Recently, Logan County natives Butch Patterson and Erich Maxheimer
received the prestigious nomination from U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock,
R-Peoria, to attend the military academy of their choice. One of the
main prerequisites to enter any of the nation's higher education
military academies is to receive a nomination from a U.S.
representative or senator.
Patterson, a senior at Hartem High School, and Maxheimer, a
senior at Mount Pulaski High School, have both made it through the
rigorous process, chosen over dozens of highly qualified applicants
much like them. Still, there must have been something different
about these two to have won such a high honor.
It all began for Patterson one late afternoon when he arrived
home from basketball practice. When he walked into the house, he
found his father, Ray Patterson, sitting at the table with an
obvious presence about him as if he wanted to have a serious "life"
talk with his son. Patterson recalls his father asking him the
question, "Why do you want to go to college?" And he remembers
replying with a "generic" answer: "I want to go to school so I can
get my degree and get a decent job." But his father, not accepting
that answer, responded, "Son, have you ever considered what the
military could do for you?"
Ray Patterson, having served in the U.S. Army himself, began to
describe to his son a military school of higher academia: the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point, which is about 50 miles north of New
York City on the Hudson River.
The idea of attending such a far-away school can seem surreal to
a young man located in central Illinois, but as soon as Butch
Patterson began researching West Point, he was immediately hooked.
He was first amazed by the political leaders and business tycoons
who have graduated from USMA at West Point. Realizing this, he knew
an education from such a place has the possibility to take him
anywhere he wants to go with his career endeavors in civil
"I've been interested in maps and geography, architecture, and
just about anything like that for as long as I can remember,"
For Maxheimer, the drive to apply to his school of choice, the
U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., came last summer.
But the real driving force, says Maxheimer, is the military careers
his older brothers have had. Not only does he come from a long line
of family in the military; his older brother, Chad Maxheimer, has
served in the Air Force and was honorably discharged in 2005. His
other brother, Chris Maxheimer, currently serves in the Marine Corps
in North Carolina.
His mother, Suzie Maxheimer, recalls the visit to the Air Force
basic training graduation of older brother Chad.
"Erich was 10 years old and was like Chad's shadow that entire
visit," she said. "He would follow him everywhere and march right
She adds, "He was so captivated by everything going on."
Maxheimer is also an Eagle Scout as of 2009, a journey that he
says has definitely matured him. It came as no surprise to the
Maxheimer family that Erich chose to take the application path for
the academy, but no one could have prepared them for the rigorous
journey this has been.
In both cases, these young men have been taken down a path of
strong development through resume/application preparation, essay
writing and experiencing the interviewing process with top political
officials. Both had to go through the interview process with
congressman Schock's panel of top staff in his Peoria office.
Patterson recalls: "I have never been so nervous in all my life.
It was so intimidating walking down this long hallway to a door, not
knowing what was about to (happen) on the other side."
Suzie Maxheimer recalls a cold day of bad weather conditions
trying to get to the Peoria office on interview day. "Not to mention
I was also a wreck that day," she laughs.
For her, she says this is bittersweet. "His father and I are so
proud of him, but this is also our 'baby,' and he will seem so far
She adds, "But we are so proud of him to serve our country. I
know Erich takes great pride in the fact that he will be serving his
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"At the end of the process, after all of the filters, there were
20 finalist applicants who received the scholarship from Congressman
Schock," says Dave Natonski, Schock's communications director, who
is located in the Washington, D.C., office. That was from a field of
48 highly qualified candidates.
According to Natonski, of those 20, there are 10 who are awaiting
appointment from the U.S. Air Force Academy, four for the U.S.
Military Academy, three for the U.S. Naval Academy and three for the
U.S. Naval Academy Marine Officer division. All of these 20 who
received nomination from Schock, including Patterson and Maxheimer,
are awaiting official appointment from their school of choice.
Both young men comment that this process has taught them great
patience. And although an official appointment would be the ultimate
happy ending, both young men are proud of how far they have come in
the process and are grateful to have experienced this.
Without an appointment, both would still continue to pursue a
civil engineering degree, Patterson at a state university and
Maxheimer at U of I in Champaign, where he has already been
Patterson and Maxheimer credit their families for their
incredible support and various teachers and coaches as well.
Theo Elliott, mother to Patterson, exclaims: "I believe it takes
a village to raise a child. And our village has been great for
Butch, that village including our church family at Trinity Episcopal
She adds, "Our priest, Rev. Jim Cravens, spent a lot of time with
Butch asking him questions and helping to prepare him."
Suzie Maxheimer gives great praise to Erich's father, Mike
Maxheimer, for his involvement with their son, such as his
commitment with Boy Scouts all the way through and teaching him all
along the way.
Both of these fine young men, who share so many similar interests
and are involved in many of the same activities, have one more thing
in common: They both continue to be tremendously patient, waiting to
see what their very near future holds. Both are confident that no
matter what, their futures look bright.
[By JANELL WOOLARD]
Resources used and further information:
West Point: www.usma.edu/
Air Force Academy:
U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock: