What compelled you to run for public office?


Let’s face it, being a public servant in today’s highly transparent and digitized world is a calling that is not for the faint of heart. And yet, every election cycle yields more candidates ready to bear the scrutiny for the sake of taking on the issues, upholding the laws, examining current policies, improving lives, and facing the challenges of their school board, organization, municipality, state, or nation.


Several Stritch alumni featured below successfully campaigned for public offices and offer a glimpse of the mindset that it takes, first, to choose to run in an election, and, second to keep motivated and engaged in the years that follow.


Terry (Romano) Estness (B.A. Educational Psychology, ’75)


- Former mayor, City of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (2000-08)


- Former alderperson, City of Wauwatosa (1990-2000)


- Executive director, Wauwatosa Chamber of Commerce


- Executive director, Wisconsin Surgical Society


- Executive secretary, Municipal Treasurers Association of Wisconsin


- Executive vice president, owner, T. Estness LTD


“I became involved in the Wauwatosa community through various activities with both school and city issues. It just seemed to be the natural next step to take in and with my life. It felt like a calling and I responded.


“Once elected to public office, I did my best to uphold my Christian beliefs. I am a better person because of this experience.”


Estness’ election to become mayor involved some unusual circumstances. A story appeared in the Winter 2001 issue of Stritch Magazine with details. 


Paul L. Decker (M.S. Management, ’06)


Chairman, Waukesha County Board of Supervisors


“Having been involved in strategic planning and working with public officials and community leaders in local and state government, someone suggested that my expertise would work well as a local elected person. I was reluctant at first, but felt compelled to see if I could be of greater service to my community.


“While elected office always intrigued me, I have to admit that battling cancer and going through chemotherapy compelled me to do something more after recovery. Little did I know it would lead to being elected several times and also becoming chairman of the Waukesha County Board of Supervisors.


“What keeps me motivated is the need for pragmatic methods to go beyond the rhetoric to actually tackle the issues facing our greater community. In my business career I had traveled extensively nationally and internationally, and found that greater southeastern Wisconsin was a wonderful place to live, work and play. This region is capable of being economically competitive with any in the world. Now being part of the leadership apparatus to direct workforce development, infrastructure and trying to bring communities together is exciting and gives me purpose every day.


“My day-to-day decision-making is based on understanding the differences in facts, feelings, and opinions. Utilizing evidence-based decision-making methodologies to help promote policies that will do the greatest good for the longest time is daunting, but one that I've been trained and educated to. This is why I enjoy listening to and collaborating with the constituents I serve, even when there is not complete agreement. Being in the thick of it, and a lifelong learner, also keeps me strong mentally, physically and spiritually.”


Stephanie Findley (M.S. Management, ’07)


Chair, City of Milwaukee Election Commission


“I think back to my grandparents they taught me to do unto others as you want others to do unto you. They taught me the value of hard work. I think about how my grandfather got up at crack of dawn to go work in field no matter how hot it was and how my grandmother took care of home. Remember, back in the day, Wisconsin used to get more snow, how my dad would get up every morning, he didn’t care how much snow, he went to work. That work ethic comes from my family.



“But that compassion for others is in my DNA. I’m always willing to help others because I’m of the firm belief that we’re only as strong as the people I help. If I have $5, and a neighbor is in need of groceries, we’ll share $2.50 and, in a sense, we’re taking care of each other. When I came into Stritch with that heart, Stritch put it into context for me, that I was doing servant leaderhip. I didn’t understand what servant leadership was until went to Stritch, but I’ve always had a heart for other people.”


Matthew Hanser (M.S. Educational Leadership, ’03)


Racine United Board of Education, Racine, Wisconsin


As published in the Racine County Eye in a pre-election question and answer story, Hanser shared why he wanted to serve as a member of the school board:


“My aspiration to serve as a member of the RUSD board stems from the concern that the voices of parents, students, staff, and the community at large are not being taken into consideration when decisions are made. As a community member and parent of two students who attend RUSD schools, I have a vested interest in making certain that the children of Racine have a high quality education program available to them.”


Ric Schmidt (M.A. Religious Studies, ’02)


- Former president, Teamsters Local 344 Union (2010-12)


- Associate, Sister of St. Francis of Assisi


- UPS, various packaging and driving positions


“Through the course of my life since that time, I have carried my education at Stritch in everything I’ve done in life, doing various aspects of Franciscan ministry, specifically in peace and justice. UPS is represented by a labor union. A very big part of Catholic social teaching since 1891 is that our Church upholds the rights of workers to organize and form unions. It goes all the way back to Leo XIII. [The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi who advised me] recognized that because this is in my environment and in my life that maybe I could have an influence and an impact. So with their encouragement, I ran for president of the union. There were seven on the slate of candidates. I had to campaign; I had to become a politician. They just encouraged me to live my faith. Well, we won! And I served the term as the statewide president of the union. It was an amazing experience, incredibly difficult. I don’t regret a minute of it. This [2010-12] was a tumultuous time in Wisconsin. I ended up with an interesting and unique skill set and a lot of experience in leadership. As the parent of four children holding down a full-time job and assuming the intensive, high-profile responsibilities as head of a union, I slept about three hours a night during that period.”


Christopher Bennett (M.S. Management, ’13)


Village of Rochester, Wisconsin, Board


When asked by MyRacineCounty.com prior to the April election about why he ran for re-election to the village board, Bennett responded, “I enjoy being an elected official and serving the village in this capacity. I bring a steady and measured approach to the position and advocate for what I think will bring the greatest good for the great number. I want to continue serving our community.”




Do you have experiences in or perspectives on public service that you wish to add to this story? Email your commentary to us at alumni@stritch.edu or submit information at keep in touch!