This is how Marquette alumni and St. Ignatius Legacy Society members Jim and Jane Strenski describe what is important to them as benefactors. Married for 56 years, the couple has been generously funding education for decades to help financially limited, deserving students of all ages and backgrounds, including those at Marquette. They have also included Marquette in their estate plan.
Why do they do it?
Because as first-generation college graduates, they know the first-hand value of education.
Jim is one of three children from a Milwaukee family with humble roots. Neither his father nor mother finished the eighth grade, but both strongly encouraged Jim to get a good education. And so he did—even though he had to pay for it.
Jim went to Pius XI High School because a Catholic education was important within the religious Strenski family. To pay his high school tuition, Jim took a job driving a truck for a local beer depot.
Upon his high school graduation, he enrolled in Marquette’s College of Engineering, per his family’s prodding. He lived at home, hitch-hiking to campus every day. To pay tuition—$800 a year—Jim did a bit of everything, from working at Gimbel’s to digging ditches. Academically, journalism rather than engineering proved to be Jim’s calling and he switched colleges after his freshman year. He ultimately earned a degree in public relations and advertising in 1952. But most important, he met his soul mate, Jane, while at Marquette.
Jane Wambach, a graduate of Milwaukee Messmer Catholic High School, wanted to go to college, but her father did not think women needed to be educated beyond the secondary level. Thanks to the intervention of her grandfather—who did not finish eighth grade—the door to college was opened for Jane as well as her sisters.
Their father eventually became very supportive of the idea, especially when Jane was one of six women accepted into Marquette University’s medical technology program in 1948. He helped pay for tuition, but without scholarship aid available, Jane worked as a hat-check girl at Boston Store and lived at home to keep costs down. Four years later, she earned her degree and began working at the County Emergency Hospital in Milwaukee.
Jane and Jim had much in common: they both attended Catholic high schools; were commuting, first-generation, students who participated in extracurriculars; and graduated in 1952. They even had mutual friends, who ultimately introduced them. Jim and Jane had their first date in 1952 after their Baccalaureate services as graduating seniors and were married two years later.
While Jane worked at the hospital, Jim began Marquette Law School when his draft number came up—only two weeks into the semester. Jim enlisted with the Navy and was assigned to Norfolk, Virginia, where Jane worked in a local doctor’s office. Jim spent two years at sea based near Norfolk and in 1956 the couple had their first of five children during Jim’s third and final year of active duty.
After completing his service, they moved to the Chicago area, where Jane became a homemaker, caring for their three daughters and two sons. Jim successfully used his Marquette degree, ultimately establishing and chairing Public Communications, Inc. (PCI), an independent PR firm headquartered in Chicago that eventually opened offices in Miami and Tampa, Florida.
Jim and the family then moved to Tampa so he could supervise PCI’s Florida division. During that time, the importance of their Catholic, Jesuit education was passed on to their children. Their youngest son graduated from Tampa Jesuit High School, where they established an endowment to help educate financially disadvantaged boys. All told, four of their children graduated from Jesuit universities—and much to Mom and Dad’s particular delight—two of their daughters are MU alumnae! Jim and Jane paid for tuition; however, the children, reflective of their parents’ college experiences, also helped defray educational costs.
In raising their family, Jim and Jane did not stray from the values that mattered most to them: working hard to get ahead, appreciating a quality education and upholding Catholic, Jesuit ideals. These values are cornerstones of their philanthropy as the couple believes in shaping others throughout the educational stages of life.
Along with their endowment established at Tampa Jesuit High School, they provide volunteer and financial support at another school in Tampa to help make a first-rate middle school education possible for bright, inner-city kids from impoverished families. But their generosity does not stop there.
Marquette shaped each of them professionally and personally, so Jim and Jane wanted to pass the Marquette experience on to others. To that end, the couple created the Jim and Jane Strenski Scholarship Endowment Fund in 2002, which benefits first-generation students with financial need. While they see their scholarship as a bookend in relation to the support they provide middle and high school students, the Strenskis say their scholarship fund was inspired by Marquette President Robert A. Wild, S.J. A priority for him throughout his 15-year tenure has been to build endowed scholarship aid—especially to promote college access among first-generation students.
Today, he and Jane recognize that even working at multiple jobs, students often cannot pay for tuition. Their scholarship helps deserving young women and men make ends meet so they can excel in the classroom. To date, the Jim and Jane Strenski Scholarship Fund has benefitted five students to help make their Marquette education and experience possible.
We’d be happy to discuss your options with you or your adviser. For more information contact Katie Hofman at (414) 288-0396 or firstname.lastname@example.org.