At the close of World War II, Erna Heinrichs and her siblings fled Romania in the arms of their parents. The family boarded a cattle ship with only the clothing on their backs, seeking freedom in America. As they approached their new shores, the children pointed out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, a sight they would never forget. Erna and her family soon made their way to Wisconsin, settling in Mazomanie by April. They hoed cabbage over the summer for 25 cents an hour and by September, with the help of community minded people tutoring them, the children entered school speaking good English.
Erna's brother Emil Jr. remembers, "we were immediately taken by the generosity and kindness of the American people. After our father was injured in a farm accident, the neighbors brought in our crops and made sure that we all had presents to open on Christmas morning." The children grew up forever grateful to those who supported them as they became Americans and Erna had a vision to pay it forward. She hosted students from inner city Chicago over the summer and supported multiple organizations, including PBS Wisconsin . "Often she would call me about something coming up on PBS Wisconsin and unabashedly gush about the educational value of the programs. She thought it was just wonderful what you provided for people," Emil said.
"Erna wasn't a wealthy woman, but she worked hard, saved her money and was generous with what she had." Erna's generosity lives on with her decision to include PBS Wisconsin in her will.
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