APPLETON — Arnie Vanden Boomen is St. Francis Xavier High School’s No. 1 fan. That fact is commemorated on a plaque above the top bleacher in the northeast corner of the Torchy Clark Gymnasium.
Vanden Boomen was born and raised a Catholic in Green Bay. He never had the opportunity to attend a Catholic school, but he and his late wife, Joanne, sent their three sons to Catholic schools in Appleton, where Vanden Boomen started his business, Vanden Boomen Burial Vaults. Their boys attended grade school at St. Pius X and all went on to Xavier High School.
When his sons were attending Xavier, Vanden Boomen became an ardent fan of the school’s various sport teams. “They used to have what they called an usher’s group at Xavier,” recalled Vanden Boomen. “We always wanted to start a booster club and nobody did anything.”
One night in 1969, he decided to form a booster club. “I went to Xavier High School and talked to Fr. Weber,” said Vanden Boomen. “He was the administrator there at that time. I said, ‘Do you have any objections to having a booster club at Xavier?’ He said, ‘No.’ That was the start of it. It was a group of all Xavier dads.”
The club wanted to expand the sport facilities at the school but space was limited. “Originally St. Bernard Parish wasn’t supposed to be where it is now. They had a piece of land out on Prospect Avenue but they decided to build a church on the property (behind the high school), so it took a lot of property away from Xavier High School,” said Vanden Boomen.
Building a football stadium on the grounds of Xavier was a priority for the booster club. Previously the football games were played at Goodland Field.
“After the booster club got going we decided we wanted to have some games by our school. So we built a field and every time we had a game the city was good enough to let us have some bleachers — so we used to go over to Goodland Field, load the bleachers on the truck and haul them to Xavier, and after the game bring them back.”
Vanden Boomen was an active member of Xavier High School’s booster club until about 10 years ago.
“I don’t go to the meetings anymore but I still support athletics around that school,” he said. “I try to get to all the games here and away for the boys and the girls — mostly basketball for boys and girls and football. When they go to state I drive back and forth every day.”
Home or away, Vanden Boomen does more than just support the athletes as a spectator. “I do different things. I treat the boys and the girls after the games. I kind of like to surprise them, so I don’t do it every game,” he said. “I might get hot dogs for the team, I might buy them a dilly bar, or Mr. Reynebeau cookies.” On a recent Sunday morning, he took the whole basketball team to the (Radisson) Paper Valley Hotel for brunch.
The treats are a bridge across the generation gap for Vanden Boomen. “I think they respect me a lot, but how do I communicate with a kid 17 or 18 years old? They think altogether different than I,” he said. “They can’t walk up to me and start talking about things that I don’t know about them and they don’t know about me.”
After more than 40 years interacting with high school students, Vanden Boomen has witnessed some changes with the kids, but more so with society as a whole.
“Years ago, when my kids were growing up, there was always a parent there to support them,” he said. “But nowadays, it just doesn’t happen. We’re pretty lucky at Xavier because they have parents there that do support them, which is really nice.”
Through the years, he has met a lot of wonderful people at Xavier High School. “It surprises me how many people get involved if you ask them. They won’t volunteer but if you ask them if they can help, they’re right there for you,” he said.
When he’s not at Xavier, Vanden Boomen can be found helping out at St. Joseph Parish. “When we have a funeral, I help Father with all the services. I help get all the gifts ready, all the stuff that’s involved in the funeral service. I’m a hospitality greeter and I set the table for the offertory when I’m scheduled to do it,” he said.
It’s been a good life, said Vanden Boomen. “I’m a firm believer in Jesus Christ. He’s with me all the time. I’m so thankful for what I’ve been given,” he said. “Each night I thank the good Lord for what he’s done for me and every morning I thank him for the restful night I had.”