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Art gallery a fitting tribute

Robert and Yvonne Fiskum
Robert and Yvonne Fiskum

When visitors enter the new James R. Connor University Center, they will be greeted by an expanded student art gallery thanks to the generosity of Robert and Yvonne Fiskum.

The Roberta Avonn Fiskum Art Gallery is named in honor of the Fiskums' daughter, a talented UW-Whitewater art student who died in October 1993. Besides excelling in fine art and graphic design, Roberta was an accomplished potter, cook and church organist.

Her mentor in college, art professor Amy Arntson, described Roberta as "an extremely creative, talented individual whose work showed a special sensitivity and intelligence."

Following Roberta's death, Robert and Yvonne established the first memorial scholarship in graphic arts. The couple, however, wanted to do more. When the opportunity to support the University Center art gallery presented itself, Yvonne said it wasn't a hard sell for them.

"Our daughter's lifetime goal was to own an art gallery," she said. "This seemed like the right way to fulfill her dream."

The 1,000-square-foot gallery will feature glass doors and a 300-square-foot workroom with natural light.

"There will be a lot more room in this space than in the previous University Center gallery," Yvonne said. "I think visitors will be impressed with just how open and spacious it is."

Yvonne served on the University Center building committee and said she was pleased with how interested and supportive administrators – including Patricia Freer, former University Center director, and Steve Summers, deputy assistant chancellor for student affairs – were of their ideas for the gallery.

"We were especially surprised by the overwhelming student support for the gallery," Robert added. "Everyone seems to recognize the importance of having a visible space for students to display their artwork, and we're very excited about that."

Yvonne sees this art gallery as yet another way to fulfill Roberta's dream of a career in art. "This is Roberta's legacy to those who come after her," she said.

While Roberta's memory was the motivation behind their latest gift, the Fiskums have also given money for the multi-sport athletic complex, Fiskum Soccer Field and other projects. Robert said it is important for him to give back to the university where he taught and coached. From 1965-1996 he worked in the health, physical education, recreation and coaching department. He currently serves on the UW-Whitewater Foundation Board. Yvonne retired from Gateway Technical College in 2001 after teaching in the Adult Learning Center for 32 years. Both are members of the Young Auditorium Director's Circle.

"The leadership at UW-Whitewater has been extraordinary since Chancellor Connor arrived in 1974," Robert said. "Each of the leaders has been representative of forward thinking."

"We want to support a vigorous, growing university," Yvonne added. "The new University Center will go a long way in attracting students."