Category Archives: Swarsensky Humanitarian Award Committee

2020 Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award Recipient is Fellow Rotarian Floyd Rose

Presented by Joyce Bromley – Nov. 18, 2020

Today we honor the memory of Rabbi Manfred E. Swarsensky, a beloved member of our Club until his death in 1981.  He was admired as a leader for inter-faith dialogue, religious tolerance, and civil rights.  Before coming to Madison he had a brilliant career as a Rabbi in Berlin where he was famous for his sermons, until the Nazis burned down his synagogue and sent him to a concentration camp.  Many of his family members and friends were victims of the Holocaust.  He was released.  At 39 years old and alone, he came to Madison and founded Temple Beth El.  We, as well as the Madison community, came to admire him and respect him for his dedicated leadership to peacemaking and forgiveness, for building bridges and reconciliation.  Each year we designate an award to someone who emanates the Rabbi’s ideals. 

This year’s Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award recipient is Dr. Floyd Rose. For decades his active voice in education in the Madison Community has been his avocation—always working in partnerships to help others do better for themselves.  As Dawn Crim stated, “his passion work is education and his support of the next generation.”  He seeks to find solutions with the Madison Metropolitan School District and families surrounding the persistent educational achievement gap between white students and students of color. 

As President of 100 Black Men of Madison, he sees that members of this organization are role models for the community.  They attend schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District on the first day of class to welcome students and their parents to the school year.  In preparation for school, for 26 years they have led the “Annual Back to School Celebration” campaign providing free backpacks AND school supplies for students from limited-income families.  When schools transitioned to virtual education, the backpack project promptly transitioned into Project 3000, which represents the 3000 local students in families with limited incomes.

The tasks before them were immediate.  Dr. Rose recognized that virtual learning at home requires more than a student and a laptop.  The entire family needs to be supported in their student’s academic pursuits.  Parents and caregivers require resources necessary to facilitate learning.  Families need technical and guidance support   Project 3000 works with families to ensure that each student has an internet installation and access—and a plan to sustain service and utilities.  When appropriate, parents, caregivers, and students are provided with basic computer training.  This support includes mentoring, educational coaching, and tutoring.  Dr. Rose recognized that this level of attention is important to ensure that all school-age students have the necessary educational support to be successful. 

This endeavor is in addition to the SOAR partnership with 100 Black Men of Madison and the United Way of Dane County that began in 2016.  This comprehensive program is designed to decrease truancy rates and increase high school graduation rates.  It begins with one-on-one mentoring of students in middle school and continues through high school.   These projects require a substantial commitment to the benefit of others—for the next generation.

I will conclude with a quote from Bob Sorge who wrote of Dr. Rose—he is an excellent embodiment of … the social justice advocacy, personal insight, and empathy reflected by the work and life of Rabbi Swarsensky. 

Our congratulations to Dr. Floyd Rose on receiving this year’s Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award.  Along with this award, a $2,500 grant is presented by the Madison Rotary Foundation to an agency of the recipient’s choice.  Dr. Rose has chosen our annual Community Grants Campaign to receive this grant.  

The Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award was established in 1982 and identifies individuals who have, through their voluntary efforts, made a particularly outstanding contribution to the humanitarian service in the greater Madison community, in the tradition so well exemplified by the life of Rabbi Swarsensky.   The award-winning documentary video, “A Portrait: Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky,” that was created and produced by Rotarian Dick Goldberg with assistance by Wisconsin Public Television, provides background on Manfred Swarsensky and can be viewed on YouTube, and the Rotary office also has a copy of the video for any member wishing to view it.

Rabbi Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award Program on November 12, 2014

–submitted by Donna Hurd; photos by Mike Engelberger

Club President Tim Stadelman (left) presenting award to Jonathan Gramling

Club President Tim Stadelman (left) presenting award to Jonathan Gramling

Jonathan Gramling was awarded the 2014 Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award, 32 years since its inception in 1982.

IMG_3317Patty Loew (pictured at left with Jonathan Gramling), a past recipient of the award and Mr. Gramling’s nominator, says of him “Jonathan Gramling has devoted his life to civil rights and promoting racial equity.  From volunteering on self-help projects benefitting African-Americans in the South, to fundraising for United Farm Workers in Madison to supporting Native people on environmental threats associated with mining.  Gramling’s service has been inspirational and exemplary.”

