Farewell, Wiscard Legend

For 19 years, Almaz Yimam warmly welcomed new students to campus.

Almaz Yimam at Union South

Yimam sought to make the brief Wiscard experience special for every person. Doug Erickson

If you’ve taken classes on campus anytime since 2002, you’ve probably met Almaz Yimam. For the past 19 years, Yimam, who retired in April, took ID photos at the Wiscard office at Union South. Each year, about 25,000 Wiscards and other campus ID badges are issued, replaced, or renewed. For hundreds of thousands of new students and employees, Yimam was one of the first to welcome them to campus.

“You’ll see her talking and laughing with someone, and you assume they’re longtime friends,” says her former boss, Jim Wysocky, the Wiscard program manager. “Then you find out they just met.”

Though each Wiscard interaction is brief — just five or 10 minutes — Yimam sought to make the experience special. She often joked a bit or asked about what brought the person to campus.

Her own path to Madison had its challenges. She immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia in the mid-1990s, a solo parent seeking a better life and more educational opportunities for her sons, then 12 and 14.

Her first job in Madison was cleaning hotel rooms. Hired later by UW Hospital, she split her duties, working as a receptionist and a housekeeper. As the years went on, she became a U.S. citizen, and both her sons were accepted to UW–Madison.

Her job at the Wiscard office fit her wonderfully, she says.

“My personality is to help people — I really like to make them feel comfortable,” she says.

Yimam praises her coworkers, especially Wysocky. When the pandemic hit, he began driving her to and from work. She does not own a car, and he did not want to put her in the position of taking mass transit. The arrangement lasted until her final day on the job.

“These are the kind of people I work with — they are all my friends,” Yimam says. “I just want people to know that there are nice people in the world.”

Now 68 and the grandmother of three, Yimam is ready for the next phase of her life. She plans to move back to Ethiopia to undertake missionary work.

“I like my life here, but I can make a difference there,” she says. “Whatever resources I have, I want to share. With the money I get from my retirement, I can change people’s lives.”

Published in the Fall 2021 issue

Tags: Campus history, Student life

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