Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Getting to know Frost collection donor Joan Christopherson Schmidt

Joan Christopherson Schmidt (Miss Chris) during a recent
visit to UW-Eau Claire.

The rare, extensive collection of Robert Frost materials that now are part of UW-Eau Claire's special collections has rightfully generated a lot of media attention in recent weeks.

This wonderful collection includes first-edition books with handwritten notes from the poet, as well as Christmas cards and other personal correspondence from Frost to his friend Frederick "Fritz" Schmidt. The collection will long be enjoyed and treasured by our students, faculty and others with an interest in the respected and beloved American poet.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic and delightful woman who brought this rare collection to our campus. While we have learned much from her about Fritz and his decades-long friendship with Frost, I wanted to share a bit of what I learned about her during our visit.

Joan Christopherson Schmidt is her full name, but everyone knows her by her TV name from years ago, “Miss Chris.” She is a Wisconsin native who has lived in the Milwaukee area — right across the street from UW-Milwaukee — for decades.

Miss Chris was a true pioneer in children’s television. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, years before Sesame Street came on the horizon, Miss Chris was the star of two Wisconsin Public Television shows for children, "Let’s Talk It Over with Miss Chris" and "Fairy Tales from Around the World."

A talented artist and a dedicated educator, Miss Chris was teaching art to young children in Milwaukee when she met her husband, Fritz Schmidt. The two quickly found that they shared a passion for education and the environment.

Throughout the next several decades, they invested in land simply to preserve it, helped establish the Ice Age Trail and were active in countless other environmental and community initiatives. They also both treasured the books and correspondence from Fritz's longtime friend, Robert Frost.

After Fritz passed away, Miss Chris kept the Frost collection but began thinking about how to best honor her husband and Robert Frost by finding the right home for it.

While selling it to the highest bidder would likely have earned her a substantial amount of money, she knew her husband, also a Wisconsin native, would want the collection to stay in Wisconsin, preferably at a university, where it will be well cared for and used for scholarship. A family friend with ties to UW-Eau Claire suggested she consider our campus. It didn't take long, she says, to realize that her friend was right.  UW-Eau Claire was just the place she was looking for.

It's fitting, Miss Chris says, that her and Fritz's treasured Frost collection's new home is on Wisconsin's most beautiful campus, a place where students and faculty share a commitment to sustainability and a love for nature. She knows the books will be used and appreciated and studied by students and others who share her husband and Frost's passion for nature.

Both her husband and Robert Frost would approve of her choice, she says.

At the age of 83, Miss Chris continues to be active and engaged and passionate about education and nature. Last week, she drove herself from Milwaukee up to Eau Claire in a snowstorm, soldiered through the bitter cold for two days to talk with the media and others about the Frost collection, and then returned on her own to Milwaukee!

I'm thankful I had the chance to spend some time with this remarkable woman during her brief visit. After spirited conversation about everything from the importance of good coffee (she wanted the contact information for my coffee supplier) to her pride in her Scandinavian heritage (including the inn her family has operated for years just north of Wisconsin Dells), to her decision to entrust UW-Eau Claire with her most valued possession, I found her passion for education and nature and life in general to be very inspiring.

Hopefully, Miss Chris will return to our campus again sometime soon to learn more about how we are incorporating the Frost collection into our curriculum and sharing it in other ways with our students, faculty and others. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to take the time to thank her for entrusting us with this special collection and to learn more about her. She's an impressive and accomplished person with wonderful stories to share.

Below are links to several news stories featuring Miss Chris and the treasure she brought to our campus. I enjoyed reading  and listening to them so I wanted to share them with all of you:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Legislative and executive visit to Madison

Posed for a photo with Kathy Bernier and Dana Wachs before
Governor Walker's State of the State address on Wednesday.
I was honored Wednesday to be the guest of state representatives Kathy Bernier and Dana Wachs at Gov. Scott Walker's State of the State address in the Capitol and reception afterward at the governor's executive residence. Before the address, I hosted a gathering of Blugold alumni and state legislators. We were joined there by Representatives Wachs, Warren Petryk, Chris Danou and Nick Milroy.

