In 1991, when Dick and Shelly Seesel enrolled their son, James ’05, at University School of Milwaukee for junior kindergarten, it was primarily for the individualized attention they wanted for him. “We thought Jim could benefit from the challenging but nurturing environment,” said Dick. Soon after, the Seesels also enrolled their two daughters, Dana ’07, and Lauren ’09, not realizing fully at the time just how impactful those decisions would be—both for their children and for them as well. “Looking back, enrolling our children at USM was our most important opportunity to build a connection with this community¬¬¬—both USM and Milwaukee,” said Shelly. “We had no idea at the time the depth of involvement we would have over the years.”
While Dick was pursuing his career at Kohl’s (he retired in 2006 after 24 years with the company), Shelly became an active volunteer at USM, serving as a room parent, helping to organize and host book fairs, and chairing the Holiday Shops. “I wasn’t just doing it for my kids,” said Shelly, “I volunteered because it benefitted the whole community. And it made us feel like we were part of the community, too.” Dick also volunteered, participating in phone-a-thons for the School’s annual giving program and assisting with strategic planning for the School. In 2006 he joined the Board of Trustees where, over the course of 11 years, he chaired the facilities committee, served as the executive vice president, and held the role of president from 2013–2016 before wrapping up his formal Board role following the 2016-2017 school year.
While chairing the facilities committee in 2009, the School was in the midst of construction on the Lower School addition as part of Phase II of the Next Generation Capital Campaign. “It was interesting because, during that year, instead of the committee being hands-on with the construction, our charge was to start looking ahead at what the school needs to do next,” Dick recalled. “So part of the fun of watching the Our Common Bond campaign unfold is that some of these projects we were talking about five, six, even seven years ago, and here we are today making them a reality.”
Dick was instrumental in laying the groundwork for Our Common Bond during his tenure as board president, and he and Shelly were the first members of the USM community to make a commitment to the initiative. “In 2015 I sat down with every Trustee and asked them to make their best gifts. As the board president, I felt that I had to be the first one to set an example.”
Dick and Shelly chose to support the campaign in three ways: a five-year pledge to the USM Fund, a gift in support of the capital projects, and a planned gift through their estate plans. “We knew we wanted to support the annual fund and the capital projects, but we added the planned gift into the mix because we feel like it’s a great opportunity for USM,” said Dick. “Our USM experiences were important in the lives of our children, and we feel if people can do something to ensure the long-term health of the School, they should try to do that.”
Dick and Shelly are thankful for the education their children received at USM. “I know they received a great education because they came back after starting college feeling like they were ahead in many of their courses because of how well prepared they were,” said Shelly. Added Dick, “They were prepared academically, but also emotionally. The Common Trust is something the whole school supports. That’s unique to USM and it’s important.”
“USM really is a community, more than just a school,” said Shelly. “We’re still connected to the people, the teachers, the parents, and the administration, even though our last child graduated almost 10 years ago. We’re all connected because of the experiences we’ve shared—helping in classrooms, volunteering for events, cheering on our kids at athletic events, joining in on student retreats, and more. Our gift isn’t going toward today, it’s for tomorrow and helping to ensure the legacy of the school.”