Dean's Reflections - 40th Anniversary

UW-FDL Campus Deans share their memories of the campus

Over four decades, each of the four campus deans who led UW-Fond du Lac from 1968-2008 helped move the campus vision forward.

Bill Henken, Campus Dean 1968-1987

Dean Henken

By Monica M. Walk

Visiting campus on a blustery November afternoon triggered a strong sense of familiarity for retired Dean Willard Henken, Ph.D. “I remember that wind,” the UW-Fond du Lac founding dean smiled. “Brings back memories.”

In actuality, Henken needs no memory aid. At age 80, his recall of the origins of the Fond du Lac campus is clear and articulate. “I can’t believe it’s been 40 years,” he said of the school he grew from the ground up in both bricks and programming.

Talk of a possible two-year campus in Fond du Lac had bounced around for several years before it became reality in 1968. The County Board’s gift of land - a former airport site - was pivotal, as were the efforts of  the Wisconsin Coordinating Council for Higher Education and a Citizen’s Committee of  Fond du Lac residents.

“The energy, wit and determination of the people in this city worked to make the campus a reality,” Henken stressed. “Once the decision was made, I was fortunate to become a part of it.”

Dean and Mrs. Henken have remained committed to supporting the UW-Fond du Lac campus in many ways, including sponsoring an annual scholarship. Dolores Henken (left) and Dean Henken met one of the many UW-Fond du Lac students who has benefited from this scholarship over the years. Joey Kunde (center) was able to thank the Henkens personally at a recent scholarship reception at UW-Fond du Lac.

He was a newly minted Ph.D. in education administration and a rookie faculty member at his Wisconsin State University-Oshkosh alma mater (back when Wisconsin had two state systems of higher education) when he was tapped for leadership in Fond du Lac.

Those fresh credentials were backed by years of applicable experience: building a private K-12 campus as superintendent in New Delhi, India; recruiting teachers and working on-site for a northern Nigeria teacher project as a graduate student; and, prior to world travels, serving seven years as Cedarburg High School’s principal - an “outstanding job” he was voted into before he had the chance to apply.

The Fond du Lac campus began as a branch of Oshkosh, a link Henken says helped in creating the new institution’s program statement and providing additional resources, including a large library.

“Oshkosh was growing rapidly, and a campus like this served a useful purpose for those not ready for a larger campus,” Henken noted. “It also provided quality education at a reasonable price. This was not second best - this was a different choice. It was just as rigorous of a program, but without the large numbers. We had to be sure people knew the quality here.”

Initially, he spread the word himself by visiting local high schools; soon enough, satisfied students from Wisconsin State University-Fond du Lac Branch did the advertising. The campus opened with only freshman classes and grew class offerings with the continuing students, another strategy for ensuring quality. This quality was achieved with speed:  ground breaking was Sept. 27, 1967, and classes began Sept. 9, 1968.

“We opened amid the sound of construction. The Governor attended our dedication and noted, ‘You still have some things to do,’” chuckled Henken, whose building plans and positioning purposefully created a sense of campus, even on a small scale. The facilities were deemed modern in every respect. “But, it was a thrill to open the campus.  I made a point of being here to see the first students walk in. Students breathe life into an institution; they are the lifeblood.”

Once the campus was operational, Henken turned his attention to instruction and staffing.  “It was a positive switch:  I became involved with people and not things,” he says. He remained focused on continued quality for 19 years, and his tenure included the education of his own three children. He credits high-school sweetheart and wife of 58 years, Dolores, for encouraging his professional endeavors. He retired at age 60 in 1987.

Former students still recognize him. “Hearing that they really enjoyed their time on campus, and that they are so glad they attended, makes my work worthwhile,” Henken said. “Those of us in education talk about these ‘intangibles’ - seeing students grow, mature and gain self-confidence - reading about them, and finding out what they are doing and the successes they are having… hearing them say they are doing well and are glad they came here. These are the things that make me feel good, and make it all worthwhile.”

Now retired for more than 20 years - longer than his fruitful deanship - Henken remains connected to campus as a scholarship sponsor and attends a variety of events.

Bradley Gottfried, Campus Dean 1987-1993

Dean Gottfried

By Monica M. Walk

Native grasses bend and tree leaves rustle in the breeze. Coneflowers, black-eyed susans and other summer wildflowers paint the fields in purples, golds and greens. A picture-perfect prairie thrives on the UW-Fond du Lac campus.

