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Zona Gale

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is recognizing Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Zona Gale of Portage and other alumni in its "Thank You 72" campaign.

MADISON — Impressive contributions to Wisconsin and the world have come from people who lived in all 72 of the state’s counties, a highly visible University of Wisconsin-Madison campaign says.

“Thank You 72” is UW’s second annual campaign recognizing people from each of the state’s counties, all of them with ties to the university. This year’s list includes Columbia County’s Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Zona Gale and Marquette County’s Meredith Ross, an esteemed law professor.

“It’s recognition of a great partnership that developed over 169 years,” Vince Sweeney, UW Foundation vice president of communications, said of the campaign.

“It points out that students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of UW-Madison have had a tremendously positive impact on their communities, our state and in some cases, the world.”

Last year, the campaign honored Portage Community School District Nurse Valerie Hon for Columbia County and UW-Madison student Ross Dahlke for Marquette County. Hon was recognized for working collaboratively with state health officials and others over her 10 years with the school district, while Dahlke was highlighted for his skills in political science and communication.

The university actively promotes “Thank You 72” throughout Wisconsin via billboards, print materials, radio, digital media and more, Sweeney said.

‘Small-town dreams’

Gale, from Portage, “showed the world the force of small-town dreams,” the university states in its promotional materials, available at

Gale, who lived from 1874 to 1938, is one of 2,380 UW-Madison alumni from Columbia County. Gale studied literature at UW-Madison, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and penned articles for the Badger yearbook and Press Club.

In 1906, Gale published her first novel, “Romance Island,” one of 12 novels she’d publish over her career, along with her collections of short stories and plays, the university noted. She often wrote about her hometown of Portage, which she’d dubbed “Friendship Village.”

In 1920, Gale published perhaps her most famous novel, “Miss Lulu Bett.” That story, about a “spinster” in her 30s who lives with her sister and brother-in-law, was later that same year revised as a Broadway play that ran for almost 200 performances in New York.

UW-Madison currently has 245 students from Columbia County.

Legal pioneer

Ross, a Crystal Lake native, was a longtime UW-Madison law professor and director of the Frank J. Remington Center, which provides law students experience in legal issues under the supervision of a practicing attorney. She died of cancer last year at the age of 60.

Ross is one of 265 alumni from Marquette County. Twenty-two students from the county currently attend the university.

“Under her watch, the Remington Center grew exponentially,” clinical professor Michele LaVigne said in a university news release. Ross devoted much of her career to providing legal assistance to inmates in state and federal prisons.

Ross was the center’s director from 1996 to 2012, during which time she sought to address the needs of “the poor, the marginalized, and those who had been convicted — sometimes wrongly — of crimes.”

At the university, Ross helped create or boost many programs, including Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons, the Criminal Appeals Project, Restorative Justice Project, the Prosecution Project, and the Public Defender Project. Meredith also helped to launch and grow the Economic Justice Institute, the law school’s network of civil clinics.

Both Gale and Ross “had great concern for others and were dedicated to making things better for those around them,” Sweeney said.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter