Have you ever heard the advice that you should follow the money? As a Lutheran myself and a neighbor to two Lutheran institutions, I wanted to see what that meant and how that money might make living next to those institutions a bit better, even if it's seemingly done the opposite so far.

 

When I looked it up, I found that Kurtis Froedtert left $11 million back in 1951. Figuring that in today’s money is more confusing than I once thought, but based on several sources, I’d say it’s somewhere over $100 million. Maybe as much as $500 million. Many of the houses in the surrounding neighborhood were being built in 1951 when the average house price was $9000. So the money was pretty big back then, and the hospital has become pretty big today. One concern, however, is whether or not Froedtert, Children’s, and the Medical College have been good neighbors, especially in the last twenty years of astronomical expansion. Further, can the medical center fix its position as a poor neighbor, if that’s how we see it?

The second neighbor seeing huge expansion and sporting a Lutheran name is Wisconsin Lutheran College. When I moved in back in 1991, it was a small, almost laughable college housed in one large building that was once a monastery. However, big money began getting pumped into the college. Some of it might have been attributed to Marvin Schwan, but a lot of the money ($25 million) was veiled as anonymous, though we all seemed to assume it still came from the Schwan Foundation. $5 million for a library was attributed to Schwan, as was a donation towards the art center and recreation center. Two dorms  and a student center might have come from the $25 million. The latest is $5.5 million from “friends of the college” to fund a parking structure.  Other major donors include Generac execs, who gave $5 million for the science building and  $10 million from Krauss-Miller-Lutz Foundation, which was for the sports complex in the county grounds. I hope this is fairly accurate because the internet is surprisingly sparse in listing this information.

As a Lutheran myself, I know all about the traditional Lutheran way of dealing with outsiders. Generally, you don’t. You keep to yourself, hang out with other Lutherans at church, and create Lutheran schools for your sheltered Lutheran kids.  I had a friend in college who wouldn’t even consider dating a pretty girl unless she was Lutheran. It’s a nice club to be in, but outsiders aren’t always so sure of the club, and for good reason. As strong Christians, WELS members should be ready to reach out to others. They should care about the neighbors where they live (even if temporarily) and use the opportunity of being out in the world to spread the Word of Christ. Instead, they lock themselves in their college and dorms, park illegally, allow their houses or apartments to fall into disrepair, and generally make a bad name for themselves with those they should be affecting in a positive way.

Trick or treat in the halls is a perfect example of Lutherans being Lutheran. A campus full of bright, young people ready for the mission field and they invite  friends and family (I assume) to the dorms for “a safe trick or treating opportunity.” The rest of us had that on Sunday, WLC, and I'm pretty sure we weren't invited on campus. My kids did not even go to the house up the block where college kids live because past experience has shown it to be a waste of time, like expecting them to shovel, rake, put the garbage can in the right place, or park on the driveway instead of the front lawn.  In fact, besides the brand new apartments and dorms, have you seen the other WLC-owned houses and apartments? Metal pipes as handrails, really? Maybe students who live in the area need some examples set.

When our kids went across Bluemound for trick-or-treat, an Asian man answered the door and seemed very confused. His neighbor across the street said the man was resident at the hospital and did not know about American culture. Sure, other neighbors could have helped the man, but he might rightfully expect some guidance from his employer, too. 

When my family first moved in here, we liked the college kids and residents. They were good young people, we believed, and they didn’t detract from the value on our block. However, they (at least the college kids) have started to. Besides, when I look up assessed value of local homes that are listed as “class - exempt” instead of residential, with the owner being WLC, I realize that our neighborhood and city tax base is suffering from allowing expansion onto our blocks. We are paying more taxes to make up for WLC’s expansion. The expansion is hurting the way the area looks and feels, which won’t help if we decide to sell (to them?). Basically, it’s kind of a version of Milwaukee’s White Flight. Maybe it’s only my older, dad perspective that assumes these college kids are changing the neighborhood, but it doesn’t mean I necessarily want to stick around to find out.

The solution might have to do with parking, as I addressed in another article, but it likely has more to do with a mentality. We have resident doctors and college students who want to use the area for several years and then move on, but they need some incentive to treat the area right. Me writing this might be enough for God-fearing Lutherans to realize they need to be better stewards of the graces God has provided. Medical College residents might be reminded that they want to keep their home values high as a wise investment. However, what about all that money?

Even if there is no precedence for using millions upon millions of donated money in order to help promote a sense of community around an institution, there sure ought to be. I experienced the animosity between residents and students around UWM. Those residents at least could walk up to the student union and a decent library. They could feel welcome on campus while sitting next to a water fountain. Why don’t people who live around WLC at least get free library cards or use of the gym to some extent? Maybe the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center could give residents memberships to the WAC. Tickets to WLC games (I wouldn’t go, but someone might). Maybe it’s more about beautification across Wisconsin Avenue and a use for the area between Froedtert and WLC, like a park or community center... call it a Lutheran Community Park. Back when our kids were smaller, I would have jumped at cheap babysitting by students. Why aren’t any of the students or doctors ever walking around here helping elderly neighbors with their leaf raking or shoveling? Why was both sides of Wisconsin Avenue a total dump when the new student housing was being constructed? Can't someone from these two institutions either ask a neighbor or send an employee on a walk through the adjacent neighborhoods? I guess I just wonder what it is that goes on at Froedtert and Wisconsin Lutheran College that’s so darn Christian if none of it ever seems to be happening right next door.

I’m not officially a politician or planner, so others must have some ideas out there. I’ll add any more I hear from you, but I just thought I’d address the issue.

If those in charge of Froedtert and Wisconsin Lutheran College read this article, they might want to answer the following:

1. What are you doing to improve your neighborhood (not just NOT making it worse)?

2. What are you doing to spread the Word of God to the unchurched who live all around you?

3. How are you setting a good example for your students and employees when it comes to community responsibility?

4. How do you communicate to employees and students what is/ is not acceptable in how they treat the surrounding area (or their own neighborhood if they live here)?

5. Since donors generally want to be recognized and it may matter where the money comes from, could you provide a list of top donors over the years? If you do not want to publish it on your site, I'd be glad to do so.

6. What is your message to those who live next to you?

 

If you reply, I will post the reply.

Milwaukee Regional Medical Center response (via phone call)


Interested in some of the politics of philanthropy? Read the article I found while researching WLC’s history with Schwan.