One Woman's Educational Lineage

Every Memorial Day weekend, Alexa Posny ‘74 returns to Stevens Point with her 95-year-old mother, Virginia, and her siblings to honor their ancestors, who have their final resting place there. These include her uncle, Douglas, a pilot killed in WWII; her great-grandparents, John and Ada Strope, and her great-great grandparents. The family also honors Karl and Margery Strope, Alexa's maternal grandparents and the first generation of the family members to establish lasting educational ties to Stevens Point.

Alexa's family, on her mother's side, can trace their roots back to former colonists who braved the newly formed United States' western frontier, settling in Wisconsin in the 1700s. Her ties to the university at Stevens Point, however, only date back to the early 20th century.

Her grandparents, Karl and Margery Strope, met at what was then known as Stevens Point Normal School. Karl attended between 1909 and 1913. “Granddad played on the football team," Alexa recalled, "but had no known major. He ended up working for the railroad as an engineer.”

Margery graduated after two years at the school and became a teacher at a one-room school house. "She rode a horse to her school every day," said her granddaughter. Because of laws at the time regarding the marital status of women teachers, Margery had to quit her job when she married Karl.

Their daughter, Virginia, followed her parents to what was then called Stevens Point Teachers College. She also majored in education, but had to quit after two years to work at the Lullaby Furniture Factory, in order to help the family financially. But while she was at the school–in 1938, to be precise–she met Alexa's father, Louis Posluszny, an undergraduate with his own interesting personal and family history.

Drawn to the promise of a new world that had plentiful but hard industrial jobs, the Poslusznys had emigrated from Poland, settling in Chicago Heights, Illinois. “My grandparents spoke only Polish," said Alexa. "Although my dad was born in America he did not learn to speak English until he attended grade school at age seven. Thus, he always spoke with an accent."

None of Louis' brothers and sisters ever went beyond 6th grade; they all landed blue-collar jobs at the local Ford plant. But Louis was fortunate enough to catch a break in the form of athletics.

“My father’s high school football coach saw something special in my dad and ... encouraged him on and off the field," Alexa said. That coach was UWSP Athletic Hall of Famer, Eddie Kotal, who later joined the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams coaching staffs.

“When Coach Kotal was hired to coach at Stevens Point, he then encouraged my dad to join his team," she continued.  "Dad hopped a train and enrolled as biology major. He lived in the Coach Kotal’s basement his freshman year, and went on to play all three sports—football, basketball and baseball.” Louis worked as a bouncer in one of the bars to help pay his way through school.

He really came into his own as a junior. Louis was president of his class that year, and he and Virginia were king and queen of his junior prom. “Their special spots on campus were probably the athletic fields," said their daughter. "To this day my mom watches sports all the time, and has never wavered in her love for them. In fact, she could tell you the name of every Packer player by position."

When Louis enlisted in the Air Force, eventually serving in Europe for four years during World War II, it strained the young couple's relationship "My mom had written him a ‘Dear John’ letter during the war, but he was having no part of it," said Alexa.

After returning to the States, Louis was hired to teach in Two Rivers in 1949. The job offer was made on one condition–he had to change his name. The superintendent felt Posluszny was too difficult to pronounce, so Louis legally changed it to Posny.

“Dad was a great teacher and the kids loved him, even though they were scared of him. They called him ‘Big Lou,'” said Alexa. “He earned a master’s degree in educational administration from UW-Madison and became my high school principal. I laugh with my male classmates who talk about how scared they were when they had to report to his office."

Although Virginia never went back and completed her degree, she still helped put the couple's four children through college. "We never owed a dime because of her hard work,” said Alexa.

As children growing up in Two Rivers, Alexa and her siblings spent a lot of time in Stevens Point "because that’s where my family roots were," she said. In the early 1970’s, she enrolled at Wisconsin State University-Stevens Point–soon to be renamed the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point–as a third-generation Pointer.

“I wanted to go to UWSP almost from the beginning of my college planning, but money was an issue. Two scholarships made all the difference." Alexa was the recipient of an Elks Club National Scholarship and a state honor society award.

“I remember one day when I was a high school senior, I was riding home from school with Dad. He told me not to go into education. He said it doesn’t pay.” Perhaps that explains why she decided on a double major at UWSP in psychology and sociology, and only minored in education.

“I felt so comfortable at Point," she reminisced. "Point was my place.”

Alexa's favorite professor was Dr. Sherwood Bishop, known as Woody. “He cared about us as people, invited us to his home and encouraged us to pursue our interests in the social sciences. He formed relationships. To this day I am still in contact with him."

Alexa forged another lasting relationship within that time frame when she met her husband, geography major Donald Pochowski ’73, at UWSP. In this way she kept alive a tradition, begun with her grandparents and continued by her parents, of meeting her spouse on campus.

She disregarded her father's earlier admonition against pursing a teaching career, earning a master's degree in special education from UW-Madison and a doctorate in educational administration–both while working full time. Among the positions she has held are special needs teacher, and director of special education for both the Cooperative Educational Service Agency of Wisconsin and the Southwest Cook County (Illinois) Cooperative Association for Special Education. She also spent nine years as a senior research associate with Research and Training Associates, Inc., consulting with state and local education agencies in 10 states.

In 1999, Alexa transitioned into a public service career, serving as Kansas' commissioner of education under former governor Kathleen Sibelius. In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed her to be director of the Office of Special Education Programs for the United States Department of Education. Three years later, President Barack Obama named her the department's assistant secretary of special education and rehabilitative services.

After leaving public service in 2012, Alexa was hired as senior vice president for state and federal programs with Renaissance Learning in Madison. She held that position until she retired in 2015.

With every trip back to Stevens Point and UWSP, Alexa Posny adds another chapter to her story.

“My memories of visiting Point are as natural as breathing," she said. "Point means more to me than anywhere else in the world.”