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Donor Stories for the New Museum | Wisconsin Historical Society

Donor Stories for the New Museum

Donor Stories

Learn about the individuals & others supporting the project.

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Joann & Michael Youngman standing outside in a formal portrait.

JoAnn & Michael Youngman

Kim Sponem in a formal portrait at Summit Credit Union. Blonde Hair curled about shoulders, and an emerald green suit.

Summit Credit Union

Jeff Keebler in a formal portrait, looking like he's in a bit of pain in his grey suit.

Madison Gas & Electric

Megan Jerabek smiles largely in this formal portrait. She wears her hair past her shoulders and wavy, as well as a blue blouse.

von Briesen & Roper, s.c.

The Wisconsin Historical Society is grateful to visionary individuals and business partners whose early leadership financial gifts helped the Society — through the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, its nonprofit fundraising arm — reach an initial private fundraising goal of $30 million necessary to move the $120 million new museum project forward. Thanks to their foresight and generosity, the museum is no longer a long-term dream discussed for two decades, but an attraction now in the planning stages.

As the Society looks forward to the day the new museum opens, we are pleased to highlight these supporters and share their stories and why they chose to endorse the project in such a significant and meaningful way.

Joann & Michael Youngman standing outside in a formal portrait.

"We are pleased to make a donation in support of this project and feel it is important to give back. For us, this is a meaningful way to do that because we appreciate the value of history and trust the Society will build an amazing museum that will make us proud. This is an investment in the future of our state."

— Michael Youngman, Milwaukee

Youngmans’ generous museum gift ‘an investment in the future of our state’

JoAnn and Michael Youngman believe the Wisconsin Historical Society’s new state history museum will transform how history is understood and shared across Wisconsin for decades. To show their enthusiasm and help make it a reality, the couple from Milwaukee made a generous financial pledge towards the project.

“It will be a great day for Wisconsin when the museum doors open to the public,” JoAnn said. “We believe it will have an enormous impact on the people of our state not only today but for future generations.”

“We are pleased to make a donation in support of this project and feel it is important to give back,” added Michael. “For us, this is a meaningful way to do that because we appreciate the value of history and trust the Society will build an amazing museum that will make us proud. This is an investment in the future of our state.”

The Society is grateful to visionaries like the Youngmans and others whose early leadership gifts helped it reach an initial private fundraising goal of $30 million necessary to move the $120 million project forward. Thanks to their foresight and generosity, the museum is no longer a long-term dream, but an attraction in the planning stages. As we look forward to the day it opens, the Society is pleased to share stories of these visionaries and why they chose to support the project in such a significant way.

The Youngmans have been longtime, active supporters of the Society, with Michael serving three terms on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, the Society’s non-profit fundraising arm. As chairman of the board, Michael had a front-row seat to planning for the project, which has been proposed in one form or another for more than two decades.

When the Foundation launched the Campaign for a New Wisconsin History Museum in 2017, the Youngmans stepped forward with their early leadership pledge and became strong advocates for the project.

“We are excited about this modern museum and see it as a critical addition for our state,” said JoAnn, who serves as Director and Vice President of the Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation. “We believe Wisconsin’s citizens deserve to have their history showcased in a way that is fitting for our great state.”

The fact that the fundraising campaign is chaired by former Wisconsin governors Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and Tommy Thompson, a Republican, was especially meaningful to them.

“Having the support and leadership of governors from both parties speaks to how this is a bipartisan project that all of Wisconsin can get behind,” said Michael, who spent his career in government relations, first in leadership roles for state lawmakers and later as an executive at Northwestern Mutual Insurance. “No matter our party affiliation, we are all part of Wisconsin’s history and proud of our state.

“Ours is a shared history, entrusted to us by our ancestors, and it is something we can all embrace. We all love Wisconsin and want to share our stories with the world. However, it has been clear for a long time that we need a new museum in order to do it properly.”

Throughout their involvement with the Society, the Youngmans have had numerous opportunities to catch glimpses of the world-renowned collections the Society has gathered over its 175-year history. The items, some of which date to the 1500s, are unable to be publicly displayed in the current Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square, a converted hardware store which is too small and ill-equipped for the task. Instead, they are stored at the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison, where they can be protected in a climate-controlled environment but aren’t available for public viewing.

