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Xavier Magazine

In the Clubhouse

Sr. Rose Ann Fleming’s special—sometimes loud—bond with men’s basketball: An excerpt from her book, Out of Habit

Out of Habit, My Life as Xavier University’s Unlikely Point Guard, explores Fleming’s powerful role with the men’s basketball team and its extraordinary academic success, due to her work as an academic advisor and support for the Sr. Rose Ann Fleming Endowment for Student-Athlete Success. This excerpt details her relationship with 1990 graduate Tyrone Hill.

Tall and aggressive, Tyrone Hill could dominate a basketball court, even as a freshman at Xavier. He also had a chip on his shoulder the size of a Volkswagen and a glower that could blister paint. Of course, I liked him right away. He was about to flunk a class because he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—write a philosophy paper that was due. A disgusted assistant coach dumped Tyrone in my office, and I steered him to the library. The smoldering athlete cursed under his breath. A single hissing expletive, the same word, over and over, almost in time with our footsteps. Lacking a dignified response, I just kept walking briskly, hoping he would follow. He did.

The first really great player I would work with, Tyrone was recruited from Withrow High School in Cincinnati and came to Xavier in the summer of 1986. As is often the case, he thought basketball was the main event.

“I’m here to play basketball,” he huffed.

“You are here to play basketball and to get an education,” I huffed back.

We had resident tutors/counselors who were supposed to make sure Tyrone studied. The counselors were cowed by him, but not so fearful that they didn’t spill the beans to me when he didn’t show up at the study table. The next day, I would be in his face. Friendly, but firm, I would walk him through what was expected. It happened more than once. So when it came time for the confrontation over his philosophy paper, we knew each other. I already had a hunch that when I marched to the library he would follow.

He respected me. And I respected him right back.

Besides his curiosity and intelligence, I genuinely admired his athletic ability, and I made it clear that I valued sports. I had several photos on my walls of Xavier teams. “Look at you, Tyrone,” I said, “the tallest player on the team. I bet you make things happen at practice.” Naturally, I went to practice to see if I was right.

Sometimes important bonds are formed just by being there. I think living at Manor House on campus was a distinct advantage for me. My work included finding students who didn’t want to be found. And I could run like a deer.

When it was first announced that basketball players were going to move into some of the units in the Manor House, Tyrone called to warn me.

“You may want to move,” he said.

“Why would I want to move?” I answered. “I’ve been there a while.”

“Because it will be noisy.”

The team had regular drug and alcohol testing, and they were typically exhausted during the season. They were not going to be up all night partying. I assumed they thought I would complain about their music, which was sometimes earsplitting. I said if they promised not to crank up the volume on LL Cool J, I would try not to pray too loud.

In Tyrone’s junior year, he grappled with the choice presented to many top college players—should he play pro ball or should he stay in college another year and get his degree? The NBA offers big money, and the contract doesn’t come with a bookbag and a nag. He asked me what he should do. In my head, I was shrieking, “Don’t go. Don’t squander your hard work. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” But we try to teach our students to make their own good choices.

So, I said calmly: “Tyrone, life is like strategy for a big game. If you maximize all the opportunities and minimize all the obstacles, you win.” He decided to stay and collect the degree he had earned.

Tyrone Hill was chosen by the Golden State Warriors in the 1990 NBA draft and went on to play for Cleveland, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He retired from basketball after coaching for the Atlanta Hawks, then he spent time in Cincinnati, rebuilding a playground in the Evanston area where he grew up. For a while, he owned a company called All Net Records, which released music by groups including OTR Clique, D’Meka and KompoZur. I am not familiar with these artists, but I assume they are loud.

(Donations are welcome to the Sr. Rose Ann Fleming Endowment for Student-Athlete Success fund which is part of Xavier’s All For One Fund. Out of Habit is available for purchase at
xavier.edu/alumni/book.)

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Xavier Magazine

The Lesson of Life: Joe Pichler’s Climb up the Food Chain

Joe Pichler calls himself “the luckiest man in the world.” It wasn’t always so.

The man who would one day lead one of the largest grocery chains in the country began life happily enough as the fifth of six children in a family led by Anton Pichler, an Austrian who served the Austro-Hungarian empire as a soldier and emigrated in 1911 to the United States, where he found work as a waiter at Schumacher’s Restaurant in St. Louis. His long days waiting tables eventually allowed him to buy the business.

