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Mary Dobbe - School District of Waupaca

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Sarah Campbell - School District of Wisconsin Dells

The retirement decision: An emotional rollercoaster
Mike Gaynor - South Milwaukee School District

Sometimes less is really more
Carol Leaman - Oshkosh Area School District

Up in flames!
Len Luedtke - Marshfield School District

Unsung heroes

Educators across the state find financial encouragement, advice, and guidance for becoming financially secure in the profession they love from someone down the hall.

Spring 2012 your$ magazineGoogle “unsung hero” and you’ll get: a person who makes a substantive yet unrecognized contribution; a role model; someone who helped or took action for the betterment of someone else; one who does things for the mere sake of doing something good.

Our unsung heroes reflect those characteristics and more as financial mentors. They’re also modest—they don’t like to toot their own horn. One thing they are not shy about, however, is their passion for helping their colleagues build financial security. Their common mission is to share knowledge and information about how one can do good as an education professional and do well financially.

Dinner with Tim

Three years ago, when Michael Theine first started teaching second grade at Parkway Elementary in Glendale, he was invited to a dinner hosted by Tim McCarthy, the middle school band teacher. Tim is also the chief negotiator/handbook committee chair in his local. He has a tradition of inviting the non-tenured (new teachers) to his home at the beginning of each school year to learn about their contract/handbook and the financial aspects of their benefits.

“My goal is to help the best and the brightest grow their enthusiasm for teaching and stay in the profession,” Tim says.

To do that, he believes that new teachers must understand the economics of their situation. “I want them to take control over their finances right out of the gate. With our buying power shrinking and the future of employee benefits in a state of uncertainty, members need to make informed financial decisions.”

Food, fun, finances

“It’s a very casual night and it’s not a lecture,” Michael emphasizes. “Tim shares advice and information in terms we understand, and he uses himself as an example. We get to learn from his mistakes and experiences.”

This year, Tim included the financial learning game Don’t Be Jack™ (offered by Member Benefits) to the evening. “The game was fun. Each team made financial decisions for different life scenarios. Then in the end, we got to see what those decisions meant in terms of our financial security. Powerful stuff,” Michael said.

Paying it forward

Michael Theine and Tim McCarthyWhile in graduate school years ago, Tim met a gentleman from South Africa. “He introduced me to the beauty of dollar cost averaging and compounding.” Tim now shares these concepts with his new colleagues to illustrate the importance of saving early for retirement. “Then I started teaching and Ron Bruce, a PE teacher, was a great motivator for me to start saving. He is the one who told me about the WEA TSA Trust 403(b) program.”

Now, Tim is the motivator. “Having someone like Tim who will sit down and talk without judgement or pressure to buy something is important. It’s about knowing what you have, what you can do with it, and then making your own decisions,” says Michael.

Planning for the future is top of mind for Michael. He’s getting married this summer and thinking ahead to starting a family. “I’m thankful for Tim’s mentoring now, but I have a feeling I will be thanking him even more when it comes time to retire!”

Alleviate stress: Plan now

In the current environment, Tim emphasizes it’s more important than ever to start building up personal retirement savings.

“Planning for the future will alleviate some of the anxiety related to health insurance changes, frozen/declining salaries, eroding retirement benefits, and changes to WRS. I tell them, ‘regardless of outside influences, your 403(b) money is yours alone. It’s the one constant you have.’”

Ken Loest

Ken LoestKen Loest retired after 28 years of teaching math in the Fond du Lac school district. Recently, he went back to teach Calculus and Pre-Calculus part-time at Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah High School—a perfect gig for Ken.

As a math guy, Ken is a natural financial mentor, but he insists that you don’t have to be a math wiz to build financial security. Over the years, Ken has helped many people develop a plan. “I was the FEA treasurer and had the opportunity to address new educators each year. The message is simple: start early, pay yourself first, and use investments that utilize the mathematics of compounding.”

Compounding is when your investment earns interest and then the interest earns interest and so on. (Try out the compound interest calculator from EconEdLink.) “The longer your timeline the better the result, so start saving as soon as you can with a Roth IRA and 403(b).”

Ken has a great affection for his profession and his passion for helping his colleagues succeed financially has a paternal feel to it. “Dedicated educators have earned and deserve financial stability in their life, while working, and in retirement. However, it is incumbent upon each educator, especially in this environment, to plan for retirement and maximize every investment vehicle available to them.” 

Almost 30 years ago, Ken opened a WEA TSA Trust 403(b) account and he’s never looked back. He continues encouraging and assisting others to take action. “I show them how to get started, how to fill out the forms, and guide them through the whole process. I’m happy to do it.”

Sandy Nass

Sandy NassAs the UniServ Director for West Suburban Council in Brookfield, Sandy Nass advocates for public school employees, everything from negotiating contracts to providing retirement and long-term financial planning assistance.  As a financial mentor, her message is: Start saving for retirement right away—before you get that first paycheck—with a 403(b) or an IRA.

