Interview with Jane Wypinsynski, 04/26/2016

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
Jenny Xiong, Interviewer | uwocs_Jane_Wypiszynski_04262016.mp3
Campus Stories Oral History Project (UWO Audio Series 51) |

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JX: Today is April 26, 2016, and it is 9:03. We're at the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center. I am Jenny Xiong and I'm here with Jane Wypiszynski. To conduct an interview for the oral history of UWO project. So you grew up in New Richmond, Wisconsin. So tell me about the community you grew up in?

JW: Well, New Richmond is a small city up close to the Minnesota boarder. Right up around north of Eau Claire. It was a one of those picturesque pure American growing up situations in a small town. Uh nobody locked their doors, everybody knew everybody's business (laughs) it was one of those kinds of things. But our school system did a real thing about making certain every student got to 1:00experience every one of the arts. So every student went to Minneapolis, Saint Paul and would go to the art galleries there and another time would go and see a play and another time would go a see an opera. So they were very forward thinking I think that way.

JX: Okay so, since you guys were so close to Minnesota you guys got experience a lot of the Minnesota life?

JW: Yes exactly.

JX: So tell me a little about your family like how many sibling you guys had? Or how as your family growing up?

JW: Um my immediate family, I am the youngest, I had two older sister, two older brothers. My father died when I was quite young, my mother remarried and gave us a step-brother, so um it was kind of a large family.

JX: So um what does each of you family member like or what are their professions?

JW: Um my sister Barbra was a like receptionist sort of job most of her life, 2:00she passed. Um my sister Marine (NOT SURE ABOUT SPELLING) was a stay at home mom did an excellent job of raising five terrific kids, she has also passed. I have a brother, Jim, who was also a college teacher like I was and a brother Jerry who was a career military. He retired as a colonel in the air force.

JX: So what kind of jobs did your mom have, since your dad, well your dad too?

JW: My dad worked at a factory and then he got sick with heart disease. And so my mom went to work and later after she was retired she told me that her in whole life time she never earned over two dollars an hour.

JX: So she was a stay at home mom before you dad passed?

JW: Right.

JX: So it was really new to her to get a job.

JW: Yeah it was very tough, very tough.

JX: Did you guys have a lot of trouble growing up? With her being a single mom 3:00for a while before she got remarried?

JW: We had been raised to pretty much knew we had a total line and in a small town if you did something wrong somebody would tell your mom. So my mom was amazing, she made everything work for us so I never felt like we were poor. Only after I grew did I look back and realize how tough it really was but she was great that way.

JX: So how important was education to your family?

JW: Absolutely, my mom from the very get-go said you need to get an education cause she didn't have one, my dad had a year of college but they married during the depression and so she tried to make each one of us aware of how important education was my two sisters did not go in that path. My two brothers did and then I did.

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JX: So they did motivate you to get a higher education too then?

JW: Right and my mom, I feel so blessed because she always made reading a reward for us not a punishment. You know so if you did something bad she'd take your books away. It was like what, you know, that was the worst thing for me was to have to do something without a book. So she really encouraged that idea that you have an education you can do anything.

JX: So what lesson did you learn from growing up?

JW: I think that main thing that we, that I learned at least was the idea of, you have choices in life but when you make a choice that are going to be consequences. And so, one of the thing I think I found strongly from my mom and from my older brothers, was think about your choices before you make them. You know don't be impulsive about doing things. My mother also really lived by that 5:00golden rule of, you want to do onto other what you want done to you. And so she kind of gave us that idea of paying things forward, if someone does something nice for you need to think about doing something nice for someone down the road. And then tell them when they try to thank you, it just like pay it on forward, so those are big, big lessons I think I learned.

JX: So how was high school like for you? Where did you go for high school?

