Betty Quadracci would not have appreciated seeing herself on the cover of this magazine, her magazine. In fact, she insisted that her editors and writers comply with an iron-clad rule: Never write about its publisher – Betty – or its parent company, Quad/Graphics.
As you can see, we have suspended that rule this month. Whether or not Betty would approve cannot be known. She is no longer here to say. Betty died at home amid the warmth of her assembled family on Dec. 9, 2013.
Betty Quadracci was a force of nature. She overcame childhood polio and, with a fierce resolve, went on to accomplish great things in her 75 years.
She taught impoverished schoolchildren in South Carolina and helped start a Montessori school in Waukesha. With her husband, Harry, she co-founded Quad/Graphics, a Wisconsin-based print company now with 25,000 employees worldwide. She funded arts groups and advocacy groups and schools, and with Harry, kicked off fundraising for a dazzling addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum.
And she ran this magazine for 30 years.
A friend of many and the mother of four – Richard, Kathryn, Joel and Elizabeth – Betty was the straw that stirred the drink, the inspiration that propelled others to do more than they ever imagined.
In the following pages, the staff of Milwaukee Magazine presents a medley of essays, anecdotes and celebrations collected from Betty’s family, friends and colleagues, who recall times shared and lessons learned.
BROTHERS & SISTERS
Tom Ewens, oldest of Betty Quadracci’s five siblings
“I had polio the same time Betty had polio. I was 11; she would’ve been 6. Betty went through a terrible epidemic. She was in Milwaukee Children’s Quarantine Hospital for three weeks.
“When Betty went in, Mother was very worried. She had a couple-month’s-old child at home. Our sister Jane was just born. It was at the end of summer, and Mother left the baby with me, and she went to the hospital. My mother’s brother, who was a doctor, came over. He checked my throat and said, ‘You have to go to the hospital, too.’
“The pastor came to the hospital and led the family in prayer in Betty’s room. Betty was gulping for air. The nurse gave her water all night to keep her throat open.
“She had the bulbar type of polio, the most serious kind. I had paralytic polio. I had a very mild case. I was a little bit paralyzed but didn’t suffer much afterward. I was able to go back to school after three months. Betty was seriously affected in her legs. She was in casts after having surgery. She had braces on her legs in second grade, and a brace on her neck, too. She lost a year in school. But she would not give in. I remember she took up horseback riding after one of her foot operations. But she couldn’t do anything else. Not even walk.”
-as told to Kurt Chandler
by Jane Ewens, Betty’s youngest sibling
It is eight days after Betty’s death and eight days before Christmas. We had our what-do-you-want-for-Christmas conversation a few weeks ago, and it went the way it has gone for the past 25 years. She always wants a horse. (Harry did ride one to her door one Christmas morning.) Christmas required us to have this conversation, but we knew we would be getting exactly the same presents every year. No horse. My gift to Betty is a stack of books, each one topped with a note that, if you know our history, explains the book choice.
We’ve celebrated Betty’s life and thrown the funeral party she ordered. The private grief is setting in, and I’m finding some comfort sitting here with her stack of unread books.
This won’t be the first year that the books go unread. But that is not important. A new book promises a certain kind of future, a space with time to sit alone and start the story. As one of six children (four girls, two boys) in a chaotic household, we created personal hideaways for reading. We claimed our space and barricaded it with our stack of library books. If it was Christmas or a birthday, the stack was marked clearly with our own new book, the perennial gift from our Aunt Utz.
Betty and I shared a bedroom until enough older siblings left for college. Because I was six years younger, she got the bookshelf, which served to shelter her hideaway from mine. It was small, but big enough to house her Little Colonel, Bobbsey Twins and Marguerite Henry collections, along with the rest of her possessions. Decades later, when we were contemplating the purchase of something we didn’t need, we would ask, “But will it fit on the bookshelf?”
Betty died in her current version of her reading hideaway. It has a beautiful desk cluttered with her ragged notebooks, a whole wall of shelves and stacks of books that don’t have to be returned to the library. It is warm and peaceful and not very different in spirit from our childhood havens. The promise of the unread books is an old story. Betty was too engaged in living – and recently, in the physical struggles to get to the living part – to devote much time to that solitary reading space. But she loved the idea of it. In her stack this year is the thick novel by an author who publishes a book every 10 years. It has a beautiful bird on its fine paper cover. The note says, “For Betty from Utz.”
As usual, there is a new how-to-raise-perfect-children book in Betty’s stack. These manuals are challenging, partly because we don’t have perfect children, and partly because they describe parenting styles so different from what we experienced. Our mother lost her mother when she was 10 years old; our father was working to help support his family by the time he was 13. They were warm and present, but they didn’t spend much time worrying about our welfare. They simply assumed we would be good in school, come home when it was time, be kind to others. None of us have any memory of their attending a parent-teacher conference or a school performance, although we do remember phone calls when our oldest brother would be suspended from Marquette High School and have to memorize Greek as a punishment. (He’s the one who became a psychoanalyst.) The only explicit rules were about daily family dinners. We rotated through five jobs - setting and clearing the table, washing, drying and putting dishes away.
