|Vol. 12 No. 24
NOVEMBER 27, 2017
Heroine of the PEOPLE
As Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings said in a recent Facebook post, “2017 has hit us hard!” I feel like my column has turned into a bi-weekly obituary.
First it was Marcus Miles, then Paul Kusuda and now my dear friend Jacqueline DeWalt. It is indeed hard. They say that things happen in twos and
threes, so I hope this is the end of it.
Jacqueline “Jackie” DeWalt died on Monday, November 20th. Although Jackie retired from UW-Madison as the director of External Relations,
Partnerships and Development for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement in July of this year, she endeared herself to
many of us as the director of the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program, which stands for Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning
It’s hard to write this column because I feel a sense of emptiness and shock still after almost a week after hearing the news. It is hard.
Jackie and I had exchanged emails in September trying to set up time for a lunch get together. She told me she was ill and awaiting a procedure
and because her energy was so up and down, she didn’t want to schedule anything that she might not be able to keep. So I was waiting to hear
from her — had thought a few days before I heard about emailing her for an update — and then the bombshell hit of her passing.
I, like half of Madison, knew Jackie through the PEOPLE Program. I had been very peripherally involved with the program since its inception,
primarily in a reporting role for The Madison Times. Walter Lane, Paul Barrows, Cleveland James and former UW Chancellor David Ward all had
their fingerprints on the program as it was fashioned and rolled out in 1999 with assists from folks like Congresswoman Gwen Moore who was a
state senator at the time and Dextra Hadnot who was director of external affairs with AT&T, which was one of the first major corporate supporters
Jackie came in sometime in 2000 as a program manager and never looked back. Jackie became the assistant director of PEOPLE in 2005 and
when Walter Lane retired being the director of PEOPLE in 2006, Jackie took over as director and a year later, Assistant Dean Dang Brunner took
over Walter’s other responsibilities as he fully retired and Dang supervised Jackie in the School of Education until PEOPLE, Posse, First Wave
and Trio were moved to the newly formed Division for Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement under Vice-Provost Damon Williams. Jackie
didn’t skip a beat directing the program in the new division until 2015 when Vice-Provost Patrick Sims kicked Jackie upstairs into the role of
director of External Relations, Partnerships and Development where she laid the foundation for the division’s ability to more formally establish
relationships and partnerships with the purpose of sustaining the division’s programming as the state legislature continued to cut deeply into the
During the spring semester this past year, Jackie’s health declined to the point that she quietly took medical leave and then retired in July. That
was just like Jackie to go out on a whisper because her work was never about her.
I joined the UW PEOPLE Program as a middle school program summer instructor back in 2003 and stayed with the middle school component until
it ended this past summer. I had the privilege of observing Jackie’s work first hand all those years. Directing the PEOPLE Program was not a job
for Jackie; it was an avocation. It was her mission in life. She was determined to have a positive impact on her alma mater to have it live up to
its ideals to serve ALL deserving Wisconsin high school students.
At the end of the three-week middle school program, PEOPLE would have a celebration in one of the unions so that the middle school students
could show off what they had learned during the previous three weeks. The celebrations always ended with performances and Jackie was
always in the front seats clapping and giving the students some love and support. She was their biggest fan. Their success was her success.
Jackie loved the students under her charge. I must have attended 15 PEOPLE Scholar graduation ceremonies over the years and it was so easy
to see that each of the students had a connection with Jackie and that Jackie had made them feel special. That is no easy feat for a program that
served 1,200 students. These were her children and she wanted to see them achieve.
At each PEOPLE Scholar graduation celebration, Jackie would give her remarks. And she always talked about the various fields that the students
had attained degrees or certificates in. And those degrees and certificates were from schools and colleges from across the UW-Madison campus.
She took delight in their achievement and how the PEOPLE Scholars had proven the naysayers and pessimists wrong. They were academic
achievers in their own right, just needing the kind of support that only PEOPLE and Jackie could give them.
Over the years, Jackie and I became good friends. Outside of seeing each other at community functions, we would have lunch about twice a year
to catch up and compare notes. Jackie was a visionary who would do anything for the kids to succeed including compromising her own health in
the process. I felt like we were comrades-in-arms. Even if we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, we could talk as if we just saw each other
yesterday. It was all about the kids!
Literally Jackie gave her life for the hundreds and hundreds of PEOPLE Scholars — as well as PEOPLE middle and high school students. When I
did a Facebook post last week when I learned that Jackie had passed, the response was beautiful as her students from all backgrounds paid
homage to Jackie and what she had done for them. There was a whole lot of love and sorrow in those messages.
I loved Jackie like a sister. In 2011, The Capital City Hues gave Jackie one of its 2011 Hues Diversity Awards. It was one of the most meaningful
things that I helped facilitate.
Jackie, I miss you already!