“The Society’s collections are on par with the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian,” JoAnn said. “When you see them, you really appreciate the foresight that went into collecting them so long ago and you understand why the Society is one of the most respected history organizations in the world.”

“We feel that the public deserves to see these objects and the children of our state will be inspired by the stories that will be told through them,” Michael added. “It’s way past time for Wisconsin to have the kind of modern museum that can display these items. It is a shame that they are hidden away in storage.”

The new distance learning technology will connect the museum in real time with people in all 72 counties of Wisconsin, including students in classrooms. That means those who are unable to travel will still benefit from it.

“It will be a museum for all people, regardless of whether they are able to travel to Madison,” JoAnn said. “The possibility of having students participate in discussions about history with peers in classrooms hundreds of miles away in other parts of Wisconsin is so exciting. Imagine how much they will be able to learn from each other just by sharing their perspectives. The same is true for adults.”

“It’s like nothing that currently exists,” added Michael. “The thought of bringing the people and students of our state together through the lens of history is really appealing. It could unite our state like never before and help us build a better future.”

The Youngmans also look forward to seeing the exhibit designs that will be possible in a larger, modern museum, such as creatively showcasing how essential water is to Wisconsin’s history and the state’s connection to the Great Lakes. In addition, “the museum will amplify the relevance of the Society in our everyday lives,” Michael said.

Family history is important to the Youngmans. Scores of people access the Society’s vast genealogy records every day, either directly or via popular websites, and thousands more make connections to history at the Society’s historic sites across the state. Many more benefit from the Society’s historic preservation office, publishing division and outreach services, or from the hundreds of local history affiliate organizations.

While searching through the wealth of information found at the Society, the Youngmans discovered a phrase that has come to mean so much to them: “Looking Backward to Look Forward.” The Youngmans believe lessons learned from the past are important and “now is the time to look forward to this amazing, long-overdue opportunity that we are proud to support,” JoAnn said.

“Over the years, we have seen first-hand the great work of the Society and we know how respected it is across the country,” added Michael. “It has the historical resources and expertise to create a museum experience that will honestly and accurately tell the stories of all Wisconsinites. We are incredibly fortunate to have the nation’s best state historical society right here in Wisconsin. We feel it’s time we had a history museum equal in stature.”

- Dean Witter

Learn More About The New Museum
Kim Sponem in a formal portrait at Summit Credit Union. Blonde Hair curled about shoulders, and an emerald green suit.

"The Wisconsin Historical Society is one of the most respected history organizations in the country and Summit Credit Union is proud to partner with the Society and support this long overdue and important project. It is important to tell the Wisconsin story and the impact people, businesses, and government made on what Wisconsin is today and give a glimpse into the possibilities of the future."

— Kim Sponem, Summit Credit Union president and CEO

Summit Credit Union proud to support the Society’s history museum project

With an organizational legacy dating to 1935, Summit Credit Union understands and appreciates the value of history. With such deep roots of its own in Wisconsin, the financial lender founded in Madison was pleased to make a generous early gift to support the Wisconsin Historical Society’s campaign to build a new state history museum.

“The Wisconsin Historical Society is one of the most respected history organizations in the country and Summit Credit Union is proud to partner with the Society and support this long overdue and important project,” says Kim Sponem, who has more than 30 years of credit union leadership experience and has been Summit’s president/CEO for the past 19 years and its CEO since 2002. “It is important to tell the Wisconsin story and the impact people, businesses, and government made on what Wisconsin is today and give a glimpse into the possibilities of the future.”

The Society is grateful to visionary individuals, charitable foundations and organizations like Summit Credit Union whose early leadership gifts helped it reach an initial private fundraising goal of $30 million necessary to move the $120 million new museum project forward. Thanks to their foresight and generosity, the museum is no longer a dream that has been discussed for 20 years, but an attraction now in the planning stages. As it looks forward to the day the new museum opens, the Society is pleased to share stories of these visionaries and why they chose to support the project in such a significant way.

During its 86-year history, Summit Credit Union, which was originally founded as CUNA Credit Union, has grown to become the second-largest credit union in Wisconsin, with 47 locations in 26 cities, over 200,000 members and 600 employees, and assets worth more than $4.5 billion. Its headquarters is now located in the Madison suburb of Cottage Grove.

