Alumni Spotlight: Margo Frey, '63

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 6:15:00 PM

1963 Jubilarian Class

Spotlight On: Margo (Walther) Frey, '63

By Buddy Herberg, '13

In an era when few women ventured into the workforce, Stritch alumna Margo (Walther) Frey, ’63, was well ahead of her time. Growing up in Fort Atkinson, Wis., Frey always harbored aspirations to have her own career.

Margo Frey

Although satisfied with her experience at Stritch, Frey remembers feeling uneasy about her career.“My mother was a teacher in my hometown and was a huge influence on me,” Frey said. “She guided my early ambitions of being independent, always stressing the importance of having my own career.”

Frey followed in her mother’s footsteps, pursuing a college degree that would allow her to teach. That led Frey to then-named Cardinal Stritch College, where she graduated in 1963 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in French. Frey was in the first group of women to graduate from Stritch’s "new" North Shore campus.

“My major allowed me to be a teacher but I wasn’t sure that was what I wanted to do,” Frey said.

During Frey’s time at Stritch, Sister Camille Kliebhan, OSF, Ph.D., served as a major influence on Frey. At this time of uncertainty, Sister Camille challenged Frey to discover her true passions. After a lot of soul searching, Frey enrolled in the educational psychology master’s program at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.

“My husband worked in student services at UW-Milwaukee and brought home a course catalog one day,” Frey said. “We sat down and looked at every class offered for a few majors that I thought I might like.”

She opted to pursue a counseling degree, which allowed Frey to begin her calling in life.

“I loved every class in the field of educational psychology except stats,” Frey said, jokingly.

Soon after earning her degree, the couple moved to Bloomington, Ind., where Frey discovered her love for career counseling while working with traditional-age and returning-adult college students.

Early in her new career, Frey realized she made the right career move.

“I was working in the biology department at Indiana University when I encountered a student with a stutter,” Frey said. “He was a non-traditional student trying to make it in a tough field. I worked long hours with him to aid in his studies and assist him in moving in the right direction. And he made it! He got into med school. It was so rewarding to know how much I helped him.”

Frey’s career is defined by similar stories of helping others to obtain goals thought unreachable. In certain cases, however, Frey confronted harsh criticisms that questioned her integrity and her work. Working part time in the continuing education program at Indiana University, Frey led workshops throughout the state for women who wanted to get back into the workforce after taking a break to stay home with their children.

“I could not believe what people were saying to me for doing this,” Frey said. “People were shocked that I was helping women get into the workforce. And I was even more appalled that they had the nerve to claim I was doing something wrong.”

But Frey did not stop what she was doing; in fact, she dug deeper. Frey came back to Stritch and joined the team that helped develop the cutting-edge Programs in Management for Adults (now the College of Business and Management).

While working for Stritch, she earned her doctoral degree in adult education from Nova University, one of the first universities to implement distance learning. Once again, a stats class challenged her, and this time Sister Camille (Stritch president at the time) helped Frey study.

“Sister Camille would sit with me in the cafeteria and make sure I knew the material,” Frey said. “We studied hours on end together. She was such an avid teacher and friend.”

Frey’s education and background led her to a more administrative role at Stritch over time. Longing for more one-on-one counseling time with students, Frey left the Stritch in 1989 to start her own private practice, Career Development Services.

“I was able to make a much greater personal impact with my own business,” Frey said. “And although I was no longer working at Stritch, I referred many of my clients to the University.”

The impact Frey had on people was so greatly appreciated that, nine years later, Frey accepted an opportunity to write a weekly career mentor column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, offering her a chance to extend her outreach.

“The greatest satisfaction in my writing came from hearing about the impact it had on others,” Frey said.

She recalled a particular column about two dance groups, one African and one Irish, that co-existed and worked together, and she compared the groups to employees in the workplace.

“A week later a friend of mine told me he walked into his boss’s office and the boss said, ‘That is what we need,’ pointing to my article,” Frey said. “It was something special to hear that.”

Frey had to overcome many obstacles in her career, but her most recent put her on the sidelines. In 2003, doctors diagnosed her with a chronic and permanent lung disease. She fought it for four years before deciding to retire.

“I really wanted to keep writing and assisting people, but it was becoming incredibly difficult to write my column from a hospital bed,” Frey said. “It was unfortunately time to give it up.”

She completed her last column in 2007 and closed her business. After years of working, Frey now spends as much time as she can with her family, including her six grandchildren. She visits with friends, attends the theater, and, when she can find time between multiple daily medical procedures, takes classes.

“I’m taking online classes to learn how to navigate new technology,” Frey said. “I want to learn how to publish works so I can continue to write about topics that interest me and help others.”

Frey received awards and memberships to honor her work but is most proud of her personal effect on people. No illness can stop her from continuing that.

“My mother was always on the cutting edge of finding new ways to accomplish her goals,” Frey said. “She was always learning and trying different ways to make things better for others.”

Today, Frey follows in her mother’s footsteps in that regard. She continues to learn and implement any new system she can to continue guiding, assisting, and serving others.