 

IMG_3248In remembrance of Rabbi Swarsensky, Rotarians and guests viewed the 2000 award-winning video production chronicling his life.  In addition, Rotarian Mario Mendoza (pictured at right) provided the club with excerpts of the November 22, 1967, address to the Rotary Club of Madison, entitled “Thanksgiving – Holiday or Holy Day.”  The address, by all accounts, is as relevant today as it was in 1967.  Paralleling the first Thanksgiving to that of 1967, Rabbi Swarsensky penned, “The work of the Pilgrims is no longer our world.  We could not go back to it, even if we wanted to.  But the recollection of the first Thanksgiving of 1621 can have meaning for us in 1967 [and 2014], if we learned again to be grateful for the simple things in life, which are the most priceless blessings: life and health, home and love and friendship, the privilege to give of ourselves and the determination to make our country and the work a better place so that our children and our children’s children may be proud of us, as we are proud of and grateful to those who have gone before us.”

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Pictured above from left: Club President Tim Stadelman, Carol Toussaint, Mercile Lee, Sr. Mary David Walgebach, Sr. Joanne Kollasch, Melanie Ramey, Andy Davison and Mitch Javid

The Club was privileged to host 11 past recipients of the award: Sr. Mary David Walgenbach & Sr. Joanne Kollasch, Patty Loew, Richard Davis, Mitch Javid, Rotarian Carol Toussaint, Rotarian Bill Rock, Rotarian Andy Davison, Norval Bernhardt, Rotarian Melanie Ramey and Mercile Lee.

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In addition, we were honored that Rabbi Swarsensky’s daughter, Sharon Swarsensky Bilow and her husband, Paul Bilow, were able to join us for this celebration.  They are pictured above with Jonathan Gramling.

The Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award was established in 1982 and identifies individuals who have, through their voluntary efforts, made a particularly outstanding contribution to the humanitarian service in the greater Madison community, in the tradition so well exemplified by the life of Rabbi Swarsensky.   The award-winning documentary video, “A Portrait:  Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky,” that was created and produced by Rotarian Dick Goldberg with assistance by Wisconsin Public Television, provides background on Manfred Swarsensky and can be viewed on YouTube, and the Rotary office also has a copy of the video for any member wishing to view it.

Mercile Lee Receives 2013 Manfred Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award

–Introduced by Sharyl Kato on November 20; photos by Mike Engelberger

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(Pictured above from left: Sharyl Kato, Mercile Lee & Club President Renee Moe)

When I called Mercile on the phone to notify her she was chosen as the recipient of the Swarsensky Humanitarian Award, there was a long silence. Then she said “What? I think I need time to let this sink in, I don’t know how to respond! And who else will be receiving an award at the Rotary luncheon?” she asked. I told her no one else, you are the only recipient. “Oh my, I am not feeling deserving of the award, nor am I comfortable with the attention.” She stated, “We do the work we do not because of the public recognition we receive, but because of personal commitment.   It isn’t about me. It is about focusing on opportunities to help others develop to their fullest.”   Service Above Self…all the more reason she is so worthy of this recognition.

Mercile, born and raised in a rural town in the state of Virginia, and the 5th child of 12 children, describes her parents as the major influence in building her character.  In hearing her wonderful stories about growing up, I understand better, why, although small and quiet, Mercile is such a mighty, grounded, powerful leader.

Her wise and loving parents saw education as the key to opening doors to a better life than they had. In her early school days, for example, the school bus only picked up white students. So her father had to take her and her siblings to school, or he had to pay teachers to drive them.  But after a while, her father decided to buy his own bus, fix it up and take his children and pick up other children of color, to go to school.  Rather than have to wait and walk to bus stops, like the majority of students had to do, Mercile and her siblings and other students, had door to door service.

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(Pictured above from left: Jim Taylor, Mercile Lee & Nancy Young)

Mercile also described a time in college when her student friends did not believe her when she said she had 11 siblings.  They believed she was an only child because of how secure, composed, confident and well-dressed she was.  Her friends finally asked Mercile’s mom directly and her mother said “Oh no, Mercile is not an only child.  I have 12 children, but each of my children is an only child.”  Her parents knew each of her siblings as individuals and gave them the nurturing attention all children need, to feel special, unique and to thrive.

Growing up in the midst of intense segregation, her parents prepared their children to cope with the realities they would be confronted with in their lives.  Mercile recalls how important her parents stressed having a strong sense of self, excellence in scholarship, leadership and service for others no matter how little you had to share… to not let others define who you are….to ignore mean, untrue, destructive experiences, and in her father’s words, treat the negatives just “….like water, off a duck’s back” and stay focused.  Her parents believed in self-sufficiency as she and her siblings worked very hard alongside the hired help on their farm, and they learned how to help one another be successful throughout their lives.

