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We remember Walter S. Rugland, Foundation volunteer and community leader

Walter S. Rugland, a caring, influential community leader loved by many, including those of us at the Community Foundation, passed away March 8. He was 86 years old.

Walter S Rugland

For nearly 25 years, Walt was a long-time advocate and friend of the Community Foundation. He was appointed to the Board of Directors in 1999 and was the Chair from 2002-2005, the first three years of my tenure. He was Vice Chair on the Executive Committee from 2005-2007 and has been Ex-Officio on the Development Committee since 2008. He has served on the Members group since 2007.

Walt was the consummate mentor, always inspiring people to do more and do it better, and for all the right reasons. I owe a great debt to him for showing me the way.

He and his wife Milly were two of the first three members of the Himebaugh Legacy Circle when it was created in November 2007. They are also fund holders at the Community Foundation. He was the son of Community Foundation founder, Walter L. Rugland, who he remembered in the “Our Story” episode of Voices from the Valley podcast:


“I’ve had the good fortune to have served in a number of roles with the Community Foundation: volunteer, board member, and… member and chair of the Himebaugh Legacy Circle,” Walt said in a Himebaugh Legacy letter. “These roles have provided a unique perspective on the Foundation, and on the challenges and rewards faced by those who serve this special organization.”

He graduated from Appleton High School and received a bachelor’s degree from Luther College and an Actuarial Science Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan. After a lengthy career with an international consulting firm, his family moved from Hartford, Conn., to Appleton in 1998. He worked with Aid Association for Lutherans and assisted with the merger between AAL and Lutheran Brotherhood to form Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. He retired as Executive Vice President in 2002.

In 2010, Walt received the Walter L. Rugland Community Service Award as part of the annual Celebrating Our Volunteers program, presented by The Post-Crescent and the Community Foundation. He said his father, who the award was named after, inspired his philanthropy.

“I think the award recognizes that there are lots of things a community can do to roll up its sleeves to get something done,” Rugland said after receiving the award. “We have lots of evidence in this community that things can get done and we need to keep working to keep it that way.”

Walt helped in efforts that led to the building of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center and Fox Cities Exhibition Center in Appleton and most recently the renovations of the Appleton Public Library. He served on the boards of ThedaCare, ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value (now Catalysis), Trout Museum of Art, Appleton Boychoir, Community Blood Center, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley and Wisconsin Historical Society. He was the visionary behind the Imagine Fox Cities community vision.

“My dad (Walter L. Rugland) was a community leader who did a lot of work behind the scenes,” Walt shared in an interview with Insight magazine. “He always sought out partnerships that could make things happen – the most significant being the Community Foundation (for the Fox Valley Region), but there were others that he worked on in partnership with some other people in the city. And my wife’s father (Gordon Bubolz) obviously did a lot of things in the community.”

Leadership is something you learn from someone, Walt said after he won the lifetime volunteer award. “It’s something I got to watch with my father, and I saw the joy that providing leadership can bring, so by watching my dad, it became second nature to me.”

Walt’s leadership and the results of his efforts can be seen everywhere throughout the region. He preferred to work behind the scenes and never sought recognition. He often worked in a quiet way to inspire others to work together. Walt’s insight helped people to dream bigger and do more than they would otherwise. Walt was someone who inspired and could help advance great ideas to become a reality.

Walt was a visionary, generous with his time, money, and wisdom. He will be greatly missed. We have his wife Milly, their children, grandchildren, and family in our thoughts.

A memorial service will be held at 11 am, Saturday, April 27 at First English Lutheran Church, 326 E. North St, Appleton. Visitation will be on Friday, April 26, 4 – 7 p.m. at Wichmann Funeral Home, 537 N. Superior St, Appleton, and again on Saturday at the church from 9 am until the time of the service.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed memorial gifts to the Walter S. And Amelia M. Rugland Fund on the Community Foundation web site.

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