University of Wisconsin-River Falls

News Source

March 31, 2004


Gathering Honors Life and Work of UW-RF Chancellor Ann Lydecker

Stray snowflakes drifted in a chilly wind as some 2,700 people filled the Karges Gymnasium at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to remember the warm spirit of Chancellor Ann M. Lydecker at her afternoon memorial service March 29.

Students, friends, family, faculty, staff, colleagues and officials gathered from around the region, state and beyond to celebrate the life of the woman who was known as "the students' chancellor."

"A leader like Ann does not emerge often," said Student Senate President Matt Schuelke. "Ann had become ever so much more than a chancellor … she had become an inspiration. We will carry her vision with us just as the Kinni River flows true."

Pastor Bill Montgomery of Ezekiel Lutheran Church echoed Lydecker's philosophy that embraces diversity. "We come from various faith communities," he said. "We come from a variety of understandings and beliefs about both life and death. And so in the silence of our hearts, let us remember Ann with both grief and gratitude."

Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton lauded Lydecker's role in the advancement of the state's Wisconsin Women Equals Prosperity program. She was a "fiercely determined leader, who insisted on the power of education and understood her role, especially in opening doors for women through education," Lawton said. "I knew her as a generous woman of extraordinary grace and dignity… We had more to learn from her."

Lydecker was the first woman chancellor in the university's 130-year history. Education was her life; her mother and grandparents were teachers, and for eight years she attended a one-room school in Adrian, Mich., where she often helped younger students. Later she was a high school teacher, working her way through graduate school as a single mother of two sons. In addition, several siblings, her husband Bill and son Martin are educators.

Lawton relayed Gov. James Doyle's message from China, "Chancellor Lydecker's vision for the University of Wisconsin-River Falls was progressive, and her influence will last longer than her time at the university. … As the only female chancellor of the University of Wisconsin System, Ann Lydecker was a role model for many. Wisconsin will miss her greatly."

Remarks by UW System President Katherine Lyall, UW System Regent Guy Gottschalk, UW-Green Bay Chancellor Bruce Shepard and UW-RF Foundation Board Chair Jeffrey McCardle recalled and heralded Lydecker's giving energy, spirit, and vision.

"In the whole history of the UW System we have gathered only twice before to mark the passing of a sitting chancellor," said Lyall. "Ann brought the values of her life to our life on campus. These included a deep respect for learning, a passion for good teaching, a love of music, a close commitment to family, and the ability to make and keep lifelong friends. It was emblematic that at her inauguration four years ago the guest of honor, invited especially by Ann, was Rosa Peterson, her teacher from the one-room school who meant so much to Ann personally and professionally. Her sunny outlook on life, her practical can-do attitude … kept us focused on what really mattered, the future of our students. She taught us well, and we will carry these lessons with us as we go. Ann Lydecker will be remembered and her legacy cherished by generations of students who share her values, her good will and her optimism."

Retired UWRF Vice Chancellor for Administration Virgil Nylander expressed the authenticity with which Ann's character and caring resonated throughout campus. "She was a warm and loving individual," said Nylander. "That smile of hers was absolutely contagious. She absolutely loved people. She loved to hug. I can't recall meeting anyone who was as positive and as giving as Ann. She involved herself and others in both campus and community activities. She felt that this institution should play a more active role in the lives of those in this region, and she was very successful in moving the campus in that direction. She was undoubtedly the most visible person on this campus."

Nylander also recalled the joy when her grandchildren visited her office and her zest for celebrating each moment of life. "She was one of the first to arrive and the last to leave the campus each day. I told her several times that she would make herself ill if she kept working that hard. She would just look at me, smile, and say, 'This isn't work. This is fun.' This was her dream job. She has left a last and loving memory in all of our hearts."

Family and friends who spoke included former Mankato state colleague and UW-Parkside Professor Rosemary Moore, brother Albert Ruesink of Bloomington, Ind., and husband Bill Lydecker.

"If we are lucky someone like Ann comes our way once in a lifetime," said Bill Lydecker. "Obviously you know that too."

Lydecker died March 25 in an early morning car accident just southeast of the University en route to UW-Platteville to give a women's history month speech titled "Breaking the Glass Ceiling."

She was named the 14th chancellor of UW-River Falls in August 2000. She was involved with educational reform initiatives at local, state, and national levels and gave many papers and presentations around the country on teacher testing, leadership, university-community partnerships, technology in teacher education, multicultural education, economic development, and community programming. She had also traveled to Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and Japan to build education and service initiatives.

She earned a B.S. and M.A.T. from Oberlin College in Ohio and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. She was an elementary teacher in Oberlin, a professor at Gustavus Adolphus College and Mankato State University, and founding dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies and later provost and vice president for academic affairs at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts.

She is survived by her husband William Lydecker of River Falls; two sons, J. Martin Favor of Plainfield, N.H., and Richard Favor of River Falls; two step-sons, Peter Lydecker of Minneapolis and Andrew Lydecker of Memphis; two grandsons, Mitchell and Clayton Favor; father Lloyd Ruesink of Adrian, Mich.; and siblings Albert (Kathy) Ruesink of Bloomington, Ind.; Bruce (Lelani) Ruesink of Three Rivers, Mich.; Priscilla (Ray) Jackson, Virginia Clark, and James (Sue) Ruesink, all of Adrian, Mich. She was preceded in death by her mother Alberta Ruesink and brother Robert Ruesink.

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