One woman’s life journey in helping others
Setting one’s path in life is something most everyone strives for. However, balancing Faith, family, a career and community involvement is difficult. Commitment must be strong for someone to be successful in all these areas today. Imagine how difficult it was in 1955 for young women just out of high school to set their own path in the world and create the balance needed to succeed.
Anita Froegel, a parishioner at St. Joseph Cathedral in La Crosse, shows us how it’s done. At 85 years, Anita continues to find ways to make an impact in her community.
Born in La Crosse, Anita has never lived more than two miles from where she was born. She attended elementary school at St. Wenceslaus, graduating from Aquinas High School in 1955.
Anita has fond memories growing up. “My grandma lived on the same block as my parents did. Grandpa died when I was young, so my two aunts continued to live with her. The family revolved around Grandma, and we always went to church.”
Anita was hired as a secretary at McLoone Advertising Services the day after she graduated from high school. Her skills were immediately noticed by her superiors. Over the next several years, she worked her way up the ranks of office manager, credit manager, corporate secretary, vice president and, eventually, to president of McLoone Metal Graphics in 1981. She retained this position until her retirement in 2000, after spending her entire 45-year career at the same company.
Her leadership at McLoone Metal Graphics opened the door for opportunities to be influential throughout her life, not only at work, but in her community.
“When asked to do something, I normally said, ‘Yes,’” said Anita. “I represented the women of La Crosse as a woman leader. This was important to me.”
Her community involvement includes the campaign chairperson for the United Way, advisory board and Board of Directors for Viterbo College, board member of the United Coulee Region and La Crosse Rotary director and president. Anita was active in her parish and a member of the St. Joseph Cathedral Parish Council, president and member of the Catholic Women Organization (now PCCW) and a long-time fundraising member at her parish. These are just a few of the extensive list of organizations she embraces.
Anita’s willpower to make a difference earned her several awards, including the BPW Woman of Achievement, YMCA Outstanding Achievement Business Award, Pope John XXIII Award through Viterbo College and the La Crosse Rotary Paul Harris Fellow and La Crosse Area Four Way Test awards.
While her journey may sound intriguing, Anita always found life hard. “I was married and raising four boys. There was no such thing as paid leave at that time. I did what I could to perform my job and be involved in the community, plus raise a family and be involved in my church. If I hadn’t done those things, I’d have missed out on so much in my life.”
Determination is what got Anita through life. Her husband died at a young age, leaving her with four sons to raise. “I was the main provider for my family and balancing everything was difficult. However, I’ve always had good control of my life. I’ve always been confident. I set my mind that I could do this. So, I did, and we did it as a family.”
Missing out on a college education didn’t prevent Anita from reaching her goals. “If I had gone to college, I would have missed the opportunity to be at the right place at the right time when McLoone Metal Graphics needed a president.”
Anita wasn’t shy about attending speech, economics and other courses at Viterbo College to sharpen her skills to run a successful company.
Though Anita is now retired and recovering from hip surgery, this hasn’t diminished her passion to help others.
Four years ago, Anita moved from her house to a more manageable apartment complex in downtown La Crosse. “I can see the cathedral steeple from my window. It’s a fringe benefit of living here.”
She spends her retirement volunteering and making personalized greeting cards: “My second bedroom is my craft room.” She sells her cards at the Cathedral Christmas bazaar, public library and other centers. “My cards now make me who I am. I enjoy making them for others to enjoy.”
Neighbors, including Vivian Andresen, frequently stop in to purchase cards from Anita. “I’ve purchased many cards from Anita for family and friends and they’re all beautiful. I love the personalization of each card,” Vivian says.
Anita intended to take up quilting when she retired: “I have a room full of quilting supplies at my house.” However, failing eyesight and neuropathy prevents her from enjoying this hobby.
Anita never doubts God is with her, as prayers are part of her daily routine. “The Holy Spirit guides me with decision-making. I did what I had to do at many points in my life. Decisions were made that were right for the time.”
Her hard work and determination to be a positive influence are attributes she admires in others: “I don’t think people are unkind by expecting everyone to pull their own weight in the world.”
Of all the organizations Anita has been involved in, the Boys and Girls Club of La Crosse is her favorite children’s club. The Coulee Council on Alcohol has provided her the most satisfaction. “I don’t like money to be wasted. I don’t think that when someone is on a board they should be pampered. You have to be there because your mind is focused on the goal of that specific organization,” she says.
Anita was chair of the United Way the first year they raised more than $1 million. “I was proud of that. It’s something I believe in.”
Though years have passed, her outlook on life hasn’t changed. “My mother lived to be 95, so if I live nine more years, that’s good. If I don’t, that’s fine too. I can be happy until I go because I’ve led a satisfying life. Everyone is in charge of their own happiness.”
Story and photography by Sharon Sliwka
Published in the May/June 2022 issue of Catholic Life Magazine