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Get Your Hands on Your Future
Two graduates of University of Wisconsin-Stout have contributed more than $1 million to the institution they say launched them into a successful business — and brought them together as a couple.
“We did meet at UW-Stout,” said Brian Jennerjahn, a 1964 graduate, about his wife, Ruth. “We lived within six miles of each other, but we had to go to school 200 miles away to meet.”
The former Ruth Hopfensperger said she used a university ride board to find a lift back to her hometown of Kimberly. Brian was going home to Appleton. They hit it off on the ride across Wisconsin and the rest is history.
That history involves putting the degrees that Brian and Ruth earned at UW-Stout to good use. Ruth (home economics education) graduated in 1963 and Brian (industrial technology) a year later.
After graduation, Ruth taught at Nicolet High School in suburban Milwaukee and was later a home economist for Wisconsin Electric Power.
Brian took a succession of engineering-related positions that included Square D in Milwaukee, Mercury Marine in Oshkosh and 3M in Hartford City, Ind. He eventually rose to be plant engineer at the 3M Duplicating Plant.
“I received a very practical education,” Brian said of the UW-Stout foundation for his successful career. “Everything I was taught I would put to use in my career.”
In 1979 Brian began his own business, Jennerjahn Machine, in Matthews, Ind. The company began as a two-person operation: Brian designed and built the machines, and Ruth acted as bookkeeper and "gofer" for parts. The company makes slitting, rewinding and packaging equipment.
"I'm very proud of Brian," Ruth stated. "The components for his first machine cost $6,000. Brian designed and built that machine because of the hands-on classes he had at UW-Stout. He could do the machining, welding and electrical work, all of it, because of UW-Stout.
“Last year our company sold a variation of that machine for $1.2 million. But instead of one person building the machine, every one of our 43 employees made some sort of contribution. We have Jennerjahn machines in countries on every continent, except Antarctica, including China, United Arab Emirates and South Africa. And it all started with hands-on learning at UW-Stout."
The couple sold the company to their son last October and recently decided it was time to increase significantly their giving back to the university that gave them their start — and brought them together. They recently gave the university $100,000 and pledged another $200,000, and they made a paid-up life insurance policy gift of $750,000.
“We feel that UW-Stout contributed a lot to our success,” Ruth said. “It was a great school for us.”
“We want to afford that opportunity to other people,” added Brian.
A total of six scholarships, each for a minimum of $7,000, will be awarded during every three-year period, with two of the awards going to art and design or foods and nutrition majors and four going to manufacturing engineering majors.
In addition, each year the fund will provide two $500 scholarships to the Science, Technology and Engineering Preview Summer Camp for Girls (STEPS), a one-week camp for girls in 6th and 7th grades who participate in a variety of workshops that give them hands-on experience with high-tech equipment and processes. STEPS encourages more girls and women to enter technical programs.
The couple said their donation was inspired by reading about the more than $1 million donation of Charlotte and Bob Janeczko, another couple who attended UW-Stout in the 1960s. The Janeczko pledge is helping students who are majoring in plastics engineering. (For more on that donation, go to https://www2.uwstout.edu/news/index.asp?event=news.get&ID=2061.)
“We thought that was a really generous commitment,” Brian said. "We were inspired by that (donation). We realized it was something we too could do.”
The couple said they hoped their donation would inspire other UW-Stout graduates to consider contacting the Stout University Foundation to contribute.
“We never thought of doing that (kind of donation)” until we read about the Janeczkos’ donation, Ruth said. “I hope it does have a snowball effect.”
“We are incredibly fortunate to have graduates like the Jennerjahns, who never have forgotten the university that helped them down the road to success,” said Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen. “This gift will help many, many other students have the same opportunity that Brian and Ruth had.”
“This is an incredibly generous donation from two wonderful people,” said Mark Parsons, vice chancellor for Advancement and Marketing, who oversees the Stout University Foundation. “The donation is a recognition of how a UW-Stout education can change lives.”
The Jennerjahns were helped in making their donation by Sue Pittman, director of the Stout University Alumni Association and a foundation gift officer.
For more on the foundation, go to http://www.uwstout.edu/foundation/.