When the girls started dating, the boys were required to come in the house to be interviewed by our father, but we had no curfews or groundings or threats of loss of privileges. For the most part, this laissez-faire style worked. We became trustworthy because they trusted us. Our problem was that most of our friends had normal parents who told them when to be home, and where they could go, and what they would lose by disobeying. So, to be part of the crowd, we took to making up curfews and parental threats.
It didn’t take long before we realized how useful this was in many social situations. I remember Betty arriving home very early from a date (with the person she eventually married). It was one of the great learning moments of my teen years when she explained, “If you aren’t having fun and want to go home, just say your parents want you home by 8 or you’ll be grounded.” So, “I have to be home by 8” became code for wanting to leave whatever event was going too long. Just a few months ago, I had driven Betty to a social event, and I heard her say to the rest of the table, “I’d love to stay, but Jane has to be home by 8.”
Children raised in Catholic schools often develop ingenious ways to parody the system. We all played “Confession” and “Stations of the Cross,” and in adulthood are overrepresented among those dressing as nuns and bishops on Halloween. Betty’s years of fighting through post-polio operations left us with a unique opportunity for invention. By her teen years, she was able to run and swim and ride horses, but all her pairs of discarded crutches were still in the garage, begging to be used as props.
“Let’s Play Miracle” was our best creation. It required summertime (in a cottage near Holy Hill, the reputed setting for many miracle cures for the severely crippled), a sibling with a driver’s license, and parents who had gone out and left the oldest sibling in charge. We’d load a pair of crutches for everyone and wind through the back roads to the Holy Hill church. We would all enter the church on crutches, stand silently in the aisle, then on cue throw all the crutches in the air and run from the church, shouting, “It’s a miracle; I can walk!” We would laugh all the way home. No one loved the game more than Betty. The church was always close to empty when we played miracle; only once were we scolded by one of the hooded Carmelite monks who caught up to us before we drove away.
One of those books that reports back to earth from heaven is in Betty’s stack this year. The note says, “Let’s Play Miracle.”
Mary Ewens, second-oldest sibling and a Dominican nun
After high school, Betty attended Trinity College in Washington, D.C. In her junior year, 1959-60, she studied abroad in Fribourg, Switzerland, in a program run by Rosary College. At the student residence, Betty’s housemother was Mary Daly, who would go on to become a well-known feminist theologian and write the groundbreaking book The Church and the Second Sex.
“I’m sure she was a strong influence on Betty in terms of women’s rights and equality,” says Mary Ewens. After graduating from Trinity, Betty and the future wife of her brother, Tom, taught impoverished schoolchildren in Charleston, S.C.
Years later, as Betty became active on the board of the Milwaukee Art Museum, she and her friend Barbara Brown Lee, chief educator at MAM, toured Europe with Mary in search of great art. Mary, at the time, was stationed in Rome.
“One spring, we visited a friend of mine, who’s a Trappistine nun in Wales,” says Mary. “We were in Cardiff looking for a restaurant. We wanted a charming pub but couldn’t find one. On our way back to England, our driver a made a wrong turn, and we came upon the ruins of Tintern Abbey, which the poet Wordsworth made famous. And then we came upon this perfect ancient pub. It had been advertised for years as the best in England.”
-by Kurt Chandler
In the Thick of It
by Jim Ewens, youngest brother
Betty had tremendous drive, ambition. She wanted to make a difference in the world, peoples’ lives: one on one, groups, boards of directors, not willing to take no for an answer on many topics. She was strong in challenging major players in the city, through the magazine or directly. She enjoyed the battle.
I went with her to hear a speaker this spring at an event sponsored by Nativity Jesuit Middle School. At the end, they had an impromptu fundraiser, asking if anyone would lead it off by contributing at the $10,000 level. A hush came over the crowd, and then a hand went up and a voice rang out, “I will.” It was Betty, who had never supported the school before this.
Betty faced large challenges throughout her life, but especially in the last few years, when she was confined to a motorized wheelchair and on continuous oxygen. But even these didn’t stop her from going out in her van to meetings at Quad, the magazine, the Milwaukee Art Museum, parties. She made the most of every day, every week, never complaining about her pain, other limitations. She also lobbied heavily on behalf of handicap accessibility for public buildings, offering to pay for remodeling at a North Lake tavern so she could go there to eat.
In the last three years, occasional red flags slowed her down: bad colds, pneumonia, etc. These were warnings that her body was wearing down. This was heightened in the fall when, somehow, she seemed to sense her life was nearing an end. She began making a list of things to complete: medical power of attorney, a will, choosing songs (and singers) for her funeral.
Betty was very diligent about deepening her Catholic faith, learning more about Scripture, reading the latest theologians. She was part of a prayer/study group she organized called The Emmaus Group. They read books, prayed together and wrote some protest letters: to Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York and to Pope Francis. In September, at her encouragement, we read Proof of Heaven, a book by a neurosurgeon who was in a coma for a week and had vivid experiences of being in heaven.
