A Place at the Table for Campus ‘Family Members’

Marge and Chris Kleinhenz

Marge and Chris Kleinhenz

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a family affair for the Kleinhenzes – Professor Emeritus Chris, retired limited-term employee Marge and their two sons, Steven (’89 BA L&S, ’93 MA L&S) and Michael (’91 BA, ’93 MS L&S).

With more than 40 years invested on campus, Chris and Marge Kleinhenz have deepened their relationship with their University family through their giving. They support Chris’ field of Italian, as well as Friends of the Library Fund, the Faculty/Staff Great People Scholarship, the Dictionary of American Regional English, the History of Cartography Fund and other efforts.

“It’s a sort of miracle for a state the size of Wisconsin and the resources it has to have such a highly developed university system and this jewel, UW-Madison, as its major university,” Chris Kleinhenz said. “Very few states can boast a university with the kind of presence, economic clout and intellectual prestige that the UW has.”

The Kleinhenzes met as undergraduates at Indiana University, and he began teaching in the UW-Madison Department of French and Italian in 1968. “I’ve been here ever since, working up through the ranks, teaching lots of undergraduates and graduate students over a close-to-40-year career,” Chris Kleinhenz said. “It was, in fact, my first and only job.”

Marge Kleinhenz retired three years ago from the Office of Admissions and Recruitment, “where I had worked for 23 years processing freshman applications,” she said. “It was the best part-time job I could have had.”

A sustaining passion throughout their lives together has been Italy: its language, its people and its culture.

“Italy as a nation has always fascinated me, even though I have no ethnic ties and no Italian in my background. Neither does Marge,” Chris Kleinhenz said. “The literature, the art, the food, the music, there are so many wonderful things about Italy that I got attracted to it.”

He was an undergraduate at Indiana when his advisor in comparative literature asked what other languages he was planning to take. “I had taken French and Latin, so I thought, ‘Well, how about Italian?’ Something seemed to click with it, for some strange reason,” he said. Indeed it did, as he won a Fulbright Fellowship to teach and study in southern Italy outside Naples for a year starting in 1964. “That year, which was also our first year of marriage, seemed to set the course.”

In 1970-71, Chris and Marge with their two young sons spent the year in Bologna, where he directed UW-Madison’s Junior Year Abroad program. He wrote about a 40-year reunion of that group for the College of Letters & Science publication L&S Today.

“My own specialization was in Medieval Italian literature,” Chris Kleinhenz said. “I taught language courses, culture courses, all sorts of things for the department.” He was department chair for a term in the ‘80s and associate chair for Italian many times. “I was active in setting up the Medieval Studies Program and served as its chair for 20 years, and I directed the L&S Honors Program my last two years on campus.”

Through those experiences, Chris Kleinhenz saw the power of giving.

“In the Department of French and Italian, the French side is fairly well supported by its former students and faculty members in the form of scholarship funds and named funds, professorships and so on,” he said. “We knew that Italian did not have the resources that French had.”

That inspired the couple to create the Christopher and Margaret Kleinhenz Italian Studies Award. “We thought this would be a good thing for us to do, so that students of Italian, both undergraduate and graduate, could have some form of financial support in recognition of their scholarship or to help them realize their desire to study abroad,” he said. “Italy has been good to us, so in turn we’re giving back to the Italian side of the program.”

Students receiving the award have been thoughtful in sending thank-you notes and updates on their studies.

“It’s always nice to know how they’re using the funds,” Chris Kleinhenz said. “Many of them have used them to help defray the costs of studying in Bologna or Florence. Some of them are going to be actively using Italian in their studies or careers. That’s good.”

“I believe that libraries are one of the keys to the greatness of the University of Wisconsin. Any outstanding research institution has to have a great library.”

Chris Kleinhenz

Marge Kleinhenz agreed. “They seem to be truly grateful for whatever they are receiving,” she said. “It’s never going to be enough to pay their tuition for a semester. From the letters we receive, we can tell the students are very touched. The messages are heartfelt. It means a lot to us.”

Personal connections also inspire their support for Friends of the Library. “I’ve been a member of the Friends Board for some 20 years and served a term as its president,” said Chris Kleinhenz, who also recently wrote a history of the organization. “I believe that libraries are one of the keys to the greatness of the University of Wisconsin. Any outstanding research institution has to have a great library.

“One important mission of the Friends is to provide the funds to allow the library to make purchases it couldn’t normally make out of its regular operating or its acquisitions budget,” he said. “Contributions from the Friends help make it that special repository of knowledge important for future generations.”

The Kleinhenzes make their gifts jointly. “We talk about it, and we agree,” Marge said. “We discuss the causes we want to support and at what level.”

They emphasize that it doesn’t take a lot of money to have an impact. “I think that’s symptomatic of the attitude at Wisconsin. We do more with less,” Chris Kleinhenz said. “For example, the UW-Madison doesn’t have the overly large administration that other universities have. The expression ‘lean and mean’ is, I believe, accurate in describing the University and what it’s been able to do with the resources it’s been given.”

As state support has declined, “we collectively, the faculty and staff at the University, have managed to do quite a bit with fewer and fewer resources,” he said. “The University definitely needs the support of its faculty, its staff, the UW Foundation and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, all of these things together.

“Marge and I have greatly benefited from our long association with the University and are pleased to be able to give back to the institution to help provide the opportunities to others that we have enjoyed, and we would encourage others to do the same,” he said. “A university’s reputation is laboriously built over many years, but it can fade very rapidly. We hope that our contributions and those of others will help to maintain the excellence of the UW.”