Interview with Judith Shwonek, 04/21/2016

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
Viviana Diaz, Interviewer | uwocs_JudithA_BuettnerShwonek_04212016.mp3
Campus Stories Oral History Project (UWO Audio Series 51) |


VD: We are going to start out the interview it is April 21st, and it is I think it is 4:20 pm and I'm here with...

JS: Judith Shwonek

VD: Okay so can you start by telling me where you're from?

JS: Where I grew up?

VD: Yes

JS: I was born in Millville, Wisconsin but at age 2 my parents moved to Appleton, so I...I've grew up in Appleton Wisconsin and I lived in northeastern Wisconsin my whole life

VD: What was it up growing up in Appleton? How was the neighborhood?

JS: It was a great place to grow up in and still would be, we could ride our bikes everywhere and walk, walk around you know, kids playing in the streets. I think it was a very happy city to grow up in, it had facilities, swimming pools, small parks and city parks.

VD: How was your neighbors? Was there any like different ethnicity around, was 1:00it just Caucasian?

JS: Unfortunately Appleton was very white (laughs), that was, I was born in 1940, so I grew up in the 40s/50s. It was past, I understand there were African Americans in the area, but the whole population in Wisconsin shifted, well I was growing up there were it was very unusual to see and minorities.

VD: What were your family--How were you parents like raising you and everything else...

JS: I was the oldest of 5 kids and my dad was a truck driver, neither of my parents were educated past the 8th grade but they were successful in their lives my mother actually was employed as an office manager for a department store 2:00required high school education but one of our neighbors knew she could do the job and hired her but when I wanted to go to college, my dad said "You'll just get married anyways" but when I did get married when I was a junior in college, he didn't say I told you so because I stayed in school and I have saved enough money from my own teenage job so that I can put myself through my senior year. I don't think I can do that at today's tuition rate

VD: Oh no, it's so much

JS: Yes, but then I came to school here and I don't remember the tuition wasn't anywhere even percentage wise and we were disciplined, but I always thought being the eldest they were really hard around on me, the rules were pretty 3:00strict, when as I past, I got through life okay. It wasn't so hard on my siblings and also my parents got worn down a little bit and I think being a girl they were a little harder on me being a girl, three of the people that followed me are my brothers and my sister was nine years younger than me

VD so out of 5 there was two...

JS: Two girls and three boys, and I was fourteen when the youngest one was born. So you can imagine why my mother was tired of skelp meeting and parents conferences (laughs) although that youngest brother was happy to sit in the chair with a book his whole life, so he was no problem anyway

VD: So out of 5 were you guys all raised in the Appleton area then?

JS: Yes, I was the only one who wasn't born in Appleton...

VD: Okay

JS: And so we were all raised there, went to school there and we were the family 4:00of all of our relatives, we were the family that moved away, so we drove a lot.

VD: Visiting back?

JS: We always visited, my mother's family were mostly in Minnesota and my father's family were in central Wisconsin. So on a Saturday or Friday after school we would drive to Minnesota and Sunday afternoon we would be going home so I drive a lot myself because it's kind of in my blood and people my age are often saying they don't drive at night, I still do that. They don't like to drive on highway 41, I have no problem. I drive cross country alone, I like the radio and I like my own company so I get along okay with it. (laughs)

VD: That's good, so I know you said you were born in the 1940s and with like 5 5:00siblings, was there any change throughout the community as the years went by?

JS: Well of course, but the things that come to mind are simple things. We lived in College Avenue that had a grassy boulevard down the middle and once summer there was a polio epidemic, we were all grounded and had to stay home. And that was the year the workmen were taking the boulevard out so we all of us sat on our front porch watched the workmen special fun for the boys I guess. And I think that was about 1952 not sure but that was a big thing to be [unclear] whole summer.

VD: So are you currently still living in Appleton then?

JS: No, I did live in Appleton I was teaching school in Neenah and I have always 6:00loved living on water lake but I can't afford lake property and I have found out, I've heard about a small house on the Waupaca river in the city of Waupaca. So ten years ago I bought a house and moved to Waupaca and I like it there

VD: good,

JS: It's close enough just like my Appleton house I can still walk downtown it's closer than the Appleton walk was but everything I need Waupaca has.

