Stritch trustee volunteers his way to Africa
(Dr. Linda Gordy (center) and Dr. Rose Coppins (far right) teaching in an Ethiopian classroom.)
“I ran a large construction company, but my wife wouldn’t let me fix something around the house,” said Art Wigchers with a chuckle.
Wigchers, the retired president and CEO of Zilber, Ltd., and member of Stritch’s Board of Trustees, can laugh at the absurdity of this paradox because he understands the importance of the fundamental lesson behind it. As an international advocate for Catholic Relief Services, he relies on his personal network to recruit experts from various fields to assist with overseas volunteer initiatives, which recently led him to partner with several members of Stritch’s faculty.
“There’s only so much I can do,” Wigchers said. “So, what I try to do is bring in the strength of others. That’s what you do in business; I’ve been doing it all my life.”
In early 2012, Wigchers assembled a team of Wisconsin educators to travel and work with him to support efforts to improve life and educational opportunities for girls in the Meki region of Ethiopia. Supported by Catholic Relief Services and guided by the Meki bishop and director of education, Dr. Linda Gordy, Stritch’s associate dean of the School of Urban Initiatives, joined with colleagues from Marquette University and Alverno College in May 2012 to provide two-hour professional development workshops for Ethiopian teachers at several schools.
“What we noticed was the teachers were hungry for that kind of professional development,” Gordy said. “But there wasn’t a lot you could do in two hours. So, when we got back from that trip, we started talking.”
Those discussions led to plans for a second trip in January. Feeling a deep sense of connection to Ethiopia, Gordy not only made plans to return with Wigchers, his wife Mary Ann, and Marquette colleague Dr. Madeline Wake, but helped inspire other Stritch colleagues to join her. Dr. Molly Shiffler, Dr. Deb Heiss, Ruth Hoenick, and Dr. Rose Coppins readily agreed to pay their own expenses for the opportunity to teach English to Ethiopian teachers. While teaching, the Stritch instructors also modeled interactive teaching strategies and shared essential information on sanitation and nutrition to deepen the lessons they left behind.
“We spent 40 hours with the teachers, and a lot of that time was their own time when they may have done something else,” Gordy said. “But they were so passionate about everything that we did and just wanted to learn more and more. I kind of wonder if they learned more or we learned more.”
“This program’s success has been due to Linda’s passion and leadership along with the priceless support from her Stritch associates,” Wigchers said.
Read Art Wigcher’s guest essay, “Stories that don’t make the headlines: Catholic Relief Services works quietly, effectively all over the globe,” originally published in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Stritch Magazine.
Art Wigchers and his wife also contribute to need-based scholarships at Stritch which support Milwaukee youth. For more information on how you can contribute, please call (414) 410-4207.