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Louis Traverzo ’75 (right) checks in with a TSA agent at O’Hare.

Alumni Profile/Becoming Louis Traverzo

Louis A. Traverzo ’75 found himself at a crossroads one September evening in 1972 as he sat talking on the phone in his dorm room at St. Norbert College, twilight darkening to dusk in the window.

Traverzo, then a sophomore, was telling his mother, Sandy Bird, he might leave the ROTC program. It was boring, he said, and, anyway, it was only one credit. His mother listened, then offered some advice. Just hang in there a few more weeks, she said, and see if you like it.

Traverzo did as his mother suggested and everything changed. He connected well with two newly arrived ROTC instructors and began to find the program fun and interesting. If there was a lesson in that, it wasn’t lost on Traverzo. “That phone call,” he says, “really set me on a course for the rest of my life.”

Traverzo, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and later earned a master’s degree in public administration, can’t say how his life would have turned out had he quit ROTC. But he doesn’t think he’d be what he is today: currently deputy federal security director at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

A 19-year veteran of the Transportation Security Administration, Traverzo leads and watches over 1,500 TSA officers, a 69-person staff and 44 regulatory inspectors in Chicago. He’s also responsible for the 38 million passengers who annually pass through O’Hare. And he never loses sight of what’s important, says Rochelle Verick, a retired TSA supervisor. Within a month of becoming federal security director at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, a job he held from 2005 to 2014, Traverzo knew the names of 300 TSA employees, Verick says. And he occasionally came in at 5 a.m., the busiest time of day, to help place luggage on the security-checkpoint belt, stunning employees. “Everybody is looking at each other like, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” Verick says.

“Lou will do anything to help people out,” says John Carlson ’73, who lived across the hall from Traverzo and later was his roommate. Carlson attributes Traverzo’s empathy to his hardscrabble childhood in a large family. Originally from the Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa Indian Reservation in Hayward, Wis., Traverzo grew up in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood where his mother raised him and his eight younger siblings. A single parent during her oldest son’s high-school years, Sandy struggled to make ends meet. The young Traverzo found hope in education. He graduated from Lane Tech, a highly regarded all-boys high school in Chicago, then enrolled at St. Norbert.

“He was a really personable, easygoing guy, quick to laugh and smile,” Carlson recalls. Early on, Traverzo distinguished himself more as a pool player than a college student. “We’d always be standing along the walls watching him play,” Carlson says. But he dedicated himself to his schooling.

“A big part of me was, ‘You don’t want to disappoint mom,’ ” Traverzo says. Mom Sandy had herself committed to further education in order to become a registered nurse. “She was so proud I was in college.” Now he has a wife, Sandra, and two sons making their own way in the world: Derrick is in banking in Tampa, and Daniel has completed his first year of medical school at the University of Wisconsin. St. Norbert, Louis says, “helped settle this city kid down.”

‘A big deal’ led to a career of service
According to Native American tradition, there was something Lou Traverzo had to do.

If you wonder how Louis A. Traverzo has, for 20 years, handled the high-stress job of an airport security director for the Transportation Security Administration – a career fraught at the outset with new challenges post-9/11 and informed since early 2020 by COVID-19 – then consider this:

His previous career makes the stress of this one, by comparison, seem like no big deal.

Traverzo was in the military for 27 years before signing on with TSA, spending his final days in the service “working on the issue of getting bad guys from Afghanistan to Guantanamo.”

He signed on with the Army after graduating from the United States War College and proceeded briskly through the ranks. Traverzo attained the rank of colonel and served in various leadership positions. These included commander of the Military Police Brigade-Hawaii, U.S. Army-Pacific; deputy director of the Joint Security Directorate, U.S. Central Command; commander of the Law Enforcement Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); commander of the U.S. Joint Task Force-East Timor; and commander of the 3rd ROTC Brigade, 4th Region, covering California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.

That’s a huge life investment. Why a career in the Army?

“I’m a Native American guy,” Traverzo says. “Serving in the military is a big deal.”

Career timeline

Deputy Federal Security Director
O’Hare International Airport, Chicago
June 2017 to present

Federal Security Director
Wisconsin and Little Rock, Arkansas, airports
Aug 2002-June 2017

Provost Marshal/Deputy Director, Joint Security Directorate
U.S. Department of Defense, Central Command

U.S. Army

Brigade Commander/U.S. Army Pacific Provost Marshal
Fort Shafter, Hawaii

ROTC Brigade Commander
Presidio of Monterey, California

Battalion Commander/Division Provost Marshal, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
Fort Campbell, Kentucky

July 9, 2021