Betty was no saint. She could, at times, (like many of her siblings) be stubborn, controlling, opinionated. She had strong opinions on what to eat, where to shop, how to dress, what kind of a dinner table to have (round, so people could share in good conversations). But, always, she was willing to challenge, engage, explore, defend. Overcoming polio at an early age made her, necessarily, a survivor and a fighter. Rather than the “slow down, rest” that her parents often said to her, she would press forward, work harder than everyone else, to show that she was equal to all the challenges that life brought her.
Final thoughts: I visited Betty on Saturday, Dec. 7. She wasn’t sitting at her desk in the kitchen when I arrived, so I asked her caretaker, Fadia, if she was resting. She said (I thought), “No, she’s on the potty.” That sounded strange, so I repeated my question back to her, and Fadia corrected me in her New York accent: ‘She’s at a party.’ She had slipped out at 11 a.m. and returned at 4:30 p.m. When I asked Betty why she went so far away for so long, she said, ‘Why not? We do it every year for Christmas at the Milwaukee Country Club.’ She was very tired, and I told her to go to bed… She died two days later, as she wished, at home, in her bed, with her children and siblings present, without a ventilator or other high-tech equipment, waking up once, after her children arrived in the middle of the night, to say, “It is finished. I am dying.” An amazing completion to a life lived fully, with steadfastness and determination, right to the end.
Friends & Travelers
Treasures of the World
Barbara Brown Lee, longtime friend of Betty’s
Betty and Barbara Brown Lee were best of friends for most of a lifetime, and for most of Barbara’s 50-year career at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where she recently retired as chief educator. Their relationship, though not exclusively born of art, blossomed around a shared love of it.
“It wasn’t just a specific type of art,” Brown Lee says. “She wanted to see the treasures of the world.”
And so, on study tours through MAM exhibitions and throughout Europe, often taken with Betty’s sister Mary Ewens, Barbara played the role of tour and treasure guide. In 2006, on what would be their last trip to France together, the quest led Barbara, Betty and Mary to Monet’s Water Lilies.
“She had always heard about it, but she’d never gone to see it,” Brown Lee says. “This was a must.” The massive murals float in Paris’ Musée de l’Orangerie, suspended in the midst of a stark white oval. “When you go in there,” she says, “it’s like a chapel. There are people sobbing.”
Betty did not shed tears, but was awestruck nonetheless, a reaction reinforced the next day when they visited the Giverny gardens where Monet painted the impressionist masterpieces. As for the artwork itself, Brown Lee recalls, “She just kept saying, ‘It’s so beautiful. How did he do this?’ She just couldn’t get over it.”
-by Howie Magner
“Sit down, Harry!”
Maureen Gutenkunst, Betty’s first cousin and a member of a women’s book club with Betty
About once a year, the women in the book club invited their husbands to join them at the meeting.
“We were all gathered [at the Quadraccis’ home] at tables before dinner. We were all seated, but we never sat with our own husbands. We sat in different areas with different people to talk about different questions that Betty would propose.
“Once we were seated, Harry, always the perfect host, would stand up and say, ‘I want to greet you all. This is our 23rd annual book club dinner,’ and once he would start to greet us, Betty would stand up and say, ‘Sit down, Harry! This is my book club!’”
-as told to Claire Hanan
The Shores of Pine Lake
John Gehl, close family friend, longtime chairman of Gehl Foods
John Gehl’s kids grew up playing with Betty’s kids. For decades, they’d driven the same streets and shared the shores of their Pine Lake community.
He’s convinced there’s no such thing as a Pine Lake resident who’s never received a Quadracci party invitation. “Especially if you were a newcomer, you were invited. Guaranteed,” Gehl says. “Betty’s mindset was to bring people together. Her focus always was the community, and particularly the people who might feel uncomfortable.”
In Milwaukee, he says, her legacy will be linked to businesses and philanthropy. But in Pine Lake, it will be of a more personal nature. “Out here, the difference is that they were neighbors. They were one of us. She was on a pedestal, but she didn’t see herself that way, she didn’t act that way, she never made you feel that way.
“She was just like the rest of us, except the way she operated was different than the rest of us, and that’s her legacy,” Gehl says. “That’s what we lost when she died.
“When they write the history of Lake Country from 1970 to 2013, it’s going to be known as the Quadracci Era. They had such a huge impact on everybody that lived around here. When Betty died, everybody felt this loss, that it would no longer be the same.”
-by Howie Magner
Diane Wittenberg, Betty’s friend of some 30 years, part of a friends’ group called the Friday Ladies
“I have gone to the [Quadracci’s home in the] Dominican Republic many times – first for a few of Harry’s big and legendary parties – then to visit Betty. I remember her 60th birthday in the DR. About six couples were there. We sent the men away one night and had a ‘goddess’ party for Betty. Like, rekindling the ‘goddess within.’ One of her old friends had a ritual. She had us in a circle in the den. We burned incense and recited spiritual strength incantations. We had sticks to wave around. It was great fun.
