Meet the Winners of Our First Betty Awards

Here we honor six outstanding women, each representing a facet of our late former publisher, Betty Ewens Quadracci, and gather them for a conversation.

Betty Quadracci

When we decided to publish our first women’s issue, there was one clear place to start: Betty Quadracci. For many, the late Quadracci was not only synonymous with this magazine, which she oversaw as publisher from 1983 to 2013, but the city itself. Quadracci’s impact on Milwaukee and its residents was indelible. But rather than focus on the Quad co-founder’s achievements, we decided to celebrate her legacy by casting a light on those who carry it forward.

Enter: The Betty Awards.

They began with a call for nominations in late July. The goal was to find a group of women who, individually and collectively, reflected Quadracci’s grit, guts and compassion. By August, we had received more than 150 nominations. Two rounds of judging followed – first internally and later by those who knew Quadracci best. 

The result is a group of six awe-inspiring women who together form a powerful bunch. They include an opera singer turned conductor, a former United Nations representative and a brick-laying nun. Like Quadracci, all six work to make Milwaukee a better place.

On a clear, warm fall day, the late-morning light bathing the Milwaukee Art Museum in a celestial glow, the inaugural Betty class convened with MilMag editor and publisher Carole Nicksin to discuss women in the workplace, daily affirmations and the city they all love.

Meet the Bettys

Patty Metropulos

The Tenacious B: One who embodies Betty Q’s Perseverance

WHEN PATTY METROPULOS stepped through the doors of Kathy’s House in 2012, the organization stood at a crossroads. The nonprofit guest house – named for Kathy Vogel, who died of cancer in 2000 – offers lodging for those traveling to Milwaukee for medical care. At the time, it had kept just over half of its 18 rooms filled. The finances were solid but primarily buoyed by donations from family and friends. Metropulos, 53, the nonprofit’s first CEO and president, had to think big. One of her first moves was to strengthen the relationship with Froedtert Hospital & Medical College of Wisconsin. “There were families and patients who just didn’t know about us,” she says.

Metropulos expanded the board, identified new donors and helped rebrand Kathy’s House. By 2017, annual revenues had doubled, and occupancy regularly reached 90 percent. Now, Kathy’s House is planning a larger facility, which is slated to break ground by early 2020. “Over the last two years, we’ve had to turn away over 500 families. People now see this expansion is not only feasible, it’s something we must do,” she says.

Tiffany McDuffie

The Risk-Taker: This fearless female never settles for the status quo

FOR MOST OF HER adult life, Tiffany McDuffie, a certified public accountant, helped others manage risk. But after 10 years in traditional corporate roles, McDuffie, 42, craved change. In 2008, she embraced risk full time. “I had to trust my gut,” says McDuffie. “I’ve never been nervous about failure, just deathly afraid of regret.”

After briefly trying real estate, she turned to an idea closer to home: kids. McDuffie spent several years substitute teaching inside Milwaukee Public Schools. There, she noticed that students came to school sullen and addicted to technology. McDuffie, who grew up surrounded by “happy, active kids,” knew her next move. In 2012, the Chicago native and her husband, Otto, founded Purposeful PLAY (Positive Learning through Athletics for Youth), a nonprofit that offers after-school sports programs for kids in low-income communities. The goal was to create a positive, nurturing environment like the one McDuffie grew up in. “Playing sports teaches kids to work as a team, and it teaches confidence. We want kids to learn that if they fall, they can get back up.” There’s no app for that.

Christine Flasch

The Creative Genius: An artist at the top of her game

THE FIRST TIME Christine Flasch conducted Puccini’s La Bohème, she left the stage deflated. While Flasch – a soprano for 17 years, including eight seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York – had sung the opera many times, conducting it proved humbling. But rather than shelve her baton, Flasch doubled down. “I went back to school in my 50s,” says Flasch, 68. “I was sitting there at UW-Milwaukee with graduate conducting students.”

