October 21, 2014

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A trader, diplomat and others enter Vermilion High as students

VERMILION — Each year since 2005, officials at Vermilion High School have searched its alumni list for the best of the best for induction into the Hall of Fame.

This year’s class of inductees certainly proved honorable as it includes an artist, a former high school football player turned commodities trader, an author and real estate agent, a former board member who has never walked the halls as a student but loves the school just the same and a man pegged with the duty of helping to rebuild war-torn Iraq.

 
CARL SULLENBERGER / CHRONICLE
Vermilion High Principal Mike Colatruglio presents a Hall of Fame plaque.

Stephen G. Fakan, 51, was not available to accept the honor as he is currently in Fallujah, Iraq, heading a 10-member reconstruction team, but if he were present, he would tell everyone he deserves no honor, said his father, John Fakan.

“I know exactly what he would say. He would tell everyone they are making too much of a fuss about what he does,” the senior Fakan said. “That’s just the kind of guy he is. I mean, the last time he was here, we didn’t even know about his Medal of Valor until we read about it in the newspaper.”

Fakan’s accomplishments are many, and nearly too numerous to mention at one time. They include a long career as a Marine, where he served as a combat photographer and then as a Marine security guard, attaining the rank of sergeant.  He became a special agent of the Diplomatic Security Service, a bureau within the U.S. Department of State, in 1985.

And since 1987, he has been assigned as a regional security officer and investigator throughout the world.

That medal his parents knew nothing about was presented to him by Madeleine Albright for saving the lives of eight journalists in war-ravaged Liberia.If you ask his mother, he has remained true to form since his days as a Vermilion Sailor. There, he was involved in so many extracurricular activities that his parents ordered him to slow down, said Helene Fakan. “He always cared about other people,” she said. “He championed the underdog.”

Joining Fakan in the class of inductees were: Mario J. Rini, a former board member and father of 10 Vermilion High School graduates; artist Lyn Godley, who graduated in 1974; 1992 graduate Ron Leshinski; and 1969 graduate Mike Poff.

Poff, who while at Vermilion was a four-year letterman in football, three-year letterman in track and member of the National Honor Society, has authored two books and currently has a real estate office in northern Michigan. He remembers his years at Vermilion as promise-filled ones.

Now, almost 40 years since he was a student, he said he has this to say to current students.

“Work hard at your dreams and stay at it,” he said following the pregame ceremony. “If you have a dream, eventually you will obtain it if you work at it.”

Leshinski never thought his dreams would warrant the honor of Hall of Fame recognition. He was just a kid who wanted to do big things, he said.

And now, as he enjoys a successful professional career as a commodities trader, he looks back on his life and offers this gem of wisdom to today’s fellow Sailors.

“Put some thought into determining what you want to do in your life,” he said. “At some point, life just happens to you, and if you are not sure where you want to be, you will be stuck there for the rest of your life.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.