Terry Fulwiler had every reason to believe that a career in aerospace engineering would take him on an incredible life journey.
The native of Algoma, Wis., had a gift for math and a love of flying instilled by his father. The timing was right — the aerospace industry in the mid-1960s was booming. At 18, he graduated high school, packed up and left his small town for the University of Michigan in pursuit of a cool major and new horizons.
“NASA was putting men on the moon, and Boeing was building this thing called the Jumbo Jet. I chose aerospace because it was the hot thing,” Fulwiler recalls.
Over the next four years, however, prospects cooled. “By the time I graduated, they had put everyone on the moon, the 747s were designed, the Vietnam war ended, and many engineers were driving taxis,” he said.
With an impressive diploma in hand, Fulwiler returned to Algoma. His father, Ray, who employed six people in his small label company, gave Terry a job and a timeline — he could work there a few months while looking elsewhere. It didn’t take the younger man long to realize that his hometown, and his father’s company, were the place he was destined to be.
Terry and his brother Dan, a 1983 UW-Green Bay Science and Environmental Change graduate, helped their father grow the family business — Dan in market development, and Terry in business development. Wisconsin Label became WS Packaging Group, the largest label maker in the United States and the second largest in the world.
Terry became CEO when his father stepped down in 1986. By the time Terry retired, in 2011, the company boasted 2,000 plus employees in 18 locations across North America. It is Algoma’s largest employer, with nearly 50 percent of the city’s 3,000 residents reliant on WS Packaging.
“I found out I was better at growing business than designing rockets,” says Fulwiler, who in retirement makes full-time work of education, philanthropy, leadership and charity. He serves on more than 10 executive boards, including the Green Bay Packers. He has a passion for building vibrant communities through education, lending his time as an advocate for the Bellin College of Nursing and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, and as a guest speaker at St. Norbert College and UW-Green Bay.
Fulwiler has been beyond generous with UW-Green Bay — his “adopted home University.”
“My parents instilled in us that if you had an opportunity, you should give back,” he says. “Education is really important. As I was transitioning out of the business, I purposely was involved in many charitable activities. I am particularly interested in giving people a hand up and not a hand out, helping people who, with a little help, are able and willing to become successful and help others in return.”
At UW-Green Bay, Terry and his wife Kris have been longtime supports of Phoenix Athletics, the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts and, more recently, the Phuture Phoenix Program, which helps low-income students aspire to a college education.
After years of an annual contribution, the couple established the Terry and Kris Fulwiler Phuture Phoenix Scholarship, an endowed gift that will help local students achieve their goals.
“As soon as I was approached about this program, I thought, ‘this is exactly the cause that I am willing to support.’ By inspiring kids at this young impressionable age, and awarding them with a scholarship, we are helping to take someone who is in need and help them to break down the intimidation factor — the tall buildings and the lofty ideas — and help them to see that college is just a transitional opportunity to help them succeed in life. That is very worthwhile and rewarding.”
After all, sky-high expectations, for himself and the community he loves and serves, has always been a part of Fulwiler’s DNA.