Playing field to boardroom, LeCalsey’s leadership benefits UW-Green Bay

In 1969, Lou LeCalsey stood on a makeshift soccer field, on a fledgling University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus, and groomed a group of eager and aspiring student/athletes into a team of national prominence.

Now, more than 40 years later, “Coach LeCalsey” has traded the playing field for manufacturing and boardrooms, but he continues his strong leadership role, now as President of the Board of Directors for the newly formed University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Foundation.

If the past is any indication, leadership of the UW-Green Bay Foundation, considered by many as a milestone in the lengthening history of an institution of higher education, is in good hands. Few have been so intimately involved with the University from near inception to present day, as LeCalsey has.

Despite stepping away from coaching to pursue business opportunities, LeCalsey, now President and CEO of Tufco Technologies, Green Bay, has remained critically connected to UW-Green Bay. He has served as an adviser to four of five chancellors, is a founding member of the UW-Green Bay Founders Association, is the founding and current Chair of the Chancellor’s Council of Trustees, and is an annual donor.

LeCalsey says the role of UW-Green Bay is essential to the strength of the region.

“We (Green Bay) are the third largest population and second largest media market in Wisconsin, and UW-Green Bay plays a significant role in the “New North” economy. At Tufco, for instance, many of our salaried people are UW-Green Bay graduates. They succeed because they graduate from the University well versed in analytical and systems thinking. Students graduate from UW-Green Bay without consciously realizing the education that was afforded to them through the unique interdisciplinary approach to educating that is the core of the learning methodology at UW-Green Bay. I think leaders in technical and service industries in this region will — and must — continue to come from UW-Green Bay. “

Sharing past and present while in his Ashwaubenon office, adjoining the Tufco manufacturing facility, LeCalsey is as enthusiastic about UW-Green Bay today, as he was in the very beginning.

“To be part of the founding of something as momentous and important as a new university is a once in a lifetime experience I was privileged to share with a unique group of faculty and staff who shared the contagious enthusiasm of starting a university here in Northeast Wisconsin utilizing a fresh new approach to higher education teaching and learning. (Founding Chancellor) Ed Weidner had the visionary concept and created the unique curriculum at UW-Green Bay. Every day was exciting to be a part of that.

According to LeCalsey, the soccer, and really, the intercollegiate athletics program at UW-Green Bay, started like this:

“Packers Coach Vince Lombardi, who served Ed as ‘de facto athletic adviser’ for athletics at the new UW-Green Bay, grew up in New York City where soccer was the lifeblood of every heavily ethnic neighborhood,” LeCalsey said. “He advised Ed not to compete with the National Football League and the Green Bay Packers by starting another college football program in the state, which already had well established college and professional football teams. Plus football is an extremely expensive sport to operate and not a financial ‘fit’ for a brand new university. Coach Lombardi advised Chancellor Weidner he should establish a soccer program at UW-Green Bay because college soccer was comparatively low cost and had a good chance to become nationally prominent if properly administered and led. He believed soccer had the potential to ‘make a splash’ and help bring UW-Green Bay’s unique mission into the national spotlight.”

LeCalsey (still the all-time saves leader as a goalkeeper for his college alma mater, Franklin & Marshall) was offered the opportunity to be UW-Green Bay’s first head soccer coach, and he took the charge seriously.

After leading his UW-Marinette team in 1968 to the national junior-college soccer championship tournament, he initiated the Phoenix soccer program in 1969. His 1969 team was 11-2-1, with losses only to Air Force and UW-Madison. In 1970, the Phoenix finished 10-2-3, and along the way avenged losses to Wisconsin (7-0) and Air Force (2-0) and played national power and defending college champion Michigan State to a 2-2 overtime tie at Michigan State. One of his star recruits, Horst Stemke, went on to play for the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team and Ken Hess, a student from New Jersey, because UW-Green Bay’s first athlete to receive All-American recognition in soccer.

“Folks need to remember the Vietnam War related turmoil going on across our nation in the 1969-70 time period and the University of Wisconsin had, like most college campuses, been the source of anti-war demonstrations and an on-campus fatal bombing incident,” LeCalsey recalled. “Because of that, we made certain our soccer players were positive role models and ambassadors for UW-Green Bay and for Wisconsin. Our team traveled in gray slacks and red jackets and comported themselves impressively off the field and on.

