One of Carroll’s greatest instructors has passed into glory.
Though she never taught in a classroom or published academic research, the legacy of her lessons is grafted into the very marrow of countless Pioneers.
Gertrude Helen Ullsperger came to Carroll in 1964 and served our campus for more than five decades. During those years Gert raised three children and welcomed grandchildren and great-grandchildren into the world. She danced and golfed with her husband Ron, and she conquered breast cancer. She knew more than half the people in Waukesha, and she cared for friends, served her church, and sang in the choir. She lived joyfully and loved extravagantly, and those of us who knew her were recipients of her generous spirit.
Gert was a great teacher. By example, she charted out her own Pioneer Core, a curriculum for life’s most foundational learning objective: loving-kindness. She reminded us that if we speak in the tongues of angels but do not have love, we are just noisemakers; if we understand and have all knowledge but do not have love, our lives are nothing. Gert knew that love is what makes life meaningful, and her life was meaningful beyond measure.
The Gert method is best documented in our souls, but in feeble words, here are some of the most salient lessons I gleaned from her
Love hospitality. Gert embodied welcome. With just a smile, she conveyed belonging to every person who entered the MDR. Her hugs were legendary. She turned a greeting into a celebration, a cafeteria into a dining room, and a stranger into family. For any student feeling homesick, they needed go no further than Gert to find themselves embraced as kin.
Love authentically. Gert was the real deal. I have met many kind people who outwardly exemplify Midwestern nice. For Gert, however, kindness was never put on; cheer was never false. Gert was just as likely to tear up with compassion as to twinkle with laughter. She was fervent in her faith, fierce in her prayer life, and attuned to God’s Presence in the simplest things.
Love dynamically. Gert was a giver, a leader, a trendsetter, and someone who modeled the Gospel message of putting others before yourself. A charter member of her Lutheran church, Gert was the first woman in the congregation to serve as a lay minister. She stepped into any role with her whole heart. And on those few occasions when we were able to say thank you to her—naming her Grand Marshall of the homecoming parade, or donning our Gert gear in buttons or t-shirts with her image—she humbly and cheerfully received our offerings.
Love purposefully. How many of us could remember names in our twenties as well as Gert remembered them in her nineties? Even to the end, she was sharp as a tack, and she used her intellect to make others feel seen and cared for. Students may hide in the back of a classroom or avoid being noticed in social settings, but they could not avoid Gert’s softhearted gaze. She knew each by name, by face,
and by story. She used her position at Carroll and her place in the world to let others know they mattered. It was her ministry.
Few of us love so well and so effortlessly as Gert. For Gert, I believe it was as simple as letting God’s light shine through. We may forget much of what we learn along the way. Dates and details will blur and be forgotten. But we will not forget the lessons in love we learned from Gert. May we honor her memory by passing those lessons on, for love endures all things.