Why I Give: A Lifetime of Great Experiences Inspires Philanthropy

Karen Pridham

Karen Pridham

Growing up in New Glarus, Wisconsin, a 14-year-old Karen Pridham  (’57 BS Nursing, ’66 MS Nursing, ’72 PhD Education) had her eyes opened when she attended the University of Wisconsin Music Clinic.

“I know it sounds corny, but I fell in love with this university and knew I wanted to come here,” she said. “But it was like a dream that one has as an adolescent.”

Pridham had a fulfilling career on campus. An emerita professor of nursing, she is one of the co-chairs of the Giving From Within committee to encourage faculty-staff philanthropy to support the university.

She and her husband, Walt, give jointly to various initiatives on campus, including the School of Nursing, the Great People Scholarship, the Wisconsin Union and more. She shared some of their motivations for their gifts.

How they started: It began with being an alumna and having a student call in the fall years ago about giving. We started very modestly. And then, gradually, as the means to give more became available, we increased that.  I must say that Walt has been extremely supportive.

Why the Great People Scholarship resonated: I wouldn’t be talking with you if there had not been a high school teacher who took an interest in me. I was born in 1933 during the Depression in a family interested in education, but at the time I was finishing high school, there really weren’t any means. I was preparing for the kind of life work that one could prepare for as a woman with a high school education from a small-town school. I was taking the commercial courses. I was learning bookkeeping, and I was really good at typing. I played the piano and I could type like a whiz.

This teacher gave me a hand-written letter to type to the Knapp Foundation. They offered a very nice scholarship, and it was a letter recommending me for that scholarship. I was amazed to receive it. I’m forever grateful for that chance. It made all the difference in my life. I can see how a gift can radically change things for a person, so how could I not give, too?

Excitement for the School of Nursing’s Signe Skott Cooper Hall: I think it offers great possibilities for the School in the context of a larger community of nurses and other disciplines to join together in academics and research in a way that hasn’t been possible. There hasn’t been the kind of gathering place and teaching and research space that the new building will offer for enhancing and strengthening its missions. Class size can be enlarged, so more nurses can be prepared. Frankly, I think the building is likely to attract faculty to come to a School that has a lot going for it already, but in a way that could be better identified. It will certainly show the faculty we’re trying to attract that the School has new, cutting-edge possibilities.

Giving as a couple: Our conversations about giving are pretty casual. It comes up at meals. It’s amazing, we’ve been married now going on 57 years, so we just sort of think alike. I have a sense of the kind of things he’ll be excited about funding. Generally I think we try to support each other in our funding interests.

Supporting the Memorial Union:  When I first got acquainted with Walt, we did lots of things at the Union. We went to concerts, plays and wonderful programs of speakers. We heard Eleanor Roosevelt talk and Frank Lloyd Wright. That was a wonderful part of our getting to know each other. All through the years, we’ve participated in activities at the Union.

One of the first things I did at summer Music Clinic was go to the Play Circle to see a film of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado.” Coming from a small town, this was a new experience for me. The Union opened my eyes to a whole new world of cultural events that were a lot of fun.

Join the faculty and staff members who support the people and programs on campus by making a gift today.