Tag Archives: Xavier College Preparatory

Like grandfather, like grandchildren

The last time I sat in the kitchen at MaryAnn Ortiz Lieb‘s house was a joyous occasion. Her lovely and accomplished daughter, Juliann, had just graduated from Xavier College Preparatory. MaryAnn and her husband Bobby had gathered friends and family around them to celebrate.

Herb Lieb.

Also at the kitchen table that day was Bobby’s 90-year-old father, Herb Lieb. I hadn’t seen him in awhile. Though he moved more slowly and seemed a bit more frail than I remembered, his gift for conversation was very much intact. So was his sense of humor. He kept me in stitches as he shared his stories and made me feel like I was the most important person in the room.

I saw that same spirit Sunday, under very different circumstances, as I listened to Herb’s four grandchildren eulogize their “Papa,” who died last Thursday at age 91, following a long illness.

MaryAnn’s son Sean was just an infant when she and I decided to start Raising Arizona Kids magazine nearly 22 years ago. Now he’s a student athlete, a football player at the University of Arizona. Sean hadn’t slept in days, but you wouldn’t know it as he stood at the podium at Sinai Mortuary in Phoenix. He stood tall, strong and model handsome, with curly dark locks of hair tumbling over his forehead. He hesitated just a moment before diving confidently into his remarks.

“If my Papa were here,” he said, “he’d never let me into this place with my hair looking like this.”

From that moment, which gave us all some much-needed comic relief, Sean moved into much more difficult material, explaining how he and his cousin Jeffrey had spent an entire night with their grandfather while he was in hospice care in the hours before his death. Throughout the night, Sean said, he and Jeffrey tried to say or do something to get a reaction from their semi-conscious grandfather. They played a DVD of a roast that had been held in Herb’s honor. They read aloud a letter they’d found from an old girlfriend of Herb’s. It was one part desperation, one part mischief. They were two young men craving one last moment of connection with a man whose love, support and guidance — though sometimes unconventional — left indelible marks and cherished memories.

Juliann, who is now a freshman at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, took a similar approach, starting out with a funny story describing her grandfather, a notorious ladies’ man, approaching her at her bat mitzvah to introduce her to “your future step-grandmother.”

Herb loved to kid around but his jokes never crossed the line into hurtful. He could be fiesty and difficult when his independence was threatened but he always came around and admitted when someone else was right. Herb inspired Julian to choose her own path, no matter what. So she concluded by reading the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” which she felt perfectly summed up her grandfather’s life.

Jeffrey, a student at Paradise Valley Community College, and his sister Stephanie (the oldest of the grandchildren), who works in the office of the Phoenix City Council, also spoke eloquently, honestly and with tremendous poise as they shared funny stories and choked back tears. Stephanie recounted the day she took her Papa to lunch to take his mind off a recent (and unwelcome) move into an assisted living facility.

As they left the lobby, where a number of the residents were hanging out, pursing typical retirement home activities,  Stephanie could tell her grandfather was distraught. When they got into the elevator, she turned to him and asked, “What’s wrong, Papa?” To which then-90-year-old Herb exclaimed in dismay, “These people are so old!”

Herb was a World War II veteran who stormed the beaches at Normandy and willingly shared his story with many young people — including my own two sons, each of whom wrote reports after interviewing him for high school history classes. He was a successful and respected businessman in the Phoenix community. Most important, he was a devoted grandfather to these four remarkable young people — each of whom exhibits Herb’s natural gifts for social poise, telling a good story, looking at life through the lens of reality, fighting hard for what matters and building a network of true and loyal friends. And, perhaps his best legacy of all, they have his mischievous, but always well-intentioned, sense of humor and fun.

The cousins at a happier time (from left): Juliann, Jeffrey, Sean and Stephanie Lieb.

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“My Three Sons”…and two surrogate aunts

Max (5) enjoys playing with a helicopter in at "Aunt Vicki's" house.

We’ve been publishing Raising Arizona Kids magazine for 21 years. Since my sons were 2 and 4. Since staff multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint’s children were 7, 2 and two who were yet to be born.

As one empty nester (me) and one who is a soon-to-be (Vicki’s youngest, Annie, is now a senior at Xavier College Preparatory), we don’t spend much time in the company of preschoolers.  So when we were chatting with colleague Rob Turchick at a social event in late September, we urged him to remember that we’d make good babysitters if he and his wife, Krista, ever needed a break.

Sam (3) plays with a Duplo airplane.

As if the parents of three sons age 5 and younger — plus a newborn daughter! — ever needed a break.

I was on the phone with Rob on Thursday, talking about the possibility of building a podcast studio somewhere in our office. We chatted for a bit and then he paused. “Uh, remember when you said something about watching the boys?” he said. “Well, I’m wondering if I can take you up on it.” Turns out Rob, a audio-video production specialist who runs Mesa-based yipDog Studios, had a video shoot scheduled Friday afternoon. Krista had to be with baby Katy, who was scheduled to undergo a medical procedure.

Rob had already talked to Vicki, who jumped at the chance to take the first shift of what he expected would be a six-hour block of time. I quickly agreed to take second. Then I called Vicki and we decided that we’d do the second shift together, so we could keep the boys at one house (hers) and didn’t have to introduce too many new people or places.

Sam, Max and Vicki on the Balints' backyard patio.

We were both a little nervous, I think, about whether we could handle three active, curious little boys on our own. So Vicki is the real hero in this story because she did that by herself (just fine!) from 1 to 3:30pm. When I finished my last appointment for the day, I sent Vicki a text: “Fresh troops on the way,” I wrote. “I’m headed there now.” She responded: “Ha — they are a blast!”