A year later, Flasch returned to the podium, this time as a maestra with confidence. Over the next decade, she honed her ability, learning to use her singing skills – expressiveness and an acute sense of tempo and sparkle, for example – to her advantage. She helped build Aurora University’s Music by the Lake series. In 2015, she brought her experience home to Milwaukee, where she founded the Southwestern Suburban Symphony, a professional orchestra focused on offering smart, accessible programming outside the city. As for that early lesson? It was part of the journey. “If I hadn’t fallen on my keister, I might not have ended up here. It taught me what I didn’t know, and that is crucial in music.”

Sister Edna Lonergan

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.

Dr. Joan Prince

The Standout Sister: A woman known for her support of other women

IF DR. JOAN PRINCE had a motto, it would be the first two lines from the Sister Sledge song: “We are family. I got all my sisters with me.” It’s not only the words of “We Are Family” that parallel Prince’s celebration of women, but also the ebullient enthusiasm that springs from boosting one another up.

While her resume is nothing short of formidable – a doctorate degree in urban education, 20 years as vice chancellor at UW-Milwaukee  and a yearlong appointment as the first Wisconsinite to represent the United States at the General Assembly of the United Nations – her list of accomplishments only measures one form of Prince’s success.

For 65-year-old Prince, getting through the door is just the first step. “It’s our job to advance other women. It
comes with the territory,” says Prince, who has had female mentors from a young age and been involved in the upper ranks of multiple professional women’s organizations. “Why would you not push someone else up because your expiration date will come.” But until that day arrives, Prince will keep doing what she’s doing.

Katie Sanders

The Bridge Builder: Invested in making MKE a better place for all

GROWING UP IN SHERMAN PARK, Katie Sanders knew all her neighbors. “It was a very cohesive and diverse community,” says Sanders, 40. “Everybody had a block club. My mom ran ours.”

As a kid, Sanders assumed all communities were similarly convivial. Only later did she realize how lucky she’d been. Now the executive director of Safe & Sound, a nonprofit that helps residents to connect with each other, local law enforcement, and city and state officials, Sanders spends her days working to engender that same sense of community across Milwaukee.

During her tenure at Safe & Sound, Sanders has helped introduce a series of programs that encourage conversation and connection. One crowd favorite, Barbershop Mondays, brings young people together in a salon environment for fresh cuts and open conversation. Another program led to neighbors writing a cookbook together. No matter the shape, all Safe & Sound programs share one common goal. “It’s about bringing people together. If individuals are not connected to each other, a community is not going to work,” Sanders says.

Talking with the Bettys

CAROLE NICKSIN: We want to welcome all of you. You are the first class of Betty winners. There were 150 nominations, and you are the six who rose to the top. I’m curious if any of you knew Betty?

JOAN PRINCE: Betty was a friend. I used to call her BQ. Betty was the ultimate entrepreneur, the ultimate supporter of people, and particularly women. She brought us together. She’s very missed. But as you can tell by the women around this table, her legacy is here, and her legacy will be here, now and in the future.

CN: Betty’s legacy is so strong that we still feel it today in so many different areas. Right now, we’re in the Quadracci Pavilion of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and that’s part of Betty and her husband Harry’s legacy. We at Milwaukee Magazine feel honored to carry on her work, and certainly it’s an honor to have these awards.

So let’s get this conversation started: What motivates you every morning? What gets you out of bed and excited to go to work and do what you do?

EDNA LONERGAN: My cat. After I feed him, I have my own life again. [General laugher.] But I get very excited about bringing generations together. We’ve lost that in our families. To see older adults have a sense of purpose in life, and to see the confidence of children when they are around older adults, gets me excited.

TIFFANY McDUFFIE: I enjoy waking up to my children. They are my life’s purpose. But in terms of work, I get to have lots and lots of children. I have the ability to impact the lives of people who need a village. I get to see children go from “I don’t know how to do that” to “I think I can” to “I did.” That’s my jam.

CHRISTINE FLASCH: I’ve been in music my entire life. As I’m getting older, I am much more appreciative that there are fewer days ahead of me. So, I get out of bed, jump up, and get ready to make music and try to touch people’s lives.

