Meet the Bettys: The Groundbreaker

The Groundbreaker: She treads boldly where few have gone before

Sister Edna Lonergan can cite the precise moment she decided to create an intergenerational daycare. It was the late 1980s when Lonergan, now 77, ran programs for adults suffering from chronic medical conditions –  Parkinson’s disease, strokes, dementia.

“I was standing next to Frank, who had grand mal seizures,” recalls Lonergan. At the time, Lonergan employed several single mothers who brought their children to work. “And little Kathy, who was 3 years old and loved Frank, saw the symptoms developing and jumped up on his lap. She took her tiny arms and wrapped them around his big belly. All of the symptoms stopped.” The moment astounded Lonergan.

After that, she knew she needed to build a space that would foster more interactions like the one she’d witnessed. Build she did. Ten years and $10 million later, Lonergan opened the St. Ann Center, Milwaukee’s first day care facility to serve multiple generations. In 2015, Lonergan opened a second, $28 million site.

When asked what St. Ann Center provides its members, Lonergan offers a simple answer: “Purpose.” She might as well be talking about herself.

The Betty Awards” appears in the November 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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