“When I meet with new hires, I ask ‘who knows how much their first paycheck will be?’ In 25 years, not a single hand has gone up. The point is that it’s easier to start saving right away before you get comfortable with your paycheck and find ways to spend it.”

At retirement, the difference between those who saved early and those who did not is significant. “I’ve never once met a member who was sorry they started a 403(b) or IRA early in their career. Too often I hear the regrets of those who wish they had started sooner.”

When Sandy started teaching in Orfordville years ago, she would listen to a group of math teachers who were always talking about investing and saving. “It made sense to me when they explained that a pre-tax 403(b) contribution of $10 per check was really only about $6 or $7 out of my take-home pay. Sounded like a deal to me, so I started.” When she left the teaching ranks, she left her money in the account. “It’s been growing for 25 years. I’m glad I did it.”

Sandy is very aware that your choice of products impacts your financial future. “I opened an IRA through a brokerage firm. I thought it was pretty good based on what the broker told me. After several years, I realized that the majority of my earnings were being eaten up by fees. Plus, there were redemption charges (surrender fees) to move the money out. I felt so taken advantage of. I finally bit the bullet and moved the account to a Member Benefits IRA account. The 403(b) and IRA programs offered by Member Benefits have always been at the very top—great service, low fees, and the guaranteed rate.”

Deb Huppert

Deb HuppertHave you heard the story of the three-legged stool? It’s a story that Prescott Human Resources Coordinator, Deb Huppert, uses with staff to illustrate the need to save for retirement.
“One leg is their retirement income from the Wisconsin Retirement System.  The second leg is their Social Security Benefit.  And, the third leg is personal savings.  As the future of Social Security is somewhat uncertain for younger employees, I always emphasize the need to supplement personal savings to make up for that uncertainty.  I highly recommend they consider participating in a Roth or Traditional 403(b) or IRA plan, and while it is never too late to start saving, the earlier the better.”

Deb Huppert loves talking benefits with staff and how they can be utilized to their financial advantage. “One of the most rewarding things I do is meet individually with new employees. I go over all benefit and payroll information and retirement planning. I really like the Jack and Jill brochure that Member Benefits created. It clearly shows the advantages to saving early and it reinforces the advice I give to all staff: Pay yourself first.”

Mark Leschke

Mark Leschke“There was this group of ten,” Mark remembers it like it was yesterday even though it was 22 years ago. “The first week of my first year of teaching in Appleton they told me, ‘you’ve been surviving the last four years in college on microwave burritos and gas station hot dogs. The money you are now making is way more than you’ve survived on. Here are the forms. Start putting this much away via payroll. You’ll never miss it.’”

Mark followed the instruction of his seasoned colleagues and started contributing to a WEA TSA Trust 403(b). “They were right, I never missed the money because I never got to see it on my paycheck as something to spend. Each time I got a little bump in pay, I increased my contribution a little as well.”

Now, he is the one with the message for new staff. This year Mark’s job is split between New Teacher Induction Program Leader and teaching AP Psychology. “The district encourages staff mentors to promote financial literacy and allows me, in my new role, to help first-year hires learn more about saving for retirement.”

Mark also works through his local teacher’s association to bring financial education to all staff. “The district and the teacher’s association have an excellent relationship when it comes to financial literacy. In addition, the payroll specialists who help members with paperwork are phenomenal.” This makes it easy to get his message out.

Mark’s message is simple: Start saving via payroll deduction your first year. Save a percentage of your income, not a flat rate. If you didn’t start your first year, it’s never too late to start.

Mark admits that he still eats microwave burritos and gas station hot dogs. “Now because I want to, not because I have to.”

John Hansen

John HansenJohn is in his fifth year of teaching high school science in the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District.

“When I first started investing, I didn’t know a lot and I feel like I got taken advantage of by the investment agent. I don’t want others to get ‘ripped off’ by some of these aggressive representatives.”

To this end, John holds an open meeting each year to:


  • Inform new staff about retirement investment opportunities.
  • Share the importance of investing early in one’s career.
  • Compare other investment companies to WEA Member Benefits.
  • Point them in the right direction if they have other financial questions.

During the meeting, John says, “I describe the different types of investments [Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, and the 403(b)]. I point out the advantages of opening an account with Member Benefits over other investment companies, such as the low fees with the annual fee cap and the Member Benefits representatives are noncommissioned. My goal is to help them feel comfortable about investing their money, even in the uncertain economic environment we face today.”

For details about fees associated with the IRA and 403(b) offered through Member Benefits, go to The 403(b) retirement program is offered by the WEA TSA Trust. TSA program securities offered through WEA Investment Services, Inc., member FINRA.  The Trustee Custodian for the WEAC IRA accounts is Newport Trust Company. Principal and net credited interest are fully guaranteed by Prudential Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company (PRIAC).  Such guarantees are based upon the financial strength and claims-paying ability of PRIAC.