When I arrived, the boys — Max (5), Sam (3) and Tyler (2) — were engrossed in play. Vicki had Duplo blocks, toy cars and all sorts of other early-Balint-parenting-era toys set up around the room. Tyler was carrying around a measuring tape and a flashlight. The older boys had moved on to something they found infinitely more intriguing: a stash of old CD cases, which they were counting, stacking and dusting.

Yes, dusting. Rob and Krista, you’re definitely doing something right. Max was adamant about wiping dust from the narrow tops of some CD cases that hadn’t been touched in years. Later, Max realized the Balints’ three dogs were shedding (a bit stressed, perhaps?), so he followed them around with a lint roller. When I took Max and Tyler outside, they fought over who got to use a small broom they found on the patio to sweep away pine needles from the trees towering above the house.

Wow. My sons are 23 and 25 and I’ve never heard them fight over sweeping the patio.

When Vicki got a call from her 28-year-old daughter Cory, who is in medical school in the midwest, she popped in her ear buds and carried her iPhone around the backyard, chatting with her daughter as she helped me keep an eye on the boys and used a lopper to clear away some overgrown vegetation at the base of a swing set that hadn’t seen much action in recent years. Talk about multi-tasking!

When we sat on the edge of the pool and kicked our feet in the water for a few minutes, Tyler and I managed to get ourselves so wet that he needed a change of shorts. (Unfortunately, Rob hadn’t packed an extra pair of jeans for me, so I spent the next few hours walking around looking liked I’d wet my pants.)

As we sat on patio chairs enjoying a snack of apple wedges and rainbow-colored goldfish crackers, Max made a solemn pronouncement. “I am being really good today,” he said. “Because I want you to be happy that you stayed with me.”

Getting into carseats for the field trip to Culver's.

Tyler (looking at the prize gallery), Max and Vicki at Culver's in Phoenix.

Awaiting our meals at Culver's.

With two hours left to go, Vicki decided we needed a change of venue. So we piled the boys into car seats in her car and drove them to Culver’s at Camelback Road and Eighth Street. Our first inclination was to go for ice cream. Then we thought it might be more appropriate (and kinder to Rob) to feed them real food first. So we loaded up on the requisite hot dog, chicken strips and grilled cheese sandwich, throwing in some sides of green beans and applesauce to prove we had their nutritional interests at heart.

Tyler took right to the applesauce and wasn’t interested in his grilled cheese. Sam didn’t want the chicken strips so we exhanged his meal with Tyler’s. Max decided he needed half of Sam’s grilled cheese along with his hot dog.

Max tries the green beans at Culver's. He wasn't very enthusiastic about it, but he did make a polite effort.

Max was the only one brave enough to try to the green beans. Sam ate some of his applesauce and then decided it needed some pepper. I was texting my husband to let him know where we were when Vicki started laughing. Sam, who was sitting beside me, was licking the top of the pepper shaker. (Vicki took it up the counter, explaining apologetically that they might want to wash it thoroughly.)

A Culver’s employee came around with ice cream samples and we doled them out to everyone…unintentionally leaving out Tyler. “Hey, did Mom forget you?” the employee said. Vicki beamed (“He thinks Tyler is my son!”) — and promptly told the story to her daughter Annie, who checked in by phone.

As my texting conversation continued, melted ice cream from Sam’s cone dripped down his shirt, onto his shorts and all over the side of the table. Vicki and I decided one thing for sure. We’re grateful that our stints parenting this age group came before the days of cell phones, texting and and social media. Parenting is enough of a blur without all that.

Walking to prevent child abuse

Is someone bringing coffee?

I have to admit. I kind of felt like this guy on the right when I dragged myself out of the house at 6:30am to walk in today’s Children’s March on Child Abuse. But the beautiful morning and the energy of the crowd that was gathered at the entrance to the Phoenix Zoo was invigorating — and so was the nippy temperature hovering well under the 60s.

The walk was organized by Phoenix Children’s Hospital to build awareness about child abuse, and raise funds to prevent it. Many of the 200 or so people in the crowd were there with children. Given the nature of the event, I found my eyes drawn to the many examples of loving connections between adults and children waiting to walk. Here are two of my favorites:

Love that transcends generations.

Time with daddy.

12News reporter/anchor Tram Mai showed up about 7:45 to give some opening remarks and thank the event’s sponsors, which included Raising Arizona Kids, Honest Tea and E&J’sDesigner Shoe Outlet. She read a moving essay by Sassha Motz of Surprise, whose daughter Lily was a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome inflicted by a trusted family member. (Lily and her dad, James, are featured in our April cover story, “Casting Light on the Shadow of Abuse.”)

Tram Mai reads some opening remarks; watching is PCH pediatric nurse practitioner Amy Terreros.

Then it was time to walk. With a quick thumbs up…

Thumbs up!

…we headed through the gates to the Nina Mason Pulliam Children’s Trail. Several members of the Raising Arizona Kids family walked today, including Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb (Happy Birthday!) and her daughter Juliann (a senior at Xavier College Preparatory), Assistant Editor Mary L. Holden, Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams, Account Executive Catherine Griffiths, my husband Dan (who writes our Sports Roundtable blog when he’s not too busy lawyering) and me.

Off we go!

The walk was a nice way to start the weekend and a reminder that we all need to spend more time at the beautiful Phoenix Zoo.

Enjoying the zoo.

And now? Breakfast!