BY TIMI ECKES
From Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond
When meeting Sally Fitzpatrick for the first time, her outgoing nature and her enthusiasm for what she does are immediately apparent.
Sally has positive influence on young women’s lives because she chairs the scholarship committee of the Northwoods branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She is a firm believer in the ability of education to empower women and girls, and her suggestion to meet at the Minocqua Public Library for an interview seems fitting.
It soon becomes apparent that Sally’s work with AAUW is a great source of satisfaction for the former fourth grade teacher who says she enjoys helping to open the door for others to advance their educations. And, she adds, “I really enjoy the group of women we have. It’s fun and enlightening.”
Her work with AAUW is part of a larger mission to empower girls and women. Whether in high income or low income nations, that empowerment has an impact on societies as a whole. Women with access to education and the means to make a viable living have more impact in many areas: the economy, improved health, increased leadership roles and increased influence on policy decisions, to name a few. Sally’s involvement in AAUW has its roots in her early life.
“My mother always belonged,” says Sally, who was born in Wisconsin and lived in Iowa before buying a home in Lac du Flambeau some 25 years ago. After she retired in 2006, she became more involved in the Northwoods branch of AAUW.
“I’ve been their scholarship chair for five or six years now,” Sally says. “I have a good committee,” she adds, noting the names of scholarship committee members Sue Damske, Karin Long, Flo Erickson, Mary Ticknor and Faye Calvey.
Those scholarships are only part of what the Northwoods branch of AAUW does. The group supports a variety of area organizations, among them Girls on the Run, an organization that helps young girls build confidence; the Literacy Task Force of Northern Wisconsin, which raises public awareness of reading difficulties and trains volunteer tutors; the Nicolet College Foundation; and the Northern Arts Council.
The Northwoods branch of AAUW has about 60 members, Sally says, and the group meets regularly at restaurants, libraries and in members’ homes in various communities around the area. To finance scholarships and other projects, the branch holds sales at Trig’s brat stand, as well as bake sales, the Elves’ Market, a card party, a pecan sale and used book sales. Members stay busy raising funds and working to empower girls and women.
“Education is such a key for that,” Sally says. “Our focus is getting alternative students back in school.”
The Northwoods branch presents scholarships every year through the Nicolet College Foundation and awarded $3,850 in scholarships in 2017. The scholarships are awarded to women pursuing careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM fields (which includes the arts). These are fields that provide viable occupations, but in which women have traditionally been underrepresented. Scholarship applicants, Sally notes, must carry a minimum of nine credits.
The Northwoods branch of AAUW awards scholarships through the Nicolet College Foundation each spring. This year’s recipients are invited to attend a banquet May 7 at Chef Rene’s at Timber Ridge in Minocqua, at which time they will tell AAUW members about their year and their future plans.
Mentoring – sharing expertise, offering encouragement and constructive advice, and connecting those being mentored with one’s own network – is yet another way in which the members of the Northwoods branch work to make brighter futures for young women.
“We started the mentoring program a couple of years ago,” Sally says, noting that “people really stepped up” for the program. Several Northwoods chapter members – Barb Bratcher, Louise Schotz, Peggy Steber, Janey Libby and Mary Ticknor – are this year’s mentors.
The AAUW has a long history. Founded originally as the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (ACA) in 1881, AAUW’s mission is to advance “equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research.”
In 1920, according to the AAUW website, ACA members were among those who contributed to Marie Curie’s purchase of a gram of radium so she could continue important research on radioactivity. In 1956, the organization also gave a marine biologist and author an AAUW Achievement Award, which she used to fund the studies for a book she was writing. That author was Rachel Carson, and the book was “Silent Spring,” published in 1962. The book became a cornerstone of the environmental movement.
Today, the AAUW has a broad reach nationally and globally. The organization provides leadership development opportunities to its members, hosts workshops that teach women how to successfully negotiate their salaries and benefits, and advocates for policies that empower women and girls.
AAUW also has a legal advocacy fund to help support women fighting sex discrimination in higher education and in the workplace.
The organization’s work influences the lives of both women and men. For example, the AAUW Lobby Corps advocated for passage of the Family Medical Leave Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993. The organization also has Permanent Observer status at the United Nations. The AAUW has undergone significant changes over the years and has become more inclusive.
Originally, AAUW offered membership only to women who had earned college degrees. In 1987, AAUW voted to extend membership to male college graduates. The organization also extended membership to those who hold associate or equivalent degrees in 2005. Today, AAUW has 170,000 members and supporters.
As for the Northwoods branch of AAUW, Sally says members would like to see more working people join their ranks, but she’s well aware that holding down a job and caring for a family can leave precious little time for involvement with an organization. Still, “We would welcome their membership, their ideas, their input,” she says. “Anything that can help women break that glass ceiling, get their foot in the door. We’re all in this to help young women.”
The Northwoods branch of AAUW meets the first Monday of the month to hear a speaker talk about a selected topic. The group’s book club meets the third Monday of the month. For more information, visit aauw-wi.aauw.net/membership/branches/rhinelander-northwoods/.