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A mission to help others, Spartan spotlight with senior Anna Wentzloff

This fall, Anna Wentzloff plans to attend Parkland College and eventually transfer to the University of Illinois where she will major in human and family development. The senior's goal is to become a Certified Child Life Specialist.

Pediatric oncology, the study and treatment for cancers that develop in infants, adolescents, and teens, need these clinically trained specialists to help young patients and their families navigate the often traumatic uncertainty during cancer treatment. It takes a person with strong moral character, compassion and a strong, loving spirit to help families cope with the unsure road ahead of them.

For Wentzloff, a three-sport athlete all four years at St. Joseph-Ogden, joining the growing number medical professionals in this relatively new field became her mission in life after receiving the life-altering news in August of 2018 that she had Hodgkin Lymphoma. Now, after winning her battle, she wants to help others through the stress and uncertainty that she experienced first hand.

"It was a very scary and emotional time," she said. To this day, she appreciates the way the community rallied behind her during her treatment. "The love and support I received from the community on my road to recovery was very humbling."

One her best memories from high school was the volleyball team's fundraising benefit that fall to help her family with with medical expenses. The four-year veteran volleyball player is very thankful for all of the support from students, teachers, teammates, and the community during that tough time.

"From the fundraising for medical expenses, to making sure I was represented with the team by putting my jersey on the bench when I couldn’t be there, to the cards I received daily, it is really what helped me get through it."

Wentzloff, who lives in St. Joseph with her mother and sister, also played basketball, her favorite sport, for four years at St. Joseph-Ogden High School.

"If I could be a professional athlete I would play women's basketball. I have always loved the sport," Wentzloff explained. "Basketball is one of the very first sports I ever played. I have always enjoyed both watching and playing. I love being a part of the team and have made some great memories in the sport."

She is the only senior graduating this year at SJO who a member of a Final Four team in two different sports, basketball and volleyball, that made trips to the IHSA state finals at Red Bird Arena. She also threw shot and discus for four years on the Spartan track team.

When she wasn't practicing or competing in one of her three sports, Wentzloff could be found cheering on fellow students as both a member and leader of the Maroon Platoon. She even found time to be a part of Spanish Club, FCA and SADA while at SJO. Among other things, she also likes to watch Netflix and spending time with her family and friends.

If she could have an elegant dinner with three famous people, she said one of them would have to be Anthony Rizzo.

"I am a huge Cub’s fan and Anthony Rizzo is my favorite player. He was also diagnosed with the same cancer, Hodgkin Lymphoma, when he was 18 years old at the beginning of his baseball career," she said. "It is very inspiring to see what he has accomplished after going through his own diagnosis and treatment."

Knowing Rizzo's story and seeing the success he has enjoyed is an inspiration for Wentzloff. She feel like she can also accomplish anything she sets her mind to accomplish.

"I also love how he gives back through his foundation, helping kids and their families. This is something I hope to do in my future."

Her second guest would be Ellen DeGeneres. She started watching Ellen’s show often while she was undergoing her treatments.

"She is really funny and would make me smile and laugh. I love how her mission is to spread kindness. I also love how she has real people on her show and tells their stories," she said. "There are a lot of amazing people out in the world and I’m glad that she uses her show to spotlight them."

Her last guest would be award winning author J.K Rowling.

Rylee Stall (left) and Wentzloff pose with the rest of the volleyball seniors and their parents on senior night back in October of 2019. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

"I really like her stories and I am inspired by her own personal story," she said. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series. "It is amazing how she really had nothing but worked hard and is now one of the most influential authors of all time whose stories are loved by children and adults."

More than likely she would have her posse with her. The pair, sisters Atleigh and Alyssa Hamilton, never fail to put a smile on her face.

"[They] are both really good friends of mine. They are great people, awesome athletes and so much fun to be around," Wentzloff said. "I will miss them like crazy next year."

If life returns to pre-Covid normalcy, the SJO graduate admits she won't miss remote learning.

"E-learning has been an adjustment and has taken some getting used to," she said. She added that she tends to be a more of a hands-on student. Her math classes with Mrs. Lianne Rash, Mr. Kiel Duval, Mrs. Ashley Krisman, and Mrs. Kelly Steffen were among her favorite in high school. "I would prefer to be in the classroom but it prepares me for the future the experience is definitely beneficial.

"My suggestion to students to make E-learning better is to communicate to your teachers. They are there to help and want you to be successful so don’t be afraid to reach out to them."

"My favorite teachers at SJO all care about their students so much and support them in so many different ways both inside and outside of the classroom," she said. Over the years, Anna’s favorite teachers include Mrs. Kinney, Mr. Risley, and Mrs. Bayles.

She is especially grateful for the support and strong shoulders of one teacher in particular that helped her while she persevered through the rigorous academic challenges in the classroom and cancer treatment.

"One of my favorite teachers, Mrs. [Jennifer] Brooks, who has always helped me with my academics, was also there for me during my cancer treatment and recovery," Wentzloff said. At school, she looked forward to her study hall time with Brooks. She shared one memory:

"About a month after I had been diagnosed, I was really losing my hair. I was very emotional about it and was having a hard time transitioning to what was happening. I also had homecoming and other events coming up. Mrs. Brooks along with one of her good friends was able to get me a wig in a very quick amount of time."

Brooks' kindness and compassion was magical.

"This helped me as I transitioned and gave me the confidence I needed and helped me feel better. She really went above and beyond and I am very grateful."

Wentzloff has yet to travel outside of the US. However, on her list of places to visit are Israel, Australia and France.

"I would like to travel to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and try some of the amazing food there," she said. "I would also like to go to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef and to the Holy Land to walk where Jesus walked."

The Class of 2020 grad has a few words of advice for the incoming class of students at SJO. "Get involved," she stressed. "Enjoy every minute, and do not take anything for granted."

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