This article is reprinted with permission from the Southern Illinoisan.
April 7, 2022
ELKVILLE — Freshmen, sophomores and juniors at Elverado High School will soon follow the school’s senior class in an unusual project.
The students will study “Against All Odds: The remarkable true story of a street kid who became a millionaire” by Jeff Lestz, a graduate of the school.
Thursday morning Principal Becky Thompson told students that Lestz had donated a book for each of them to the school, and they watched a short video message from Lestz, who now lives overseas. He told the students that they can overcome obstacles like he did and be successful in life.
The book starts with Lestz describing his childhood and talking about his father’s death. Lestz was orphaned. He ran away and spent time living on the streets of Chicago before moving to Elkville with the hippies. He now works in finance and overcame his early years.
Lestz will hold a Zoom video session with the students after they finish reading the book to answer questions.
Two teachers who are mentioned in the book spoke about their memories.
Lestz lived in a hippy commune near Elkville and would walk to the high school. Mary Ann Horstmann would pick him up on her way into Elkville Grade School to teach. She told the students that all she did was give Lestz a ride to school, but that one good deed was remembered in his book.
Wilma Westerfield taught at the high school, starting when Lestz was a student. She told the students about the first day Lestz walked into the school in the early 1970s. He had long hair and wore ragged jeans.
“My thought was ‘Oh, my God’,” Westerfield said.
She had grown up in a two parent home on a farm with siblings. Their lives had been very different.
When the hippies first moved to the area, Westerfield said a lot of people suggested that you should not let them into your home or befriend them.
“They grew to be part of this community,” she said.
Westerfield and Lestz developed a strong teacher-student relationship. They are still friends today, but she never dreamed that she had influenced Lestz.
Students also heard from members of the senior class. The seniors have been studying “Against All Odds.”
Reese Funk, Micah Davis and a couple of other students explained the mosaic projects and showed their completed projects.
Reese said they had to think of an obstacle they had overcome, then use images of people and things that helped the overcome the obstacle in their artwork. Reese and her friend Morgan Bernardini created a heart mosaic.
Micah wants to be a veterinarian, so her mosaic was created around that profession.
“I loved the book,” Emma Yates told the students.
Emma said the seniors made phone calls to people connected to Lestz.
“A lot of people stepped up to help him,” She said.
Lestz also donated books to Rick Warren Memorial Public Library in Elkville. The library is selling most of the books and the proceeds will go to the library.
See the original article HERE.