Learning a second language leads to building community
Though she doesn't speak Spanish, Green Bay woman teaches English, and more
By Susan Gloss
Every week night, while most people are leaving offices or starting dinner, Bette Fashingbauer's
kitchen becomes a classroom.
For almost five years, Fashingbauer has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to
Hispanic members of St. Willebrord Parish. She began with only a few students, but now has an
entire notebook full of the names and phone numbers of pupils, past and present, and their
"I began by taking a six week course with the Literacy Council - anyone can take it. After my
first student, I called up Sr. Melanie Maczka (director of Spanish Ministry at St. Willebrord) and
said, 'See to it that you find me some more students,' which wasn't hard, because there's such a
need. It became such a thrill to see them study, progress with their English, pass a test, and get
their citizenship," she says.
Fashingbauer doesn't speak Spanish, but it doesn't seem to matter. Students come to learn
English, and appreciate her teaching style.
"She's patient," says pupil Morfilio Garcia, who has been studying with her for three months.
"She's very friendly and doesn't get angry."
For Fashingbauer, benefits include much more than seeing her pupils succeed in the English
language, however. Her students are also her friends. They exchange not only language, but also
laughter, stories and recipes. It's not uncommon to see a baby playing on the floor while
Fashingbauer reads to the mother, or for one of her pupils to pick her up on the way to a parish
Her students have been especially supportive, she says, since the death of her husband of 60
years, George Fashingbauer, in February. "They all came to the hospital to see 'Grandpa,' and to
the funeral. They've really become like family. This year, one of my students and his family
brought me a plant for Mother's Day."
She says that her late husband now serves as an inspiration for teaching, as he learned English
only after moving from Germany as a boy.
Fashingbauer says that from the aspect of the companionship and personal rewards she's gained
as an ESL tutor, "heart-wise, I think I've gotten more out of it than they have."
Her volunteer tutoring program has become an important part of the Hispanic ministry program
at St. Willebrord, and her face is a familiar sight at dinners, cultural events, and Spanish Mass,
held three times a weekend, says Sr. Maczka.
She's a tremendous inspiration to all of us, both who work in the parish and to the community.
For someone who is pretty much homebound and doesn't speak Spanish, she has made
connections with the Hispanic community that are just astounding."
As a part of that community, Fashingbauer feels that the recent growth and integration of diverse
cultures into St. Willebrord Parish has changed it from being a good thing to being "perfect."
"It really is a community," she says. "We have so many volunteers - but there's always room for
She encourages anyone with a little bit of time to take the 6-week course at the Literacy Council
and get involved with ESL.
"It's frustrating when I hear people say that anyone who moves to this country should be
speaking English. How are they going to learn if they don't have teachers?"