'Mother Teresa and Vince Lombardi'

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 4:30:00 PM

Stritch Stories collects engaging and inspirational anecdotes about alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends. 

As president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Tim Sheehy is a passionate advocate for education as a means to enhance the opportunity and potential for the entire region.

That commitment was developed by a critical educational turning point early in his life. Even today, Sheehy still recalls his grade school report cards, which described his reading abilities as being “a little slow.”

Tim Sheehy

“My mother seized on that,” said Sheehy, who will be honored with Cardinal Stritch University’s Community Builder Award Oct. 9.

Soon, his mother sought additional help for her son and found it at the Stritch Reading Center. Since 1943, the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi had operated the center to assist children in overcoming reading difficulties, and by the late 1960s, when Tim needed some reading support, the clinic already had a national reputation.

Over the course of several summers, Sheehy maintained a frantic schedule of serving as an altar boy at 6 a.m. Mass, then being tutored by the Sisters before ending the morning with some basketball.

Sheehy remembers the Sisters well, describing them as a unique combination of “Mother Teresa and Vince Lombardi.”

“They were loving and caring but they set such high standards,” he said. “Only the best was good enough.”

The memories have begun to fade after so much time, but what emerged from his sessions with the Sisters was not just reading improvement, but actually a bourgeoning love for books. Sheehy still recalls an adventure tale about American pioneer Daniel Boone that launched a newfound passion for reading.

“That intervention by the University, by the Sisters, was a critical turning point in my development,” he said. “If you can’t read to potential, it’s an anchor on your growth. Everything slows down. But I’ve grown to love it. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.”

And although Sheehy does not have a degree from Stritch (he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in political science), he has always felt an enduring connection to the work of the University and the role Stritch played in his education.

“It is an awesome asset to have in the community,” he said. “And I am only one of tens of thousands of kids that were helped.”

The Reading Center, known today as the Literacy Centers, is among the oldest in the country and remains a cornerstone of Stritch’s 75-year legacy.

Sheehy’s commitment to education has continued into adulthood. As president of MMAC, Sheehy leads advocacy for improving the business climate of the Milwaukee area through better public policy and facilitates economic development through the expansion of capital investment and jobs.

 “The community can’t leave people behind,” Sheehy said. “There is a chasm between people who have an education and those that don’t.”

Addressing that chasm is Sheehy’s new passion, and is imperative for Milwaukee’s economic development, he said.

“The most valuable asset of our community is not our weather, or our water; it is the skills, education and talent of the people here. It we tap into that, it becomes a tremendous asset in capital investment and jobs.”

To that end, Sheehy also commits his time to the cause outside of work. He chairs the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation, TechStar Holding Inc., and Rocketship Charter School. He serves on the boards of Milwaukee College Preparatory, the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, PAVE, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Schools That Can Milwaukee, Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, Milwaukee Succeeds, School Choice Wisconsin, Teach for America, and as the treasurer of Summerfest.

For this reason, Sheehy was honored with Stritch’s Community Builder Award Oct. 9 during the fifth annual Stritch Showcase, a fundraising event to honor, support and celebrate the University’s 75th anniversary.  

Throughout all of his work, Sheehy still carries with him a simple lesson from the “Mother Teresa and Vince Lombardi” Sisters, one that he hopes everyone will embrace.

“It’s the no-excuse attitude toward learning,” he said. “There’s just no excuse why a person can’t learn.”