This is no mere landscape, but planting with purpose: a recapturing of local terrain once lost to settlement and now again available for study and appreciation.

Turning acres of lawn back to original prairie took root under the leadership of Bradley Gottfried, Ph.D., the second campus dean, whose tenure spanned 1987-1993. A biologist by training, Gottfried felt concern about the amount of campus land being mowed, recalling how one employee would be dedicated to this task for an entire summer.

More importantly, local interest in creating a prairie-style arboretum on the campus land - previously celebrated as a lush and wild hunting ground - already existed.

“It’s not so much what I did, but the people who embraced an ideal and vision,” said Gottfried of the 37-acre arboretum later named for him. “It turned out better than I ever could have imagined.”

Now president of the College of Southern Maryland, a community college with campuses in three counties, Gottfried cited how his commitment to listening to community ideas and striving to meet the needs of the community led to his dedication to make the arboretum a reality in Fond du Lac.

“The intent was to show how the area looked in the 1600 and 1700s,” he noted, “before European settlement…and to make it useful for the college, but also for families, and for teachers and area schoolchildren on field trips.”

And while Gottfried had the skill and connections to locate a grant to support the project, the community was required to provide
matching funds of $20,000 for that grant to be awarded. Citizens came through with the funds - including $5,000 from the Fond du Lac Noon Rotary - as well as expertise and sweat equity.

Local husband and wife team Connie Ramthun and William Volkert - a natural landscape architect and a Horicon Marsh naturalist - were instrumental in the initial planning, volunteer coordination and planting.

The UW-Madison Department of Landscape Architecture also took on the plan details as a class project. Faculty, staff and community volunteers did much of the planting of the initial 30 acres, beginning in 1991. Community involvement in the arboretum, including ongoing contributions of time and skill from Ramthun and Volkert, continues.

“After the seeds were sown, we needed to be sure no mustard took hold, as that would wipe out the flowers,” Gottfried recalled. “I looked out a window one morning and - overnight - the field was loaded with mustard. I had to go out and see what I could do, so I took off my tie and jacket and started pulling. I looked up, and saw that all of these employees had joined in. That vision remains with me.”

This type of wide-based project ownership drives him, Gottfried said, noting that he wants the employees, faculty and community of the institutions he heads to find projects enduring and worthy.

The College for Kids summer program that he instigated at UW-Fond du Lac continues to flourish with community support, and was similarly fruitful at two other institutions he led. Activities that brought the Fond du Lac community to campus proved important during Gottfried’s tenure, he said, as the campus previously had not been viewed as a community resource.

Sensitive to the fact that his arrival in 1987 made him the first campus leader to take office after Dean Willard Henken’s 19-year tenure, Gottfried made a point of involving all employees in analyzing the institution’s strengths and weaknesses as they undertook the then-novel process of strategic planning.

“So often a new leader comes in with new orders,” Gottfried explained. “But the people who have been here know the community better. We wanted to set the direction for the college, but also engage the college community is a dreaming exercise…to emphasize this is not just a paycheck, but you have a major role to play.”

The ensuing “Second Generation Plan” focused on the goals of increased/enhanced academic programs, increased enrollment, improved work environment and increased service to the community. “We implemented most things; they were realistic,” Gottfried said, highlighting that UW-Fond du Lac growth was strongest in the system while also acknowledging that he wasn’t able to see all the desired changes during his Fond du Lac tenure.

Expansion of the campus-based Foundation office led to the start of locally directed fundraising, as a way to supplement state-generated support. Early fundraising solely supported student scholarships.

Even as dean, Gottfried maintained a teaching link to students, leading the first “student success” course in the freshman year experience program, as well as an optional summer study skills workshop. During his tenure, Gottfried also was asked to oversee the prison education program, a separate unit of the former UW-Center system in which area inmates were able to use Pell Grants to take college courses and earn degrees. He worked closely with the wardens and found the program fascinating.

His professional transition from faculty to department administration led Gottfried to Fond du Lac. At the relatively young age of 37, accepting the position of campus dean in the larger UW System felt like the right next step. He didn’t anticipate ill health when he accepted this new challenge, and he refused to let a nearly year-long bout of mononucleosis slow him down. “I was not myself for a year,” he recalled, “but I pushed myself to do that job. I never took a day off.”

Gottfried considers his time in Fond du Lac nearly idyllic on a personal level, as he and his wife raised two young daughters in the quality of Midwestern life. Former Dean Henken became the Gottfried’s neighbor when they coincidentally bought a home on the same street. “He didn’t wander over with suggestions. He’d just wave,” Gottfried chuckled.