“[Early January] was the usual time I went to visit Betty in the DR over the past five or six years. The DR overall and the Quad house in particular is nothing if not languorous. But Betty didn’t let us drift, and always insisted on a bit of a ‘salon’ or book club. The three or four of us who were there would have read a few assigned books earlier and discuss them together. We read poems aloud at dinner, too. That was also an assignment…
“Betty is the type who will peek through and fly by at various unexpected moments for the rest of my life, I’m sure. And I’ll be looking for her as she flits by, because I really miss her.”
-as told to Ann Christenson
The Friday Ladies
Diane Buck, art fundraiser and activist
“Back in the 1970s, when our children were young, a group of neighbors in Shorewood [where the Quadracci family had lived] began to meet after the children had lunch and returned to Atwater School. We met on Fridays for lunch at a restaurant near North Avenue called Century Hall. We became eight women known as the Friday Ladies. Over salads, we would kibitz about children, families, life. After Century Hall burned down, we moved our Friday lunches to Snug’s in the Shorecrest Hotel on Prospect Avenue, and supposedly it had connections to the mafia. And we liked that. We found that attractive. It was a spot that kind of worried our husbands, Harry included.”
-as told to Claire Hanan
by Barbara Manger, visual artist and author
“Let’s go see The Gates,” Betty said with a big smile.
Betty’s great passion for art had motivated her to see Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s enormous and controversial site-specific work in Central Park. My husband, Bill, and I could not dismiss her enthusiasm.
“Why not?” we said. Two weeks later, we were in New York.
Betty planned to try out the three-wheeled, battery-powered mobility scooter she had previously driven around the vast Quad/Graphics plant, but not elsewhere. In Betty’s fashion, she was determined to start big – on the streets of Manhattan.
Bill and I stood on the curb of Madison Avenue while the driver lifted the scooter from the trunk of the car. Not certain what our role would be, we stood by as Betty sat down on the little vehicle, carefully arranged her purse in the carrying basket, turned the key to start the motor, and then said something like, “Here I go.” She lurched, then zoomed at full speed up Madison Avenue. Startled and motionless, we suddenly realized our role was to try to keep up with her. She carved a slim swath through the pedestrians, and we followed in a spontaneous procession, puffing, nearly running to keep her in view.
Like a kid on her first skateboard, she was suddenly free and fast, celebrating an escape from the confinement of her physical limitations.
Once in Central Park, she slowed so the three of us could pass together under Japanese-like gates that spanned 23 miles. From each of the gates hung saffron-
yellow nylon fabric rippling in the light wind, the intense color a brilliant counterpoint to the stark February landscape and bare-branched trees.
Betty was bold and courageous. This was how she traveled the face of the earth. The rest of us tried to keep pace.
To the Rescue
Mary Kamps, a friend of Betty’s since grade school at St. Robert in Shorewood
In the early 1980s, Mary Kamps and Sally Tolan taught English at UW-Milwaukee. In December of 1982, Milwaukee Magazine was in serious financial trouble.
“Sally and I had heard that the lights were still on at the magazine, and they hadn’t pulled the plug. We got a few people together, and I put out the word to Betty. … Harry and Betty were conversing through this whole thing. They were writing things down. And it was clear they were going to buy the thing single-handedly.
“Sally and I were English teachers, and Sally said to me once, ‘Oh, Mary, if we had run the magazine, it would have been fusty. The fact that Betty and Harry ran it made it feisty.’
“Betty also became part of a group that was forming – Preserve Our Parks. My husband, Charlie, and I asked Betty. She was one of the powers that be. And she wasn’t afraid to be on an advocacy group.
“Betty almost lost her life when she was a child, and so she grabbed on to life fiercely after that. She loved people, loved her work, loved to be at the center of things. Loved giving her resources away. An incredibly vibrant, courageous person.”
-as told to Kurt Chandler
COLLEAGUES & CRONIES AT MIL MAG
Meet the New Boss
by Sharon Nelson, art director, 1981-2005. Today, associate creative director at Reader’s Digest Milwaukee.
Shortly after Quad/Graphics bought Milwaukee Magazine, Betty came on to work in our office. Up to that time, I had taken direction from the editor, with whom I worked collaboratively on the magazine page by page.
Betty and I saw things differently. She soon made it abundantly clear that she was now in charge, and I’d better get used to taking direction from her, since her signature was on my paycheck. Years later, we fondly remembered that incident as her “hitting me over the head with a hammer.”
At her core, Betty was a strong advocate for women succeeding in business. I worked for her for nearly 25 years. She gave me a chance to learn how to be an award-winning publication designer on her dime – and to push the envelope and take risks. For that, I will always be grateful.
