"If There Was a Mountain to Charge, She Was Going to Charge It"


Scene Magazine | Spring 2022

Patricia VanBruwaene's appreciation for the St. Ambrose University education that helped her climb the leadership ladder at Deere & Company ran deep. It is reflected in the multimillion dollar estate gift she left to her alma mater following her death on Nov. 2 of 2021, just a few days prior to her 72nd birthday.

The single largest gift in University history will bolster scholarship funding that makes SAU's faithful, student-focused classroom and campus experience accessible to students across the economic and learning spectrum.

The University is not releasing the donation figure at this time.

"Pat was very appreciative of her experience at St. Ambrose," trust attorney Robert Noe said of VanBruwaene, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration degree in 1974, and an H.L. McLaughlin Master of Business Administration degree in 1984.

"She felt that education put her on a path to what she accomplished at Deere," Noe said.

VanBruwaene retired as Deere's Manager of Pensions and Benefits in 2001, a high-ranking position, and an achievement that is all the more impressive considering she began her career at a time when few women held leadership roles at large multinational corporations.

"For women in leadership roles such as mine, the Patricia VanBruwaenes of the mid-to-late 20th Century were pacesetters," said St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak, EdD, who on April 7 memorialized VanBruwaene's trailblazing efforts by introducing the newly named Patricia VanBruwaene College of Business at St. Ambrose University.

The new name will be celebrated via signage in the expanded and renovated McMullen Hall, which was dedicated a year ago as the official home to the College of Business.

"I hope this speaks to current and future generations of business leaders and tells them St. Ambrose University will provide the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed, adapt and grow in the fast-changing, digital workplace," Novak said. "They will do so, thankfully, in a world where corporations recognize the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce, an experience that Patricia was at the forefront of creating when she started her career in the early 1970s."

St. Ambrose President Emeritus Edward Rogalski, PhD, (Hon. '08) knew VanBruwaene, both as a student and later as a proud and dedicated alum. He was Dean of Students when VanBruwaene enrolled at St. Ambrose in 1970, just a year after the school officially became a co-educational institution.

In that era, Rogalski said the majority of St. Ambrose students majored in College of Business programs, including early female undergraduates. He said VanBruwaene's self-belief stood out.

"She was pretty confident," he remembered. "Pat had an ability to articulate her ideas in a compelling way that convinced others of her perspective. She was bright, articulate, and poised. She fit that Deere persona in terms of all those qualities you might expect in a Deere executive."

VanBruwaene later was among many Deere employees who enhanced their credentials and leadership viability when St. Ambrose launched the MBA program in 1977 as the school's initial graduate studies offering.

The MBA program didn't merely include women who had an eye on corporate leadership. It pursued them.

"We went out of our way to recruit women," said Joe McCaffrey, PhD, the program's first director and a veteran COB professor who retired in 2018 after 60 years in higher education. "At the time, we had a lot of talented vice presidents from Deere in the program and they helped us recruit women candidates. She obviously was a standout."

Patricia VanBruwaene

Class of 1974, 1984

The new name will be celebrated via signage in the expanded and renovated McMullen Hall, which was dedicated a year ago as the official home to the College of Business.

Still, VanBruwaene joined the workforce in an era when women in leadership were far from the norm. LuAnn Haydon was a Deere & Company contemporary and a woman who also worked to earn her seat in the conference room.

"We had an uphill battle, and I guess what worked for Pat, and for me as well, is we weren't afraid to step up and talk," Haydon said. "We weren't afraid to mingle in those circles where we would be seen."

Jim Collins '69, (Hon. '16) began working in a Deere & Company factory while he was a St. Ambrose student. The only woman he encountered there was a fellow factory worker. "She was one of the Rosie the Riveters from World War II," he said. "She could lift anything guys half her age could lift. But that was very unique and different. There might have been women in the personnel office, but they were the secretaries or administrative assistants."

Times were changing, though, as Collins earned his St. Ambrose degree and began working in Deere's corporate human resources division. There, he assisted and later led efforts started by fellow Ambrosian Charles Toney to promote diversity and equity in Deere's hiring and career advancement processes.

Collins said Deere & Company was at the forefront of American companies implementing change.
"Deere was working ahead two or three years before the affirmative action programs went into place across the nation," he said. "The law had already been passed, but there were a number of companies who said, ‘Hey, we want to be out front on this.' Deere was one."

Still, he said of VanBruwaene's career growth: "She had to take that initiative."

That's a quality that never was in short supply for VanBruwaene, who stepped up as a leader in the community as well as in the workforce. In 1990, she became the first female president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and worked with government leaders and legislators to ensure the completion of John Deere Road.

She also was a founding member of what is now the Quad Cities Travel & Visitors Bureau, earned the 1994 Rotary Club Golden Book of Good Deeds for community service, and was a longtime volunteer for the John Deere Classic. She was a past president of the St. Ambrose Alumni Executive Committee and a St. Ambrose Alumni Award recipient.

Laura "Divot" Ekizian '92, '97 MBA was St. Ambrose's first female Student Government Association president and the second female volunteer chair of the John Deere Classic. She met VanBruwaene on the golf course and saw a decidedly take-charge, blaze-trails personality.

"She was fun," said Ekizian, now herself a corporate leader as president of Quad City Bank and Trust. "Pat was a pistol. She just ran circles around everybody. Pat was the type of personality that if she thought there was a mountain to charge, she was going to go charge it. I remember clearly knowing she had blazed a path."

Today, 19 percent of Deere & Company's worldwide leadership is composed of women. That includes Mara (Sovey) Downing '98, who is vice president of Global Brand and Communications and a past president of the John Deere Foundation. She was the second woman to hold the latter title.

"Pat was a valued employee, respected community leader, and vigorous supporter of St. Ambrose," Downing said on behalf of Deere & Company. "While we are saddened by her passing, we know her legacy will live on through her generous gift to the school."

–Craig DeVrieze '16 MOL


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