Celebrating the Urban League’s
The People’s Presence in the
|Wanda Fullmore attended the Urban League’s Clerical Skills
Training Program in the mid-1970s and got a job in the Madison
Mayor’s Office that she held for 39 years.
Fullmore recalled as we sat in the City-County Building’s modest cafeteria as people waved to Fullmore even though she has been gone for
“We all knew and looked out for one another. We were a village and we had fun. They call it the Boys & Girls Club, but we called it the South
Madison Neighborhood Center at the time. It was the old army barracks. When it was time to leave Penn Park, if our parents hadn’t told us, the
other parents told us and we went home. We didn’t talk back. We were respectful and we went home. The Barlows had that house on the
corner of Dane and Fisher. Everyone in South Madison knew not to cut across his grass. He would yell, ‘Get off my grass.’ We had parties at the
center. And Rosie Troia Baker was right there with her day care, CDI. Wasn’t Annie Mae Walker the best? I remember Paul bought them a stove
for some reason. They needed a stove. Paul was crazy about her and she was crazy about him.”
Fullmore was also helped out by a village of agencies and services growing up, many of them created by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War
on Poverty. She participated in summer youth employment programs that closely resemble the Wanda Fullmore Summer Internship Program
that Mayor Paul Soglin created as Fullmore was retiring from the mayor’s office. And she represented Madison in the Neighborhood Youth Corp.
“That was when I was going into my senior year of high school,” Fullmore said. “It was my first time flying on an airplane. It was 30 kids from
all over the state. We were chosen under the program called Neighborhood Youth Corp. We went to Washington to work for the summer. And
that’s when I saw Shirley Chisholm and Ted Kennedy. I was very excited. And we got experience working in government. You’re talking about
30 Black kids from all over the state coming together. We didn’t know each other, but we were truly a family during that whole summer.”
Fullmore became pregnant during her senior year at Memorial High School and that village of support that she grew up with also reminded her
that she needed to take responsibility for her child. This was back in the mid-1970s when the Madison Urban League — now the Urban League
of Greater Madison — was headquartered on 30 S. Mills Street in a building shared by Neighborhood House. Candace McDowell — who would
later go on to serve as the director of the UW-Madison Multicultural Student Center — was the Urban League’s program manager at the time.
And she took Fullmore under her wing.
“I worked with her a lot, getting me on the right track of what I needed to do being a young mother with a high school education,” Fullmore said.
“I will always remember — and I said this at my retirement party — that she always told me to learn how to type. People are going to need
typists. She talked to me — because I was young and I had this young child — about what being a teen mother all entailed and that it wasn’t my
mother’s and father’s responsibility. This was my responsibility. They gave us good information on how to grow up because now you have this
child and it’s your responsibility.”
Fullmore also enrolled in the Urban League’s clerical skills training program, another program funded by the War on Poverty.
“I was in the clerical skills training courses at the Urban League and that was hard,” Fullmore said. “I think I took typing in high school. That
helped a little bit and the Urban League was kind of a refresher course, learning the basic keys and punctuation and stuff like that. That was
fun. We learned how to file and interact with people, how to hold a conversation. If you were in a receptionist kind of job, we learned how to
meet people and what you do. That scared me because I’m kind of shy.”
Fullmore also got referred to Mayor Paul Soglin’s office in 1975 for an opening in their office.
“I thought, ‘Could I do that,’” Fullmore said. “And I was almost doubting myself and then I thought that I could do it. And I applied for it. I got an
interview with Jim Thomas and I remember Cindy Baker. And what they told me it was my personality that got me the job, how I came across in
Now Fullmore may have been hired as a receptionist or typist, but she almost literally brought community life into the mayor’s office. It seemed
that she knew everyone who came through the door. She gave everyone a genuine smile and often called them “honey” or “dear.”
Everyone was fine with that with one exception.
“I remember I called someone on the phone ‘dear,’” Fullmore said. “And that person said, ‘That is very unprofessional coming from the mayor’s
office.’ It threw me back. And the next phone call was from George Gialamas. And I said to him, ‘Oh my God George, I think I just offended
someone because I called that person ‘dear’ and they got offended.’ George said, ‘Ignore them. If you ever change Wanda, I’m going to get
upset with you. Stay who you are.’ That’s just who I was.”
Fullmore was about service to everyone, no matter what their status was in life or how far afield their request was. They were all deserving
citizens of the city of Madison.
“I did help a lot of people,” Fullmore reflected. “And one of my stories was this lady who called and she had an abscessed tooth. Now would
you think to call the mayor’s office? I could write this book on just calls that came up there and people would think, ‘I wouldn’t have thought to
call the mayor’s office for that?’ But she had an abscessed tooth and she was crying. I said, ‘Don’t cry. Let me see what I can do to find you a
dentist. And I think she was on Medicaid or Medicare and a lot of dentists don’t take that. Well to make a long story short, it took me two days
and I found her a dentist. Because of my resources over the time that I knew to network and find out, I had contacts everywhere: federal, state
and county. She was so appreciative and thankful. I wish I remembered her name. But I helped that lady get a dentist. People called, ‘Titi, what
is the number for such and such?’ And I knew it. I would just give it to them. And these numbers are still in my head. I was kind of like directory
And it didn’t matter if they were of voting age or not.
“I know I probably surprised all of my mayors because sometimes I would have a lobby full of my ‘nephews’ and ‘nieces’ and they were
thinking, ‘Holy cow, what is Wanda doing, holding camp,’” Wanda said with a laugh. “I made them all feel welcome. I never told them, ‘You
know, this is the mayor’s office.’ ‘No, you come in here.’ This was my area. Everyone has an office. The lobby was mine. I knew when it was
busy or he had appointments, okay it was time. But I made everyone feel welcome, even kids. I remember this one lady from a day care. She
had kids on he rope. I always had little treats and stuff. I kind of adopted these day care kids. They made it their thing. They were taught by their
child care worked. She brought up all of these kids every Wednesday because they would visit the Farmers Market. These were little toddlers.
And this one parent, when I got the Judge Mathis Award, the mother was at that award ceremony. She said, ‘You were the topic of discussion
at our table every Wednesday. My son was so happy to see you.’ It was things like that which made the job great.”
When Fullmore retired, several hun-dred people turned out for her retirement party at Monona Terrace to thank her for all that she had done for
them and the city. People like Candace McDowell and programs like the Urban League’s clerical skills training program have made a huge
impact on the character of the city of Madison. What would the city of Madison feel like if Wanda Fullmore hadn’t been there for 39 years making
the mayor’s office the people’s office? We don’t want to know.
By Jonathan Gramling
Editor’s Note – On February 20, 1968, the Madison Urban League — later
renamed the Urban League of Greater Madison — became an affiliate of the
National Urban League and in the ensuing 50 years, it has provided
employment and training and other human services to tens of thousands of
youth and adults. In celebration of that anniversary, The Capital City Hues
will be featuring profiles of individuals who have fulfilled their promise, at
least in part through Urban League programming, on a monthly basis through
Wanda Fullmore, who was the receptionist in the Madison Mayor’s Offic for
39 years, grew up in the heart of South Madison on Fisher Street back in the
1960s and 1970s when it was a cohesive neighborhood of tight-knit families
that looked out for each other.
“There was Sadie Pearson, the Barlows, the Hargroves, the Harrises, the
Smiths, the Franklins, the James, the Hortons and the Hendersons,”