Sponem says the Wisconsin Historical Society, thanks to a 175-year history that predates Wisconsin statehood, is uniquely positioned to tell the stories of our state, including the significant role that financial institutions like Summit Credit Union have played in the growth and success of our communities and businesses.

She says a modern new museum is badly needed in order to display the world-renowned collections the Society has amassed in its history. The items, some of which date to the 1500s, are unable to be publicly displayed in the current Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square, a converted hardware store which is too small and ill-equipped for the task. Instead, they’re stored at the State Archive Preservation Facility in Madison, where they can be protected in a climate-controlled environment. However, that facility is not open to the public. In a new museum, these amazing items will at last be available for the public to enjoy and learn from.

“The Society has warehouses full of items that hold pieces of the puzzle to our rich Wisconsin history,” Sponem says. “We need a place to display these items and tell our story so we can honor and learn from the past, explore today, and create our future intentionally.”

Sponem says her organization is excited about how new digital distance learning technology will connect the museum with students and people of all ages across all 72 counties of Wisconsin, as well as the economic impact an attraction like an exciting new museum will have on Madison.

“It will bring visitors to our capital city and provide the opportunity to explore what Madison has to offer,” she says. “From an economic perspective, this will boost our local businesses and employ more people, building individual and family financial stability.”

Sponem, a Madison native and lifelong Wisconsin resident, is looking forward to the exciting exhibits that will be possible in the new museum and how they will help to build a better future for Wisconsin.

“I’m curious and excited to see the various items that have been donated and stored away over the years and how those items bring together the patchwork of this great state,” she says. “I’m also looking forward to the museum’s use of technology to pull these items together in a way that is meaningful, engaging, and showcases who we are and who we are yet to become.”

- Dean Witter

Learn More About The New Museum
Jeff Keebler in a formal portrait, looking like he's in a bit of pain in his grey suit.

"The new museum will help all of us better understand our shared history and how it influences our present and can inform our future. We are proud to support this project and partner with an organization like the Wisconsin Historical Society, which has built a national reputation for excellence over its own 175-year history."

— Jeff Keebler, Chairman, President and CEO of Madison Gas and Electric

Madison Gas and Electric proud to support Society’s history museum project

Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) knows history. After all, its corporate roots date back to electricity’s arrival in Wisconsin’s capital city in the late 1800s. With a legacy so steeped in our shared history, it should come as no surprise that MGE, through its charitable foundation, was among the earliest financial supporters of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s new museum fundraising campaign.

“The MGE Foundation is very pleased to support the capital campaign for the new Wisconsin history museum,” said Jeff Keebler, MGE’s Chairman, President and CEO. “This will be a wonderful new asset for the residents of our state and will be an exciting addition to the downtown Madison area.”

The Society is grateful to visionary individuals, charitable foundations and organizations like Madison Gas and Electric whose early leadership gifts helped the Society reach an initial private fundraising goal of $30 million necessary to move the $120 million new museum project forward. Thanks to their foresight and generosity, the museum is no longer a long-term dream discussed for 20 years, but an attraction now in the planning stages. As the Society looks forward to the day the new museum opens, it is pleased to highlight these visionary early financial supporters and share their stories and why they chose to endorse the project in such a significant and meaningful way.

Madison Gas and Electric’s history dates to its predecessor company, the Madison Gas Light and Coke Co., which was founded in 1855. The Madison Electric Co. began delivering electric service in 1888, when Madison had a population of 13,000. Subsequent mergers led to the incorporation of Madison Gas and Electric Co. in 1896.

Today, MGE employs more than 700 people and provides electricity and natural gas to the greater Dane County area. The MGE Foundation, established in 1967, is the company’s philanthropic arm. “As your community energy company, we are committed to improving the quality of life for all who live and work here,” the MGE Foundation’s report on giving states. The foundation has given more than $6.5 million to over 400 community organizations, according to the report.

The Wisconsin Historical Society’s new museum project is a perfect fit for the MGE Foundation’s mission, Keebler says.

“The new museum promises to provide a comprehensive and accessible portal to our history for people of all ages, as well as showcasing the full breadth of the Society’s world-class collections,” he says. “The planned exhibits and educational programming will let families learn together across multiple generations and will allow all Wisconsinites to see themselves and their fingerprints on our collective heritage.”

Keebler adds that MGE and its foundation are also excited about how the much-needed modern museum will bring together residents in all 72 counties by connecting with them in real time through new digital distance learning technology, paving the way for a better future for Wisconsin.

