Education at the Heart of Funds
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumna Annette Blanchette '60, is proof you don't have to have a lot of money or high social status to make a big difference in the lives of others.
Blanchette, one of three children who are all UW Oshkosh alumni, began college in an era when women weren't traditionally educated. Even her father didn't believe in education for women. "Back then, women just worked in an office," Blanchette said.
Even as a high school student, Blanchette knew working in an office wasn't for her. Her drive to learn helped her discover, at the end of high school, that she qualified for a grant because she had a heart condition, which categorized her as "physically handicapped." Due to her disability, a state-funded grant paid for her basic education-related fees, which were $54 per semester in 1956, she said.
The grant allowed Blanchette to attend college at UW Oshkosh, where she would eventually earn a degree in English. That "free money," she said, changed her.
"I made up my mind at the time I started college to provide an opportunity for other people to get an education," she said. "I was so happy to have an education that I was happy to give back."
Not too long after she made the promise to herself, Blanchette was inspired by an instructor who had passed. Blanchette cleaned out her bank account to create what would be the first of several scholarship funds.
"I didn't have much in the bank but when I heard he died, I cleaned out the account and put $500 into the Nevin James Scholarship Fund," Blanchette said.
A few years later, Blanchette was at it again. She cleaned out her bank account again to begin a fund that would recognize an impactful geology teacher. Blanchette remembers being one of the only females to take a geology class, even after being told she could not pursue it as a career because it was "man's work" at that time. Eventually, she said, she took every geology class offered at UW Oshkosh simply because she enjoyed the subject matter.
She later created the Nevin James Debate Fund to keep the spirit of debate alive in classrooms and communities. Though he spent most of his 44 years at UW Oshkosh teaching English, Blanchette fondly remembers that James most loved debate. The fund promotes and assists argumentation and debate as an art and craft to help debate students achieve their personal and professional goals.
Throughout the years, Blanchette, who was employed by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for 35 years, contributed to the creation of many other funds that support education students, nursing students, high achievers, even classified staff development and more.
"I'm actually really selfish," Blanchette said. "I want to do these things now while I'm still alive because I want to meet these people I'm helping.
Blanchette said she gives for many dear-to-her-heart reasons.
"I love watching people grow at any age," she said. "People grow so much from the time they start college until when they graduate and it's neat to watch. It's been a ball meeting and watching these people. It thrills the socks off me."