Battle with the Best
by Linda Lundeen, hired as an advertising sales representative in 1990; promoted to sales manager in 1995 and associate publisher in 2008. Today, publisher of Milwaukee Magazine.
I was young and ambitious and had a lot to learn from Betty. In the early years, I would wait outside her office, sometimes until 7 p.m., to give a daily wrapup report on clients and proposals.
I dreaded those Betty meetings. She had questions I rarely had answers to, no matter how prepared I thought I was. The questions would come fast and furious while she took copious notes in her ever-present blue notebook. After becoming impatient with my lack of answers, she would simply pick up the phone and find the answers herself. “See, that wasn’t so hard,” she would say to me, smiling.
In nearly 24 years of working for her, I came to appreciate Betty as a fearless leader who was never hesitant to speak her mind. Sharp and on point, she could battle with the best – boards of directors, executive directors, political leaders – all with the utmost integrity. She was a true champion, triumphant in her many causes. She was my mentor, confidante and inspiration.
Facing Life Head-on
by John Fennell, editor, 1992-2005. Today, professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Sitting at a table on the deck of her Pine Lake home, my tape recorder waiting, Betty appeared anxious, even apprehensive. It was late spring 2004, and I had completed most of the interviews for Ready, Fire, Aim, the book she had commissioned me to write about Harry, her spouse and business partner. Just beyond the trees, a few hundred yards from where we sat, Delafield police officers on July 29, 2002, had discovered Harry’s body under the pier jutting from the shore.
The past two years, understandably, had been difficult for Betty, and she kept delaying the interviews I needed to create a fuller picture of the man. Naturally vivacious, she had created a protective shell over the years as Quad/Graphics grew, as the magazine matured and as demands upon her increased. Married to the mercurial, unpredictable Harry, Betty was thrust into a public role, and she grew cautious. Yet she was resolute to see the book through, to leave a truthful record of the man and the company she helped him build.
That spring day in a long, emotionally draining session, she recalled her life from childhood until Harry’s accidental drowning. She helped me understand the man and, in doing so, I better understood her and the relentless determination with which she lived life.
Our childhoods shape us, and Betty refused to allow the polio she contracted to limit her. Don’t leave her out. Ever! She needed – demanded – to be a part of everything. And don’t underestimate her! She loved her controlling spouse, but stood up to him. She raised four children, always placing them first. Searching for a role in Quad’s fast-growing empire, she talked Harry into buying this magazine. Aware of her limitations and without experience as a journalist or publisher, she forged on, learning by her mistakes. With legendary Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham as a model, she gave editors free reign to undertake challenging, controversial stories that earned enmity and accolades. She and her editors challenged the city and its leaders to do more, to be better.
What I witnessed in Betty that day was her resolve – despite doubt, despite fear – to face life in all of its challenges, joys and tragedies. She wept when explaining how angry she became when family members tried to prevent her from going to the pier to see Harry’s body that awful day two years before. “This is my husband. You have no right,” she screamed at them. “Get out of my way. I am going down to the pier. … This is my tragedy. You have to understand, I have to go.” And go she did, with candles and prayers until she felt Harry’s spirit slip away.
She faced life head-on, even in grief. And then she marched into new, more difficult challenges.
Betty enjoyed many advantages, but unlike many others, she used those advantages to better the city she loved. Her most enduring trait was her humanity. Betty’s gift to me and to many others – what she may have hoped to receive in turn – was that she believed in us, gave us a sense of freedom to develop whatever talents we might have, then supported us if we faltered.
Betty’s life demonstrates that beyond advantages and despite obstacles, one life, lived large and passionately, can be a powerful force for the greater good.
Women and Power
by Mary Van de Kamp Nohl, contributing editor, 1984-85; senior editor, 1986-2010. Today, an independent journalist.
In the 26 years that I worked for Betty Q., there were only a handful of articles I wrote that she asked to read before they went to press. One of them was a 2002 cover story, “Women and Power.”
Betty would ask for regular updates. I couldn’t pass her in the ladies room without giving her a briefing. (This, she said, was like the guys who planned strategies in the men’s room.) When I told her that our survey showed that most male CEOs in town couldn’t name even four powerful local women when asked to name 10 (and that most of the CEOs then included the name of philanthropist Jane Pettit, who had been dead for months), Betty nodded knowingly.
When “Women and Power” hit the newsstands, the reaction proved Betty right. We attended the YWCA’s annual fundraiser together, and with more than 600 people present, we could barely make our way to our table. Woman after woman threw their arms around us, thanking us for the story. They told us we had finally put in writing the obstacles and inequality they had encountered for years.
Betty could have been smug and satisfied, but she wasn’t. There was more work to be done. She helped found a group called Milwaukee Women inc. to keep tabs on the progress of women in Wisconsin’s C-suites and shine a light on companies that didn’t “get it.” She said she didn’t want her daughters and granddaughters to have to fight the same battles she did.
by Bruce Murphy, senior editor, 1986-98; editor, 2005-12. Today, editor of Urban Milwaukee.