But the world of the happy, working-class, Catholic family came crashing down when Anton suffered a stroke that affected his speech and his ability to walk—and work. Pichler was only 11, but he remembers how everyone had to pitch in to help their mother, Anita, who had to manage the business by day and her family at night.

The family’s resiliency was challenged again three years later when their mother developed cancer and died. When Anton died a year later, the three brothers and three sisters turned to each other.

“It was the family supporting each other that made life not only livable but actually joyful,” Pichler says. “My sisters and brothers taught me to take life as it comes and to celebrate it.”

Pichler has been celebrating life ever since. The life lessons he learned from his parents and the Jesuit teachers who educated him about hard work and caring for others are lessons he carried into his adult life. “My parents are my heroes,” he says.

The fact they never gave up was not lost on him or his siblings. And the glue that connected them to each other after their parents were gone is what helped Pichler get through college and get his start in life. When he was accepted to the University of Notre Dame, Pichler’s older brother, Frank, and sister, Rosie, helped pay his first-year expenses with money they were saving for their own children. Pichler also worked odd jobs—21 in all—to pay his way through college, even after he was awarded a scholarship, earning his business degree in 1961. He followed that with a scholarship to the University of Chicago where he earned an MBA and a PhD in business in 1966, and a position as a tenured professor at the University of Kansas for 15 years, including six years as dean of the business school.

[divider] A lifetime of honors [/divider]

• Watch: A video from Pichler being named a “Great Living Cincinnatian” in 2008.
• Watch: A video from Xavier honoring Pichler with the Founders’ Day Award in 2013.
• Watch: A video of Pichler being honored by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.

[divider] • • • [/divider]

While at Kansas, Pichler served on the board of the Dillon Companies, a grocery store chain. In 1980, they asked him to join the company as executive vice president. That meant leaving academe. “It was a hard decision, but I decided it was an opportunity to run a New York Stock Exchange company.” After two years, he was named president, just before Dillon merged with Kroger in 1983. And in 1986 he was appointed president of Kroger. That’s when he and his wife, Susan, moved to Cincinnati with their four children.

“It was a company of high integrity, and I thought I could live the Jesuit mission here, being people for others, in maintaining the integrity of the company and recognizing we are an important industry because we feed people,” he says.

Outside the company, Pichler and Susan plunged headfirst into Cincinnati’s charitable communities. Joe serves on the board of The Salvation Army and was a leading figure on Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine development group that oversaw the revitalization of Washington Park and its surroundings. Susan, a former teacher, has volunteered for years as a reading tutor at schools supported by the Catholic Inner-city Schools Education Fund (CISE), which they also support financially. And together they founded the CISE Scholarship Fund that helps pay high school tuition for students from CISE elementary schools.

The combination of service work and corporate leadership caught the attention of former Xavier President James Hoff, S.J., who approached Pichler in 1993 with an offer to join Xavier’s Board of Trustees. “He was irresistible, and I had great admiration for Xavier and I was honored to be asked,” he says.

Pichler has been on the board for 20 years, including five years as chairman. This year, he agreed to chair the development committee of the board, which is preparing for the next capital campaign. Just a few months ago, he was recognized for his contributions to Xavier as the recipient of the Founders’ Day Award.

“In addition to a rigorous liberal arts curriculum, St. Louis U. High School taught us the Ignatian gifts of spiritual reflection, ethical behavior, compassion and service to others,” he said upon receiving the award. “We learned to ‘open’ ourselves in order to become ‘men and women for others.’ Does that sound familiar? I think you will find those same virtues embedded in Xavier’s ‘Mission, Vision and Values Statement.’ These ideas form the foundation for a fulfilling life. They provide perspective for considering the events of this world and they urge us to take action that all serve the common good. For Jesuits, the action word is Magis: ‘More…always more.’ There is always more good that we can do if we are open to the call.”

[Read Pichler’s complete Founders’ Day speech.]

Thinking about how far he’s come, he says, “My father would be amazed.” But he never takes full credit, because there have always been others helping him every step of the way. Which is why he considers himself so lucky.

“My reward is the knowledge that I’m at least trying to be a person for others, and that’s the code I started out with in high school,” he says. “People have been very generous to me, and I would feel absolutely negligent if I weren’t generous to others.”

 

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