JP: I have this prayer every morning before my feet hit the floor. I always say, “Thank you God, for giving me another chance to try and get it right.” That’s really what drives me. It’s really about trying to get it right and trying to make it right for someone else.

KATIE SANDERS: My mission in life is to raise three kids. I have a responsibility to them as a parent, but also to make this community better. I love Milwaukee. I grew up here, and I want it to be a city that they choose to live in when they grow older.

PATTY METROPULOS: It really wasn’t until I started working at Kathy’s House that I realized thousands of people in this state alone have to travel hundreds of miles to get the care they need [when they are ill]. I love that we get to create a home for them. I love that when I walk out the front door at the end of the day, our porch is full of complete strangers who are now friends.

CN: Many of you spoke about your families and children. Do you feel as if you’ve achieved a state of work-life balance?

KS: I challenge the phrase “worklife balance.” Part of what defines me is my role as a parent, and part of what defines me is my professional career. I don’t see those at odds with each other, but rather part of my whole. Instead, I strive for personal fulfillment. There’s always going to be more to do, but I try to do what I can, and be satisfied with it.

JP: I agree with you. I have no clue what work-life balance means. I don’t know why I care about what
it means.

KS: I don’t know anyone who says they have it.

JP: I like what you said about personal fulfillment. I would agree. Is that not what most people want?

PM: I have a quote on my wall: “Work is love made visible.” I’m lucky enough to be able to work in an environment where our primary purpose is to love the people at Kathy’s House.

CF: I have two grandchildren, and both of them were born during dress rehearsals of shows I was in. Rather than feel guilty about that, I thought, “How lucky am I to be doing what I love to do, and then race off to West Allis Memorial so I can hold my grandchild?”

TM: You need to be able to settle for balanced-ish. Balance isn’t a destination, but a sliding scale. For me personally, I had to take a stance toward self-care. When I chose me without feeling guilty about my other responsibilities, it made all of the other things flow so much better.

EL: I totally agree. You can’t give what you don’t have. When I get in the car at night, I think of one good thing I did that day. Then I look in the mirror, and I say, “Edna, you are the most wonderful person in the world, and I love you.”

CN: Tiffany, you mentioned earlier that growing up, your mother shared daily affirmations. Do you do that for yourself?

TM: I do. I wake up each day and say, “You can do this. You got this.” People are always like, “Oh, she’s
so brave.” But no, I am afraid. I just keep going anyways. It begins with your mindset. I am always reaffirming myself and others. Sometimes I just look at the kids in our programs and say, “I believe in you” because it’s just something that they haven’t heard before.

CN: Christine, do you feel something similar when you’re conducting an orchestra? Do you
use affirmations to overcome fear?

CF: Yes. I often say to myself, “Flasch, you can do it.” Going from being a professional opera singer to conducting an orchestra was a big step for me. My dream was to conduct opera because I love it so much. I had a rather difficult first experience with that, and I realized I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So, I went to a graduate class at UW-Milwaukee and worked with Marjorie George, a female conductor. She coached me, and it was exactly what I needed. I’m so glad I didn’t back away.

CN: Have any of you had a similar experience where you felt maybe a little defeated, but you rallied and overcame?

JP: When I got the call from the White House about President Obama wanting to appoint me as ambassador to the United Nations General Assembly, my first reaction was, “I know absolutely nothing about this position.” I was nervous the night before my first day. As women, we think we don’t have the qualifications or the education.
We think we don’t have the tools. But what we have is smarts. What we have is intelligence. And what I’ve learned over the years is just say, “You can do whatever you want to do. You can do this, and you’ll do it your way.”

CN: Anyone else want to speak on that?

PM: I credit both my parents. I remember my dad saying to me one time, “You know who you are, you know what your convictions are, and you just need to be who you are.” Then he said, “And, if youdon’t have fun with this life, you’re missing the whole purpose.”