VD: Good, is there any difference between the community between Waupaca and Appleton

JS: Waupaca has a reputation for being very republican and I am not (laughs) I say I am independent and I have voted for an occasional republican, basically I 7:00vote for a democrats. However Waupaca is changing and it's not as republican as its reputation was

VD: Neutral?

JS: Yes I would say probably but the Democratic Party in Waupaca is very active and signs go up in yards and nobody destroys them, its tolerance is there

VD: So were you ever involved around your church around the community?

JS: Yes, I grew up in the Methodist church in Appleton and I think I was in fourth grade when my parents have finally decided on that church they tried two different churches and sometimes we would go to one and sometimes we would go to the other and I'm guessing when my sister was born one Saturday afternoon the 8:00whole family went to the church and my father and the four kids were baptized because of us my mother was the only one who has been baptized and after that first Methodist church in Appleton was our church and I'm still Methodist

VD: Is it a big part in your life being...

JS: Yes, I'm a singer so by fifth grade I was singing in the junior choir and I have sung in church choir my entire life since then and to this day I am involved in music in my church and now they call me the coordinator and I assign, I line up people to sing solos or play an instrument and I play piano for service music

VD: So going to the Methodist church was it a big part in your family growing up then?


JS: Yes, it was an obligation we would go to Sunday school in the summer we went to bible school and my parents always went to church and they continued even after the kids continued to grow up...Continued to be a big thing

VD: So, going to education, what were your schools like?

JS: For a while we moved a lot and I went to [Maryville?] elementary school and I attended until third grade then we settle into one place and we always believed education was good in the Appleton school so I went to an elementary school near a park and then I went into the Jr high. The elementary school was called Jefferson school ooh at first it was a very old school when I was in fifth grade they built a new school in where I bought a house in Appleton in 10:001989 that was four blocks from the school I have gone too so they celebrated their 50th anniversary I went back to Jefferson school to see what it looked like it wasn't nearly as big as that was a funny thing I went to Appleton high school it was Appleton Sr high school then now it's Appleton west and the fox terrors

VD: Yes

JS: And it was so much fun, ball games, dances that [unclear] after a game Friday night after games place for dances. It was a really a fun city to grow in a fun time to grow up because we had so much freedom and I think even in cities like Milwaukee have way more freedom now they just don't dare

VD: So, so I know you said in Appleton it was pretty much Caucasian people was 11:00it the same during school?

JS: Yes I can't remember I think the only minorities I ever saw in school would of been foreign exchange students but I guess they were Caucasian too when I was there Appleton was known for this was an embarrassment for me even as a kid it was known as "Sunset City" and that meant that minorities could work in Appleton but in the evening they had to leave so we had a professional semi­professional baseball team and there were blacks playing on that team but they had to sleep in Menasha they were not allowed to sleep to stay in Appleton overnight but 12:00Menasha accepted them.

VD: Why was that?

JS: Well it was just the prejudice of the time it was common but like I said it was an embarrassment to me and my friends. I think we were in the age where things were starting to

change the Freedom Writers soon after that one of my classmates actually was a Freedom Writer who was well featured in the museum of them and in books. So we were aware that there were something else out there but I think many of us were not totally comfortable when we left Appleton, and met other people. I think we are all over that now (laughs) I don't know what people think think but I am not aware of anybody who prejudice was blatant.

VD: So ever since you were young did you know you wanted to go to college?


JS: I did

VD: You did

JS: By second grade I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I stuck to that, my parents have struggled a big deal because to send the oldest to college to them meant they had four other ones they would have to send to college so they can see owning a home would probably would not be possible because their money wouldn't go to the children's college. As it turned out about the same time I started college because my mother valued education greatly so she went out and so did I about the time I started school here in Oshkosh my dad as a truck driver started to get more money and so they were in fact I joke because the 14:00year I came to school here and I lived in the dorm and they bought a house and moved (laughs) now of course I knew where they were moving and everything I joke that I left home and they bought a house so I couldn't find them that was true of course but and of the five of us three did go to college and two chose not to.

VD: So I know your dad you said he wasn't no supportive for going into college but your mom was?

