Hecht fund eases the college burden

WHITEWATER – Consider a pair of Jewish college students who attended the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, about 75 years apart.

They came from different generations but are forever linked through a monumental act of tzedakah.

Richard Hecht attended Whitewater first, back in the 1950s. Richard could attend only because of an anonymous gift from the Jewish community.

More than a half-century later, in 2019, Lauren Stein started as a freshman at Whitewater.

Therapists, tutors and more to assist with Lauren’s Asperger syndrome can get expensive, but help came along for Lauren’s family. The Hecht family, remembering the gift that benefitted Richard, set up a scholarship that benefitted Lauren’s family. Lauren now attends Whitewater thanks in part to her $5,000 scholarship from the Hecht Family Memorial College Scholarship Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

Lauren Stein with her art at University of Wisconsin – Whitewater.

But it’s not just a scholarship for Lauren. Since 1997 the fund has repeatedly provided $5,000 scholarships to local students.

In this way, the Hecht family has paid it forward a total of 72 times.

Fund and family

The fund was named in memory both of Harry Hecht’s son Richard who died of cancer in January 1996, and his Harry’s wife Norma who died from complications of diabetes in February 2000.

“I don’t want my son’s name forgotten,” granddaughter Betsy Kerns remembers Harry saying, long before Harry died in 2007. Who was that son? He was Kerns’ father Richard, who she remembers as “a very caring man, who had an incredible sense of humor and was a great storyteller, joke teller, and was loved by many. He was the type to bail out employees from jail, he would lend his last dollar, he really was compassionate and a lover of people, and an Army veteran.”

Richard’s father Harry was a hard worker, a Jewish Polish immigrant who started poor and built a business. “My grandfather Harry was the first at his factory in the morning and the last to leave in the evening. He never got a driver’s license and walked from Juneau Village at 4 a.m. every day and walked home after work,” Kerns said. The Hecht Manufacturing factory was at 201 Water St.

“The Hecht Family Memorial College Scholarship Fund has been invaluable for families facing the high cost of college education,” said Caren Goldberg, chief development officer of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation. “We’re immensely grateful for Harry Hecht’s foresight and his amazing gift. His family’s continued commitment to this wonderful scholarship has touched our hearts.”

Kerns was there for the original establishment of the scholarship and remembers being told at the time that it was the largest gift from a private person.

“It feels good to be supported,” said Liam McLean, a 19-year-old University of Wisconsin ­– Madison freshman who as a high school student volunteered with Jewish organizations in the Milwaukee area. He feels that though he gave his time freely because he felt strongly, it’s still nice to be given something back.

“It just puts a lot less financial strain and burden on my folks and also myself,” he said.

McLean, from Fox Point, is a political science major and is looking forward to a Politics Around the World class this upcoming semester. “I’m pretty interested in international relations,” he said.

He’s already gotten involved with Badger Alliance for Israel and student government.

Lauren

Lauren Stein lived in a Ukrainian orphanage for the first three years of her life. She grew up in Glendale, in the home where parents Marty and Pam Stein still live.

Marty Stein remembers that when he and his wife Pam brought Lauren home, she was “easily functioning at an 18-month-old level at best and looking like she was 18 months old. She looked like a baby.” She was nearly 3.

When Lauren came to the United States, she couldn’t speak any language. She needed to learn to talk. Her parents were told: “Don’t expect big things from her.” Lauren was diagnosed at age 8 with Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. 

But Lauren works hard to overcome challenges; she’s a determined young lady. Lauren attended summer camp at OSRUI – in an art program, her passion — and was in Ahavah BBG with Wisconsin Region-BBYO. Then, she was a junior counselor at a Girl Scout camp and earned a varsity letter for playing clarinet in the pep band at Nicolet High School.

She started at UW-Whitewater in September 2019.

Lauren takes standard college classes. She chats with professors in the halls, goes bowling with friends and likes to study in the library, to get out of her dorm room. She also loves to draw. “I draw mostly people so I can express my emotions,” she said.

The school’s Center for Students with Disabilities connects Lauren with tutors (for a fee) and at no charge arranges note-takers, extended testing times and quiet testing space.

“I love Whitewater,” Lauren said. “It’s a small campus but with great resources, and I get a lot of work done. I’ve met nice people.”

Lauren appreciates the scholarship: “Receiving this scholarship is my way of giving back to my mom and dad for everything they’ve done for me.”