselfto get more than 10 pounds heavier than you are right now.
Don't watch too much TV.
Smile ...... a lot!
Marry your best friend.
Always remember that you get only one chance to make a first impression.
Have class reunions every five years and go to all of them.
You are coming out of a rather protective environment and not everyone can be trusted as easily
as those with whom you have dealt thus far. Be cautious in forming new relationships.
Don't have kids until you know you are ready because once you have them they are your greatest priority and obligation.
Have a really good friend of another race.
Write thank you notes.
You don't owe the world 24/7 accessibility; turn your phone off and enjoy the people you are with.
Talk to God every day, even if it is only long enough to say "thank you."
Read the newspaper every day.
Don't text while you're driving.
At least once a year, volunteer to help with something to aid others.
Don't over schedule your children .... they need time to be kids and you need peaceful time as a family.
Guys, there is nothing unmanly about helping around the house.
Constantly remind your children that you love them, but don't be afraid to tell them no.
When you aren't sure what to wear, remember that it is better to be overdressed than underdressed.
If you aren't authorized to be there, never park in a handicapped spot.
Don't spend so much time making a living that you miss out on life.
Before you go to a job interview, wash your car. Many employers check that out to see how much personal pride you have.
If a youngster comes to your door offering to shovel your driveway for money, let him!
Sing in church.
Unless you are sight-seeing or you have all day, stay on the interstate!
It is easier to stay in shape than to get in shape.
Remember that your reputation is your most valuable possession.
Never go to bed mad at your spouse.
Stand erect and quiet during the National Anthem.
Own a dog.
Future dads: be the first to send your little girl flowers.
Never tell your spouse what to do; a "would you please?" makes a whole lot of difference.
Learn about investments, insurance, and all the ways to make your money work for you.
When your kids are playing sports, if you aren't the coach, don't coach.
Find three things you enjoy doing for cardiovascular exercise and do one of them 30 minutes per day three times each week.
Remember that your personal integrity is essential to peace of mind; respect the person you see in the mirror.
Don't miss a chance to truthfully and sincerely compliment someone.
Begin or continue family traditions, especially involving holidays.
Unless you can afford to have someone else do it, don't buy a house that requires exterior painting.
Understand that in today's world nearly anything you do might be Googled years from now by a prospective employer.
Know what your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride numbers are.
Watch your language around those of the opposite sex ... It is a matter of respect and admiration and people who don't have very little class.
Take lots of pictures.
Before you do anything you know is wrong, think about the possible consequences and be prepared to accept them.
Learn to laugh at yourself.
Read to and with your children.
No matter how badly the money is needed for something around the house, go on a vacation every year.
When it is your fault, admit it.
Keep the Helias Foundation informed when you change address so your classmates can find you.
Know the seven warning signs of cancer; call your doctor right away if you think you have one.
Do the right thing!
Be sure your kids get to know their cousins.
Take time to study the issues and candidates and vote at every election.
Plant flowers in your yard.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Be friends with your parents, you don't know how long you will have them.
Decorate at Christmas!
There will always be people who tell you you can't do things, don't listen to them.
Wear your seat belt and be sure your kids wear theirs.
Tell the truth.
No matter how serious your position requires you to be, act goofy once in a while!
At least once in your life and no matter how long you have to save for it, go on a cruise!
Don't buy cheap tennis shoes.
Stay in touch with your five best friends from high school.
Never get a tattoo on the same day the idea strikes you.
Teach your kids to fish.
If anyone who loves you ever suggests that you have a drinking problem, you do. Seek help immediately.
Learn first aid and CPR.
Don't take your cell phone to church, a job interview, or anywhere it would be embarrassing to get interrupted.
Don't automatically take your kids' side. Kids lie once in a while.
When you criticize your children end with something positive.
Be willing to take your turn as the designated driver.
Understand that your kids are no more likely to earn an athletic scholarship or become a professional athlete than you were; let them have fun playing sports.
When you can afford to do so, travel.
Every day when you get up you choose your attitude for the day and thereby determine whether you have a good day or a bad one. Choose good days!
Don't ever grow up. Kids are a lot more fun than adults.
Always know that you can trust God to help you when you really need it.
Good luck! God bless you!