Betty Quadracci and Bud Selig were fellow art lovers who both supported the Milwaukee Art Museum and knew each other. And so, in April 1996, when I did a story questioning a proposed subsidy of a new stadium for Selig’s Milwaukee Brewers, and argued it should be built Downtown, Bud called Betty to complain. It was a cover story with the headline, “Take a hike, Bud!” and pictured Selig and his stadium being kicked to a Downtown location. Betty had seen the cover ahead of time, and it had just the sort of tone – “sassy,” as she would put it – that tickled her.
Betty took notes on the call from Selig – a man known for his tenacity – and later went through his objections point by point, and I answered each to her satisfaction. That was her only concern: accuracy. In response to the high interest from readers, we stayed on the issue, and I did two more stories that year on the Brewers’ finances. By then, I also had Harry Quadracci rooting me on and leaking information, to Betty’s delight. Both felt the issue was crucial for the community.
Yet, the Quadraccis and Seligs worked together just a few years later as donors to the art museum’s Calatrava addition. And in 2006, when I was editor of this magazine, I had the idea of doing a story on the four friends who roomed together at the Jewish fraternity at UW-Madison in the 1950s: Selig, Herb Kohl, Steve Marcus and Frank Gimbel, a quartet that has had an immense impact on this city. Kurt Chandler wrote the story, and it was filled with warmth, humor and humanity.
Selig loved the story. So did Betty.
Stir it Up
by Tom Bamberger, freelance writer and photographer since 1984. Today, a Milwaukee-based photographer, visual artist and writer.
When Betty and I crossed paths over the last 30 years, she invariably brought up the last “controversial” thing I wrote – and always with a wink and a twinkle in her eye. It didn’t matter that it upset her cohorts. I think she enjoyed that. She was a natural skeptic who was suspicious of appearances, pretense and anyone who thought they had the answer. Betty had radar for the frailty of knowledge. If something seemed absolutely right, then there had to be something wrong with it.
The funny thing about Betty is, I have no memory of her agreeing or disagreeing with me about anything. That wasn’t the point. She took notes instead of stands. Betty believed in the process. She loved stirring things up.
That was more than enough for me. We all benefited from a distinctive woman with the courage and conviction to make people think.
The Late Shift
by Jim Romenesko, senior editor, 1982-95. Now, the editor of JimRomenesko.com.
A few things I recall about Betty:
She was open to new ideas… In 1987, I suggested to her that Quad/Graphics-Milwaukee Magazine launch a weekly newspaper to compete against the Shepherd Express. She liked the idea and got the project rolling. She had a Quad accountant draw up a business plan, we got an art director to come up with a prototype, and I came up with a staff list. She was as excited about the project as I was. But then, on Oct. 19, 1987, the stock market crashed. The next morning, she called me into her office and sadly announced that we couldn’t go ahead with the newspaper; the company had lost nearly 25 percent of its value in a single day, she noted.
She encouraged entrepreneurship… A few years after the stock market crash ruined our weekly plans, I decided to publish my own small paper, called The Public Record. She encouraged me, and let me use Milwaukee Magazine resources – printers, computers, etc. – to put the paper out every other week as a personal side project.
She worked very hard… I worked on my little paper after everyone else left the Mil Mag office – everyone but Betty. She was often in her office until midnight – after getting to work around 9 a.m. – which amazed me.
And finally… She loved hamburgers. Our magazine field trips were to Solly’s. She always bought.
Tough as Nails
by Cristina Daglas, assistant editor, 2009-11; managing editor, 2011-12; editor, 2012-13. Now, editor of D Magazine in Dallas.
Before I went into my interview with Betty, I was warned with two words: She’s tough. Those were followed by a few more: She can be extra-tough on women.
Lovely. Just lovely.
I bought my plane ticket, flew in from New York, drove up from Chicago, studied the magazine and tried to dress professionally. When I arrived at the office, Betty was en route. Soon enough, I saw the woman-to-be-feared roll in.
When I was ushered into her office, I sat up as straight as I knew how and prepared for the “witch” to speak. Well, that witch never surfaced, but one tough-as-nails woman did. She ran through my resumé, line by line, hurling rapid-fire questions, writing detailed notes in the margins and in that signature notebook of hers – she was always taking notes.
I sweated through that interview, literally, but by the end, she had offered me the job.
I would sweat in BQ’s presence several more times over the next four years, but I never saw the witch, or the woman who was tough on women. The Betty I knew was a woman who was passionate about that magazine, passionate about journalism, and passionate about innovating until the day she died. A woman to be admired. A woman who would take chances on a young, young journalist, despite what the rest of the city would think.
In the end, that warning was right. She was tough. And I loved her for it.
Out of the Frying Pan
by Willard Romantini, dining critic, 1981-96. Now, an instructor at ITT Technical Institute.
My 14 years of reviewing restaurants under the flag of Betty Quadracci were always an adventure. Attempting to balance the fine line of credibility without alienating big advertisers was like walking a high-wire without a net. Betty was all for truth-telling, but also needed to keep her eye on the mag’s bottom line.
