Corps leader

Brantner poses for the camera in front of the La Crosse MarshMatthew Brantner, ’05, earned the Rada Distinguished Alumni Award.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles recognizing alumni receiving distinguished service awards in September 2018.

Brantner heads up environmental charge

It all started with a simple stone wall along a hiking trail. It’s now a path for others to help conserve Wisconsin’s natural resources and pick up needed work skills.

Matthew Brantner has taken his love for the environment from the labs of Cowley Hall to Vermont and then back to La Crosse.

Following graduation in 2005, Brantner headed east to become a crew leader with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. There, he worked up to become a program manager where he developed and managed an inclusive program for people with disabilities.

“WisCorps, through Matt’s leadership, is saving environmental education in La Crosse,” says Simpson.

Returning to La Crosse four years later, Brantner set his sights on bringing a similar environmental program for youth to his home state. With state government funding for a youth conservation corps cut, he created a non-profit corps that quickly became financially self-sufficient: The Wisconsin Conservation Corps, commonly called WisCorps.

“To start such an endeavor from scratch was an ambitious act,” says Steven Simpson, WisCorps Board of Directors Chair and retired UWL professor. “Only a young, idealist could have even dared to pull it off.”

WisCorps leads teams of youth to build trails, boardwalks, gardens and other environmental projects. But not only do the youth feel a sense of accomplishment, they also learn self-esteem, self-sufficiency and determination.

“He’s committed to making a positive difference in the lives of these young people,” notes Mel Hoffman, executive director of the Franke Foundation, which has funded WisCorps projects. “Everything Matt does is from the heart.”

While WisCorps reaches throughout the entire state, it is also critical for promoting environmental education in La Crosse. WisCorps environmental educators hold numerous K-12 programs at the Myrick Park Center where students learn about the environment in Hixon Forest and the La Crosse River Marsh.

“WisCorps, through Matt’s leadership, is saving environmental education in La Crosse,” says Simpson.

Brantner is humbled by WisCorps’ fast growth and says he’s fortunate to find his life’s calling.

“WisCorps isn’t just a career for me, it’s my life and my passion,” explains Brantner. “And because of this I’ll never work another day in my life.”

The Matt Brantner file

• Dedicated conservation advocate.

• Founding executive director of WisCorps, a statewide conservation corps. Executive director since 2009.

• Program manager for Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, 2005-08.

• Lab technician for the UWL River Studies Center, 2001-05.

• Bachelor’s of Science in biology from UWL, 2005.

Seven to receive distinguished alumni awards

Alumni who graduated during the past four decades will receive the top awards bestowed by the UWL Alumni Association this fall. They’re being honored for distinguished service and successful careers. They’ll return to campus to speak with students and participate in a panel at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, in the Great Hall, Cleary Alumni & Friends Center. An Alumni Awards Brunch and Ceremony is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, in The Bluffs Room, UWL Student Union. Tickets are $25 per person and can be ordered through the Alumni Association at 608.785.8489.

Awards and honorees include:

The Maurice O. Graff Distinguished Alumnus Award

Recognizes outstanding achievement of alumni who have brought honor and distinction to the university. Long-time administrator Maurice O. Graff instituted the honor in 1977.

• Joonkoo Yun, ’92
• Jon Erickson, ’76

Rada Distinguished Alumnus Award

Recognizes alumni who have graduated within the last 20 years, achieved professional distinction and taken part in humanitarian activities. Professor emeritus Ron Rada and his wife, Jane, created the award in 2002.

• Matt Brantner, ’05
• Marc Gall, ’03

Parker Distinguished Multicultural Alumni Award

Recognizes outstanding alumni who have contributed greatly to improve multiracial culture and understanding on campus and in their careers. History Professor Emeritus James Parker initiated the award in 1997.

• Thomas Harris, ’11
• Houa Xiong, ’98 & ’00

Burt and Norma Altman Teacher Education Award

Honors and recognizes outstanding educators and the significant contributions they make to children and communities. Professor Emeritus Burt Altman and his wife, Norma, long-time supporters of teacher education, created the award in 2015.

• Phil Ertl, ’88