JW: I went to New Richmond High School and I loved it. I was part of the group that was big into current events and debating things, and you know we always wanted to be rebels. This was back in the 60s when things were anti-war and all this kind of stuff. And we skipped school, and we got over to the University of Minnesota and got to see Julian Bond, who was one of the great civil right 6:00leaders of our time. And so we met him and we talked with him and I said we skipped school to come see you and he's like okay. (Laughs) Cause he's like I did a whole lot worse than that. So yeah I loved high school it was a lot of fun.

JX: Okay so, what year did you graduate high school?

JW: 1969

JX: And then, so you went to Ball State University? Was that your first choice?

JW: Umhm. Well I was thinking of going to Stevens Point and I was (gonna) go with my best friend and then financially it turned out she couldn't really afford to go to school, so Ball State then became my choice.

JX: So what about Ball State interested you in attending there?

JW: They had one of the better communication programs and I knew that was the direction I was going in, I didn't know if it was going to be journalism, if it was going to be English, or if it was going to be speech and it turned out to be speech.

JX: So what about communication did you like about it that you got a degree in it?

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JW: I guess it was the idea that it's everywhere it impacts everything you do and if you understand how communication works I think you'll understand some of the behavior that we see. But I just--it was like there was a big puzzle out there about communication and I needed to solve it and I did that. By going to a school that really did a good job with it.

JX: So how was the campus environment like?

JW: It was again college, I hate to sound like a happy person but college was a wonderful experience I was on the forensic team and we traveled all over the country and so I got to know a lot of students on campus and it was a huge campus to me cause you come from a town of three thousand and went to a school of eighteen thousand students. So it was a little intimidating at first but it 8:00turned out to be a wonderful choice.

JX: How involved were you in the campus, like any club or organizations?

JW: Primarily in forensics I was busy all four years that I was an undergraduate there I competed and then I did my graduate work there so I became a coach. And so that was my main thing was being in forensics.

JX: so you got your graduates right after you graduated?

JW: Umhm.

JX: And what year did you graduate from college?

JW: '73 and then I got my masters in '74.

JX: Did you feel that college prepared you well for any jobs you had after college?

JW: Absolutely, I decided by then I wanted to go into teaching and I felt very--to me a college campus is such a comfortable environment. No matter what college I walked onto the campus I always just feel at home. And after I got my 9:00graduates degree, I ended up teaching a year at Ball State and then after that I went to UW-Whitewater. An I taught there for seven years, I met my husband there and then we ended up taking a shot at doing some work down in Texas. And that was not--we found out that was not what we wanted to be. So we ended up coming back and I got the job up here.

JX: So you got this after you got back from Texas?

JW: Actually we went to Monopolies for a while and then I came here.

JX: How did you feel about this job at UWO when you first got it?

JW: I was so happy this was the kind of basic course that I thought was terrific in the past I taught basic courses where they were just public speaking. And that fine but then here they had put it together with interpersonal skills so 10:00you were teaching students not to just how to give presentations but to how they can better be-in their family, with in their relationships, with their workers, whatever. So I loved it, I really did.

JX: You taught in communication and then can you describe what other involvements you were in on campus? Like the communities you were in?

JW: I was on the Senate of the Academics Staff; I was president of that organization. I also did a lot of work for the department in various committees, like choosing textbooks and being part of what used to be the general studies programs here. Then I eventually, retired from teaching and I worked for John Koker for three or four years. And I was the student academic affairs officer.

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JX: So what was your first impression of UWO when you first came here?

JW: Amazingly I had been on every other campus in the UW System except Oshkosh. So was kind of like how come I never was here before. I thought it was a very home kind of place, I felt that this was a unified campus I came in at the time that John Kerrigan had just been installed as chancellor. And he was such a wonderful people person, John had a way whenever you saw him on campus, even if he couldn't remember you name he knew he knew you. So he was very engaging and 12:00the department that I worked in had its issues, they had some people who were difficult. And so there were time when it was like going to work was not as much fun as it could have been but eventually that all kind of faded out. I have to say that the students on this campus, the one that taught were some on the kindest, nicest, best people; I mean not every one of them was obviously but in general students were respectful. And I respected them because they really wanted to learn.

