Former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow graduated from St. Catherine’s High School in Racine in 1952. (Submitted photo)
When former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow (Peggy Nemitz) attended St. Catherine’s High School, she had to be bussed with 250 other students from her hometown of Kenosha to Racine, as Kenosha didn’t have a Catholic school at the time.
“I lived in the dark ages then,” she said. “All of my extra-curricular school activities had to be worked around the bus schedule, but it was the best school experience anyone could have.”
Farrow was taught by the Dominican Sisters and several priests at the time. She recalled that the sisters’ Motherhouse was across the street from the school and she enjoyed having them as teachers.
“I loved my time at St. Catherine’s and learned so much about morality from them,” she said. “We had a priest named Fr. McCormick, who taught our marriage prep course for juniors and seniors. Many graduates did not go on to college and got married out of high school. We got such a great marriage focus from this course and he gave practical experience on what to rely on and what to hang onto. I carried this into my Marquette years and into my own marriage. In fact, nothing I learned at Marquette compared to his class.”
Farrow, who graduated in 1952, became interested in politics from one of the Dominican sisters who taught her world history class.
“She really got me excited about how people work together, and it grew from there. I began taking all possible history and social studies courses and, after graduation, went to Rosary College in Lake Forest, where I majored in comparative government,” she said. “I took everything I could take along those lines, too, and had a Sinsinawa Dominican nun who had been to all Seven Wonders of the World. It was a great education.”
Following Rosary College, Farrow earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and education from Marquette University. She began her career in government as the trustee (1976-81) and then the president (1981-87) of the village of Elm Grove. Farrow was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1986. Three years later, she was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate from a district comprising most of Waukesha County. She was re-elected in 1990, 1994, and 1998.
In 2001, Farrow, a Republican, was appointed the 42nd lieutenant governor of Wisconsin after Scott McCallum, who had held that office, became governor upon the departure of Tommy Thompson. Farrow was the 42nd lieutenant governor and the first woman to hold the office, which is the first leadership position in the line of succession after the governor. She organized two statewide commissions to advance reforms that reduce the cost of government, and she played a leadership role in reforming welfare and tax policy to encourage work, saving, investment, innovation, capital formation, labor force productivity, and economic growth. She chaired the Wisconsin Women’s Council for several years and served as a member during her tenure as lieutenant governor. Farrow also chaired the governor’s work-based learning board and co-chaired the governor’s task force on invasive species. She has chaired the board of WisconsinEye, a public affairs television network, and from 2013 through 2017, she served on the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.
Farrow, 85, lives in Pewaukee with her husband, John; they belong to St. Charles Parish in Hartland. The couple has five sons and 11 grandchildren. She is a strong proponent of Catholic education.
“I especially think Catholic education is important in high school, as they do a great job in preparing kids for college,” she said. “We have too many kids who have no idea in college as to why they are Catholic. We have to keep teaching them.”
Farrow continues to work and recently attended a board meeting on Zoom for the WisconsinEye Public Affairs Network she helped found as a legislator. She is also involved and helped found the Waukesha County Business Alliance, which represents more than 1,100 businesses in southeastern Wisconsin.
“I am still very busy serving on a corporate board for Acuity (Insurance) in Sheboygan and I am on the Archdiocesan Priest Review Board,” she said. “I don’t believe in retirement. I want to go straight out, full-speed ahead.”