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  “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
 

The passing of
Dr. Edward Weidner
1921 - 2007

Dr. Edward W. Weidner, father, husband, friend and world-renowned educator whose crowning achievement — beyond his family — was founding of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, passed away peacefully Wednesday morning (June 6, 2007) following a long illness. He was 85.

Dr. Weidner was appointed chancellor of UW-Green Bay in October 1966. Hired to oversee the creation of a new four-year campus in Northeast Wisconsin, he was the institution’s first employee and driving force. He was the architect who oversaw development of the bayshore campus and its groundbreaking curriculum, and he assembled a national-caliber faculty and staff. He would serve 20 years as chancellor, which ranks among the longest tenures in UW System history.

A citation quoting the essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson — “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man” — was cited when the UW System Board of Regents honored Dr. Weidner with chancellor emeritus status after he stepped down in 1986. Colleagues and contemporaries agreed those words were never more fittingly applied than to Edward W. Weidner and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Green Bay’s local newspaper, just hours after his passing, paid tribute to his life’s work by describing him as “one of the leading figures in Green Bay in the 20th century.”

Edward W. Weidner was born July 7, 1921, in Minneapolis, the second of two children of Lillian and Peter Weidner. He attended public schools and graduated from Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis in 1939.

He married the former Jean Blomquist on March 23, 1944. They would have four children: Nancy, Gary, Karen and Bill. Jean Weidner —UW-Green Bay’s first “First Lady” and a well-known social worker and psychotherapist in her own right —preceded him in death, on April 15, 1997. Ed remarried to Marjorie Conway Fermanich; the couple marked their ninth wedding anniversary on Wednesday, the day of his passing.

In later years, the Weidners enjoyed entertaining visitors at their Shore Acres home. They also traveled widely, visiting children and grandchildren, and often followed UW-Green Bay athletic teams for important NCAA games. Ed was also an avid birder who continued to add species to his “life’s list” through his continuing travels.

His children enjoyed exposure to world cultures during their early years. Ed and Jean followed his education and public-service career to postings around the globe throughout the 1950s and ‘60s.

Edward W. Weidner began his distinguished academic career as a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he also completed the M.A., and Ph.D. in political science, in 1946. He first pursued his interest in public administration in graduate school, when he worked as a research associate for the National Municipal League. He also did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin.

In the two decades before he was called to Green Bay, he had already made important contributions to higher education in America and abroad as political scientist, university professor, university administrator, scholar and authority on international affairs.

As an assistant professor at Minnesota, Dr. Weidner was assistant director of research in intergovernmental relations. He moved on to a one-year faculty post at UCLA and then to Michigan State. There, over a period of 12 years beginning in 1950, he added activities in technical assistance, educational exchange, international development and administration, serving as director of the Governmental Research Bureau, chairman of the Department of Political Science, and director of the Institute of Research on Overseas Programs. His work brought him and his family to countries including Vietnam, where he was consultant on assistance needs to the Foreign Operations Administration, and Pakistan, consulting on rural development academies for the Ford Foundation.

After a year as a Visiting Senior Scholar at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii, Weidner was named vice chancellor of the Center’s Institute of Advanced Projects, a post he held for six years. He was director of the Center for Development Change at the University of Kentucky before accepting appointment from then-UW President Fred Harvey Harrington to head the new campus in Wisconsin.

At that time, Dr. Weidner had written or collaborated in the writing of at least eight books, had presented hundreds of papers to professional meetings, and served as an officer or on committees of dozens of scholarly organizations. His books included The World Role of Universities (McGraw-Hill, 1962), Technical Assistance in Public Administration Overseas (Public Administration Service, 1964), and Development Administration in Asia (Duke University Press, 1970).

It was at UW-Green Bay however, that Chancellor Weidner would earn national and even international attention. The pioneering curriculum and “Man and his Environment” theme grabbed headlines – Newsweek, Harper’s magazine and others showered praise on what they described as America’s first eco-university —but there were other, even more significant ways UWGB challenged the higher education orthodoxy of the day.

By integrating disciplines into interdisciplinary “concentrations,” by offering liberal education seminars and the January special-studies period, by emphasizing problem-solving and “communiversity,” the University that Dr. Weidner helped build would re-shape the status quo. For example, UWGB was among the first universities of its day to offer a broadly defined program in Environmental Sciences; once revolutionary, such interdisciplinary programs can be found nationwide, today.

As a result, Dr. Weidner was invited to write and speak widely on higher education in general, and UW-Green Bay in particular. He prepared papers on problem-oriented education and UWGB for the International Year Book of Education; for the American Council on Education journal, the Educational Record; for the International Journal of Environmental Sciences; for the national conference of the American Association for Higher Education; for three international meetings of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in France and Denmark; for the inauguration of new universities in Sweden and South Africa; and for conferences in Germany, South Africa, Lebanon, Japan, Yugoslavia, and Spain. He was honored by the King of Sweden for his contributions to higher education in that country.

