Honoring a true sage

Three-time Stritch alumna establishes scholarship in tribute to Sister Julitta Fisch, OSF

by Sara Woelfel

At age 17, near the end of her freshman year at Stritch, Dr. Bettyann Brugger, ’68, ’73, ’01, applied for a job as a typist for nationally known reading specialist Sister Julitta Fisch, OSF, ’39. Not only did Brugger’s impressive 98-words-per-minute speed secure the job, but she unwittingly gained a sage mentor who would guide and encourage her for decades to come.

In honor of that relationship and in recognition for what Sister Julitta meant to reading specialists and struggling readers nationwide, Brugger established the Sr. Julitta Fisch, OSF, Endowed Scholarship Fund in 2017. Instrumental in the success of Stritch’s Reading Clinic during her many years as director, “Sister Reading” also chaired the graduate reading department, leading to the creation of one of the nation’s first master’s degrees in reading in 1956, and served as the first president of the Wisconsin State Reading Association. Though Sister Julitta died in 2002, her legacy lives on through the literacy work of the University and now through this scholarship and the educators Brugger hopes it will support.

“I lead a very simple life and the time came for me to start drawing from my retirement account,” Brugger said. “I learned about a scholarship a Stritch graduate created on behalf of a Sister, and I thought about contributing to that. But then I prayed about it and realized I could fund a new scholarship.”

As someone connected to Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) since age five, Brugger has high hopes that the scholarship will support MPS secondary teachers pursuing reading certificates, licensure or graduate studies at Stritch.

“I discovered through my work as a literacy coach and all my years in teaching that content-area secondary teachers have not had the opportunity to explore how to best work with their students to improve their reading,” Brugger said. “Students may come in at a 5th grade reading level while the textbook is at an 11th grade level. What do you do?”

As someone who considers teaching a calling, Brugger nearly missed her own calling to the classroom. She remembers that most women in the early 1960s faced limited career options that steered them to become nurses, teachers or secretaries. But, as a teen, she felt more drawn to becoming an attorney, a dietician, or a librarian. If it hadn’t been for a key influence early in her college years, Brugger might have followed her lifelong love for books to a career as a librarian.

“I probably would have done that had I not met Sister Julitta and really felt her passion for reading,” Brugger said. “Through her, I realized kids can’t even go to the library if they don’t know how to read.”

Brugger went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Stritch and began her teaching career at her former MPS middle school, Edison. After teaching for three years, long enough to earn her lifetime licenses in language arts and history, she accepted a graduate assistantship from Sister Julitta, which paid for her tuition in the master’s in reading program, offered a stipend and was timed perfectly to align with her professional goals.

Before retiring in 2006, Brugger taught for 38 years in MPS. In the last years of her career, Brugger revisited an idea she and Sister Julitta discussed when Brugger graduated with her master’s degree – a doctoral degree. At the time Sister Julitta urged it, Brugger couldn’t afford the tuition or the time off.

Yet, when Stritch began sending her mail introducing a new doctorate in leadership in the late 1990s, she reconsidered. With full support from her husband, Arthur Wink, she enrolled in the second cohort of Stritch’s doctoral program, simply for her own personal fulfillment with no designs on professional advancement.

“One colleague said he could see no sense in me spending the money to get a doctorate if I was just going to stay in the classroom,” Brugger said. “I remember telling him, ‘I can turn 55 with a doctorate or without a doctorate, and I am choosing to turn 55 with a doctorate.’”

And, in 2001, she earned that doctorate, her third Stritch degree.

In establishing the scholarship in Sister Julitta’s name, Brugger not only honors a woman who became a guidepost at providential times in her life, but she pays tribute to the world’s sages. Brugger often ponders whether the world pays proper respect to the elders in society.

“The question is not, ‘Where have all the sages gone?’” Brugger wrote in a reflection piece. “We know where they abide. The question to ask is, ‘How do we reverence them, that they may shepherd us?’”

Now that the scholarship is established, Brugger invites others to join her in honoring Sister Julitta by contributing to the fund or to consider other sages among the Sisters who deserve to be honored, too. Coleen Southwell, associate vice president and senior philanthropy officer, at (414) 410-4425 or casouthwell@stritch.edu, can help those like Brugger who have a heart for philanthropy to explore options for giving.

Photos courtesy of University Archives