Of course, eating well on a generous expense account is quite the enviable gig, but as I grew in my appreciation of the joy of a fine meal, I also was reminded of where my complimentary bread received its butter. And there was one particularly memorable time when I was sent to the naughty corner.
Fleur de Lis was a pricey restaurant in Downtown’s Cudahy Tower, just a few floors down from the Quadracci’s penthouse. At the time, the tower and restaurant were owned and operated by Betty and Harry’s landlord, philanthropist Michael Cudahy. My less-than-complimentary restaurant review had a chance of slipping under the Betty radar had it not been for an editor who chose to splash a “Fleur de Less” headline across the pages. In short order, I was summoned to a meeting with Mr. Cudahy and Betty.
It was scary, indeed. Did my job hang in the balance? Did I stand firm for journalistic integrity or cave in to the power of the corporate bottom line?
Gathering my courage, I challenged Cudahy to either fully invest in the daily operation of the restaurant or find some true restaurant heroes to take over the space. Our moment of truth found common ground as my reprimand was abated, and I survived to eat and write another day – and another decade.
FANS & ALLIES
Inspiration on a Post-it note
Russell Bowman, Milwaukee Art Museum director, 1985-2002
Early in the planning process that culminated with building the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Calatrava addition, then-director Russell Bowman asked board of trustees members to bring ideas they thought were essential to the museum’s mission – and its physical footprint – to a brainstorming session. Of the many ideas, all written on Post-it notes and stuck to a wall, only one stuck in Bowman’s memory: Betty’s suggestion that the museum should serve as a “gathering place” for the community.
“She made me see the museum differently than perhaps I had before,” he says.
The addition went forward, propelled, to a large degree, by Betty’s idea, written on a Post-it note, and the design included a vaulted space (the Quadracci Pavilion) that was not a gallery but a hall for public and private events.
-by Matt Hrodey
A Blue-Chip Friendship
David Gordon, CEO and director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, 2002-08
Betty greeted David Gordon with caution when he arrived in Milwaukee in 2002. The former secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts in London and CEO of The Economist Newspapers was hired to lead the Milwaukee Art Museum at a time when it faced some $30 million in debt. The $125 million addition, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was on its way to shifting national perception of the city, like a pair of angel’s wings, or a hood ornament. But in the meantime, MAM was struggling, and Gordon, one of the bluest blue chips to land in Milwaukee in a while, had to win over a lot of stakeholders.
Betty and family had already contributed heavily to the cause. The Quadracci Pavilion bore their name, and Gordon says she made clear that the printing clan had “already done their bit.” At their first lunch, she told him, “Look, I’m not going to write checks to solve your problems.”
The Betty who emerged afterward was reserved but also outspoken. The British Johnny-come-lately invited her to serve on a public affairs committee, a small circle that discussed strategy and planning at the museum. Says Gordon: “She would say what she had to say but did not take the role of, ‘I am Betty Quadracci of the Quadracci Pavilion, so do what I say.’”
They became friends, and Gordon says she “sometimes complained to me that Milwaukee was kind of a boys’ club.” He developed his own opinion that Milwaukee was paralyzed by a Midwestern niceness that was “a sort of running away from reality.” Betty became an important exception to the standard. “I had enormous respect that she told you the truth,” he says. “That is an incredibly rare quality anywhere.”
The last time they dined together was in 2008 at Brown’s Hotel in London, with Barbara Brown Lee, MAM’s chief educator. By now, the debt had been retired. Betty, at last call, had contributed more. After six years at MAM, Gordon left the museum and the state to start a consulting firm.
“I had hoped she would become president of the museum,” he says. “She would have been brilliant, but the timing didn’t work out. The recurrence of her polio did not mean she was ready for an additional role of that kind. It was really a pity.”
-by Matt Hrodey
Days of the Round Table
Ellen Bartel, president of Betty’s high school alma mater, now named Divine Savior Holy Angels
“In 2000, Betty graciously committed this beautiful gift [the construction of a quadrangle-shaped dining room dubbed ‘the Quad’] to Divine Savior Holy Angels. I said, ‘Betty, this was terrific.’ But I knew she had opinions, so I said, ‘How involved do you want to be?’
“She said, ‘Work with the professionals. But there is one thing I want to do: I want to pick the furniture, and you will have round tables.’
“The reason she was so drawn to the project, and the round tables specifically, was because her fondest, most transformative memories were eating lunch [with her high school girlfriends at round tables], sharing their dreams, their hopes, their high school memories.”
-as told to Claire Hanan
John Shiely, member of Quad/Graphics board of directors, and former CEO and president of Briggs & Stratton Corp.
“By the time of Harry’s passing in 2002, Quad/Graphics was a $1.5 billion company and was starting to face big-company issues they never had to face before. Betty joined the board of directors. And, parlaying her deep knowledge of the company, she was a quick study in what strategies the company had to pursue.