This is the first time I've attended a State of the State speech in Wisconsin and witnessed the pageantry associated with the event in the beautiful and impressive state Capitol. It also was an important opportunity for me to hear firsthand Governor Walker's priorities for the coming year and to briefly greet the Governor at the executive residence after the address.

Advocating for UW-Eau Claire in Madison is one of my highest priorities and responsibilities. The State of the State events enabled me to interact with many of our area legislators, as well as to meet other legislators from throughout Wisconsin and to tell them about the important work we're doing here to develop the talent and human capital necessary for Wisconsin to succeed today and in the future.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Collection of great news kicks off spring semester 2014

The third week of January has arrived — and a new semester begins! Before we become immersed in our work once more, I wanted to be sure to point out some of the important Blugold achievements celebrated in recent weeks while many of you enjoyed well-deserved downtime during the winter break:
  • The UW-Eau Claire Foundation announced it has acquired an amazing collection of Robert Frost materials that now are housed in McIntyre Library’s Special Collections and Archives department. Acquired from Joan Christopherson Schmidt of Milwaukee, the collection is believed to be one of the most extensive Frost collections maintained outside of academia. What an honor for UW-Eau Claire to have this impressive collection on our campus to share the work of Frost with students, our faculty and staff, the community and visiting scholars for years to come. Learn more about the Frost collection.
  • More than 150 faculty and staff `have moved into their new digs in Centennial Hall, which opens for classes today. Many thanks to all our Facilities Management and Learning and Technology Services staff who worked long hours assisting with the move-in by ensuring the building’s office and classroom spaces are ready for great teaching and learning to begin. A formal dedication of Centennial Hall — our first new academic building in 30 years! — is planned for Feb. 5; watch for details on the university website.
  • Congratulations to UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff in our College of Business on the UW MBA Consortium’s ranking by U.S. News & World Report as the top program among Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa universities, both public and private. What exciting recognition for this program that provides advanced degrees to business professionals who in turn lead companies across our state and nation! Learn more about the consortium’s recent top ranking.
  • A report released last week by The Education Trust included UW-Eau Claire as one of eight U.S. universities that have increased graduation rates for low-income students and students of color. Congratulations to our many faculty and staff who continue the important work of improving our student success rates and for this recognition in The Education Trust’s widely read report. Watch for the release of our own story about their work in the coming days.
  • Many thanks go to Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, professor of history, for her coordination again this year of the Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance event in Eau Claire. UW-Eau Claire has been a co-sponsor of this wonderful event for 32 years. Thanks as well to the faculty and staff, students, area clergy, community members and area schoolchildren who participated in last evening's event of remembrance, music and reflection on the words and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a celebration of how far we have come and a reminder that by working together we can achieve Dr. King's dream. I was honored to give closing remarks at the event. Read today's Eau Claire Leader-Telegram coverage of the ceremony.
  • Our Blugold athletics teams continue to rack up successes as well. Among the highlights: The men’s hockey team’s NCAA record-tying win on Jan. 18 against St. Thomas. The Blugolds’ 2-0 shutout against the Tommies was their fifth straight, tying the NCAA men's hockey shutout record across all divisions. They’ll have a chance to break the record this Friday, Jan. 24, when they play UW-River Falls here at home. Plan now to attend and cheer them on. Go Blugolds!
  • Our music students are in the middle of another outstanding run of Cabaret, a delightful annual variety show production put on entirely by our students. If you haven’t yet caught the show —an annual tradition now in its 36th year — plan to attend one of their remaining performances this Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 23-25. I’m told tickets are going fast!
These, of course, are just a few of the exciting recent Blugold stories. Keep an eye on our website as the stories of our faculty, staff, student and alumni successes continue to unfold. Here’s to another great semester at UW-Eau Claire!