Couple’s $1.5 million gift for UWM research vessel memorializes children

Sally Wilmeth and Terry Geurkink have committed $1.5 million for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Science’s new research vessel, the Maggi Sue. This gift is given in memory of the couple’s two children, Jenni and Kyle Geurkink.

“My husband and I give many of our donations in memory of our first two children, Jenni and Kyle,” Sally Wilmeth said. “Though they each only lived to be almost 4, they both delighted in the out-of-doors, the beauty, the smells and the sounds of nature. They were bright and curious children, eager to learn and explore. This research vessel, whose work will benefit all of us, is a very meaningful way for us to keep the joy and curiosity of all of our children active in the world, going forward.”

In addition to this gift, UWM recently received a $10 million gift for the research vessel from an anonymous donor of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. The university continues to raise funds for this $20 million project, which includes $15 million to construct the research vessel and $5 million to sustain its operation. TheMaggi Suewill be the most advanced research vesselon the Great Lakes and the first designed specifically for conducting sophisticated research on these bodies of water. It will replace the Neeskay, a converted Army T-boat that is more than 65 years old.

“I am so grateful for this enduring and touching gift,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said. “Sally and Terry’s generosity moves this major initiative forward and helps us turn our long-held vision into a reality. That they are making the gift in memory of their children speaks to the impact the Great Lakes has on future generations. From health and livelihood to recreation and tourism – the aspects of life that are affected by the Great Lakes know no bounds.”

School of Freshwater Sciences Dean Val Klump began to visualize this project more than 15 years ago.

“This project is a singular passion of mine, and one I believe in with all my heart,” Klump said. “The research vessel will be monumental for UWM, but the real gift is to the students and scientists who will sail aboard her and conduct the research we desperately need to protect this priceless resource. I have spent my entire career working on the Great Lakes, and I have never felt this need to be greater. Through their incredible generosity, Sally and Terry are investing in our effort to safeguard the future.”

Sally Wilmeth, an occupational medicine physician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grew up along the shores of Lake Michigan and spent her childhood exploring the beach, swimming and watching the waves crash along the shore.

Her husband, Terry Geurkink, works as an emergency physician in the Madison area. He grew up on a dairy farm in New Richmond, Wisconsin, where he learned firsthand how important water is to all aspects of farming.

“Lake Michigan is an incredible resource for all of us and holds a special place in our hearts,” Wilmeth said. “I was taught from an early age to respect nature, to take it into account in all of my actions, and to protect it. We have a long way to go in reconciling a once pristine image of the Great Lakes with the reality of what our interventions have wrought. It is important to restore the health of all of the Great Lakes, to do scientific research in the attempt to enhance the water quality and fish habitats, and to monitor these efforts.”

Additional information, including images of the new vessel, an in-depth look at the Maggi Sue’s features and a comparison of the Neeskay and Maggi Sue, are available online.