When Betty Quadracci saw a need in the community, she acted.
She fought and survived polio as a child. But Monday, Dec. 9, surrounded by her family, the Milwaukee area philanthropist, 75, died at her Chenequa home after suffering with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a recent battle with pneumonia. Her funeral was celebrated Saturday, Dec. 14, at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in North Lake. It is the parish, then known as St. Clare, where she and her husband, Harry, were married.
Calling it a huge loss to the school community, Ellen Bartel, president of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, said, “We are really saddened to hear about Betty; she was a wonderful friend to DSHA. I think that was fueled for two reasons; she had very fond memories of Holy Angels Academy as it was really important to her development and she was a great person who was who was passionate about creating opportunities for girls and women, which were reflected in the many organizations that she was involved in,” said Bartel. “She believed it was important to give young women opportunities for great education and to form a firm sense of who they are in their own right.”
According to Bartel, Quadracci, a 1957 graduate of the former Holy Angels Academy, donated more than $1 million to build “The Quad,” a cafeteria and gathering space located just outside the school’s theater.
“Some of her favorite high school memories happened while she was eating lunch with her friends, surrounded by her peers and people she could share her dreams, hopes and questions,” said Bartel.
“She picked the round tables for The Quad because she wanted to make people feel included.”
Betty co-founded Quad/Graphics in 1971 with her late husband, Harry. After starting in a vacant factory in Pewaukee with a single printing press and 11 employees, the Sussex-based company now has 25,000 employees worldwide at more than 65 printing plants and dozens of support facilities.
In 1983, Quadracci became publisher of Milwaukee Magazine and was later named president. In 2012, she was inducted into the Milwaukee Press Club’s Media Hall of Fame.
Betty also served with the Milwaukee based S.E.T. Ministry, a health and human services agency that helps more than 4,200 socially and economically disadvantaged people to set and achieve goals that promote self-sufficiency and improve their lives. As S.E.T. respects the dignity of each human life, Betty helped to integrate the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of each individual.
The couple was involved in numerous philanthropic efforts, many of them Catholic-based causes, through The Windhover Foundation, named after “The Windhover,” a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Established in 1983, Betty served as president of the foundation that supports organizations that focus on meeting unfilled social needs.
Among its lengthy list of donations, The Windhover donated $500,000 to Carroll College toward the construction of a team support center in the school’s Schneider Stadium in 2006, and in 2008, $500,000 to Hunger Task Force.
Among Betty and Harry’s notable donations was the more than $500,000 given to the renovation of St. Josaphat Basilica when Conventual Franciscan Bishop William P. Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse served as rector.
“One of the first forays into Harry and Betty’s philanthropy was the basilica in the mid-90s and I was the rector from ’94-2005,” he said. “All of the work done at the basilica was during my time and one of the major benefactors were the Quadraccis.”
Bishop Callahan noted that several Quadracci weddings took place at the basilica and Harry’s mother’s funeral was also there.
He described how Harry Quadracci’s empire grew from the work his father began in Racine. After mortgaging his home a second time, he bought the building in Sussex and “the rest is history.”
“Quad/Graphics is the third or fourth largest printing company in the U.S. and it was due to Harry and Betty because there was very little that Harry did without having Betty at his side,” he said. “She was a spouse, but a partner, too, and so she always understood Harry in his ways of doing business and the ways of running a company and participating in community affairs and events.”
Calling them true partners, Bishop Callahan said, “You always had a strong sense that Betty was there, though she ran the family, was matriarchal and, in spite of Harry being a strong papa, the kids loved him, especially the girls, but Betty really kind of maintained order. It was a beautiful relationship and well balanced and they certainly enjoyed each other’s company.”
While Bishop Callahan worked with Harry through the major donations to the basilica, he knew of the couple’s overwhelming care and compassion for the city.
“Harry always seemed bigger than life,” he said. “When he would come into a room it would light up. He would wear bow ties and sports coats and different things and was quite a character in many ways, but he was always a gentleman and it was he who led off the campaign for the restoration of St. Josaphat’s.”
To many of the Quadracci family members, the basilica was a second home and considering their multi-faceted generosity to Milwaukee, Bishop Callahan said that with Betty’s passing, “loads of people will be looking at and remembering the Quadraccis.”
“I hope they offer a prayer for the repose of her soul,” he said. “She was kind and certainly supportive of the works of the church, the work of the poor in and outside of Milwaukee, and through St. Josaphat’s Basilica Foundation, they will be remembered.”