JX: Did you like this better than a bigger campus?

JW: Yeah, it's kind of nice when you walk across campus and you see several people in the course of a journey that you know. You know where on a larger campus you might run into somebody but it was very odd if you did. But here just 13:00even walking through a building, you run into three or four people that you've met.

JX: So Oshkosh now a day has a reputation for being a drinking school. Or like a parting school, did it still have its reputation when you started working here?

JW: Oh yeah, that was back in the time when we had riots on campus where kids would get a little inebriated or a lot inebriated. And they would congregate and they'd go running downtown and there were a few time when stores downtown were damaged by all of this. But one of my good friends was on the panel the dealt with the punishment for those students and I remember him coming in an saying to me he was so delighted because they had the video of who had done all of this. It wasn't students, it was people either from town or other place but they were 14:00not UWO students. And he said I knew it wouldn't be our students and I'm very happy about that but it was so interesting because when it happened here it was called a riot we actually made CNN one morning I remember. One of our relatives called and said what going on down there. But when it happened in Madison then it was a student protest or it was a student [unclear] I was like how come they get the break and we don't but yes there were--Thursdays nights have been a big night in Oshkosh for years.

JX: I think the one you were talking about was April 28, 1995. So what was your first reaction to that event when you found out?

JW: Yes. I guess I was horrified. I think if you teach undergraduates students you kind of become almost materialistic with them or paternalistic whatever the 15:00gender is but my first thought was were any of my students hurt. And seeing that they said no one was injured was like okay then we're all right then it was like I remember going into class that morning after and we sat down and I was like they did this happen, tell me about it. And they were saying they were angry, it's like tell me what you're angry about, and I want to know. So we did some talking about it and found out that they weren't even certain what they were angry about but they knew they were angry. And it was like that was the first part of this millennial thing where it was like we see students now who seem to be angry and it like just tell me what it is you're mad about, let me know. So I guess my first reaction was to try and figure out why did this happen.

JX: There were many reasons in the articles that I read, so it wasn't clear. So 16:00can you tell me about who or what Mercury 13 was?

JW: Oh wow, probably the most impressive part of my career was this situation. Each year the university gives away the honorary doctorate and for several years we had used as a common book in the basic speech and English courses of the Mercury 13. The story about women who tried to become astronauts had passed every test did better than the men ever did and yet they never got to fly. So the author of that book came every year and she would come to the classes and she would talk. She was amazing Martha Ackmann just a wonderful person. So she was here in the fall of 2006, and Debbie Gray-Patton and I were close friends 17:00and we'd done a lot of stuff with Martha. And I remember one day when Martha was here we were talking and just saying it's so horrible these women never got recognition and I looked a Debbie and I said what about the honorary doctorate. And I think both of us just kind of stopped and was like [unclear]. And so, they had a committee that gave out the honorary doctorates so Debbie and I put the stuff together and sent it to the committee and said what about these thirteen women. Well, boom they chose the women and then we had to get it cleared through the president of the UW System and I remember talking with him and he was like this is amazing you know this is great. So we started the whole process that spring and they came for commencement in May and by the time they got here we 18:00had inquiries for literally around the world. I mean we had news organizations going nuts about this because people didn't know about them. And so CBS evening news was here and interviewed them. They were the most amazing women all of them at this point were in their late 70s or early 80s. Some of them were still piloting their own planes; the most famous of them was Jerrie Cobb. And when we started the process of trying to get them to come here for the honorary doctorate, Martha had talked when them in the pass, she interviewed them for her book and she said I bet you will not get Jerrie Cobb, Jerrie lives in the jungles of South America. She actually flies medical things in for people, she 19:00doesn't want publicity she doesn't want anybody to make a big fuss over her. Well then Jerrie said that she was coming, and that was--like it opened the door and they all--the ones who were alive all came except for one. So it was so emotional for us to listen to them talk about what they had gone through and of course we had a couple of big meetings where they were speaking to the public and so many people brought young girls. It was like yes, because these young girls were seeing these are women, who tried to do what you are now gonna be allowed to do. And I think a couple of the young girls were so impressed. I know I had one from Appleton who was just like following them around (laughs) for most of the day. And she was just like I can't get enough of what they went 20:00through and what they did. So it was just an amazing event I think it was one of Oshkosh's most fine moments.