“As time went on, and the print industry contracted, it became clear there were only two options: sell the company or use the chips that the company had earned to acquire other firms in the contracting print industry. It was a ‘you’re either in or you’re out’ question. As the matriarch of the company, and the leader of the prime shareholders, Betty was rock solid in the latter alternative. It was a big call.”
With the 2007-08 recession, Quad’s leadership decided to maintain its print services while expanding into digital services and acquiring other printing firms. It also decided to expand its capital base by taking the private company public.
“The board had been going back and forth on this issue of acquiring firms and possibly going public. Betty would take notes, and at a point in time, the board turned to her and asked, ‘What do you think?’ And she said, ‘This is the right way to go.’
“This was an earthquake for a company that’s been private for a long time,” Shiely says. “But Betty and Joel Quadracci [CEO and president] and other members of the family stepped up to the plate and made it happen.
“I’m not so sure Harry would have made that same decision in 2002. Maybe, with time and the development of the industry, he would have come to that point. But Harry truly loved the private corporation. I talked to him many times about the public corporate environment, and he always took pity on me. But he didn’t have to make the decision. Betty had to make it.”
-as told to Kurt Chandler
Lynde Uihlein, philanthropist, founder of The Brico Fund
“She was just one of the most alive people I’ve ever met. So bright. You could almost see the wheels turning. I learned about her intelligence when she fired questions about my funding and what I was thinking. One time, she apologized to me for being an interrogator. I said, ‘Betty, I wouldn’t expect anything less.’
“She was interested in everything. We were in a focus group together for 88Nine Radio. After the presentation, Betty said, ‘Why are you always talking about young people? It’s the old people who have the money.’”
-as told to Ann Christenson
A Hungry Mind
Elaine Burke, Betty’s garden club and book club colleague; mother of gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke.
“When you chose a book [for book club], you were in charge of leading the review. Betty would tell of her experiences, and we learned of her background and her thoughts for the future. But everybody contributed, and so it was a great learning experience.
“The sense was always that she had an inquisitive mind. In fact, the last discussion I had with her, the Tuesday before she died, as I was going out her door, I brought up the Newaukee article [December’s “Fountain of Youth” in Milwaukee Magazine], and we discussed the exciting things happening Downtown. She was very much alive and thinking and pleased with all of the things that were happening.”
-as told to Claire Hanan
Never a Lull
Tony Meyer, Betty’s cousin Tony Meyer and his wife, Donna, joined the Milwaukee Repertory Theater as season subscribers in 1963.
“Betty was a wonderful cousin. She never bragged; she was always, always, always interested in people. Whenever there was a lull in the conversation, she would step in, and in a nice way.
“She was capable of keeping the life in things for many, many people. Wherever she went, she always touched someone. That was the excitement of being with her. She was capable of engaging people and sizing things up so wonderfully. She was a star.
-as told to Kurt Chandler
The Most Wonderful Day
Donna Meyer, Betty’s close friend
Donna and Tony persuaded Betty and Harry to join the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Betty became a Rep board member in 1981. Several years later, Betty and Harry made a donation to the Rep, and a theater was renamed the Quadracci Powerhouse.
“Betty liked dramas, and she liked history,” Donna says. “She was an English major, so she was discerning.
“Four of us women had a secret social group,” she says. “We called ourselves the Tech Group, because if anyone saw the name on the calendar, it sounded much more serious than what we really were. We were definitely a social group. We did a bit of traveling. We had dinners together.”
The foursome got together for lunch on the Saturday before Betty died. “She was her fun self. She was animated. I know she had been sick because she had cancelled a few events earlier that week. So I was so surprised when she called and said her driver was going to pick me up. When I got into the car, she seemed just fine.
“When we went home that Saturday, they were dropping me off, and she said, ‘Oh, Donna, didn’t we have the most wonderful day.’ It wasn’t something that she would usually say because she always had something else going on right away. And that was the last time I saw her.”
-by Kurt Chandler
“Now I am Ready”
by Elizabeth Quadracci Harned, youngest child of Betty and Harry Quadracci
Tonight is the first night in my parents’ house with no parents. It was a real blessing to have made it home to say goodbye. I flew home with [siblings] Joel and Kathryn at 10 p.m. last night. I FaceTimed with my mother asking her to wait for us, to hold on so we could be with her. Our prayers were answered. We walked in the door to her bedroom and, with that Betty spirit we all know and love, she opened her eyes. And short of breath, she said, “I waited. Now I am ready to die. It is time to let me go.” Once again, on Betty’s terms.
We played some of her favorite church songs in her bedroom at Pine Lake – “Be Not Afraid,” “Eagles Wings,” “One Bread One Body,” “Sing a New Song,” and others. We were all there along with her siblings as she just slowly faded, with me, Joel, Kathryn and [brother] Richard holding her hands as her siblings gathered by our side. She was in no pain. The gift and blessing was, it was so peaceful. She just went off in to sleep, and then she was gone.