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Warchot helps build new school for girls in Kenya because of Elizabeth

Longtime executive with railroads association has raised about $300,000 toward school as a legacy for daughter who died in 2001.

Students wave from the front of their new school in Kenya.
Photo: Archdiocese of Kisumu.

Dec. 4, 2015
By Lori Sharn

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Lou Warchot retired from the Association of American Railroads in November, just as his work on a personal mission—to build a school for girls in Kenya—is bearing fruit.

The first 25 students started classes in September at the St. Elizabeth Mary Secondary School. The school will grow with each new freshman class until 160 students are enrolled in four grades, similar to U.S. high schools, said Warchot, who had been senior vice president, law and general counsel at AAR. The long-term goal is to double that number, to 320 students.

About $300,000 has been raised for the school so far through the Because of Elizabeth Foundation, Warchot said. He and his wife, Mary, started the foundation in memory of the first of their three adopted daughters. Elizabeth was diagnosed with leukemia just after Warchot joined AAR in 1997. Despite chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant, she died soon after her sixth birthday in 2001.

Elizabeth was too sick to attend more than a few days of kindergarten, but she loved to learn, Warchot said. “Her activities were fairly limited, and yet at the same time she was consistently upbeat,” he said. “She really moved a lot of people.”

Portraitist Annie Leibovitz photographed Elizabeth Warchot in 1999 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Lou Warchot is pictured at right.
Photos: Elizabeth, Washington, D.C., 1999 @ Annie Leibovitz; Association of American Railroads

A Catholic priest from Kenya, Cosmas K’Otienoh—who was assigned to their parish in McLean, Va.—met Elizabeth in her final days. The Warchots later asked the priest what they could do for him in Kenya. He asked the Warchots to build a school for girls, and put them in touch with the Catholic archdiocese in Kisumu.

Although Warchot said he did not promote the foundation at AAR or in the association community, colleagues at AAR have contributed money and time. The foundation’s advisory board includes John Gray, senior vice president for policy and economics, and Jeffrey Marsh, senior vice president for finance and administration.

Construction has cost $280,000 so far, and took longer than anticipated because of permitting, a location change and local civil unrest in 2007 and 2008, Warchot said. A building for science classrooms is next, and eventually a dormitory. Now that he is retired, Warchot plans to devote more time on fundraising to finish the school and on other projects to educate girls in the U.S. or abroad.

“We are so happy that (the school) has opened. We know Elizabeth is looking down on it and is pleased that some girls are getting the benefit of a better education,” said Warchot, who plans to visit Kenya for the first time next year. “We are very encouraged by how much has been done, and by what needs to be done next.”

More photos and information are at the Because of Elizabeth Foundation Facebook page.