JX: Did you get a chance to meet them personally? Did they tell you about any of their experience or their training?

JW: Yes, they talked about it with us and when they discussed it in front--we had a large gathering, and they talked about their events. The people in the audience, I was up on the stage with them, and I'm watching the audience and I can see these people looking at each other like "what." I mean they--when they were doing astronaut training back in the early 60s, one of the things they did was deprivation of senses. So they put people in a water tank, it was warm water it was not enough to that they could drown but they would have to be floating in 21:00there. And it was all dark no sound and they asked them if they could do it as long as they could John Glenn made it, I think maybe three hours. And then he gave the signal and he had to get out, Jerrie Cobb did it for twelve hours. She could stay there isolated for twelve hours. They beat the men on so many of the--even the centrifugal force, when they would spin them around then women could do it for far longer than the men could. And so the audience was just like "what" and then it came down to how did- the people asked how come you didn't get to go into space. And John Glenn was a hero to so many was testifying in front of Congress and he said, "He felt that women's place really was in the kitchen." Again when the audience heard that they were like "what." And because 22:00he said that Congress said no, we're not going to send any women up there. Their major concerns about the women said that they found out that the major concerns about sending women into space is that they would be too frighten once they go there. And then they were trying to figure out how would they handle things like having their period. Those were your issues; these are women who have been piloting planes for. Anyways so they talked about it, my husband and I had a dinner for all of them at our house and invited some friends over. And this was after they had gotten their doctorates, so the women were sitting in our dining room and talking and people coming in and out talking with them. And at one point I was walking pass, my husband happens to be just a very attractive man. And one of them grab my hand and she said you know now that we're doctors we 23:00were wondering if we can give your husband a physical (laughs). These women were in their 70s and 80s and they were just giggling over this. It was a wonderful time.

JX: Did you ever find out about their reaction to being not sent into space?

JW: Yeah, they talked about how disappointed they were but yet at that time in our culture if a man said no that was kind of how they had to go. A couple of them spent the rest of their lives flying. They couldn't even be pilots for airlines, so they pilot their own small plane. And a couple of them did some pretty dangerous stuff working of the government, flying planes into areas that--were they could've been killed.

JX: What was the main reason why you and Debbie nominated them for the doctorates?

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JW: I guess because we found their story to be so compelling and we knew most people didn't know about it. And it was one of those books where the students because they were using it for the first year experience kind of thing, the students would find parts of the book very--they could ask questions. Why was this the way it was? You know and so it was well if we can bring them here I think they would really resonate with the students. And it seemed like that was true, they were on campus with us for about four or five days. And we had a lot of student participation in the activities that we did.

JX: Correct me if I'm wrong but the public found out about them in 1963?

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JW: Yeah, and '63 is when they were trying to become--and that was the first time they rose up to the point where Congress was hearing about it. And then after that it was--and we again during the 60s astronauts were the superheroes they were the Tom Brady and the Brett Favre's of everything. So we had all these men who were going off into space and being heroes doing wonderful things and it wasn't until the Mercury 13 even came out that I knew about what had happen with these women. I think that was the startling thing about it was that most people did not know about them.

JX: What was your reaction to finding out about them?