JS: My mother would've loved to finish off high school and gotten her G.E.D. but she didn't want to hurt his feelings either of them finished eighth grade which is funny her dad used the same excuse for her not to go to high school 'You'll just get married anyways' like education is wasted but my dad was very proud of me after, he would say this is my daughter the teacher (laughs) so that was 15:00funny but my only decision as far as education is continuing school was what would, what should I teach. I had a lot of patience, I was good with babysitting children and people I babysat for and my mother thought I should teach first grade because they loved their teachers so but being in high school I wanted to teach literature to kids that I could talked to though in my interest so I did major in English and have a great interest in music major but both English and music are very demanding on time so I dropped the minor in music and I stayed in the concert choir and continued to studying piano here. My husband was a music 16:00major and band director so I say I married the music major (laughs) and another thing that happened that affected my education is that I had Dr. Jacob shapperio for [Sociology?] and I loved that man he was the best teacher ever of any grade I just loved the things we did and then I leaned toward a biology minor however I got to a different point one semester left and that professor said " if you didn't have high school physics you will not pass this class" the university did not require but he did. And I got afraid so I left and I finished with a French minor and it did well for me I was able to teach French in the beginning of my career so I had the English major, French minor and a music focus.


VD: So you knowing you wanted to become a teacher how did you decide you wanted to come to UWO or was it Wisconsin State University College?

JS: It was Wisconsin State College at that time it was that I could afford and it was known for preparing teaches before Wisconsin State College it was Teacher training school or country training so people who were older than I was wanted to be teachers it was known highly educated school and closer to home I was able to keep my summer/weekend job for awhile

VD: So did you parents like make up not a big decision but did it impact your 18:00decision to come to WSU?

JS: Probably but I don't think, you know they had no experience with college so I think it was pretty much up to me. And just knowing this is what I was lucky to get and it was close even though the joke was "UW­Zero" (laughs) is it still? (Continues Laughing)

VD: I think so? (laugh)

JS: Where it was not highly thought of because it was so close to home. But certainly was the education I need it, I also got my masters here too yes so did my husband.

VD: So what was your social life, like throughout college?

JS: In College? Well let's see I do remember laughing a lot(laughs). And I lived 19:00in the dorms until I got married. Two and a half years I lived in the dorms. And some of my social life was focused on Wesley Foundation which was part of the Methodist Church. We were a very close group.

Sundays, meals were not served in the dorms on Sunday. So the group in the Methodist church we did cost suppers took turn baking something for supper that wouldn't cost so much, everybody chipped in whenever they need it. Great pizza place downtown, I got boyfriends, I guess there were more boys interested in me then I knew that was, you know I found the one I wanted I guess and that was it. So there were dance, did go to a lot of concerts, that was the music part, we 20:00had tickets for an Arise series, and then the girl dorms there were something always going on.

VD: Was it usually all girls living in the dorms?

IS: It always was all girls living in the dorms, and there were dorms hours too. Ten o'clock on school nights the doors would lock if you weren't in,

VD: You were stuck outside?

JS: Mhmm, I think they would let the girls in and I was the counselor, I think that is what we were called. And sometimes the boys would stick their foot in the doors so I couldn't close them. They were talking about that in the meeting, that I was at today, with retired teacher because we all went through that or remembering if that a boy was on the floor someone would be a custodian coming 21:00in to fix a plug toilet or something then they would holler "Man on the floor!" So we wouldn't go out in our night gowns.

VD: So with not allowing boys into the dorms, so like you said you had boyfriends, and other girls probably had boyfriends, if they wanted to come in to like the building were there any rules?

JS: They can come in into like a waiting area/ lobby. They would buzz our room or the girl that was on duty would buzz our room and we would come down.

VD: So they had special rules,

JS: Oh the rules were very strict

VD: Really strict?

JS: You get demerits if you were late. I almost forgot that. If you didn't get in before the door locked of course they would let you in but then you get demerits and if you got so many then you would get grounded, and couldn't go out. It was very different, and we never imagined boys in the buildings, 22:00probably most of us when we started hearing of that we probably wondered how that works, because we were used to running up and down the hall with our pajamas. Especially since our pajamas those days were baby dolls and we didn't way boys to see us that way. But there were a lot of things to do movies to go to, snowball fights, things like that.

VD: So I know you said that you were active on the Reeve Union Board Program. What was that?

