Mike Rudnicki ’92, W’88 stays engaged with Culver Academies more than three decades after graduating for myriad reasons, one of the biggest being because the school feels like home.
It’s easy to see why. At age 11, Rudnicki met his wife, Shannon (Bush) Rudnicki W’88, at Woodcraft Camp. They started dating when they met again as Woodcraft Camp counselors in 1994. He proposed to her at Cardinal Bridge at Woodcraft in the spring of 1996. They married at Memorial Chapel a year later.
Their daughter Emma ’25 was baptized at Memorial Chapel and their son Will attended Culver Woodcraft Camp in the D&B this past summer.
“We almost think of Culver as our hometown because we have so many connections,” Rudnicki said.
Among the many other reasons Rudnicki remains engaged with Culver is because he gets to connect with so many talented and driven people who also want to stay involved with the school.
“Some of my best friendships have come through my volunteer work,” he said. “Graduation is the first step. There’s so much afterward. That’s why I keep volunteering. I really look forward to coming back and seeing the same people.”
He also stays involved because the Academies did so much for him.
“I've always had a sense that you should try and give back. I felt really privileged to have the opportunity to come to Culver,” he said.
Rudnicki, who works as a relationship manager for Fort Washington Investment Advisors Inc. in Cincinnati, said he is still guided daily both professionally and in his interactions with others by the lessons in leadership he learned at Culver.
“It was a life-changing experience for me,” he said.
Rudnicki said one of the things he loves most about Culver is that its sole focus isn’t on tests scores and how many graduates it places in Ivy League schools.
“We’re trying to develop students academically, morally, spiritually, physically -- the whole-person education, leadership in the making. That’s what makes Culver different,” he said. “I tell people what makes Culver different is that you’re giving these students the leadership laboratory.”
Rudnicki said that because he received some financial assistance to attend Culver, he feels a deep sense of purpose to help others like him have the same learning experiences.
He also feels a debt of gratitude to all those who came before him who sacrificed their personal time and financial commitment to make Culver what it was when he attended, and those who continue to work and give to make the school even better.
“I feel like the school has evolved and is even better than when I graduated,” he said.
Rudnicki recalls being in the first “Mythology and Literature” class taught by humanities instructor Richard Davies, who retired in 2008 and died in 2020, and Kathy Lintner, the former dean of faculty.
“I loved that class,” he said.
He said he believes that class, which became one of the school’s most popular classes, was one of the first “outside the box” classes offered at Culver. He said the school now offers a number of classes that aren’t available at most high schools. He points to classes such as “Mission to Mars,” “Frontiers of Our Universe,” “Molecular Biology” and “Behavioral Economics” as examples.
Rudnicki has served in a number of positions over the years, class agent, on class reunion committees, a Culver Club of Chicago volunteer, Culver Club of Cincinnati president and now as a Legion Board director and president of Culver Clubs international.
He is working now with others to try to reinvigorate Culver Club network because clubs stopped meeting during the pandemic and some people lost touch.
“COVID really had a massive effect on the Culver Clubs and our level of engagement,” Rudnicki said. “So we’re in the process of hitting the reset button.”
Organizers are trying to rebuild the club network by instituting “The Distinguished Club Program,” which requires a club to have at least one quality event a year and have established leaders in place who commit to annually serving in their respective clubs. He said the focus is having quality events.
Clubs that meet those requirements will be recognized at the fall Ambassador Weekend Awards Dinner, Rudnicki said.
Rudnicki said Culver Clubs don’t have as long a history as most people think. He said there used to be meetings occasionally in Chicago and other key markets, but the current Culver Club model has only been around since 2013 when Culver hired its first Culver Clubs coordinator to handle event planning communication and coordination.
“That really moved the needle for us,” he said.
He said before that, it would be up to club members to organize the events and people would quickly burn out because it took so much work.
“It flipped the script when we had someone in the alumni office who could do all that work,” Rudnicki said. “It opened the floodgates in terms of hosting events.”
That position now is held by Julie Doyle SS’95. The goal is to build the Culver Clubs network again.
“The mission is we do a lot better job of building consistent engagement with the volunteers,” he said. “We need you to be engaged and we want to improve our communication. We want to have a great network of volunteers.”
Rudnicki, the youngest of three children, grew up in Bloomington, Illinois, halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. He remembers when he was a 9-year-old Cub Scout seeing the ads for summer camps in the back of Boys’ Life magazine (now called Scout Life) and pestering his parents to go. A family friend suggested he go to Woodcraft Camp.
Rudnicki remembers sitting in someone’s basement while Fred Lane, director of Culver Summer Schools & Camps at the time, showed a reel-to-reel film highlighting summer camp. That’s how his Culver venture began. He still keeps in touch with some of his cabinmates from Division 3, in Cabin 23.
His family moved to Fort Myers, Florida, in June 1988. He returned to Upper Schools in summer 1989 for his sixth year at summer camp after completing his freshman year of high school in Fort Myers. Returning to that high school for his sophomore year didn’t appeal to him and because so many of his friends from summer camp were attending Culver, he decided to apply and was accepted.
Rudnicki said he will be forever grateful to his parents for allowing him to attend. He said he and his wife would like to live near Culver when they retire because it feels so much like their hometown.
“This is where we have such great relationships with people we’ve known for so many years,” he said. “She was from southern Ohio. I was from Illinois. We’ve lived in Chicago, Cincinnati and Florida. We always keep coming back to here.”