EAU CLAIRE — Ed Young served on the Eau Claire City Council for three terms, but his influence extended far beyond the city limits or even the U.S. border.
While he was proud to have played a central role in advocating for creation of the beloved Chippewa River State Trail that runs through Eau Claire, Young’s heart often pulled him to far-flung locations around the globe.
As an economics professor at UW-Eau Claire, Young led study abroad programs in destinations ranging from England and Denmark to Vietnam and Mexico, but also made it his mission to support international students and scholars who came to campus. Much of that support came in the form of Young and his wife, Jackie, opening their home to welcome large groups of international students for dinner parties, backyard barbecues and holiday events.
The frequent gatherings prompted Karl Markgraf, former director of UW-Eau Claire’s Center for International Education, to call Ed and Jackie “true ambassadors of goodwill” who are remembered and treasured by hundreds of international alumni.
Ed Young died last week at age 77 after battling for two years against the effects of blood cancer and associated micro-strokes. He is survived by his favorite travel companions: Jackie and the couple’s two adult children, Amy and Ned.
When Markgraf, started as CIE director in 1998, he recalled that Young, who served as chairman of the economics department for 18 years, was the first department chair to welcome him.
Young informed Markgraf that the economics department included a high number of international faculty members and domestic faculty who were interested in global engagement and that the department was committed to working with the CIE to advance international education.
To internationalize teaching and learning at UW-Eau Claire, the CIE and the economics department secured external funding to bring faculty from Belarus, China, Poland, Georgia, South Korea, Mexico and other nations to campus.
“These other voices and other perspectives had a profound impact on the classroom experience, opening up the world to our Blugolds,” said Markgraf, now director of international programs and services at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
One lasting example of Young’s legacy involves helping to form a partnership between UW-Eau Claire and Vietnam National University of Economics and Business in Hanoi. The project delivered a professional development program to economics faculty in Hanoi by bringing Vietnamese professors to UW-Eau Claire for a semester. Reciprocally, UW-Eau Claire sent faculty to Hanoi for short-term teaching stints.
“This transpacific mobility established a deep connection between the two institutions that still continues today,” Markgraf said, adding that it still is not uncommon to spot a Blugolds baseball cap in Hanoi.
In the process, the Youngs made 15 trips to Vietnam, where they developed many deep friendships.
Bernie Hoefgen, an Eau Claire friend who had the privilege of joining the Youngs on a Vietnam trip, witnessed those bonds firsthand, recalling several Vietnamese families hosting them for wonderful meals.
“There were treated like royalty there for all they’d done here,” Hoefgen said.
Friends remember Young as an outspoken yet compassionate man with a great sense of humor.
Among his favorite jokes was to brag about attending “MIT” before humorously clarifying that he actually attended Milwaukee Institute of Technology as opposed to its more prestigious cousin in Massachusetts.
The economics scholar labeled a regular dinner group of eight friends including Hoefgen the “G8,” a moniker normally reserved for meetings of eight world economic powers. The nickname stuck and always evoked smiles around the table.
“His humor was great,” Hoefgen said of Young. “People just felt good around him.”
Young brought that same playful spirit to the City Council and the economics department.
Jokes and one-liners became his trademark while serving on the council from 1989 to 1994.
For example, during a debate about a 1992 proposed ordinance that would have banned chickens and pigs from the city limits, Young pointed out how ridiculous he found the proposal by stating, “If someone wants to keep a 1,200-pound swine in their home, that’s OK with me.”
Upon Young’s retirement from the panel, then-Council President Mark Lewis acknowledged that he appreciated Young’s ability to diffuse tense situations with humor.
Before retiring from the university in 2008, Young led the economics department with similar gusto.
“Ed made it fun for us to come to work,” said longtime economics professor Wayne Carroll. “He had such a great sense of humor and he enjoyed life so much, both at work and outside, and he brought that spirit to the economics department. It was such a wonderful time.”
Carroll, who also once joined the Youngs on a Vietnam journey, recalled that serving on the City Council was a natural fit for Young’s personality, starting with his first campaign.
“He went door-to-door and met countless neighbors,” Carroll said. “Ed loved it. That was really who he was. He loved talking to people and making those connections, and he loved having an impact.”
That impact lives on, according to Markgraf, noting that he has heard from countless international colleagues and former students sharing their condolences and expressing their grief in the days since Young’s death. They all mentioned the impact Young had on their personal lives and careers, and several of them indicated they plan to travel to Eau Claire from abroad or from others parts of the U.S. to participate in the celebration of Young’s life planned from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 23 at UW-Eau Claire.
“Edward had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many students and colleagues throughout the world,” Markgraf said. “He leaves behind a truly global fan club, and will be sorely missed.”