In 1964, then President Lyndon Johnson and Congress had declared the beginning of the War on Poverty by creating the Office of Economic Opportunity, headed by the late Sargent Shriver.
Many miles away in 1965 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, an energetic and dedicated Rosalie Tryon heard about the War on Poverty and the local agencies that would fight poverty on the local level. With her trade-mark “can do” attitude and boundless enthusiasm, she set about creating the “Fond du Lac Area Economic Opportunity Community, Inc” that would later be renamed ADVOCAP, Inc.
Rosalie recalled in late 2014 that originally the Fond du Lac Community Action Agency was created with only 6 months of funding from the Fond du Lac County Board, It would either prove its worth in fighting poverty in those six months or fade away.
Immediately, Rosalie began mobilizing support from the community leadership and the low-income and elderly population. Through her energetic networking, she soon raised enough political and financial support to create seven senior centers in Fond du Lac County and one of the first Head Start programs in Wisconsin.
A Neighborhood Youth Corps would quickly follow, as would Kindercare, the first day care facility for the children of the working poor in the City of Fond du Lac. Soon, a Legal Aid Program was formed in partnership with the Fond du Lac County Bar Association. Shortly thereafter, under Rosalie’s guidance, ADVOCAP expanded to Winnebago County and a Senior Nutrition Program, with multiple sites in both counties, was successfully started.
Under Rosalie’s leadership, ADVOCAP helped form the Fond du Lac Housing Authority, and in 1973 ADVOCAP started the Self-Help Housing Program, which constructed over 80 new homes for low-income families.
When a tornado struck Oshkosh in April of 1974, Rosalie led ADVOCAP in assisting over 435 tornado victims. ADVOCAP was quickly designated to head the State’s disaster recovery team for the relief/rebuilding effort.
Among Rosalie’s proudest achievements were helping to form the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) and starting one of only 13 Supported Work Programs in the nation for the chronically unemployed. She also worked with the late Senator Gaylord Nelson to establish a national weatherization program. ADVOCAP to this day operates a robust and highly effective Home Weatherization Program, due largely to her early efforts.
Rosalie was always proud of her role as a founder of ADVOCAP and co-founder of WISCAP. She remained committed to the mission of community action’s anti-poverty role throughout her life. Shortly before her last illness, she said in late 2014:
“Community Action focuses the action of the community in remarkably effective ways…When low-income people, local government and community leaders join together as partners to increase economic opportunity, real improvement happens and peoples’ lives change. I am so pleased and proud of ADVOCAP’s continuing role in helping people help themselves”
Rosalie Tryon Barber made a difference in the lives of low-income people and the communities in which they live. We are proud to call her “the mother of ADVOCAP.” Our world is a better place because of her life’s work and our world will miss a true community action pioneer.
For more information on this article or on ADVOCAP, contact:
Mike Bonertz, Executive Director