Longtime Educator, UWM Supporter Dies

Barbara Michaels with her family at the 2018 Pi Lambda Theta induction where she was honored.

Barbara Michaels with her family at the 2018 Pi Lambda Theta induction where she was honored. UWM Photo by Elora Hennessey.

Barbara Michaels, a former teacher and lifelong supporter of education and UWM, died August 7 at age 86.

Michaels who earned her bachelor’s (1956) and master’s (1960) from the School of Education, taught primary grades for more than 40 years in the Fox Point-Bayside  school district. After retirement in 1996, she became an active member of the alumni association and volunteer and supporter for numerous UWM organizations, including the School of Education.

She was one of the founding members of UWM’s Pi Lambda Theta education honorary chapter, which honored her in 2018 as part of the group’s 55th anniversary. The chapter now has more than 1,000 members.

“As the advisor for Pi Lamda Theta, I had the distinct pleasure of working closely with Barbara,” said Robert Longwell-Grice, staff member emeritus. “She was one of the original signatories on the charter that established Pi Lambda Theta and she kept the organization going for 55 years.

“I was constantly amazed at her depth of knowledge about the organization and the School of Education.  Barbara was a pure delight.  She gave so much to the UWM community in ways we can only imagine.  Barbara never joined the internet age, so she kept in constant contact through thoughtful notes she would send through the mail.  I will miss those notes.”

Michaels was one of the organizers of the Women’s Giving Circle, a group of former educators who pooled their resources to raise money to support education research, scholarships and projects. She was a founding member (2006) of the group, and she hosted the meeting every year at her home.

“Barbara Michaels’s passing is a great loss to the School of Education and the education profession,” said former Dean Alan Shoho who worked with her. “She was a great supporter and advocate for students. Her longstanding support of Pi Lambda Theta as a founding member and her leadership for the Women’s Giving Circle provided years of support for faculty and students in the School of Education. Her presence will be dearly missed.”

“Barbara Michaels was the epitome of class; stylish, polished, warm, and genuine.  She treated everyone in a way that made them feel special. Her love of education and the UWM School of Education inspired all who knew and worked with her. The Women’s Giving Circle exists because of Barbara’s incredible passion for teaching and educators. She and the impact she had on so many, in so many ways, will truly be missed,” wrote Diane Thieme and Mary Domer, Co-chairwomen, Women’s Giving Circle.

Barbara Michaels

Throughout her retirement, Barbara Michaels remained engaged in the community. She was active in professional societies at the local, state and national levels, and participated in Pi Lambda Theta and Delta Kappa Gamma national honor societies. She was a volunteer for the Fox Point-Bayside School District, MPS, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Milwaukee Public Library (Bookseller), UW-Milwaukee Alumni Association, and the Center for Children’s Literature at Carthage College. She was integrally involved with UWM’s receipt of the American Geographical Society Library in 1978. She was a donor to the School of Education since 1974, and helped with alumni fundraisers since the 1980s.

“Barbara was by far one of the hardest working, best loved alums on campus, having headed many campaigns, committees,” said Shavonn Montgomery Brown, development director for the School of Education.

She served as president of the UWM Alumni Association and of the School of Education alumni chapter. In 1997, she received the Alumni Association’s Community Service Award.

At the 2018 reception for Pi Lambda Theta which also honored her years of service to the organization, she shared her memories of entering the teaching profession. It was a much simpler process then she told the aspiring educators.

When she graduated in 1956, all she had to do was fill out a postcard to receive a lifetime teaching license. “I also had to be able to play the piano and know how to swim because I had to teach music and physical education, too,” she said.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce, honored her in 2006 in a special Business Journal section on the impact of education. Barbara Michaels was his kindergarten teacher in K-4 and K-5.

Barbara Michaels with School of Education colleagues at the 2018 Pi Lambda Theta induction where she was honored.

Barbara Michaels with School of Education colleagues at the 2018 Pi Lambda Theta induction where she was honored. UWM Photo by Elora Hennessey.

“The reason that I singled out Barbara, Miss Michaels — I can’t even call her Barbara today — is not that she was the only teacher who had an impact on me, but she was the first teacher,” he said. “To me, she had all the capabilities and qualities that you want to see in a good teacher. She was engaging. She was strict about rules when she needed to be. She challenged us to think about possibilities. She made us laugh. And, she left me, and all of her students, with the impression that she was always there for you. She always had your best interests at heart.”

One of her former students wrote that Barbara Michaels was her second-grade teacher at Bayside School in 1969-1970. One day when the student was asked to write a story about what she did on her summer vacation, the little girl recalled she hadn’t really done anything that summer.  So, she made up a story saying she had gone to Mexico on a helicopter with her grandmother. “She kept a straight face as she said I was a lucky girl.”

“I remember Miss Michaels with love, joy and kindness,” the student wrote in a note with her donation. “What a wonderful woman she was.”

Services were held August 14. Her family has asked that memorials in her name be given to the UWM Foundation for the School of Education. Her obituary is online.