“The new museum will help all of us better understand our shared history and how it influences our present and can inform our future,” Keebler says. “We are proud to support this project and partner with an organization like the Wisconsin Historical Society, which has built a national reputation for excellence over its own 175-year history. We’re confident the Society will deliver a spectacular new museum that will excite and inspire people of all ages across our state. MGE is very pleased to be a part of it.”

- Dean Witter

Learn More About The New Museum
Megan Jerabek smiles largely in this formal portrait. She wears her hair past her shoulders and wavy, as well as a blue blouse.

"Preserving history, our history, is what keeps us moving forward, and von Briesen is proud to partner with a nationally respected organization like the Wisconsin Historical Society and support this vitally important project. … Stepping back in time to see, feel, and experience history on a personal level will have a big impact. That is the ultimate gift to our future."

— Megan Jerabek, von Briesen & Roper, s.c., Shareholder

Wisconsin law firm von Briesen & Roper supports Society’s museum campaign with early gift

The law firm von Briesen & Roper, s.c., having served the people of Wisconsin since its founding in 1904, is proud of its deep roots in the state. With a legacy of such impressive length, appreciating the value of history is part of von Briesen & Roper’s organizational DNA, so the firm was pleased to make a generous early gift to support the Wisconsin Historical Society’s campaign to build a new state history museum.

“No one knows Wisconsin history better than Wisconsin itself, and no organization is better equipped to share the stories of our great state than the Wisconsin Historical Society,” said Megan Jerabek, a Madison-based attorney and Shareholder at von Briesen & Roper who also serves as co-chair of the board of directors for Downtown Madison, Inc. “Preserving history, our history, is what keeps us moving forward, and von Briesen is proud to partner with a nationally respected organization like the Wisconsin Historical Society and support this vitally important project.”

The Society is grateful to visionary individuals, charitable organizations and organizations like von Briesen & Roper whose early leadership gifts helped it reach an initial private fundraising goal of $30 million necessary to move the $120 million new museum project forward. Thanks to their foresight and generosity, the museum is no longer a dream that has been discussed for 20 years, but an attraction now in the planning stages. As it looks forward to the day the new museum opens, the Society is pleased to share stories of these visionaries and why they chose to support the project in such a significant way.

During its 117-year history, von Briesen & Roper, s.c, has grown to become one of the most respected law firms in the state, with more than 180 attorneys and over 350 employees at seven offices throughout Wisconsin and Chicago, with its largest office located in Milwaukee. Its website notes that it is proud to be “neither ‘Big Law’ nor a ‘small firm,’” adding that “our practice is global, national, regional and local and we are regularly chosen by industry leaders for their most significant and complicated legal matters, while at the same time assisting growing businesses, startups and entrepreneurs in addressing their legal needs.”

Jerabek, a graduate of UW-Madison and Marquette University Law School and an active member of the Madison community, specializes in estate planning and sports law, as well as business, tax and real estate.

The Wisconsin Historical Society’s 175-year history, which predates Wisconsin’s statehood, its world-renowned collections, and the wide array of services it provides students and citizens in all parts of the state uniquely positions it to tell the stories of our state, Jerabek said.

The Society’s long track record is a big reason why von Briesen & Roper, which is committed to community involvement and volunteer work, was so eager to support the new museum project, she said. The fact that new digital distance learning technology will allow the museum to connect with people of all ages across all 72 counties of Wisconsin in real time, bringing them stories of our shared history like never before, is especially exciting, she added.

“Not only will the new museum be an archive for our history, it will also provide education opportunities for generations to come,” Jerabek said. “Stepping back in time to see, feel, and experience history on a personal level will have a big impact. That is the ultimate gift to our future.”

Jerabek said she and her colleagues at the firm are looking forward to the exciting, modern exhibits that will be possible in the new museum, as well as the opportunity for the Society to finally publicly display its world-renowned collections, some of which date to the 1500s. Those items have not been able to be exhibited in the outdated Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square, which is ill-equipped for the delicate task.

“We are most looking forward to the fresh and innovative ways of showcasing our history,” Jerabek said. “It is vitally important to both acknowledge and respect history, and we are so proud to be able to thank and remember those who made great strides for our state.”

- Dean Witter

Learn More About The New Museum