After six years at UW-Fond du Lac, new challenges and the opportunity to “go home” to Philadelphia -- including grandparents, aunts and uncles -- led him to accept the chief academic officer post at Montgomery Community College in Pennsylvania in 1993. He served next as president of Sussex County Community College in New Jersey, before joining CSM as its fourth president in 2006.

He also has authored seven books on a variety of aspects of Gettysburg, noting that his personal dedication to learning and studying led him to return to this topic of interest from youth.

“Those six years in Fond du Lac were among the best in my personal and professional life,” Gottfried said. “I learned so much, and wouldn’t be where I am now without my Fond du Lac experience. I would definitely do it again.”

Judy Goldsmith, Campus Dean 1993-2002, 2009-2010

Dean Goldsmith

By Monica M. Walk

Technically, it was a campus renovation. Locally, it is acknowledged as a rebirth.

“It was a dying campus,” confirmed Judy Goldsmith, the dean who spearheaded the transformation at the two-thirds mark of her nine-year tenure at UW-Fond du Lac. “Nothing had been done to keep it up. Our enrollment was down, while others’ (UW Colleges campuses) grew.”

In January 1999, that changed drastically: nearly $13 million was approved for major capital improvements. At 32 years of age, the campus was poised to return to its original position as an institution on the leading edge of education.

The once-fashionable browns and oranges would be lightened and brightened; the noisy heating system silenced; the crowded classrooms eased and enlarged; and the whole campus outfitted with the technology and infrastructure now necessary to prepare students as global thinkers.

Perhaps most significantly, the campus was gaining an additional structure, which would join the existing buildings while providing a new library, theater, music rooms, large group instruction room, book store, and an eating and gathering space. Rising between two existing buildings and joining together all student activity other than physical education, this new building - The University Center - would give the campus a hub, a heart, a connection of people and place.

This campus-altering renovation began with a commitment of $900,000 from the UW System to equip and furnish a much-needed theater. Goldsmith saw the larger possibility. She approached the Fond du Lac County Board - the original funding support, and sponsor of the campus grounds and permanent facilities - with the invitation to analyze the state of the campus.

“We looked at what we had, the condition, the needs…how we were meeting needs,” Goldsmith said. “We worked around the clock for a month to do this. We created a detailed analysis of the problems and needs for the next decade-plus. The preparation involved every single person on campus. It was a real work of art when done."

Buechel brought the analysis into the working committees of the County Board; members then visited campus to view the facility described in the report. As the time for the board to vote on funding drew near, Goldsmith worried: the nearly $13 million figure deemed necessary for renovation loomed large.

“But, they were committed,” she recalled. Public statements were made to the effect that the renovation would be expensive, but lack of care over the years had led to the current deterioration. “The vote was unanimous. It was extraordinary, magical.”

It could be that Goldsmith was the right person to carry the request. With English degrees from UW-Stevens Point and SUNY-Buffalo, she began her career in academia.

Volunteer work for the National Organization for Women (NOW) had bloomed into leadership as national executive vice president (1978-82) and national president (1982-86), where she served as spokesperson and chief administrative officer for the organization - and earned the nickname “The Professor” from reporters in acknowledgement of the complete and grammatically correct quotes she provided. She was, perhaps, uniquely positioned to comfortably talk with legislators about education.

From funding approval to the revamped campus unveiling was a mere 21 months…and in between was a “hellatious mess,” Goldsmith laughed. The campus remained open, and while the movement to accommodate classes and offices was sometimes unsettling, it generally was smooth due to the efforts of business manager Marilyn Krump.

“She was so organized…charts and grids,” Goldsmith recalled, “and unfailingly nice. She also had impeccable taste in furniture and colors, and she saw that all the intricate pieces were put together with minimal disruption.”

The construction, by local and original campus contractor C.D. Smith, was a fascinating process, Goldsmith said: “We would call each other to look out the window at what was happening.”

Spirits rose with the building walls. “I took faculty on a tour through the Commons, so they could see the outlines of the soaring windows,” Goldsmith said, “and I could see the looks on their faces.” Windows - especially the interior windows specified by Bray Associates Architects, offering views of the beautiful campus from hallways and adjoining offices - remain among Goldsmith’s favorite feature: “There was now a sense of openness, of transparency…and so much more sunlight.”

Timing was impeccable for the unveiling of the renovated campus: October 2000, a new academic year in a new millennium.

