Fenwick’s Own Renaissance Man

Fenwick's Own Renaissance Man

Every adult can look back on their school days and identify one person who made the biggest impact on his or her childhood. For many a Fenwick graduate, that teacher is Mr. Kleinhans. The physics and computer science teacher wasn’t always that, however.

Prior to becoming a teacher, Kleinhans pursued a career in computer since engineering. His experience spans over four states and in multiple companies. Eventually, Kleinhans and a close friend collaborated in creating their own business. The pair was successful in developing business intelligence software and in consulting G3500 businesses. Ultimately, the two were able to sell their firm to Cognos/IBM. According to Olive Street Design, of which Kleinhans is a board member, the company grew from $25 million in sales to $250 million over his tenure. He currently takes a partial salary for his work at Fenwick.

Though he certainly ended up on top, Kleinhans didn’t get there without a fight. He grew up on Chicago’s south side in a single parent household. His mother was a social worker, and she took on the role of primary caretaker of her children. “She was a superhero,” Kleinhans reflects. She worked multiple jobs on top of doing social work; to bring in extra cash for the family, she chose weekends at H&R Block, and sold organic vegetables from her garden.

At 14, Kleinhans himself wanted to contribute. “I tried to model her work ethic,” he remembers. He worked at Baskin-Robbins— an environment which was rather enjoyable for him as a teen— and showcased a flair for entrepreneurship by starting his own window-washing business in his apartment complex. Kleinhans didn’t worry about money as a kid, though, as is the case for so many self-paying college students, it became a more valued commodity.

After his junior year at University of Illinois, Kleinhans’ savings were depleted. “I was able to get a few loans and scholarships but ate a lot of popcorn.” The challenge couldn’t deter him, however; he graduated with a degree in computer science engineering. As an adult with financial security, he looks back on his college days with a new lens: “It is a shame that college is not an opportunity for more people— as a business person, I feel we are underutilizing our human capital.”

Now, nearly eleven years after selling his company, Kleinhans has transferred from businessman to mentor and teacher. He was introduced to Fenwick by theology teacher Mr. Mulcahy, and has loved being a part of the community ever since. “Fenwick has helped strengthen my faith and provided a sense of community that my high school did not have. […] The students here are accountable, focused, engaged and fun. They remind me of some of the top talent I [knew] in the commercial world. The occasional shenanigans are pretty good, too.”

His class is less than traditional— he regularly takes his students out for what he calls “engineer eats,” a dinner where students can meet alumni and former colleagues of Kleinhans’. On Fridays, he takes time out of class to offer a prayer to his students. Topics have ranged from his career in science to his family life, and always offer an essential message: hard work pays off. His greatest advice for success: “get comfortable scaling the insurmountable walls and shrug off the failures. The most fun and greatest lessons come from trying to achieve the impossible and failing. Embrace your 4 years here. Make a bucket list of all you want to accomplish by graduation and do it. No excuses. We all have an obligation to continue the mission we so richly benefited from.”

Mr. Kleinhans is Fenwick’s own renaissance man—and his students love him for it.