A passion for Catholic education

By Jean Peerenboom | For The Compass | December 14, 2016

Bergstrom says supporting Catholic schools is his way of giving back

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]MENASHA — Attending Catholic schools was a rewarding experience for Dick Bergstrom. Today, he works passionately to ensure that other students have that same experience.

While some of that giving back is through financial support, Bergstrom is also willing to roll up his sleeves and do whatever needs to be done to make Catholic education possible in the Neenah-Menasha area.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Dick Bergstrom (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

“Catholic education is my passion,” said Bergstrom. Over the years, he has been involved in many aspects of parish life at St. Mary Parish, as well as civic and professional organizations. Catholic schools, however, are where he devotes much of his spare time. He even served seven months as the president of St. Mary Catholic School System (SMCS) while they searched for a new president.

Professionally, he is vice chairman of the Bergstrom Corporation, which he founded with his brother, John, in 1974. “I was president until recently,” he said. “Now, I have more time to work for Catholic schools and currently volunteer as administrator of financial aid and tuition assistance for our SMCS system.”

Bergstrom said many parents want to send their children to Catholic schools, but don’t have the resources. “My job is to find the additional grant monies necessary so these children can afford the opportunity to attend our schools,” he said.

Bergstrom is a product of Catholic schools. He attended St. Margaret Mary School and Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, a boarding school. “I didn’t want to go (away to boarding school), but it was wonderful for me and I thank my parents for that,” he said.

After high school, he attended Marquette University in Milwaukee and  earned a degree in business finance.

He said his parents told him it was their responsibility to give him, his three brothers and sister “the best possible education experience.”

“In a small school, you have the chance to be involved in lots of different co-curricular activities,” he said. “There’s not as much competition when you are one in 100 as there is if you are one in 500.”

He played basketball and baseball, performed in plays and was on the student council. “I wasn’t that good at all of those things, but I didn’t know it,” he said. “Overall, I learned a lot. It was very formative and I was given the opportunity to be the best I could be.”

That leads to his philosophy that Catholic schools develop leaders for local communities, businesses and parishes, he said. They provide a foundation of Catholic Christian values: respect for life, compassion for others, a comprehensive education comprised of academic and extra-curricular programs, and service to the community.

Bergstrom recalled how St. Mary Catholic High School came close to closing about 20 years ago. “I knew it would either close or we had to roll up our sleeves and build new,” he said.

Bergstrom, his brother John, Mike McClone and Dave Voss approached Bishop (now Cardinal) Adam Maida to offer their support. “He said to us, ‘You’ve been called,’” he recalled. With that, they led the charge for a new St. Mary High School, which opened in 1998.

“I’ve been blessed that all four of my children had the opportunity to attend and benefit from Catholic schools,” he said.

Six years ago, the system’s middle school was in need of extensive repair. Again it was a decision about closing or building. This time, John Hogerty joined the other four men and led a team that built a new middle school on the same campus as the high school.

The goal now, Bergstrom said, is to make SMCS the schools of choice throughout the Fox Cities.

“Being Christ-like is what I think of as being Christian,” he said. “We’re trying to help students prepare themselves so they can make this world a better place than they found it.”

All of his work would not be possible without his wife, Jennifer, at his side, Bergstrom said. She is a special education teacher by profession. They have two daughters, twin sons and 11 grandchildren. All live in the area and one of his greatest joys is when they all join him and his wife for Sunday Mass at St. Mary or St. Margaret Mary churches. “God has been really good to us,” he said with a smile.

“We feel giving back is the right thing to do and we’re thankful we can give back,” he added.

“Every Sunday in my litany of prayers, I thank God for Catholic schools, our company, our team (of employees) and guests (customers),” said Bergstrom. “I ask God to bless our administrators, employees and guests.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]

Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Dick Bergstrom
Parish: St. Mary, Menasha
Age: 66
Favorite saint: Blessed Mother
Words to live by: “Anything is possible with God.”
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