One could argue no siblings could be closer than twins, and what twins could be closer than a pair of dedicated, intelligent, professional women working together and sharing their lives in and around what has become their spiritual home?
Mindy McConnaughhay and Brooke Rick, nee Schneider, have found a happy place for themselves and for their families at Marquette Academy, and neither would have it any other way.
“For us, Marquette is our family,” said Rick, who taught math and chemistry and coached sports, including varsity volleyball, before becoming the school’s principal in 2010. “It was tough at first [at students at Marquette] because we weren’t from Ottawa, we didn’t go to St. Columba or St. Pat’s, we came from Streator, but right away we got into sports, we got into clubs. We got involved, and that was the key.
“Coming from way over by Wenona, it was an almost 40-minute drive for us every day, so once you got there, you were there for the day. After games or practices, we would go to Oogie’s or hang out at our friends’ houses, and everyone was so welcoming to us, we just became part of it.
“We just fell into that family atmosphere, and it was home, it was comfortable. It’s just always been that way for us, since the first day we came there.”
And they have and are making Marquette a home for their children as well.
McConnaughhay, who is the admissions director/secretary at the school, and her husband, Jamie, have sent both their daughters, Makena, 21, and Addie, 19, through its grade and high schools. Brooke and her spouse, Justin, are in that same process with their children, Kealey, 14, Kinley, 11, Kooper, 8, and Kylin, 5.
“A lot of our friends were going to Streator, so we kind of thought about it,” McConnaughhay said, “but our mom never thought about anything else but Marquette for us, and we bought in to that. Now I can’t imagine not going there. It was the best decision our mom ever made, for sure. ...
“At another school, I would still have a passion for what we’re doing, but it wouldn’t be the same. This is who we are.”
In a way, that passion for Marquette was born out of tragedy.
The Schneiders are farm girls, raised on a large hog facility near Munster. While attending St. Anthony in Streator, they lost their father, Craig, and older brother, Chad, in the same accident at the farm in 1992. Since then, they and their sister, Kara, have relied heavily on their mom, Paula, for support, guidance and love.
To get their minds off their loss, they got more involved in athletics. In addition to having “the best summers ever” playing travel softball, while at St. Anthony the Schneider girls played basketball and softball and ran track, in the latter becoming IESA state track qualifiers, getting a medal in the 4×200 relay in the last of those seasons.
They followed their siblings to Marquette and starred in sports and activities there. After Marquette, both went to Monmouth College and played softball (Brooke also played volleyball), but they “weren’t ready to be away” and returned to the area, attending and playing sports at IVCC.
Brooke later went on to Dominican University to play volleyball and softball.
Despite the fact that softball was their passion and they excelled in track, both made their mark coaching volleyball. They coached at St. Columba and St. Pat’s before Brooke, at the time teaching at Milton Pope Grade School, took a job at Marquette, handling the JV for then varsity coach Sara Giffin.
When Giffin stepped down after the 2004 season, Brooke was tabbed to replace her, while Mindy came over for the JV.
After going 84-64 over five seasons, Brooke resigned to take the principal post, moving Mindy up to the varsity, where she has posted a 224-134 record with three regional titles over the last 12 seasons. She is also the head coach at Marquette Junior High.
“The hardest part of taking the job as principal was giving up volleyball — I will always be a teacher and coach at heart — but having Mindy take it over was huge,” Rick said. “I put a lot of time and effort into the program, but knew she was doing that, too, so I knew it was in good hands.”
“The night we won the regional my first year, [Brooke] hugged me and said, ‘I’m so happy, but I’m so jealous,’ " McConnaughhay said with a laugh. “But we knew that was her championship too.”
All of those experiences and many more — some exciting like the 2019 baseball state championship; some sad like the passing in 2020 of athletic director Sandy Kotek — have only strengthened their love for Marquette.
“I think because I got so much from Marquette to make me who I am — the teachers, the coaches, the staff, the people, the faith — that I want others to have that,” said Rick, who often reminds her twin that she is the much-loved baby of the family by a mere four minutes. “Things have happened in our lives that could have turned us into sour people, but we met people who were our driving force to be better, do better, to have faith. I feel like I’m a better person because of Marquette, and I want all the kids to have that too.”
“I love it when a new family comes in and at one of the first football games in the fall, the mom comes over and says, ‘I get it now. You were right. There’s something different here,’ " McConnaughhay said.
“I love that it’s not just a school. It’s so much more. It’s a part of you, a part of us. It’s Marquette.”