Re­tired pro­fes­sor in­spires $1 mil­lion in giv­ing

UW-Mil­wau­kee’s Leer pushed his stu­dents

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - KAREN HER­ZOG

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 json­

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