ALUMNI MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Siewert’s Way Alumnus turned legendary educator Larry Siewert had two rewarding careers
LARRY SIEWERT ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A TEACHER BUT NIXED THE IDEA BASED ON THE ADVICE OF A HIGH SCHOOL COUNSELOR. “HE SAID: ‘OH, YOU DON’T WANT TO GO INTO TEACHING. YOU WON’T MAKE ANY MONEY,’ ” RECALLS SIEWERT, BUS AD ’63, GRAD ’72. That changed, however, as he was en route to finishing his business degree from Marquette. He ultimately worked for 49 years as an educator in Milwaukee, becoming the longest-serving principal of Marquette University High School and, later, co-founder and principal of the innovative Nativity Jesuit Middle School. But he didn’t arrive there in the most orthodox way. Siewert took some undergraduate education courses but was hired in 1964 to teach at Marquette High based on his business degree and willingness to teach courses like accounting and coach freshman football. Also, as an alumnus of the school he was known by much of the staff. He had a football coach’s gruffness. “I’ve talked to many Marquette high school graduates who talked about how rough and tough he could be,” says Paula Harris, who later worked with Siewert at Nativity Jesuit. But he always had “tremendous empathy and compassion” for students, she says.
Siewert soon came to realize this would be his career. “I wanted to work with kids. I like their energy. I liked their openness,” he says. “I had high school teachers who were a big influence on me, and I wanted to be that person.” By his third year on the MUHS staff, he became the school’s first lay dean of students and was pursuing a master’s degree in education administration at Marquette, a career direction thoroughly encouraged by the principal of MUHS. From there, Siewert rose to administrative assistant to the principal and, in 1981, became Marquette High’s first lay principal. “I had qualms about accepting,” he recalls. “I was only 40. And I worried I was creating an end game for myself,” given the typical turnover for the position of principal. As it turned out, Siewert served in the role from 1981–92, until he left to found Nativity Jesuit. During his 28 years at MUHS, the school’s staff flip-flopped, changing from about 90 percent Jesuit to a 90 percent lay staff. But the staff is so committed to the Jesuit philosophy that “it’s probably more Jesuit (in spirit) now than it was then,” he says. Siewert and other staff attended workshops on Jesuit identity, and he came to embrace the approach, specifically the action-oriented Jesuit phrase of being men and women for others. “The idea that you live for others meant a lot to me,” he says.