In 2022, Chris Burke, a 1981 graduate of Monsignor Bonner Catholic High School and former partner at Allied Wire & Cable, made a generous Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) contribution of $516,000 to Bonner & Prendie through the BLOCS Program, a Philadelphia-based scholarship organization.
To learn more about the inspiration behind this impactful gift, the Advancement Office invited Chris to participate in a Q & A to share his story.
What is your connection to Bonner & Prendie?
In 1981, I was a junior at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, PA, aspiring to play college basketball. That year, there was an impending threat of a teacher strike at Penn Wood High School. Ed Stefanski, the head basketball coach for Monsignor Bonner Catholic High School at the time, took an interest in recruiting me to play for his team. Since Catholic League Basketball was the best in the area, I was intrigued. After talking with Ed, I transferred to Bonner for my senior year, where I played on the basketball team and completed my high school education. Ed later became the General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.
At Bonner, basketball was my primary focus. I spent every day during the fall of my senior year working with the team to prepare for the season. When the season began, I spent every spare minute at games and practices. Though I was only there for one year, Bonner had a significant impact on my life.
Do you have any family connections to Bonner & Prendie?
My three sisters, brother, and I grew up in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. It was a short 20-minute walk to Bonner, which I walked every day as a student. My family was active within our local parish, Saint Philomena Roman Catholic Church. Every summer, I participated in my parish’s basketball league. We played against other local parishes, so I knew a few guys on Bonner’s basketball team before transferring from this experience. Walt Fuller ‘82 was one of those guys. He recently passed away, but we played together at Bonner, and he later played for Drexel University. He was a great person, coach, and player.
I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from Bonner. My brothers and sisters all attended public school, but I now have a few nephews who are also alumni.
Tell us about your journey after graduating from Bonner.
I graduated from Bonner at the height of 6’5. By my first year at Widener University, I was over 6’10. I played basketball all four years at Widener University and graduated in economics and business management.
After my college graduation, I played professional basketball in Europe and the United States for six years. In the summer, I played for the United States Basketball League (USBL) on two different teams: the Wildwood Aces and the Philadelphia Aces. It was a professional summer league that played up and down the East Coast. I played in Europe in places like Spain, Switzerland, France, Ireland, and Argentina each fall. It was a fantastic experience.
In 1991, at the age of 27, I debated whether to continue my basketball career. I began interviewing at various companies to determine what I wanted to do next. I knew I did not like the idea of joining a big corporation where I was just another employee. I wanted to be a big part of something small.
Around this time, my brother’s wife introduced me to family friends: two brothers who were trying to launch a new business. They were selling insulated wire out of their basement. I was intrigued and decided to join them. With their parents’ financial support, we launched Allied Wire that year, and we continued to grow each year. We worked 70 to 80-hour weeks on the phones initially, contacting companies and securing new business. We invested back into the company every year and hired more people.
A few years after launching the company, we were large enough to move into a building. We kept hiring more people and, in 1997, we moved into a new building.
One of the great things playing professional basketball taught me is contract negotiation. My agent and I were constantly working to secure various contracts with teams overseas. That experience taught me how to deal with people and how to sell. I used those skills to secure new business and manage Allied Wire’s high-profile clients. For 30 years, I was the number one salesperson. My two partners eventually moved into managing our company’s day-to-day operations, and I continued to focus on sales.
Over 30 years, we opened locations in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona. We employed over 300 people. In 2001, we bought a 230,000 square foot building in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where our headquarters remained. By the time we sold in October 2021, Allied Wire was one of the top wire and cable distributors in the United States.
How did Bonner & Prendie impact your life?
Bonner offered a collegiate learning environment that prepared me well for college. It was night and day from the public school I attended. The attention to learning, the education, the environment, and the teachers’ support provided a completely different experience. On top of that, my guidance counselor, Father John Melton, played a pivotal role in helping to acclimate me to Bonner and in helping me to find the right college. I met with him regularly during my college search.
I do not doubt that attending Bonner prepared me for success in college, both academically and athletically. It was an environment that allowed me to learn and excel. I only wish I had transferred sooner.
How did you learn about the EITC Program?
I’m a big fan of the Catholic League and a Philadelphia Archdiocese education. About six years ago, a representative at BLOCs contacted my partners and me about the program. We decided it would be a great idea to get involved. My partners both attended public school, but they had children attending catholic schools. Hence, they shared my interest in supporting Catholic education.
BLOCS takes your state taxes and directs them towards creating scholarships for students at Philadelphia-area Catholic schools. When we sold Allied Wire in 2021, and we could contribute on a larger scale to Bonner & Prendie, it was a no-brainer for me. From my experience, a catholic education offered a higher level of education than a public school. If a student could have that for all four years at Bonner & Prendie, it would benefit their life.
Over the years, BLOCS has shared countless success stories about talented students who received a scholarship and are now doing incredible things. Every story reminds me of the value and impact of Catholic education.
Why was it essential for you to make this contribution to Bonner & Prendie?
Attending Bonner had a significant impact on my life. It was only one year, but it made a big difference. Imagine the effect four years at Bonner & Prendie could have on a student’s life? What I learned at Bonner carried over into college and beyond.
It was essential to direct this donation to Bonner & Prendie because I want more students to have this experience.
There are so many students with ability and talent who just need an opportunity. If you can give a kid the chance to receive that kind of education, it could change their life. That’s what the BLOC and EITC Programs offer to students. It’s a fantastic thing to be a part of giving someone else an opportunity in life.
What impact do you hope this donation will have at Bonner & Prendie?
I want to give kids an opportunity that will change their lives. I believe a Bonner & Prendie education allows them to be the best version of themselves. It’s an environment that will enable students to thrive and excel. What is better than that?