For 32 years, Lorna Jorgenson Wendt was a full-time wife, mother, manager of her home and corporate spouse. Overnight, she became one of the most visible women in America and a pioneer in the quest for equality before, during and after marriage.
When her husband, Gary Wendt, former CEO of General Electric Capital, filed for divorce, Lorna was offered 10 percent of their assets. She felt she was owed more and defended her role as an equal partner in their long-term relationship. Her willingness to go public with a very private matter started a national discussion on fairness and equality in marriage and divorce.
This has led to a significant gift from Wendt to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where it will be used to launch one of the core principles of the campus-wide 4W Initiative (For Women, For Well-being, For Wisconsin and the World), which aims to make life better for women and the world better for all.
“Lorna fundamentally changed the way in which we think about the role of women (and men), and the importance of equality in any relationship is all about improving quality of life for all,” said School of Human Ecology Dean Soyeon Shim. “We are immensely honored to carry on Lorna’s legacy via the MORE (Money + Relationships + Equality) program.”
Wendt, a 1965 graduate of UW-Madison’s College of Letters & Science, has long supported her alma mater. This gift establishes the Lorna Jorgenson Wendt Legacy Fund, which will provide operational funding over the next five years and create an endowment to sustain the educational and outreach component of the initiative in perpetuity.
“Lorna’s story and legacy resonate with women around the world,” said Lori DiPrete Brown, director of 4W. “Lorna has provided wise counsel in many other aspects of the 4W Initiative. The MORE program, with its focus on valuing women and their contributions to their families and society, is fundamental to making life better for women, and in turn, making the world better for everyone.”
The essence of the MORE program in the School of Human Ecology is teaching women of all ages to value themselves in their relationships, to value the work they do and to strengthen the partnerships they create, according to Christine B. Whelan, director of MORE. “We’ll be able to reach young adults in the university setting, mature couples in local communities and, through an interactive website, individuals and couples nationwide. We’re providing information and framing the questions — not preaching one method for relationship success.
“I am honored to be carrying on Lorna Jorgenson Wendt’s legacy by remixing academic research into useful information, like workbooks and online help, to improve couples’ communication about finances, division of labor and issues of equality at all stages of relationships,” said Whelan.
Contact Christine Whelan, director, MORE program, at 646-522-6456; or Cathy Jackson, manager of strategic communications, School of Human Ecology, at 608-262-5402.