A Man For Messmer
With the passing of Bill Desing on June 19, 2011, Messmer Catholic Schools lost one of it’s great guiding spirits. Desing’s Catholic faith was evident in his daily words and actions. A man known for his peaceful and positive attitude, Bill Desing’s leadership helped make Messmer Catholic Schools into a national success story.
In 1984, Bill Desing learned the Archdiocese of Milwaukee planned to close his alma mater, Messmer High School. Desing, his wife and all six children attended Messmer. He valued Messmer’s academic programming, and its appreciation for cultural diversity.
“I just could not understand that they wanted to close a school that was an integrated school in the area,” Desing remembered. “We wanted to see that continue.”
Following the closing announcement, parents of Messmer students convened to discuss transfer options available to students. Before considering transfers, Desing boldly encouraged the crowd to look at another option saying, “Hey, let’s not talk about closing the school, but what we can do to save the school.”
Desing’s cry rallied parents and community supporters and led to the formation of the “Save Messmer Committee” comprised of parents, alumni and community leaders.
Peter Salza, a Messmer High School Class of 1960 alumnus and current member of the Board of Directors commented, “With Bill it was never a question of keeping it open. He rallied everyone together and said ‘we’re gonna get this done.’”
Desing, a Vice President at M&I Bank, was a well-connected community leader offering the experience necessary to shepherd the grassroots parents group. Along with committee member Br. Booker Ashe, Desing approached the founders of the DeRance Foundation, Harry and Erica John, and secured the capital necessary to purchase Messmer from the Archdiocese.
On September 5, 1984, Messmer High School re-opened as an independent Catholic high school. Desing credited Providence saying, “The Holy Spirit was involved here… everything that happened, if you looked back at the time, every little thing that happened, it seemed the Spirit was here with us, guiding us.”
As the school flourished, Desing continued to lend his expertise and guidance. Serving on Messmer’s Board of Directors, Desing made significant contributions to the school. In the early 1990’s, Desing rallied Messmer supporters once again as the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program came into being. Today, Messmer has grown to serve over 1,400 students in grades K4-12 at three campuses: Messmer High School, Messmer Preparatory Catholic School and St. Rose and St. Leo Catholic School.
Reflecting on the school’s progress, Desing commented: “It says in the Gospel, you have people of many talents, doing different things to make the thing go. That’s really what we had here – a lot of people with different talents, different hopes, that made this school go, working together.”
Brother Bob Smith, OFM Cap, President of Messmer Catholic Schools commented, “Bill was not only a significant leader and driving force to re-open Messmer in 1984, but he truly was the spiritual force that drove us and continues to lead us this very day.”
Obituary for Bill Desing in Mllwaukee Journal Sentinel