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(Pictured above: Photo 1: Dawn Crim with Mercile Lee; Photo 2: Sharyl Kato hugs Mercile Lee; Photo 3: Mercile Lee with award placque)

Mercile attended Virginia Union University where Dr. Martin Luther King was visiting.  She was selected to be his guide on campus and a continued relationship developed over the years influencing her future work.  She then received her MA degree from Hartford Seminary Foundation and was first in her family to attend graduate school.  She was the first faculty member of color at Ottawa University and served as Assistant Professor of Psychology and Counseling. She then became Associate Professor and Chair of the Division of Education and Psychology and now is a Life Member of the Board of Trustees.  Mercile came to UW-Madison and became Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs where she founded and directed the Chancellors and Powers-Knapp Scholarship Programs, beginning in 1984 which attracted under-represented and culturally disadvantaged students to UW-Madison. Mercile also organized University Pals, now referred to as Badger Pals, a student organization to match students with children through Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

In May of 2013, Mercile celebrated her retirement with over 500 guests attending. She made an enormous impact for student scholars and the greater community that is immeasurable for generations to come. Over 250 of her former scholars came back to campus to thank her for her efforts and so many referred to her as “their mother.”  Her philosophy and approach to student development lives on beginning her first year with six scholars and now seeing 120 new Chancellors and Powers-Knapp Scholars returning this fall.  Overall, a total of 1,394 supported students have graduated with 548 continuing on into graduate school. The graduation rate for Chancellor scholars is more than 80%, slightly higher than the overall campus population.   Now professionals, these past UW scholars live all across the country in major cities and have themselves formed alumni clubs to continue to raise funds to support future students, including Washington, DC; Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

Mercile Lee

(Pictured above from left: Mercile Lee & Club President Renee Moe)

The Swarsensky Award selection committee members were careful in distinguishing a nominee’s professional accomplishments from their volunteer services.  It is noted however, that the “above and beyond” accomplishments Mercile achieved within her professional position qualified as volunteer work. As one of her colleagues states, “It took back-breaking leadership, comprehensive knowledge of the University’s capacity and incredible caring and nurturing of students outside normal work hours.” However, that was still not enough for Mercile.

Her volunteer work extends to serving on the Madison Urban League Board and committees for over 30 years.  In fact, she was honored with the Urban League to receive the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award just this month. She has volunteered as Board member and working committees for the Red Cross, Wisconsin Public TV, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, TEMPO women’s network, Housing Ministries of American Baptists in Wisconsin and founding member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition which has been expanded to a weekend of programs focused on youth and adult recognition of academic achievement and building bridges in the community to establish solutions to poverty, racism and injustice.

We are often faced with overwhelming injustices and inequities on economic, educational, racial and social levels.  We are all challenged to direct our feelings of sadness, disbelief, outrage and hopelessness into constructive actions and solutions.  I thank leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Rabbi Swarsensky and Dr. Gene Farley who help us see that greater, longer lasting progress can be made to make meaningful changes by living our own personal lives with humanity. The means by which we achieve justice is as important as the goals we are seeking.  Mercile Lee has been consistent in practicing this philosophy.  She shows us as a doer. Positive change day by day made with integrity, respect, kindness, wisdom, courage and determination, child by child, student by student, adult by adult, result in long lasting powerful change.  Mercile and other great leaders know that creating change by violence, self-doubt, cruelty, deception & fear only ensures we perpetuate mirroring our oppressors and losing our own humanity.  Mercile cautions us not to dwell on barriers to solutions, as young people hear it and it reinforces hopelessness.  “If we feel we are second class citizens then that will be the way we will function.”  “Prejudice and discrimination are universal characteristics.”  True understanding of our selves and one another is liberating.  We cannot be defeated, or intimidated and we cannot rise above others at the expense of others.”

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Please join me in celebrating Mercile and her many achievements and thanking her for her tenacity, grace and dedication to ensure a better future for all recognizing her and her work with the Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award for 2013.

Along with this award, a $2,500 grant is presented by the Madison Rotary Foundation to an agency of the recipient’s choice, and Mercile Lee selected the UW-Madison Chancellor’s Scholarship Program to receive the grant.      

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(Pictured above are Manfred Swarsensky’s daughter Sharon Swarsensky Bilow with her husband Paul Bilow)

The Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award was established in 1982 and identifies individuals who have, through their voluntary efforts, made a particularly outstanding contribution to the humanitarian service in the greater Madison community, in the tradition so well exemplified by the life of Rabbi Swarsensky.   The award-winning documentary video, “A Portrait:  Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky,” that was created and produced by Rotarian Dick Goldberg with assistance by Wisconsin Public Television, provides background on Manfred Swarsensky and can be viewed on YouTube, and the Rotary office also has a copy of the video for any member wishing to view it.