Former Cook Bequeaths $375,000

As a cook in the college cafeteria for decades, Regina Willems helped nourish generations of students. Upon her death in April 2012, at the age of 102, the college community benefited from a further contribution to its overall health, in the form of a generous bequest. Willems left the college an unrestricted gift of $375,000. 

After her time at the college, Willems worked in the kitchen of De Pere’s Union House Hotel. Later she served St. Norbert Abbey, also as a cook. Dee Geurts-Bengtson (College Advancement), whose mother was one of Willems’ closest friends while the two lived at the Union House, describes Willems as “one of the hardest-working women I ever knew” – deeply religious, devoutly Catholic and steadfast in her commitment to the Norbertine Fathers.

The Rev. Rowland DePeaux, O.Praem., ’48 recalls that when he arrived at the college as a freshman in 1944 and began working in the cafeteria, Willems had already been head cook for several years, succeeding her mother, who served in that role during the 1930s. 

DePeaux says: “So many of the employees of the college then truly felt they were part of the Norbertine family. They made a minimal salary, but they were deeply dedicated to the Norbertines and to the college.” DePeaux notes that, after leaving St. Norbert’s employ in the 1950s, Willems would often reminisce about her time at the college and express her fondness for the people she had come to know here.

Of Willems’ bequest, $100,000 has been earmarked for emergency aid to current students who find themselves in urgent financial straits. In addition, $175,000 will be placed in the Riordan Family Endowment, established by former college trustee Mike Riordan to fund faculty research and to develop student-faculty collaborative projects. The remaining $100,000 was applied to the transformation of St. Boniface Church into Dudley Birder Hall, the newest performance and rehearsal space on campus. From this single gift we are thus able to advance three of the goals of Campaign St. Norbert: Full Ahead – increasing financial aid, promoting faculty excellence and enriching the student experience.