JS: The program committee what I am remembering is selecting movies and setting up for certain things but I believe we also arranged maybe some tea for special 23:00occasions.[unclear], yearbook pictures aren't so clear. That's basically what I remembered. The union was being built I believe my first year here, I think it was my second year here when I was a sophomore when I got into the union board and stayed on it until I graduated.

VD: so it was like creating activities for the campus?

JS: yes

VD: and then what were classes like? Were they difficult?

JS: Mostly lectures, some were difficult and some were easy. One English professor who announced straight at the beginning that none of us would get A's because A meant perfection and only God was perfect, so it was very rare to get 24:00an A from him so I didn't. In another case I had a professor for some English courses I did get an A before marriage but it was even easier after I got married, because he look around and said "I believe married students do better." So, I got another A but that would be odd I would be walking around the campus alone or with my husband "Hello Mrs. Shwonek" he would say or if I was walking with girlfriends or not married and still lived in the dorms it was as he didn't know us at all and he did have all of us as students. It's an odd thing. But there were married students, veterans. Men who were in the military they were taking college classes in the G.I bill so they were doing well, they were strong students because they were a little bit older and they know what they wanted to 25:00do and many of them were married and had families so they had to get this education and get on with the jobs they really, the professions they really wanted but there were professors who were popular and there were others who were not. Some of the education courses were known as the Mickey Mouse courses we had to take them to get the diploma they felt like they weren't worth much.

VD: So when you picked classes, were they mainly focused on like teaching classes or?

JS: With the English major I, it was not focused on teaching it was knowing literature mostly literature and writing. The other courses it was geared toward teaching had to do with statistics, philosophy to be a teacher helps to know 26:00these things. Some things to become a teacher comes naturally.

VD: So as a student as I guess Wisconsin State University what kind of student were you, were you a very studious is that the word?

JS: I work hard, I wanted good grades and I liked school, I always liked school. Well why would I want to be a teacher if I didn't like school.

VD: I don't know so there were um, I am stuck right now (nervous laugh) so you said dorms were mainly girls, is that where you made most of your friends? Or?


JS: Well some of my close friends I think my closest friends not only lived in the dorms I meet them in classes or at Wesley. But they also lived in the dorms, but the two roommates I had were elementary majors and we had no classes together but I got close to those two roommates, three. My third yea I kind of left her with an empty room when I got married

VD: so once you got married you got your own house with your husband?

JS: yes we rented an apartment on Elmwood.

VD: It's probably cheaper than what it is now or was it a cheap apartment?

JS: well it was something we could afford. We both worked part time jobs. There was no, there were no accommodation for married couples, no couples housing or family housing. There were more houses around here, right where this building is 28:00was a row of houses. The library when I was here was on the third floor of Dempsey and we couldn't even go into the stacks and get books ourselves, we had to tell the librarian what we wanted and they go into the stacks and bring it back for us.

VD: That's weird.

JS: Very strange, I thought that was strange then too.

VD: That's weird, at least it's not [unclear]

JS: but that is the way I remembered it. But there are many more buildings on campus now.

VD: So if you wanted to study you can go up to the third floor?

JS: it was primarily a study area

VD: Okay, but if you wanted to get a book then you would just ask a librarian

JS: If you wanted to use it or check it out, we would get them

VD: That's strange, that's okay though

JS: Sometimes I even thought at the time college then was a glorified high 29:00school, we had a lot of rules for behavior and a lot of distress with books (laughs) I don't think anybody got, had to stay after because [unclear] class, but you know it did, in fact college year was like high school.

VD: Really?

JS: We had Christmas break, where the semester, we would come back, and the semester ended a couple weeks into January. So most of us spent winter break writing term papers, research papers.

VD: For the next semester. Really?

JS: Yeah, whatever the big paper that was due for whatever classes. That was how we spent Christmas vacation. We got married the first day of Christmas vacation, went to our apartment and wrote papers.

VD: So would you like sign up for classes in the fall and then continue those 30:00same classes until the end of the year or did you like...

JS: I don't, we must of signed up for classes in the spring. Once we were students we must of had priorities, as opposed to transfer students. We would talk to a counselor, the dean would help select courses and the professors themselves would also recommend sometimes

VD: Was that helpful deciding what kind of classes you would like to take the following year?

