Retired professor inspires $1 million in giving
UW-Milwaukee’s Leer pushed his students
Great college professors inspire students by setting the bar high, and helping them realize their potential.
Not many professors inspire $1 million in giving from former students who never forgot what they did for them.
Meet University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor Emeritus Jerry Leer, who at age 97 is still the warmly engaging man his former students remember from the classroom. He retired from UWM in 1983 after teaching accounting there for 37 years.
In the 34 years since his retirement, former students and their friends — retired now, too — have raised $1,026,000 toward full-tuition scholarships for 175 top accounting students in Leer’s honor. The endowment is still going strong.
Last weekend, six top
students each received scholarships to cover this year’s tuition. They can work fewer hours and focus more on their studies, thanks to the Jerry Leer/ In Memory of Roy H. Tellier Sr. Scholarship Fund. They also met the silverhaired professor who indirectly helped them during an intimate luncheon in their honor.
The fund was engineered by one of Leer’s former students, Peter Tellier, now 67 years old. Tellier struggled academically as an undergraduate accounting major at UWM in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, working 32 hours a week as a psychiatric hospital orderly to pay the bills.
After finishing his bachelor’s degree as a solid “C” student, Tellier gained conditional admission to UWM’s Master’s in Business Administration program because his grades weren’t stellar. His first semester of graduate school, his father, Roy Tellier Sr., died.
That’s when Tellier met Leer, who hired him as a teaching assistant, allowing him to give up his offcampus job and focus on school.
“He was an example,” said Tellier, who lives in the Town of Summit. “He was a model for professionalism, integrity, honesty. And he is an absolute prince of a man. His letting me be a TA changed my life. I don’t know what would have come of me if he hadn’t hired me.”
Always tanned and well-groomed — in dark, horn-rimmed glasses, a sport jacket and tie — Leer was all business in the classroom. But he also knew every student’s name in classes of 50, and took great interest in each of them.
Many of Leer’s students went on to be CEOs, comptrollers and partners in top accounting firms. A handful became accounting professors, including Paul Fischer, who chairs the accounting program in UWM’s Lubar School of Business.
Tellier became the youngest partner at Deloitte, Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte), and later joined SVA Certified Public Accountants, where he served as a tax consultant until his retirement in July 2015.
Tellier was in his early 30s when Leer retired, and Tellier decided it was time to pay it forward. Tellier’s goal was to award oneyear, full-tuition scholarships in his UWM mentor’s honor, so recipients could cut back on work hours and focus more on their studies, as he was able to do thanks to Leer.
Tellier also honors his father, Roy Tellier Sr., through the scholarship fund.
“My father taught me loyalty, and I used that to repay a debt for Jerry Leer choosing me to be a teaching assistant,” Peter Tellier explains.
The year Leer decided to retire, Tellier ran the scholarship idea past a few friends who also were Leer’s former students. Tellier figured he would kick in $1,000 a year, and sought a similar threeyear commitment from his friends. Together, they could raise $30,000 to establish a scholarship endowment through the UWM Foundation, earning 3% to 4% annual interest.
The first scholarship awarded in 1983 was about $750 and covered tuition.
This year, the scholarship’s 34th anniversary, the committee granted six tuition scholarships of $11,000 each and surpassed the $1 million giving milestone. The cost of college has risen significantly, and the scholarship fund has kept up.
“In my wildest imagination, 30 years ago, I never would have thought it could happen,” Tellier said of the amount raised. “I can’t think of any professional achievement that eclipses this, and the reason the scholarship exists is Jerry Leer.”
Leer still refers to Tellier as “an extraordinary young man.”
‘Signs of brilliance’
Pat Moriarity, of Glenbeulah near Elkhart Lake, sat near the back of a UWM accounting classroom one semester in the early 1970s. She was quiet and studious; she wanted to do well in Leer’s intermediate accounting class.
One day, Leer pulled her aside. “She showed signs of brilliance, and I told her you have to speak up and not just sit in the background until no one else knows the answer,” Leer recalls.
By the end of the semester, she was sitting in the front.
“You should see her now,” Leer says of Moriarity. “She’s very successful, very witty and charming.”
Moriarity and her husband, Jerry Moriarity — who worked as a TA for Leer — have given to the scholarship fund since its inception.
“He was like this rock star,” Pat Moriarity says of Leer. “A very engaging professor who involved the class. He didn’t speak ‘at us’ for an hour. He asked questions that challenged you to provide an answer that resulted in you learning.”
Leer helped her get her first job in accounting, akin to an internship, while she was still a student.
“He made you believe you could be anything you wanted to be and solve or figure out any problem,” she said. “He made you see what your future could be. He was demanding, but in a way that worked. He expected excellence, and you wanted to live up to that expectation.”
For Moriarity, now 64 and retired, the future was a rise through the ranks to controller at Firstar Milwaukee (now U.S. Bank).
“There are thousands of kids out there with a story like mine,” she said.
The Leer/Tellier Scholarship is the largest of a number of scholarship funds established to honor faculty at UWM, according to Kristine Piwek, assistant dean of communication and administrative affairs in the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business.
Scholarship applicants must be juniors or seniors who have taken courses in accounting, have given back to the community, and demonstrate financial need. Students pursuing a master’s in accounting or tax also are eligible, though at least half the scholarships go to undergraduates.
Leer joined the faculty of the UW Division of Commerce in 1946, and became a member of the UWM faculty when UWM was created 10 years later.
He lectured through television to reach over 1,000 students in 33 sections of the same class, but personally took charge of discussion sessions with teaching assistants as a measure of quality control, said Kanti Prasad, who started his teaching career at UWM and became dean of the business school.
Leer trained teaching assistants in what the discussion content should be, and how to treat students and guide them, Prasad recalled.
An advanced accounting textbook that Leer coauthored years ago is still a leading textbook for advanced accounting across the country, according to Prasad.
“I still run into people — there are so many — who say I got interested in accounting and excelled because of Jerry Leer,” Prasad said.
“He made you see what your future could be. He was demanding, but in a way that worked. He expected excellence, and you wanted to live up to that expectation.” PAT MORIARTY FORMER STUDENT
Retired professor Jerry Leer (left) and retired CPA Pete Tellier were at the Wisconsin Club to give scholarships to UW-Milwaukee accounting students. See more photos at jsonline.com.news.