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Alumni: The Richard Sisters

Roots of Learning: The Richard Sisters Reflect on their Strong Foundation from Madison Public Schools

Meet Marty Richard Meek (center), Carol Richard (left), and Laura Richard Thomson (right), three sisters who share not only a bond of sisterhood but also a deep connection to Madison public schools. All three began their educational journey at Glendale Elementary (renamed Dr. Virginia Henderson Elementary in 2020), eventually graduating from La Follette High School in 1970, 1972, and 1977, respectively. They are three of six siblings in their tightly-knit family.

Their mother, with roots in Middleton and Minneapolis, and their father, a Maryland native, met during World War II. “Our parents were both in the service – our mom, the Women’s Army Corps, and our dad, the army. Somebody bet our dad $5 he wouldn’t ask my mom to dance, and that was that. They eventually settled in Madison due to familial connections,” Carol explains. “Both parents were raised in families that valued education—and they instilled this in us from a young age.”  “Our dad grew up on a farm with 12 siblings and every child graduated high school, which was very unusual at that time,” Laura remarks.  Marty adds: “They expected us to work hard.”

Reflecting on their formative years in Madison’s public schools, the Richard sisters reminisce about the nurturing environment they encountered, where economic differences were minimal, and students from all walks of life mingled seamlessly. “Carol and I had a lot of fun, but weren’t the greatest students in high school, Laura, on the other hand, was more academically inclined,” says Marty. “However, we all marvel at the exceptional grounding we received at Glendale Elementary. It provided us with a strong foundation that served us well throughout our academic journey.”

Their experiences at Glendale Elementary left an indelible mark on the Richard sisters. “The curriculum at Glendale was rigorous, with clear benchmarks for each grade,” Marty explains. “It fostered a sense of accountability and excellence that prepared us for the challenges ahead.” Carol adds, “That strong foundation we developed in elementary school led to success in the rest of our school years. Eventually, when we went to college, it was not difficult for any of us, which is a testament to the quality of Madison’s public schools.”

Beyond academics, the Richard sisters remember the supportive teachers who left a lasting impression on their lives. One such teacher was Violet Bergum, Carol’s 1st and 2nd-grade instructor whose mentorship inspired the sisters. “Being one of six kids, sometimes you get lost in the shuffle of life, but there are certain teachers, such as Ms. Bergum, who see that and step in. Teachers such as these influenced me to become a teacher,” Marty, the eldest of the three, reflects. A self-proclaimed “late bloomer,” Marty found her calling as a teacher later in life. “I was not necessarily the most engaged in high school, but I think that in and of itself made me a better teacher. It encouraged me to make an extra effort to reach those kids sitting in the back row.”

High school brought new experiences and extracurricular pursuits. Marty participated in DECA and part-time work. Carol had a rebellious streak and didn’t always color within the lines.  Laura engaged in various activities, including the pep club and a work/study program during her senior year.  All three enjoyed active social lives and appreciated the many opportunities to gather in the Commons Area along with after-school and evening events.

Their paths diverged after high school, with each sister carving out unique trajectories. Marty and Carol took hiatuses before pursuing higher education (traveling across the country in an old beat-up car and working odd jobs), while Laura followed a more traditional academic path. Their professional careers took them down varying avenues as well—Marty and Laura established careers in teaching, while Carol pursued architecture. Yet, their shared values of community service and giving back defined their endeavors beyond the classroom and office walls.

“During my teaching career in the Fort Lauderdale area, I worked predominantly in schools that served students growing up in poverty.  As a classroom teacher, I found it to be very rewarding and worked hard to form a strong connection with individual students and recognize and celebrate their strengths. I was also privileged to work with many exceptional educators during the years I worked in teacher development,” Marty shares. “And now, as a retired educator residing in Madison, I continue to sub at Shorewood Elementary, cherishing every opportunity to make a difference for Madison public school students.” She adds: “After my 40th class reunion, I reconnected with many friends from LaFollette, and now that I live in Madison again, I join a group of them routinely for lunch.”

Carol established and managed a women-owned architectural firm in Atlanta, Georgia (Richard + Wittschiebe), where she spearheaded community-based projects – including schools and libraries. “I think my experiences in high school equipped me with the skills to navigate complex interpersonal relationships—a testament to the enduring impact of a quality education. I am proudest of my ability to build trust among the staff and nurture young architects and interns,” she mentions. Carol was the first to return to Madison in 2008, drawn by the sense of home and familiarity the city offers. She has been involved in the development of the Lake Monona Waterfront signature park – first as a member of the Madison Design Professionals and now serving on the board of directors with the Friends of Nolen Waterfront.

Laura worked in various roles in research and business, before ultimately landing in education, teaching middle school math in the Atlanta area. “My education instilled in me a strong sense of community and a belief in the value of public education,” she reflects. Like her sisters, Laura moved back home to Madison, a city that she’s grateful to be a part of. “It’s nice to be in a city where you can hop on a bike trail and be downtown, or out in the county in ten minutes. A lot is going on here – great restaurants and a vibrant downtown. And let’s not forget MSCR. That is such a great program! I took an art class last summer and my husband and I are taking some fitness classes starting next week,” exclaims Laura.

Today, the Richard sisters find joy in the simple pleasures of life—long walks together, spirited lunches, and shared moments working the polls during elections. “My sisters and I love life in Madison and enjoy being able to see each other frequently,” Marty shares.

Their commitment to education and community remains steadfast, as evidenced by their involvement with the Madison Public Schools Foundation. From serving on the board to participating in committees to making regular financial contributions to the Foundation, the Richard sisters continue to champion the transformative power of education.

Madison’s public schools are proud to count the Richard sisters—Marty, Carol, and Laura— among their alumni!

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