A special guest with a heartfelt farewell message capped off Employee Appreciation Week on Friday, March 4, at UW-Stout.
Former governor and current UW System President Gov. Tommy Thompson, whose last day as president is March 18, spoke at a reception in the Great Hall of the Memorial Student Center and thanked the standing-room-only crowd of more than 300 faculty and staff for their dedication to higher education in Wisconsin.
“I applaud and thank you for the job you do and will continue to do,” Thompson said. “Next to the people of this great state, the University of Wisconsin is our best asset. We make Wisconsin better.”
Thompson is visiting each UW System campus before leaving office.
“I’m coming to all of the campuses for no other reason than to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to each and every one of you for what you stand for, what you contribute and what you do for students,” he said. “Think of how important you are in the lives of students.”
The native of Elroy in southwestern Wisconsin recalls growing up poor and heading off to UW-Madison with his belongings in a grocery sack from his family’s grocery store because he couldn’t afford a suitcase.
He eventually graduated from the UW law school, became the state’s longest-serving governor with four terms from 1987 to 2001 and was secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.
He knows firsthand that the UW System can change lives.
Speaking in front of a Stout Proud sign, he said the university’s employment rate of more than 98% for recent graduates is perhaps the best in the nation.
“Nobody else in the country can make that testimonial. You did, and you’ve done it time and again. This polytechnic school called Stout is unique and one of the best, if not the best,” he said. “On this day we honor you, I come here to say thank you for the gift that you are giving to students.”
He noted that two of his family members, a sister and nephew, are UW-Stout alumni. “I love this school. I tell everybody — if you want a career, a good education, take a look at Stout.”
Prior to the reception, Thompson toured labs for the Bachelor of Science programs in packaging and in plastics engineering. He heard from professors not only about the nationally recognized programs, but also the university’s strong industry partnerships.
He stopped to speak with students, including prospective students on Admissions tours. Chancellor Katherine Frank noted that many current students spoke about their positive experiences at UW-Stout, be it their education or their interactions with faculty, staff, coaches and others.
Frank told employees that those positive student reactions are “because of all of you” and thanked them for their “hard work, dedication, and really your love for this institution.”
Frank also thanked Thompson for his support of UW-Stout and his unwavering support for the UW System. Thompson said he has called for more state funding for the UW System.
Thompson’s guidance during the pandemic and his ideas, such as the 70 for 70 student vaccination plan helping lead to the return of in-person classes last fall, have “moved our university and system forward. We couldn’t have gotten through it as well as we did without his support and expertise,” Frank said.
They acknowledged that they haven’t always agreed, but Thompson said to Frank, “I have respected you and admired you, and you’re one of the finest chancellors of any university in the country.”
Thompson was presented a farewell gift from Frank. She joked how many people don’t know whether to refer to him as governor or president. The gift was a dark blue UW-Stout Blue Devil polo shirt with the words “Governor President” embroidered on a sleeve.
“It’s a great day to be a Blue Devil,” Thompson said.
Menomonie Mayor Randy Knaack introduced Thompson, and he thanked UW-Stout for helping make Menomonie a better place to live.