Left to right: Kathleen Lindbeck, Gerry Radtke and Janelle Radtke
Hilda E. Bretzlaff loved America. She loved the ideals of democracy, a free economy and free enterprise.
Her vision was to establish a foundation that would advance these principles through conservative education. She wanted to help students with high moral character and a conservative mindset gain a college degree and become responsible citizens of the nation she loved.
Hilda Bretzlaff died in 1993 without putting her vision into action. That’s when her close friends, the Radtke family of Milford, learned that Mrs. Bretzlaff wanted them to carry out her plan.
So, they have.
For nearly 30 years, the Hilda E. Bretzlaff Foundation scholarship program, with the Radtke family as trustees at the helm, has helped thousands of students across the country obtain a conservative college education. Trustees include husband and wife Gerry and Janelle Radtke; their daughter, Kathleen Lindbeck; and Gerry’s sister, Susan Vogt.
“We had a lot to learn,” Janelle said of the foundation’s early days. Consultants helped them with the logistical side of running a foundation, but the key to their success was staying true to the vision of Mrs. Bretzlaff and her husband, Herbert W. Bretzlaff, a well-known and successful automotive sales engineer.
“Every grant we make, in our minds, is to honor her,” Janelle said.
Gerry first met the Bretzlaffs when he delivered newspapers to them as a teenager. That turned into doing yard work and other occasional jobs, which led to the families becoming close friends, he said.
In addition to awarding college scholarships, the foundation supports the intern program at the Mackinac Center, having sponsored some 25 college students in 10-week summer internships since 2015. A major grant from the foundation also made it possible for the Mackinac Center to launch a new leadership development program this year to help existing young staffers grow into movement leaders.
Both Mackinac programs are a good fit for the Bretzlaff mission of advancing American ideals through education, Kathleen said.
After helping thousands of students and interns, the trustees now have decided to disburse the foundation’s remaining funds and close in 2023.
They will miss the work – “this has been our lives for 25 years,” Janelle said. But they also will have the reward of knowing that Hilda Bretzlaff’s vision was carried out as she wished, by the people who knew her and understood her values best