Community Leader Mildred Harpole Dies at Age 84

Mildred and Reuben Harpole at the 2015 Celebration of Teachers and Teaching where they were honored.

Mildred and Reuben Harpole at the 2015 Celebration of Teachers and Teaching where they were honored. Photo by Patricia Kline.

Mildred Harpole, longtime education and community activist, died Oct. 24.

Harpole and her husband Reuben Harpole, Jr., a UWM alumnus who is also an educator and civic leader, served as mentors to numerous young people in the African American community, and helped found more than 25 community centers and programs that promote education as the ultimate equalizer among young people.

“Mildred Harpole was a beacon of hope and champion for those who were less fortunate,” said School of Education Dean Alan Shoho. “She always thought of others first. Her loss is Milwaukee’s loss. My hope is the ensuing generations will learn from her example and carry on her work to improve life circumstances in Milwaukee.”

Harpole graduated from Marquette University and earned a law degree from Western Reserve Law School in Ohio. She earned her master’s degree in 1969 from Cardinal Stritch University. She and her husband, who met as students in Milwaukee and married in 1959, became active in the community when they moved to Milwaukee.

Mildred Harpole became a reading specialist for Milwaukee Public Schools and helped found Freedom Schools which emphasized African American history. She also worked on fair housing issues through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

She and her husband, who worked as an outreach specialist for UWM for more than 30 years, had founding roles in numerous Milwaukee nonprofits and other organizations, including the Central City Teacher Community Project, Milwaukee 100 Black Men, MPS Homework First Program and the Children’s Performing Arts group, which became the Ko-Thi Dance Company.

Over the years, the Harpoles earned numerous awards and honors, including the Vatican II Award from the Milwaukee Archdiocese in 1993; the Frank P. Zeidler Public Service Award in 2013; the Distinguished Educator of the Year Award from the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee 2015; and the Whitney M. Young Jr. Legacy Award from the Milwaukee Urban League in 2018.

Alderman Cavalier Johnson told the Neighborhood News Service:

“Mildred was tireless in her desire to educate the public on the issues of the day – no matter if they were hot-button or more subdued. Mildred approached every challenge with a calm grace that could ground the situation and affirm to everyone that everything would be all right,” he wrote in an email. “Mildred was deeply loved by her community, by her husband, Reuben, who my heart breaks for. Mildred Harpole will be sorely missed.”

Council President Ashanti Hamilton also shared his thoughts on Harpole with the newspaper:

“She was a queen of this community,” he said. “She fought for fair wages, access to quality education, served as a mentor and was a great example of how to stay involved and engaged in community activism at every stage of your life. I think her legacy is going to be that you always put your best foot forward, and you never have to accept what other people think of you.”

In addition to her husband, Mildred Harpole is survived by a daughter, Annette, and a son, John.

Mildred Harpole’s obituary