In Living

Margaret Henningsen in the Third Ward office of the Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee.

Henningsen's contributions to Milwaukee are right on the money

Margaret Henningsen became executive director of the Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee on Aug. 15, 2011. Formerly the executive vice president of Legacy Bancorp, which she co-founded in 1997, Henningsen has a long history in Milwaukee's finance and real estate worlds.

And Henningsen has an even longer history of social justice activism. Whether as a student activist involved in civil rights protests, arguing for and receiving mortgage loans for black families as a real estate broker or as co-founder of a bank that specifically provided services to traditionally under-served groups, she has brought the objective of social change to all her work.

The Women's Fund of Greater Milwaukee, which celebrated its 25th year in 2011, develops women leaders and helps create social change through women and girls by contributing to a variety of programs, which include the Social Change Exchange, the Women of Color Fundraising Network, Cultures of Giving and the Black Infant Mortality Project.

The Black Infant Mortality Project is the work of a 60-member coalition seeking to address why Milwaukee has one of the highest black infant mortality rates in the country.

"This has nothing to do with the behavior of the mother," Henningsen says. "The project stresses deeper relationships between economics and racism, as even higher income black women have higher infant mortality rates."

Donations account for 99 percent of the money that the Women's Fund pools and redistributes in grants. The fund does not receive any money from the city or county.

"Milwaukeeans are very philanthropic-minded, but some of them feel they're not seeing enough progress," she says.

Henningsen feels that Milwaukee in particular is currently experiencing donor burn-out. As the financial crisis continues, Henningsen believes that some non-profits will need to form coalitions in order to accomplish their missions.

"The cream rises to the top," says Henningsen. Organizations that both spend wisely and work hard for social change will continue to get money from the Women's Fund, which has provided $5 million to community organizations over its 25 years.

The current financial situation really started to get bad by mid-2008, when Henningsen and her partners were fighting hard to keep Legacy Bank afloat. But after Legacy was closed by the FDIC, Henningsen says that she found herself in the same position as Legacy's customers: she lost her business.

"I spent a couple months sitting around asking, 'What next?' I continued with my volunteer work and serving on boards, but I was out of a job," she says.

Some current Women's Fund board members thought Henningsen, who had previously chaired the board, would be a good replacement for their outgoing director. In fact, they cornered her at a function to tell her the position was open.

Henningsen grew up in Milwaukee. The oldest of 10 children, she attended Lloyd Street School, where her sister taught and retired from, and went on to Robert Fulton Junior High, North Division and Rufus King.

Henningsen wanted to leave Milwaukee for college, but says her mother didn't take a breath when Henningsen told her. So she ended up staying for college.

Henningsen started looking at the expense of college and that played a part in attending UW-Milwaukee. She lived at home and started working for a non-profit with the goal of buying a car. By the time she was 19, however, her dad informed her that if she couldn't be home on time then maybe she should get her own apartment.

"I didn't mean to break his rules, but I've always been a night owl," says Henningsen, laughing.

Henningsen kept the keys to her parent's house, but took her bedroom furniture and went out on her own. Henningsen still remembers the address, 1024 E. Ogden Ave., of her first place away from her parents' home. The building she lived in is no longer there.

Henningsen attended UWM during the height of the civil rights era and had a lot on her plate that first year. She was taking 19 credits, had a full-time job, another part-time job and was involved in registering people to vote in her "spare" time.

Henningsen helped form the Black Student Union at UWM. In her sophomore year, she organized a demonstration at UWM that, she says, got out of hand.

UWM administration said she caused a disturbance and expelled her.

Henningsen says a combination of low grades and the accusation of instigating a riot were their grounds for the expulsion, although she maintains that the event was not a riot and simply an on-campus protest. Unsure of what to do, Henningsen continued to attend classes for two weeks after the expulsion.

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emills81 | Jan. 4, 2012 at 1:22 p.m. (report)

So she got expelled from UWM. Ran a bank into the ground so bad the Fed's had to take over. And sat by while her husband Paul extorted city developers until getting indicted and going to prison. And she is qualified for this position because?

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