By: Jennifer Seeker Conroy, AFFW Volunteer
In 1993, 100 women in the Madison area raised $100,000 to create A Fund for Women as a component fund within the Madison Community Foundation. Just over 20 years later, a $100,000 donation from a remarkable Madison woman has helped AFFW reach its endowment goal of $2.1 million. This ensures AFFW can offer grants totaling an average of $100,000 a year to help women and girls in our community.
During her life, Judy Schwaemle was a passionate proponent of social justice, women’s rights, and philanthropy. After her death, her legacy will live on in the projects AFFW helps fund through her donation. “It’s the tangible expression of the intangible love she had for Madison, and for women, and payback for how women helped her,” explained Jacob Stockinger, Schwaemle’s partner of 42 years and husband of 25 years.
Schwaemle was devoted to her career as a public servant. She spent almost 30 years in the Dane County District Attorney’s office, eventually retiring as a Deputy District Attorney in 2010. She earned praise from her peers and even from those she prosecuted and earned awards from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Legal Association for Women. An award was also created in her name within the district attorney’s office after she retired.
In 1949, Schwaemle was born the youngest of four daughters in Great Neck, N.Y. She attended Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and later UW-Madison Law School. Schwaemle was smart, hard-working, and compassionate. Stockinger says she was never a wealthy woman, but she was prudent and saved and was able to make generous donations upon her death to AFFW and other organizations including Porchlight and the Audubon Society. “She really cared about social justice,” Stockinger said. “She thought philanthropy was a way to achieve social justice.”
Besides career and philanthropy, Schwaemle had a love for birding, basketball, gardening, and the arts. Stockinger says she had a dazzling smile and powerful presence that wasn’t dimmed by the repeated bouts of breast cancer she faced. “She was a very big spirit,” he said.
Schwaemle was first diagnosed at the age of 29 in 1979. Breast cancer had claimed the lives of many of Schwaemle’s family members, but she fought it successfully and was cancer-free for many years. The cancer returned in 2006, 2011, and 2012, and eventually claimed her life at the age of 64 on November 19, 2013, at Agrace Hospice with Stockinger by her side.
For the past three years, Schwaemle had quietly made donations to AFFW. She and Stockinger kept their bank accounts separate, and she didn’t talk much about plans for her estate. But she did leave behind explicit directions to donate money to causes she believed in. “This is her afterlife in a way,” said Stockinger. “She really believed in women helping women.”
Schwaemle touched the lives of many people while she was alive from family and friends to colleagues and community members and her powerful influence continues after her death. Schwaemle’s generous gift to AFFW has a major effect, helping us reach our endowment goal and opening countless opportunities for women and girls in Dane County. As Stockinger said, “She was an extraordinary woman who left an extraordinary gift to an extraordinary organization.”
With Jake’s blessing, the Madison Community Foundation has created the Judy Schwaemle Fund for A Fund for Women. If you would like to contribute to Judy’s fund, please contact Melinda Heinritz, Strategic Partnerships Director, at email@example.com or (608) 232-1763. You can also give online.