KS: I want to just play off the topic of failure. When I was young, I was terrified of it. I avoided anything that would have a remote chance of failure. As I grew older and failed a few times, I realized how it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a lesson. Failure should just be eliminated as a word, and it should be called “lessons.” I’ve had many lessons in my life and because of them, I’m much more capable of doing things I never thought I could do.

CN: Failure is key in becoming successful. If you’re defeated by failure, then you’re just going to stop. Let’s talk about gender. How has it helped you, and how has it held you back?

EL: Sisters were the first feminists. They were well-educated, and there was nothing stopping them from getting a doctorate in dentistry or other professions that were generally for men. They traveled everywhere. For me, being a member of a religious community and having the support of a major number of sisters has helped a lot in moving forward. I’m fortunate to belong to a group of women who are very supportive of what I do.

CF: I’m from a family of eight, and I have four brothers and three sisters, and I was born in the middle of all those brothers. I didn’t know it at the time, but that made me kind of fearless. There was no hanging back. I thank them now, in retrospect, for teaching me about how to take risks.

TM: Listening to you say that, it’s funny. I have a bunch of male cousins, and I was always with all the boys, and the boys were fearless. They didn’t have to be dainty and sit still. And when you were with them, you could conquer all things.

CF: But wasn’t it great? Did they protect you?

TM: They did. When I was little, I didn’t say, “I want to grow up and have a sports camp.” But I think there are advantages to being a woman in a male-focused industry. Sometimes when you are the only woman in the room, you get a voice because they want to hear it.

CN: You’ve all found work you love. How did you find your paths? What advice would you give to young people on finding work they love?

PM: We have a number of student interns at Kathy’s House, and when they’re trying to figure out their
next steps, I’ll ask them, “What gives you the most energy?” Just pay attention to those things, because they ignite something within you. Where there’s energy, there is usually a path.

KS: I wanted to be a flight attendant. I moved to St. Louis to try to enroll in flight school two weeks before Sept. 11. I obviously had to shift my plans. I ended up in graduate school to study public policy. That led me to fundraising and eventually to my current position. So my lesson for planning is: don’t. But when I think back on how I wanted to be a flight attendant, I ask myself, “Why not the pilot?” Ever since then, I try to make decisions based on that mindset instead. “Why not the pilot?”

JP: That’s a great analogy. I love that. Let me add this: Why does life have to be one path? Why not try all of them? Is that not the fun of life? Women were not always socialized to shape-shift. That’s why I love having younger women and girls in my life. They’ll try something for two days, and if they’re done with it, they move on. It’s the variety of life. You don’t have to do the same thing forever.

TM: I echo all of that. I would say to young people, try different things. You learn by doing, and until you try it, you don’t really know what you like. I wanted to be an accountant and a beautician. I don’t ever want to comb my hair now. Every time I took a leap of faith, it worked. I say, remain flexible and adaptable to our ever-changing world. Nothing is going to stay the same.

EL: I was thinking about something I really didn’t want to do, and that was build another facility. I remember coming to work one day when I was trying to make this decision, and really toying with it. A mother rushed in, and she dropped off her little girl and said she had to tell me a story. They had been at McDonald’s when a gentleman with very severe tremors walked in with his wife. He sat down, and after a little bit, the little girl and man met eye to eye. Without any prompting, the little girl got up, walked over to the elderly gentleman and shook his hand. The wife started to cry. She told the girl’s mother: “You know, I can never take my husband anywhere where children are not afraid of him. Why is it that your child is not afraid?” That was the deciding factor. I knew that we had to expand this idea because it really works.

CN: Beautiful. Our time is wrapping up. Are there questions you have for one another?

EL: What a team we are. What a powerful force of energy around this table. I’m amazed.

JP: This is the first time we’ve all been together. Think about what we could do if we harness the power that’s in this room.

CN: Don’t you all feel tremendously encouraged by just having spent two hours together?

TM: I feel there’s a lot of natural synergy.

JP: I feel like Betty is standing behind us. I do. I feel like she’s standing behind us saying, “This was really nice. Now get yourselves up and do something.”

PM: Chop-chop!

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

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