By: Danielle Wendricks
In history classes, we’re often taught about the classic figures. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Christopher Columbus and Aristotle are all names that come to mind when I think back to my elementary days. While the impact these individuals made on our histories is undeniable, there are many lesser known figures who have also impacted history. If you were to ask me about a historical leader that has created opportunities for me, who I respect and admire — I’d tell you that it’s Mary Rouse.
Mary Rouse has been a tireless advocate for the students of the University of Wisconsin — Madison students for the past fifty years. She served numerous roles, such as Admissions Counselor, Dean of Students, and Director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service. We have Mary Rouse, along with the team of people she worked alongside, to thank for many things, such as improved mental health services and locker rooms for women on campus, but most notably to me, the Red Gym and Morgridge Center for Public Service.
In the Spring of 1994, Rouse, who was Dean of Students at the time, co-chaired a committee and submitted a proposal, “calling for expansion of public service, and at the same time calling for the historic preservation and adaptive use of the Red Gym for this public service center, in addition to other student organizations and so forth.”
At the time the Red Gym was in rough condition.She had a vision of the Red Gym to serve as, “a village — where students could mix it up with one another.”
She believed that there was a great need for a space to incorporate The Wisconsin Idea. She stated that, “The University, particularly students, had done lots on behalf of public service, but we needed a focused program that was dedicated to getting more students volunteering, not only for altruistic purposes, but weaving service into the academic curriculum.”
Rouse reached out to the John and Tashia Morgridge, two Badger alumni, for support, and with that financial backing, the Morgridge Center for Public Service was named.
In 1996, the Morgridge Center for Public Service opened in what used to be the old Union South building. In 1998, when the restoration project was completed, the center moved into the Red Gym where it currently resides. Mary served as Director of the Morgridge Center from 2000–2005.
I used to hate history as a young child. The time between “me” and “them” seemed too distant. I struggled to see and feel the impacts these historical figures made. As I trudged through my history homework, my dad, would often remind me of a popular George Santayana quote — “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I didn’t find his commentary helpful, but rather extremely annoying. For my dad, and many others, history is justified as a valuable topic to learn to so that we don’t stumble backwards.
As a college student who is now pursuing studies in history, I can now find some solace with my dad’s sentiment. However, I’d like to pose an addition. Maybe we also learn history so that we can propel ourselves forward. History allows us to continue to carry the torch towards a more just society. We learn history to be inspired by the legacy of others. By learning about the sacrifice and diligence that Mary Rouse made to grant me, and hundreds of other Badgers, a space to call home — I feel an immense obligation and drive to continue her work.
When I met Mary Rouse for coffee she told me, “We’ve came a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.” I hope you’ll join me, and the rest of the Morgridge Center for Public Service team, as we honor the legacy of those who have made radical and meaningful contributions, by making our own strides towards equity at our institution and in our communities.