“A Gift That I Can Never Repay”
When Mary Bechmann ’75 was in 3rd grade at University School of Milwaukee, life took an unexpected turn. Her father, a physician at St. Luke’s Hospital and World War II veteran, died unexpectedly—leaving her mother to raise Mary singlehandedly. For a widow in the 1960s with a high school education in stenography, that was no small task.
Add the fact that the Bechmanns lived on the south side of Milwaukee (Bay View and later South Milwaukee), and their challenging circumstances quickly became a test of perseverance and grit. Yet having her daughter remain at USM, where Mary had been since nursery school, became her mother’s top priority, even if it meant driving to campus twice daily for many years. “It was very important to me and my husband that Mary get a first-class education,” said her mother. “We sent her to USM because it was the best school—and I dearly wanted her to have a better life than I had.”
Adds Mary, “Both of my parents had an immigrant mindset—the deeply-held belief that education is the only way to get a head start and is the key to everything in life. My father was in immigrant who became a successful physician and my maternal grandparents, also immigrants, shared the view that education is the greatest gift one can ever receive.”
Bechmann considers her USM experience to be somewhat atypical compared to that of her classmates. “I was from a relatively modest single-parent household on the other side of town, didn’t play sports and wasn’t involved in many of the social aspects of daily life at USM,” she says. “But when I look back on those 15 years, they were truly foundational—not only by exposing me to a much larger worldview and challenging me to level up, but by giving me the skills, confidence, and audacity to think that a young person like me could succeed in the Ivy League and beyond. USM supported me in so many ways—the incredible teachers dared me to believe in myself and take advantage of all that the school offered. By showing me what was possible, USM created the base for everything that’s come since in my life.”
After graduating, Mary earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1979 followed by an MBA from Stanford University in 1985, going on to lead a successful career as one of the first women in venture capital and private equity. She’s lived in Silicon Valley for most of the last 37 years and is now active in philanthropy and private investing.
Bechmann found herself remembering her days at USM after returning to Milwaukee to care for her mother, who recently turned 104. “Coming home to Milwaukee reinforced for me how fortunate I was to have parents who emphasized education. My mother’s many sacrifices and intense desire to give me the tools and experiences to have (as she put it), ‘a better life’ truly changed the course of my life. It’s a gift that I can never repay.”
Bechmann and her mother know they were both equally fortunate to find a school that matched those values. As Mary said, “The time was right to acknowledge my roots and honor the incredible foundation which USM provided by making a gift to the Our Common Bond campaign. My 15 years at USM had an intense impact that was unique, powerful, and unparalleled. Through this gift, my hope is to encourage and embolden the next generation of students who are fortunate enough to have parents who care so deeply about the value of a USM education.”