JS: Yeah, the courses that were required for the major and the education section. I don't think there were a lot of choice. I guess among the English courses, maybe we can take or chose what literature classes we wanted.

VD: And then you did graduate from was it still Wisconsin State College?


JS: When I graduated with my bachelors it was still but by the time I finished my masters it was I'm guessing it went straight to UW­Oshkosh I don't remember for sure. Maybe something in between there.

VD: So once you got your bachelor's degree you, did you have that mind determined you wanted to get your masters here?

JS: Yeah, we knew when we started teaching the more education we had the better the pay would be. But my husband finished his first, when we moved, at first we didn't live near here so it was really hard to take any courses. But when he got a job in Menasha, we taught three years up north in a little town, and then we 32:00came back to Kenosha and so that was drivable and we were able to take night classes and summer classes. He finished first and then I did mine. That worked out really well and we had one car and two kids by then

VD: Where you guys still in school even though you guys had kids?

JS: No well I was pregnant when I graduated, we got married when we were juniors. So a year and half later I was pregnant and so I didn't teach the first year I was out of school. My baby was due the first of August came September first. I really couldn't see getting a job not know how things were going to work out and my husband still had to play his piano at his recital in order for him to graduate. So we were here and we didn't know where we would be when he 33:00got a job so by the time we were working on our masters we had two children by then

VD: So where does your husband work right now? Is he...

JS: we divorced after twenty­three years of marriage but then we got to become really good friends and that was good for our kids and grandkids but he died five years ago

VD: Oh I am so sorry.

JS: of sudden he was ill for five days. It was extreme leukemia. So I don't know if that makes me a widow divorce (laughs) I think that still makes me a divorce. But he's not living so I don't have a handy man anymore he would come and tinker, he would come around the house. He wanted to do, be helpful.


VD: So throughout your education career with your bachelors and masters what was one thing you learned while attending school here?

JS: Oh I think the main thing about college education is to learn where and how to find out the things you don't know.

VD: So do you mean like resources, and getting help?

JS: Yeah, I hear so much about people going to college and not using their education and I don't agree with that. Education is never wasted in my opinion and I think you learn how to think and how to follow written directions, how to 35:00analyze problems and solve problems and maybe you are not using the particular subject matter but you are learning the skill, are using the skill you learned so I guess that is the one thing that I really learned. I learned some skills on the pianos that still used and wouldn't know if I didn't study piano at a higher level and my interest in [zoology ] and biology is continued. Where I live now I can kayak and in the spring I go and pull invasive aquatic weeds and I pay a lot of attention to wildlife so I had a lot of interest developed. I do like to read, but I don't read as much as a lot of other people. I read the newspaper 36:00before I go to sleep I read a few pages, in a book, books are good, you know they don't go away if I fall asleep or know I need to go to sleep, I make myself close the book it will be there next time I pick it up and take a long time to read it.

VD: That's okay thought, so since you received your bachelors and masters you started teaching not right away since your first kid but have you been teaching ever since?

JS: Yeah, I started teaching in the fall of 1963. She was born in 1962 so she was a year old and then I taught for three years and then we moved. It took me a couple of years to find a job and when I did it was in Neenah and by then we had the second baby. But I was a working mom and I think my kids turned out okay and 37:00they agree. They don't think they were hurt too much. I continued to take classes, I didn't work for a PHD, but I have enough credits, it's just that they were not the right credits because after my masters, I took courses that I thought were be of value for teaching. Working with kids that were on risk of quitting or being kicked out of creative writing classes, and took a lot of those courses it tallied the number of causes, that a PH.D would need but it wasn't the right classes to be called doctorate and I didn't care.

VD: So even though you got your masters you still went, how do I explaining this you still wanted to continue your education?

JS: Absolutely, I actually started thinking of I would like to get a PHD but I 38:00heard some part of living on classes and that wouldn't of been possible with a family and the I had a good job and couldn't really afford to not have the income of whatever time it would take two semester or more. So, we both took classes that would be more useful like some were from Viterbo college and some here on campus that we could of just take. They were things that were only a week or two weeks long or six weeks in the school year and meeting once a night, once a week that sort of thing. They were what we called practical.

VD: So with you and I guess your ex-husband getting a college degree, did your 39:00kids, did you influence your kids to continue their education after high school?

