In recognition of his lifetime achievement, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumnus John Menard Jr. will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, the first degree of its kind to be awarded by the university.
Menard, a 1963 UW-Eau Claire business administration graduate, will receive the honorary doctorate May 25 during the university’s 1:30 p.m. commencement ceremony. UW-Eau Claire’s University Senate Executive Committee recommended Menard for the honorary degree in accordance with university policies, and the UW System Board of Regents has approved it. Menard also received UW-Eau Claire’s Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award in 2000.
Letters nominating Menard for the honorary degree cite his many accomplishments, including his status as one of Wisconsin’s leading entrepreneurs; his decades of donations to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and community projects such as the new YMCA indoor tennis center and Mayo Clinic Health System’s emergency medicine facility — both named in his honor; and his contributions to local economic development, including locating and dramatically expanding the corporate headquarters, manufacturing and distribution facilities for Menards, his chain of home improvement stores, in the Chippewa Valley.
Menard founded his namesake home improvement stores in 1960, while he still was a student at UW-Eau Claire. With more than 300 stores in 14 states and 65,000 employees, Menards now is one of the largest home improvement retailers in the country.
Menards ranks as the largest employer in Eau Claire and one of the largest in northwest Wisconsin, with more than 4,500 employees in the area. Through the years, scores of Blugolds, both current students and graduates, have been employed by the company or served as interns.
While John Menard might be the best known Blugold in his family, his family’s connection to the university dates back more than 80 years.
His parents, John Sr. and Rosemary (both now deceased), were 1938 teacher education graduates of UW-Eau Claire (then the Eau Claire State Teachers College). John Sr. went on to earn a master’s degree from UW-Madison, and Rosemary later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from UW-Eau Claire in the 1970s. In addition, John Sr. taught physics at UW-Eau Claire from 1943-44 and then was a member of the mathematics faculty from 1946-61.
Five of John Menard Jr.’s children attended UW-Eau Claire.
“For many years John Menard has quietly, often anonymously, supported UW-Eau Claire,” says Chancellor James Schmidt. “Through his generous philanthropic efforts, he has created transformational opportunities for hundreds of Blugolds to enhance their college experiences, helping them better prepare for future success. It’s very fitting that we award him our first honorary doctorate.”
Menard’s past contributions to his alma mater have included donations to support a variety of university programs and initiatives, as well as university-sponsored community youth programs.
Menard noted that UW-Eau Claire had a role in his ability to succeed and encouraged the newest graduating class to make good use of what UW-Eau Claire has provided them.
“I’m honored to be recognized in this way by my alma mater,” Menard said. “The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire provided me with the intellectual toolbox that enabled me to sculpt my life’s work. I urge the newest graduates, my fellow Blugold alumni: Use your intellectual tools wisely and often, and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.”