A UW Dreamer
After making it to the university, Gayle Williams Langer ’83 spent her life serving it.
Gayle Williams Langer ’83, former executive director of the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA), passed away in September.
While spending her early years on farms in Waushara County, Wisconsin, Langer dreamed of attending the UW. She boarded a Greyhound bus at age 17 and headed for Madison with no funds, no job lined up, and no place to live. She eventually learned about a scholarship that allowed her to earn a marketing degree from the Wisconsin School of Business.
Fulfilling another dream, Langer married in 1958 and went on to have two children. She solidified her bond with the university when she joined the Wisconsin Alumni Association in 1959 as an executive assistant, working for WAA directors John Berge 1922 and then Arlie Mucks ’47. In 1979, she started the Wisconsin Alumni Student Board, an organization that prepares students to become alumni leaders and is still going strong. In 1989, she became WAA executive director, serving in that role until 2000.
According to Paula Bonner MS’78, whom Langer hired in 1989, one of Langer’s key contributions was reestablishing partnerships with the university, so that the association served not only alumni and students but also the campus. She also raised funds to renovate the Alumni Center, enhanced WAA’s alumni communications, and strengthened the association’s ties with international and diverse alumni.
Langer was a recognized leader in higher education, as well as a champion for women in the advancement industry. She was a trustee and officer of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). As the first woman to chair CASE’s Midwest district, she was the recipient of the organization’s Distinguished Service Award. She served as chair of the Big Ten Alumni Directors and as director of the Council of Alumni Association Executives, a consortium of 90 alumni associations throughout the country.
Donna Shalala, former UW chancellor and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, says that “Gayle taught me a lot about the university and the Wisconsin community. … I loved sitting in her office, following her around at tailgates, and absorbing her enthusiasm and love for the Badgers.”
In retirement, Langer remained active in numerous community organizations, including helping to start a Madison chapter of Gilda’s Club and serving as a grant writer for nonprofits.
Bonner, who succeeded Langer as WAA executive director, says that “Gayle was a leader who made a positive difference for WAA, for the university, and in the lives of many. There’s no doubt that somewhere in the universe, Gayle Langer is wearing Badger red.”
Published in the Winter 2021 issue