On the national scene, Weidner served during his tenure as chancellor as secretary and board member of the American Council on Education as well as on the Association of American Colleges board and the AAC project policy board, working to create institutional change by developing and implementing alternative curriculum models for undergraduate liberal education. He also took his experience and expertise to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities as a member of that body’s committee on alternatives and innovation. For a six-year period beginning in 1974, Weidner served as American representative on the governing council of United Nations University, a newly founded world institution of postgraduate study and research.

Student life was another priority during Dr. Weidner’s tenure at UWGB. Despite state budget cuts, he was successful in winning state support for a student union and sports center, and a successful capital campaign in the 1980s enabled construction of modern campus residence halls without public funds.

He was a champion of bringing NCAA Division I athletic competition to Green Bay, and helped rally the community to achieve that goal. The school’s first NCAA tournament bid, in 1983 in men’s soccer, and the hiring of Dick Bennett to lead the ascent of the men’s basketball program at the major-college level, were accomplished under Chancellor Weidner’s watch. Previously, the school had achieved much success in soccer and basketball at the NAIA and Division II levels. Chancellor Weidner had identified successful sports programs as a campus goal upon his arrival in the late 1960s; he often credited legendary Packers Coach Vince Lombardi as a key community adviser and the man who persuaded him that soccer, not football, should be the primary fall sport because of the expense involved, likelihood for an immediate national profile, and the risk of being overshadowed by the city’s NFL team.

During his time as chancellor, Dr. Weidner also gave generously of time and effort to other local projects: as a member of the board of directors of the Heritage Hill Foundation and co-chairman of its recent capital campaign; on the executive board of the Bay-Lakes Council, Boy Scouts of America, which honored him in 1986 with its Distinguished Eagle Award.

Dr. Weidner stayed active with UW-Green Bay in the years since his retirement as chancellor. He took particular interest, and leading roles, in continuing development of the Cofrin Arboretum, scholarship assistance for students, Phoenix Athletics, and development of the campus/community performing arts center that was later named in his honor.

He served as project director for the performing arts center following announcement of a unique public-private partnership launched by a $5 million challenge gift from his friends, Dr. David and Mary Ann Cofrin, in 1987. Groundbreaking took place in 1991, and at the Cofrins’ suggestion the center was dedicated as the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts upon its opening in 1993. A subsequent family honor was announced in 2005 when the center’s Jean Weidner Theatre was named for his late wife, herself also a fan of, and advocate for, the theatre program.

Despite a serious heart attack suffered during a 1997 trip to New York state, Dr. Weidner recovered to resume an active schedule. He remained one of the University’s biggest boosters and enthusiastic advocates, a fixture at campus theatre, sporting and student events. His most recent campus functions were a meet-and-greet session with students at last month’s scholarship reception — he and his family helped fund several scholarship endowments at UW-Green Bay — as well as the annual Founders Association community reception, and the most recent induction ceremony for the Phoenix Hall of Fame.

When asked why he chose to remain in Green Bay following his retirement, having lived many other places around the world, he mentioned friends and the importance of having a strong public university in the community – “which we have here in Green Bay.”

Survivors include his wife, Marge; children and spouses, Dr. Nancy Weidner Larson and Dean Brandt, Minneapolis; daughter-in-law Ellen Weidner, Green Bay; Dr. Karen Weidner and Dr. Kurtis Klotzbuecher, Woodbury, Minn.; William and Alison Weidner, Ham Lake, Minn.; six grandchildren, Christopher, Will, Peter, Mark, James, Daniel; and his brother, Charles R. Weidner, Hawaii. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Jean, and a son, Gary.

The Celebration of the Life of Edward W. Weidner will take place Saturday, June 9th at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The family will welcome guests from 3 to 6 p.m. and the program will begin at 6 p.m. A reception will follow the program in the center’s Grand Foyer.

Blaney Funeral Home is assisting the family. Condolences and personal messages to the family may be directed to them online at www.blaneyfuneralhome.com. A UW-Green Bay website with tributes, photographs, speeches and opportunities for alumni, friends and colleagues to share public recollections is available at www.uwgb.edu/weidnertributes

A memorial fund is established at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. In lieu of flowers, donations may be directed to the Edward Weidner Fund.

Ed Weidner asked that the following quote be shared upon his passing:
“…Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk as if I were beside you…I loved you so – ‘twas Heaven here with you.”
            — Isla Paschal Richardson

  Photo: Weidner at podium.
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