MADISON, Wis. — Roger Bruesewitz, who died in 2019 at 82, spent much of his early life in and out of jail after robbing businesses, running “a dirty bookstore” and dealing with a heroin addiction.
But he’s leaving behind a very different legacy.
Bruesewitz went on to graduate with honors from UW-Madison with a degree in journalism, become a copy editor for the UW-Madison Law School and buy his own little house in Monona. Before he died, Bruesewitz decided he wanted to donate almost the entirety of his modest estate to local organizations supporting ex-offenders, journalism and veterans.
He left all of his money to his longtime friend Mary Rouse, former dean of students at UW-Madison. She has doled out more than $158,500 to nonprofits and other causes she thinks Bruesewitz would have been passionate about.
“I have given away all of his money,” Rouse said. “In my mind, he left his estate to me not for me personally to buy a better car or anything, but … to see that it would do some good.”
The most recent donation of $25,000 was used to create a scholarship fund at UW-Madison for formerly incarcerated individuals to go to college. It’s called the Mary K. Rouse & Roger P. Bruesewitz Beyond Bars scholarship.
Rouse used both her and Bruesewitz’s names not because she wants credit for the donation, but because she knows some people recognize her from the nearly 50 years she spent working for UW-Madison, including 13 as the top campus administrator supporting students. She wants to give as much credibility to the fund as possible to encourage more people to donate.
The scholarship is the first of its kind in UW-Madison Continuing Studies, a division that offers courses to older students, or “lifelong learners.” Martin Rouse, an associate dean of Continuing Studies and Mary Rouse’s son, said no other scholarship in the division has been geared specifically toward ex-offenders.
Continuing Studies hopes to select the first recipient this summer so the student can use the scholarship this fall, Martin Rouse said. Preference will be given to UW students who are currently incarcerated, have been incarcerated in the past or are a part of Odyssey Beyond Bars, a program that teaches UW-Madison courses to people in Wisconsin prisons and serves as a stepping stone to getting into a college. To be eligible for the scholarship, students have to be admitted or currently enrolled at UW-Madison. The deadline to apply for the fall term is July 1.
Martin Rouse said his department is excited about the prospect of helping more former prisoners get an education, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.