Much of the celebration made use of the just-completed stage - dancers, musicians, actors, and singers bringing life to the musings Goldsmith had entertained while sitting on unfinished seating tiers, awaiting the theater’s roof.

Giving tours to the public during the dedication week was joyful. “Many had been on campus previously, and their jaws would drop,” Goldsmith reported. “It was all positive comments; mostly ‘I can’t believe this is the same place.’ It was a period of extraordinary euphoria. People smiled all the time.”

Reactions went beyond this emotional response. “Enrollment went through the roof,” Goldsmith said. “People could feel proud to go to school here. The grounds had always been beautiful, but now the science labs were current, there was storage, it was functional. The campus was now the loveliest of the 13 UW Colleges. It was a 21st century educational environment.”

Goldsmith, who retired in 2002 and continues to live in Fond du Lac, said she is reminded of the renovation magic each time she returns to campus. “I never walk through the doors without a thrill,” she said, including her several stints teaching English and Women’s Studies on a part time basis since retiring as Dean.

She currently helps lead the Comprehensive Countywide Diversity Initiative and also serves as an elected member of the Fond du Lac County Board, supporting the community that so remarkably supported the UW-Fond du Lac campus during her tenure.

Leading the college was supposed to be a temporary position for Goldsmith when she accepted an interim appointment in 1993 at the request of then-UW Colleges Chancellor Lee Grugel, upon completing a two-year contract as Special Consultant to the Chancellor for Gender Equity and Affirmative Action at her Steven’s Point alma mater. Instead, she saw the vision of what the campus could be and stayed nine years to make it a reality for the community and thousands of students.

“It was remarkable to have seen the building going up and the work by the subcontractors,” Goldsmith said. “And then, to see it filled with students! To look down in the University Center Commons and see students by the windows with the sun flooding in…reading, relaxing, sleeping on the sofas. The transformation was glorious beyond words.”

One event specifically captured her feelings about the campus and its relationship to the community. The internationally acclaimed Vienna Boys Choir had performed, and people socialized in the Commons after the event. As Goldsmith was leaving for the evening, she held the foyer door for a couple behind her—and continued to hold the door for another 100 to 200 people.

“It was so lovely to stand there and see the looks on their faces,” she said. “They had had a wonderful evening, and were feeling high and happy. It was a really lovely experience, and I floated to my car and came home. That was so worth all of the hard work, all of the frustration, everything that went into the work that it took to renovate, to give new birth to that campus.”

Daniel Blankenship, Campus Dean 2002-2009

Dean Blankenship


Arriving at the UW-Fond du Lac campus in the summer of 2002 on the heels of a $13 million renovation project, Dean Daniel J. Blankenship, Ph.D. was able to sharpen his focus on what was happening inside of the buildings.

“We had a beautiful campus, the much needed renovation was complete and the focus could move towards expansion of our educational offerings, community collaboration and involvement and adding to the academic support environment for our students,” Blankenship recalled.

Moving here from Montana with his wife, Kay, and their two daughters, Blankenship remembers being impressed by the results of the renovation project which transformed an aging institution into what is often referred to as a “jewel” of the community.

“The state-of-the-art classrooms, the Prairie Theater, the University Center with the impressive new Commons area, were poised for the next generations of students,” said Blankenship. “We could concentrate on what happens inside of them. It was much easier to do since the renovation work had been completed.”

To guide the campus forward, Blankenship began by bringing the entire campus community together to formulate a strategic plan in early 2003. “It was important for the campus to tell me what were priorities and create a shared vision for the future. It prepared us for the challenges we faced.”

The resulting plan guided the campus through a time period when it saw strong growth in enrollment while at the same time state support for the UW System declined sharply.

“The budgets certainly make everything more challenging,” notes Blankenship. “Students have been faced with steep increases in tuition as the state now provides about one-third of the cost of each student’s education and the tuition has been increased to make up the balance. This is almost the opposite of the situation just ten years ago when the state support for the UW System covered almost two-thirds of the cost.”

Pointing out that all of these successes are shared, Dean Blankenship recalled several new initiatives that have changed the face of the institution in recent years.

“Several ongoing partnerships have been established in the community through the establishment of a service-learning program” said Blankenship.

Service-learning integrates a community experience into an academic course. Its establishment in Fond du Lac was the result of a joint proposal submitted several years ago in collaboration with the Fond du Lac School District. “This has become an important part of the UW-Fond du Lac experience for students, and the best part is that both the student and the partner organization are benefiting from the experience,” explained Blankenship.

