Chemist mixes up generous donation to school
Lourdes High School grad gives $25,000 education grant to alma mater
By Sam Lucero
OSHKOSH -- Call it good chemistry or call it good fortune. Either way, Lourdes High School is $25,000 richer thanks to an educational grant presented to the Catholic high school by 1978 graduate Ann E. Weber.
Weber, executive director of medicinal chemistry with Merck Research Laboratories in Rahway, N.J., recently received the Director's Award from Merck & Co., Inc. in Whitehouse Station, N.J., parent company of Merck Labs. The award - which included a $25,000 educational grant - was in honor of Weber leading a medicinal chemistry team that discovered a new drug treatment for type 2 diabetes.
The U.S. Drug Administration approved "Januvia" in October 2006. According to a press release, Weber's research group is now targeting new treatments for patients with diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis and urinary incontinence.
Upon receiving the educational grant, Weber directed it to her high school alma mater in memory of her science instructor, William Behring.
Weber's chemistry classes at Lourdes, under the direction of Behring, were apparently inspiring. After graduating as salutatorian from Lourdes in 1978, Weber went on to the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and graduated summa cum laude. She then earned a doctorate degree in synthetic organic chemistry from Harvard University and joined Merck Research Laboratories as a senior research chemist.
Weber is married to another Merck chemist, Kevin Chapman. They have three children, David, 17, Daniel, 15, and Timothy, 12, and are members of St. Helen Parish in Westfield, N.J., where Weber teaches religious education.
In an e-mail interview, Weber said she chose Lourdes as recipient of the educational grant for several reasons.
"First, I wanted the grant to have maximum impact, so I thought of Lourdes rather than my other alma maters," she said. "Since I had gotten so much out of my Lourdes education, I wanted to give something back. And finally, I wanted to honor my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. William Behring, who had a profound effect on my life."
Weber said Behring was "the heart and soul of Lourdes" while she was a student.
"I can still hear his booming voice, 'Slow down!' instructing students as they hurried to their next class," she recalled. "Aside from being a great teacher, he was also my second cousin once removed and fond of reminding my siblings and me of this fact.
"He definitely didn't play favorites though, and in fact liked to take points off my tests just because he wanted to keep me humble," she added. "He taught chemistry, physics and the solar system, with a lot of lessons on life and living along the way. I decided to major in chemistry in college because I loved his class so much. And, several years later, I dedicated my Ph.D. thesis in part to him, for first sparking my interest in chemistry."
Weber also credited her Catholic school education with providing a spiritual and educational foundation.
"Lourdes was a perfect fit for me," she said. "I received an excellent education and was well prepared for college and beyond. More than that, though, it was a place where I felt I truly belonged. I was very involved in extracurricular activities and really felt part of the Lourdes family."
She said the "strong sense of community" makes Catholic schools special.
"They nurture the whole student, not only body and mind, but spirit as well," she said, noting that her own sons attend Catholic schools.
"Last week, when David was accepted to the college at the top of his list, one of the first things he did was phone his freshman religion teacher" at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, she said. "Br. Matt had been praying for him all week. I don't think you would find that at just any school."
Weber's parents, Dr. William and Frances Weber, still live in Oshkosh, as do two siblings, Kay Sternat (Lourdes class of '82) and her husband Bruce, and Dr. Robert Weber (class of '77) and his wife Lisa, and their children Matthew, Rachel and Sara. Matt is currently a Lourdes sophomore.
Tony Blando, president of Unified Catholic Schools of Oshkosh, expressed thanks for the $25,000 donation to Lourdes High School. He said the award would be used to renovate one of the school's science labs, including the installation of computers, microscopes and other equipment that will help future students excel in the science program. A multimedia center will also be created for all students.
Weber's message to friends at Lourdes: "I hope the Lourdes staff and students enjoy their renovated science lab and new multimedia center. And I especially want to thank Merck for generously funding this grant."