Lakeland graduate Donna Wendlandt was a high school sophomore in 1966 when the Sheboygan YMCA hired her as a swim instructor.
She never left. Wendlandt, now the Sheboygan County YMCA’s CEO, has been a pillar of leadership for the nonprofit organization for more than five decades.
“I enjoy Sheboygan,” she said. “And the YMCA has always been very open to my ideas and leadership style, has welcomed new programming and embraced new ideas. I’ve been very blessed.”
Wendlandt’s dedication and accomplishments were recently acknowledged, when she won the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Leadership Award. ATHENA International’s mission is to support, develop and honor female leaders, to inspire women to achieve their full potential and to create balance in leadership worldwide. There were 22 nominees for the award and Wendlandt was one of six finalists.
After earning her degree from Lakeland in 1972, Wendlandt was promoted to aquatics director at the Y.
“Lakeland was great, because it allowed me to live at home and continue working,” Wendlandt said. “When I went there, I didn’t really know anyone, so I was walking into a new world. But everyone was so welcoming. I met people from all over the United States, and was introduced to many new ideas and communication skills.”
For more than a decade, Wendlandt has given back to her alma mater, teaching numerous classes at Lakeland as an adjunct professor. She’s taught nonprofit organization and finance, strategic planning and fundraising, among other classes.
Wendlandt said she’ll retire in about two years from the only place she’s ever worked full time in her life. After that, she’d like to help the YMCA part time with fundraising or program development. She’ll also continue to organize the popular Thanksgiving Day Run, which she launched four decades ago.
In other words, don’t expect Wendlandt to start looking at literature about retirement communities in Florida or Arizona.
“I love Sheboygan!” she said with enthusiasm. “I’m not leaving. I want to continue giving back to the community that has so embraced me.”