JS: You know there never any doubt they would go to college, they grew up expecting they would go to college and the both did. Neither of them were a teacher, but well my daughter sort of is, she is not a library science major but her master is something with library research and reference and she worked until she had third baby but she worked at the University of California­San Diego in the research reference department. And my son has his degree in biology and he also worked in the University of California­ San Francisco, but now he works 40:00for a pharmaceutical company that develops cancer drugs and he didn't like chemistry but that's what he is doing. (Laughs) Funny thing. So they both knew they would go to college and there was never any doubt. [Unclear].

VD: Good, and you guys were very supportive.

JS: yeah, and my son doesn't have children but my daughter kids know. Her eldest is a theater major in New York University now and she will be a junior and she's going to study in Amsterdam this summer. The next one is a boy graduating from high school and has been accepted into the University of California­ Santa Cruz and the youngest one is a sophomore, freshmen in high school this year and wants to do something with aeronautics that's all he wanted might not be university 41:00but it will be a higher education for him too. Because their parents are both educated, that's just kind of the way that the family goes. I was the first one in my whole family to ever go to college though not just my immediate family but all my cousins and everything, so when I went to college, two cousins signed up for college but then quit before they finish. So my pride is that I have nieces and nephews that are teachers, I think they kind of caught that from me (laughs).

VD: So they are like?

JS: They are my brother's kids, my brothers and sister kids are, there are teachers among them.

VD: So in a way they kind of looked up to you?

JS: I think so, I was close to a lot of my nieces and nephews. My sister was 42:00widowed at such a young age so she had a five year old and a seven year old when her husband died and I was recently divorced so we traveled together so her children grew up. Poor kids, with two of us teasing and threatening put them, pull over if they didn't stop fighting, I would leave them on the other side of the road (Laughs). I'm still very close to those kids still and one of my brothers kids lived near me and I did a lot of hiking and stuff with them so yeah I got a close relationship with them.

VD: That's good, so since you graduated and now you are an alumni of UWO, have you still been involved with the university at all in any ways?

JS: I have, in some degree stopped coming to alumni, I haven't come to homecoming in a while because I wasn't running into people I know. Actually my 43:00closest school friends go back to high school, but I have done a lot with learning in retirement which is under the [unclear] of UW that is why I knew the parking spaces. Although since I moved to Waupaca, the last for two years I have not come to learning in retirement either, we have in Waupaca a very active library. There are lots of learn programs there's another group called Winchester academy which does excellent lectures. And to drive to Oshkosh was twice as long far from Appleton and it seemed like the things I wanted to come too, I was traveling a lot and they were always when I was going to be

gone, the things I wanted to see or hear most or I didn't or I was on a waiting list for a play. So two years ago I decided that I was busy enough in Waupaca, I 44:00kayak almost every day in the summer, I do these lectures and library things and I just have a lot of things going on.

VD: That's okay, so I know you have been here as a student. What are your impressions of UWO now then what it was before growing up?

JS: I think it's a well-respected school. I have a gentleman friend, I hate to call a seventy­six year old man a boyfriend (laughs), but he worked in the pentiant for the Hershey Company, Hershey's chocolate. He graduated from Madison but he got his masters his MBA, his business degree here. He speaks very highly of it. I have a sister-in-law who got the MBA here too and has gone [leaves?] 45:00and bounds climbing the ladder in Kimberly Clark. So I know so many teachers educated from here. I think it is a high quality school, as any of the UW schools are, I think Wisconsin has quality education.

VD: So are you in a way proud to graduate from this university?

JS: Yup

VD: Okay and I only have one more question. What advice would you give students, college students?

JS: Already in college?

VD: Yes, or students coming into college?

JS: If they decided to come?

VD: Mhmm

JS: Well, you don't have to know your major before you come here, because there are so many career paths that we don't even understand or know yet. So you can 46:00chose an area that you think, but have an open mind and be able to, be willing to change even though it takes another year to get or to do. Take it serious, it's a very expensive activity, and don't throw that money away.

VD: Okay, well I would like to thank you for having this interview session with me.

JS: It was my pleasure to start thinking of more of what was it back then, what were some high points?

VD: It probably changed a lot throughout the years

JS: Oh it has, a lot of things have changed, but not necessarily bad things just 47:00change but that's life so thank you.

VD: Thank you

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