“We only experienced four losses those two years and received a national tournament (NAIA) bid,” LeCalsey said. “We introduced the game of soccer to Northeast Wisconsin. We played our 1970 homecoming game against Air Force at an improvised field at Bay Beach. Fans were 7 to 9 people deep, lining the entire field perimeter. Len Wagner, Sports Editor from the Green Bay Press-Gazette, covered us extensively, and Lee Remmel (also Press-Gazette before his storied career with the Green Bay Packers) and Jim Irwin (known as the radio voice for the Packers, Brewers and Bucks) did play-by-play for a regional television audience for that game.

LeCalsey, a former active duty United States Marine, said it felt especially good to reverse the 1969 loss and get that 3-1 homecoming victory over the then nationally ranked Air Force Academy team and their coach, Hank Eichen, who, a few years later, coached the Phoenix.

When LeCalsey left the program to tackle career opportunities and challenges in the paper industry, it meant leaving the Green Bay area. In his 25-year-career with Scott Paper Company, he held executive positions at plant locations in Marinette, Oconto Falls, Oshkosh and Milwaukee. After his last plant Wisconsin assignment in 1988, Lou and his wife Sue, staked their claim on a 12-acre piece of high land in Ledgeview with plans to eventually move back, and retire there.

When the Tufco opportunity presented itself in 1996, LeCalsey, his wife Sue and by then college age sons Scott and Paul, jumped to return to Green Bay, and Lou returned to volunteer efforts at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay — the school which had left such a lasting impression on him from his early coaching experiences.

In 1997, then Chancellor Mark Perkins recognized the need for a dedicated group to do three things with/for UW-Green Bay: 1. Advise and counsel the Chancellor on community perspectives of UW-Green Bay issues and opportunities; 2. Represent the University in the community; and 3. Help with friend and fund-raising. That was the core of the Charter for the newly created Chancellor’s Council of Trustees.

“When asked who should chair the committee, Bob Bush (retired CEO of Schreiber Cheese) nominated me. He said I had the enthusiasm and the background. And I’ve had a ball. I’m proud of this University, I really, really am,” LeCalsey commented.

“Since 1997 the Council has been able to provide a unique source of continuity and effective campus-community relations, through times of changes in chancellors and campus leadership,” he said. “I also feel we (the Council of Trustees) help incoming Chancellors and campus leaders get up to speed more quickly on this region’s people, its culture and their expectations and concerns with the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, thereby helping them to accelerate their effectiveness.”

As of April 19, 2011, with LeCalsey at the helm, the Council of Trustees also takes on the fiduciary responsibilities of helping to run the newly formed UW-Green Bay Foundation. In the past, UW-Green Bay has relied on UW-Madison to manage its donations and assets.

LeCalsey will meet the challenges — along with the other members of the Council — as he always does, with enthusiasm, ownership, optimism, and personal responsibility.

“I see the formation of our own Foundation a practical reality of evolving to being more self-supporting,” LeCalsey said. “This is a proactive move for our University. Historically the UW System had low tuition for in-state students pursuing undergraduate degrees. Twenty years ago, the University received roughly 50 percent of its funding from state support and the rest was from tuition and private sources. Now it’s virtually the mirror opposite. The pendulum is clearly swinging quickly — and permanently — in the opposite direction. The next academic year, state support to UW-Green Bay will only be about 20 percent of its total budget. We need to be more accountable for our University’s economic health with the decline in state funding. That means we will have to become more involved with raising private support. And we will need increased flexibility to optimize utilization of the funds we raise, so we can maximize our effectiveness with both public and private sources of funding.

“We are at a crossroads. In order for this region to remain strong, students must have an opportunity to be college-educated. We have to do our part to keep tuition affordable for first-generation families.”

LeCalsey leads the UW-Green Bay Foundation with a unique perspective as someone with both an insider’s view of the University and as a business leader who sees the positive impact a public university can have on the future leadership of a community.

As for “Coach LeCalsey’s” game plan moving forward?

“You know, I have really been coaching all of my working life. Whether in sports or industry, or philanthropy, what we’re really doing is building teams around specific objectives. That’s what I’ll continue to do as long as I have the honor and privilege to do so — in this case my ‘field and sport’ is on the Council of Trustees at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.”