JW: I was indignant; it was like an hour into the 2000s and finding out that these women were like I was like "what." You know how could this have happened 26:00this is horrible, so I think people my age and Debbie's age could've been far more indignant than they women who got turned down were. There was only one of these thirteen women who honestly thought that the right decision had been made and she happened to be the mother of eight or ten kids or something. And she married a politician in Michigan, and she just kind of felt that women probably shouldn't be going out into space even though she had done the training. It really was a point for us then trying to figure out her position because we were indignant about this were back in the early 60s she would have been the one everyone was saying yeah she was right and the others were wrong.

JX: Where there any other significant events that happened while you were 27:00working here, that you could recall?

JW: We went through some phases were, I was teaching as an instructional academic staff person and people to this day really don't understand on campus very well. We have faculty and then we have academic staff who do most of the student support work but then we have instructional academic staff who teach. They for years had given out distinguish teaching awards to people who were faculty and after I had been teaching here a while said wait a minute, how come we're not doing anything for instructional academic staff. So I had worked up a proposal and sent it through to the senate of the academic staff, then it went on to faculty senate and then eventually to the chancellor. This was still 28:00Kerrigan he said you're absolutely right we should be awarding people because when you're instructional academic staff all you do is- your whole job is teaching. And you teach five sections of a course, over the course of a semester. The faculty they teach but they also have to do research and they have to do service, so they have less teaching that they do. I think I made the argument pretty fairly that for all the teaching we do we have to be good teachers, cause if we're not our students are gonna be reacting in such a way that they're gonna get rid of us. So he created, John Kerrigan created the distinguish teaching award for academic staff. And I thought that was enormous, that was wonderful because they get the same stipend of money that the distinguish teaching faculty did. And I think that was a struggle for some 29:00faculty to understand. So I felt really strongly that that was a good thing we had done that I apart of. We saw the rebirth of general studies into the university program, I wasn't a part of that committee that did that but I certainly cheered them on. We desperately need to upgrade the way we did general studies. I think that was probably the things I was most involved in.

JX: How do you feel how much UWO has changed not only physically but as an academic university as well?

JW: When I first came here I would've said our biggest down fall was that we didn't believe in ourselves, we didn't see ourselves as the really strong university that I thought we were. And I think that has changed, I think now we 30:00do believe in ourselves. I think we believe that we produce students who are extraordinary well educated and I think we given pride to a lot of the things that we should be proud of our work now as we move into that third area of general studies USP. Anyway that students are out there in the community now and they're actually an impact and learning about the value of volunteering. I think we're just a great university, I really believe that.

JX: So since we've changed from the general studies to the USP. Do you feel that the USP is effective? Because I know students have their thought about that.

JW: I think it's the first group of students the go through were the guinea 31:00pigs, and so there were some areas that hadn't been carefully thought out there were some glitches that were happening but I think as they watching this move on now they're looking at the new people coming in and they have a better idea of how to do these things. I'm probably saying something that might be [unclear] on campus, we asked for an awful lot of gen ed. And I think if we can't justify 41 credits, then there's something wrong and I think the USP is a way to try and justify those credits. Cause boy that takes up a lot of time and money for students.

JX: So you retired from teaching in 2014? Are you still involved here on campus?

JW: Yes, I am part of the Harvey Milk planning committee dinner each year. For a 32:00while I actually drove the shuttle, I was the back up to the back up to the back up, so it was like only three or four times have they actually call me. But I thought that was so much fun, to do that. My husband because he's still working we still have connections on campus, so we go to events and things like that.

JX: Going back to your family, you and your husband met and got married, did you guys have any kids?

JW: No, we never had children.

JX: So just a last question, now that you're not working here do you still see Oshkosh as a comfort to come here just to come here?

JW: Oh, absolutely I meet friends that are still working here. We have lunch in 33:00reeve, we go to the play, and we attend various activities that are on campus. So of my best friends are still working here so I'm always made aware of what going on campus. But yeah coming in this morning it feels like home to come back.

JX: That's great. Well that's all I have.

JW: okay.

JX: Thanks you so much.

JW: Oh, you're welcome.

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