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Badger Family: The Story of Our Uncommon Loon Family

Loon Family Photo


The story began in 1979 when 12 women from all over the United States and Canada decided to dedicate their lives to the business of communication. We all entered the communicative disorders graduate program at UW-Madison with the high hopes of helping people and changing the world one person at a time. This program, which is now called communication sciences and disorders, encompasses speech-language pathologists and audiologists who work with people who have communication and hearing challenges throughout their entire lifespan.

Loon Family Photo


A few of us started meeting together on a regular basis for social reasons and for study groups. By the end of our first year of graduate school, we were a dozen strong. Our goal was to support each other academically and try one new Madison establishment every week. We are proud to say that we met our goal!

We decided to give our group a name, and decided on Loons. We chose this name because of our enthusiastic extra-curricular adventures, and because of the loons we enjoyed on a lake at a family cabin in the Northwoods, where we escaped on occasion during graduate school and again several times after graduation.

Maturity and Loon Calls

So far, we have attended six official Loon reunions in six different locations, and many unofficial mini-reunions. We have sent out 34 Loon Letters, which are our annual updates. One of us serves as the Loon leader for a five-year period. She collects everyone’s updates and sends them out as a Loon Letter. Then, on July 4th at noon, Northwoods time, each of us opens and reads these annual Loon Letters. This leader also plans our next official “re-Loonion,” which takes place every five years. We also have a Loon Google group so we can communicate quickly with everyone throughout the year.

Collectively, we have been blessed with 24 children and numerous canine and feline family members. Four of our second generation Loons have gotten married, we have three grand-Loon babies and two more Loon babies are on the way. Many of us have now lost our parents, and two of us are breast cancer survivors. We have survived six divorces, have rejoiced at two remarriages, and celebrated several new partnerships along the way. We live in eight different states and still have one Canadian! We have clinicians, administrators, one department chair, one PhD, one MD, one AuD, one clinic director, one retiree, and one heading back for her PhD in our group. Over the years, the Loons have found themselves supporting each other personally as well as professionally. In fact this year two Loons will be receiving the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) 2015 Research Mentoring-Pair Travel Awards at the national convention!

We have cried, we have laughed, and we have loved each other for more than three decades. More than one decade ago, we decided that we wanted to try and give back. We created the Loon Fellowship Award to honor one graduate student per year in speech-language pathology and audiology at UW-Madison.

The Loon Fellowship Award

The Loon Fellowship Award is faithfully managed by the University of Wisconsin Foundation and Department Chair Gary Weismer, PhD. Our goal is to help financially support one graduate student each year who fosters social skills, communication, and relationship building within the graduate program. We realize that as life goes on, the grades we achieved in graduate school do not matter very much, but the relationships that we built do. The Loon Foundation honors the spirit of the friendships that we began in Madison, and the hard work of all the dedicated communication professionals in our field.

A surprising outcome of the Loon Fellowship Award has been the camaraderie between the Loons and the Loon Fellowship recipients. The following anecdote from a recent recipient conveys that the spirit of the award continues to be paid forward:

“I was specifically thinking of you and the Loons because of our new "Sweet Pea Award" at work. A coworker (another SLP) received a can of sweet peas from a patient's husband because of a joke they had about sweet peas during therapy. She and I decided we should make a traveling "Sweet Pea Award" and give it out to each other when someone does something especially "sweet". Another coworker decorated the top of the can and so far, we've had four recipients! It's so fun. After thinking about it, I realized, "This is such a Loon thing to do!!" I just thought I'd tell you about it so that you can see your scholarship money went to a good cause! It is so important to have that fun and fellowship at work (even in the form of a can of sweet peas). :)”

 In 2013 we celebrated our ten years of giving a total of $10,000 with a get-together in Madison at the Nitty Gritty and then at the family cabin in the Northwoods.We continue to support this award every year with the hope of making it self-sustaining long after we are gone. We encourage you to read more about the Loon Fellowship Award and consider contributing* to help it grow more quickly.

Respectfully submitted,
The Loons:

Bonnie Zeckmeister Bayley MS’81

Carol Cornelius MS’81

Pamela Clark Flood MS’82

Davida Fromm MS’81

Kathy (Kathleen) Anhalt Hillner MS’81

Jamie Jarvis MS’81

Cynthia Chicouris MacFarlan MS’82

Nancy Nelson MS’82

Sandy Posluns MS’81

Joy Liebman Sturm MS’81

Kay (Kathryn) Scheer Wallis MS’81

Michele Young MS’82

Loon Fellowship Recipients:

Elizabeth Oesterreich ’01, MS’04 (2003-04 recipient)
Courtney Seidel ’03, MS’05 (2004-05)
Holly Suszek ’04, MS’06 (2005-06)
Allison Bruggink ’04, MS’07 (2006-07)
Therese Wycklendt MS’08 (2007-08)
Sara Vandenheuvel MS’09 (2008-09)
Michael Molinaro MS’10 (2009-10)
Julianne Adams MS’11 (2010-11)
Kimberly Falkenstein AUD’14 (2011-12)
Susan Von Dollen AUD’15 (2012-13)
Kaylee Cullen ’12, MS’14 (2013-14)
Emily Wagner ’14, MSx’16 (2014-15)

If you would like to learn more about speech and hearing challenges across the lifespan and how to help a loved one who may have communication or hearing challenges, please visit our national organization, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association ASHA at  or

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