The Dean is proud that returning adult students have more options than ever before to start or complete their bachelor’s degree right at the local campus. “We continue to work with the UW four-year schools to offer bachelor’s degree completions programs through the UW-Fond du Lac campus.”

He says that other important achievements for the campus include the establishment of the Work Zone and most recently the addition of mental health counseling services on campus. “Our goal is to create an academic support environment that is second to none found at other campuses and serve the needs of students.”

Blankenship is also committed to the ensuring that a liberal arts education is the defining position of the UW-Fond du Lac campus. He encourages faculty members to include a statement on the liberal arts in their course syllabi to help students understand the importance of critical thinking and connecting ideas and concepts with real life. “It is what distinguishes us. It is why we place an important emphasis on study abroad opportunities, internships, service-learning opportunities and assessment.”

As the campus celebrates its 40th anniversary year, Blankenship recognizes the importance of the accomplishments of our alumni. “We all feel such a sense of pride when we hear our alumni speak so strongly about their campus experience here. I want everyone to hear these stories. Alumni often say to me that their time here at UW-Fond du Lac was more significant than any other part of their educational experience.”

And, as much as things often change, the primary mission to provide access to educational opportunities for the community is as true today as it was back in 1968. “What has changed is the way this is accomplished,” said Blankenship. “The technology has certainly opened up more and more opportunities for access.”

Each summer, Dean Blankenship returns to Montana where he and Kay still have strong family ties. While there, he often hikes in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, one of the largest wilderness areas in the continental United States. “I really enjoy the wilderness experience, often hiking 100 miles over the course of a few weeks.

A licensed pilot since 2000 with his own plane, Blankenship did his ground school training in college and then says he really didn’t do anything else for about 20 years. Then one day, “A friend had a plane and said ‘I’ll teach you how to fly,’” Blankenship laughed.

Over four decades, each of the campus deans brought their personal strengths to the campus and moved it forward.

From Dean Henken’s vision of how a local University of Wisconsin could positively impact the community, to Dean Gottfried’s commitment to expand community outreach and improve the green spaces surrounding the campus, to Dean Goldsmith’s dedication to see the campus rebuilt and become a real jewel in the community, Dean Blankenship has worked to see the campus fully engaged and alive with activities and opportunities for students and the community.

Legacy Stories

Scholarship investment returns life-long benefits

Long-time UW-Fond du Lac supporter and scholarship donor Harold LaShay died Feb. 2, 2009. The campus community will miss his dedication and personal presence. 

The scholarship provided the gift of education. The benefactors’ friendship made life truly rich.

Rebecca Jones Mueller was delighted to receive the UW-Fond du Lac Foundation LaShay Scholarship to support her studies in 1996-97. Eleven years later, she relishes her ongoing relationship with donors Charmaine and Harold (Danny) LaShay.

LaShay scholarship recipient“I never realized how unique our relationship is,” Mueller said thoughtfully, recalling how the friendship began with a thank you note, grew into notes about classes and holiday cards, and blossomed at her graduation from UW-Oshkosh in 2001. “I was standing in a crowded gym, surrounded by hundreds of people, and I heard my name. I looked up to see Charmaine and Harold. I think it was at that moment I realized just how special our relationship was.”

The LaShays have since attended her wedding, baby shower, and numerous holiday gatherings. “They have come to everything I have ever invited them to, no matter how far,” Mueller marveled. Monthly correspondence cements their bond; Charmaine LaShay carries photos of the Mueller children like a proud grandmother.

“They are almost like grandparents,” Mueller said. “The relationship is special because Charmaine reciprocated. She wrote back. We have the same interests and values.”

Mueller’s time at UW-Fond du Lac provided considerable life enrichment in addition to the LaShays. She met her husband, John, while participating in campus activities. And, most importantly, she came into her own.

“I was so shy and reserved. Thank goodness my parents steered me to UW-Fond du Lac,” she said of the campus she initially dismissed as a “fall-back school.” While she was accepted at three four-year colleges, she enrolled at UW-Fond du Lac at her parents’ urging. Her time on campus included several student leadership roles and work study employment in the dean’s office.

“I totally thrived at UW-Fond du Lac,” she said. “I really felt part of the campus: I knew the staff and the teachers. It was a confidence booster. Then, I was ready for a bigger campus. I am such a big proponent of the campus, and I tell everyone.”