Putting energy into education

Image of Peter and Mary Werner in front of a wooded area.Peter, ’66, and Mary, ’67, Werner earned degrees in physical education. At UWL, Peter says he fell in love with teaching young children who “have a sheer exuberance for life.” During his first job out of college teaching elementary physical education, he received 700 valentines. He went on to work in higher education, sharing his love of working with children with future teachers. Mary says her “well-rounded education” led to exploring a variety of career paths.

Alumni couple pass on their dedication to teaching children an active lifestyle through gift

This May, Peter and Mary Werner will bike the 180-mile stretch of the C &O Canal from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, D.C. When they are not biking, the 74-year-old UWL alumni couple is canoeing and hiking. They were active children and they never quit, they say.

But it was UWL’s Physical Education Program that helped the two learn how to share that love for physical activity with children. After graduating with degrees in physical education in the 1960s, the two grew into careers in education.

They started out teaching physical education to elementary and middle school children. Peter continued on to earn a doctoral degree in physical education with a minor in elementary education. He spent the majority of his career teaching college students to be physical education teachers at the University of South Carolina. In the early years of child rearing, Mary was a stay-at-home mom. As the children matured Mary earned a master’s degree in Library Science. She enjoyed ten years of working in the Office of Graphics and Public Information at the School of Public Health, University of South Carolina.

At UWL they learned from teachers who saw physical education as a comprehensive program including games, dance and gymnastics. Their professors helped them appreciate a variety of activities to give children an appetite for exercise throughout life. They were required to take one-credit courses in everything from archery to gymnastics to modern dance.

They also took opportunities to gain experiences in leadership and service outside of class. They remember dancing with the L-Bar-X Dancers, a folk dance group on campus, and meeting new friends through fraternities and sororities.

Peter became president of Kappa Delta Pi his senior year, which allowed him to attend an all-expense-paid trip to the national convention in Houston, Texas.

“I’d never been out of Wisconsin,” he recalls. “It opened my eyes to what is out there in the world … I saw how important it was to be involved in your profession.”

During his career, Peter was highly involved, leading and serving on recreation and physical education-related boards and committees locally and nationally. He wrote five books and more than 100 articles related to teaching children how to lead healthy, active lifestyles while having fun. During his career, he was respected for his contributions in children’s dance, educational gymnastics and integrating academic concepts with physical education.

In college, Mary was in Alpha Phi, a social sorority which allowed her to connect with women from different academic disciplines who were equally ambitious about life. “To be among women who were active and busy and interested in a career was exciting,” she says.

As Peter and Mary considered how UWL influenced their lives and gave them a good start in their careers, they decided to establish a scholarship at UWL.

In 2013 they created a fund that will support elementary education majors with a preference for students who study physical education. In 2017, they provided a second gift to establish funding for an elementary education major who is student teaching.

“We feel strongly about education and working to support teachers,” says Peter.

They also have personal experience understanding the need. Both were first-generation students from blue-collar families. They worked throughout their college years — either during school terms and/or summer terms.

“I can’t imagine there aren’t students who can benefit from extra support,” says Mary. “That’s why we want to help.”