History of WOW
From a talk by Mary Thompson, Charter Member, at the Silver Anniversary Part on April 20, 1997.
During the April 30th weekend of 1971, eight* widowed members of the Milwaukee area Parents Without Partners organization (PWP) went to Boston to attend a federally funded “Widow-to-Widow Seminar.” They learned about this seminar from a write-up in the Milwaukee Journal. The fee was $5.00 to register for a three-day weekend at Harvard.
The seminar was led by Dr. Phyllis Silverman, a writer involved in the Widow-to-Widow program. At the seminar there was much sharing of experiences and they learned that reaching out to others was very important to the newly widowed and that helping others helped them. During the seminar they were strongly urged to form groups in their own community, and they were given some background on how to do it.
When they returned to Milwaukee, they set up a “widowed” discussion group within the PWP organization. Meetings of this discussion group were held in the homes of the widowed members. Most of the people in the discussion group were in their 20s and 30s.
One of the PWP membership requirements was that members had to have one or more children under 18 years of age. Realizing that there were many widowed people without children in the 18-and-under age group, or any children at all, the members of the discussion group decided to form an organization exclusively for the widowed without any stipulation concerning children. They worked with Shirley Wile at the UW Extension who was very helpful with information for starting an organization. They also worked with an attorney in setting up the organization, including bylaws.
The first meeting was held during the anniversary month of the widow-to-widow seminar in Boston, April, and the year was 1972. This organization became known as The WOW Club. It was started as a service organization providing a listening ear and giving support and comfort as an out-reach to help in the grieving process.
In September of 1972, the Bond, a widowed group from the northern suburbs, decided to join WOW, swelling the membership to almost 100. They met at the VIP Lounge on Lisbon and North Avenues. Meeting topics covered self-help, personal growth, getting to know each other, and caring about each other.
During the next 25 years, the study group evolved into today’s unique organization…an organization that has meant a great deal to many widows and widowers in the area. Membership has included people from communities as far away as Burlington, Racine, West Bend, Oconomowoc, and Sheboygan. Social activities included the theater, concerts, fish fry’s, yard parties, sporting events, dances, bowling, golf, hikes, card parties, dance lessons, etc.
* They were: Jo Anne Nettie (Zuehlke), Gail Dustin, Joanne Hiobil, Perry Jamar, Dick Westmore, Pat Bush (D’Amore), Marilyn Campbell, and Audrey Ryan.