Making a big difference in a small town

Reflecting their commitment to education and Fredonia, retired optometrists make the single largest donation to the Northern Ozaukee School Scholarship Foundation

LONGTIME FREDONIA EYE DOCTORS Ann and Patrick Cashin contributed $250,000 to the Northern Ozaukee Schools Scholarship Foundation, the largest single contribution to the fund in its history, foundation board member Al Krier said. The donation will fund two scholarships that will be given to graduating seniors beginning this spring. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Patrick and Ann Cashin, who operated an eye clinic in Fredonia for decades, have given the Northern Ozaukee School District an early Christmas present.

The couple, retired optometrists who split their time between Wisconsin and Florida, are giving $250,000 to the Northern Ozaukee Schools Scholarship Foundation.

That’s the largest single donation to the foundation in its history, and it comes on top of the $125,000 the couple have given to the foundation since they closed their clinic in 2004, board member Al Krier said.

“That almost brings a tear to the eye,” Krier said. “We’re so fortunate to be beneficiaries of their kindness all these years.

“When they announced the donation, we were just mesmerized until it sank in — and I’m not sure it has sunk in yet.”

Unlike their previous donations, which were used when they were given, Krier said, this gift will create the standing Drs. Patrick and Ann Cashin Scholarship .

A portion of the money, he said, will be for annually for two scholarships of about $6,250, one for a male student and the other for a female student.

“The important thing is that scholarship will be given forever,” Krier said. “They’ll be remembered forever.”

The foundation currently gives out 25 to 35 scholarships annually, he said, last year providing about $155,000 in scholarships.

Mrs. Cashin said the couple realize what an impact eduction has had on their lives and want to share that with others.

“We saw and see where education got us. That’s why we want to give back,” she said.

“We want to pay it forward, and we strongly believe in education. It makes a huge difference in life.”

It’s not only Fredonia that is benefiting from the Cashins’ generosity. The couple also have endowed scholarships in Powers and Escanaba, Michigan, where they grew up.

The couple both earned bachelor’s degrees at Northern Michigan University, then moved to Chicago for a year. Mr. Cashin worked in business and then taught, while his wife was a tutor.

They moved back to Northern Michigan University, where he earned a master’s degree in psychology and counseling, then moved to Florida, where he worked as a school psychologist.

There, the couple decided to change direction and become optometrists.

It was a subject near to Mrs. Cashin’s heart. She said she is very nearsighted, and her optometrist had recommended she become an eye doctor.

The couple were the first husband and wife to be accepted to Indiana University, where they earned their degrees.

But it was 1970, and Mrs. Cashin faced a significant amount of resistance in school.

“There were some people who didn’t feel there should be women in the medical field,” Mr. Cashin said. “Ann was really a pioneer for women.”

“I didn’t really get the gist of there are 300 students in the school and only 10 women,” she said. “Two or three of my peers cam,e up to me and said, ‘You know, you’re taking a slot a man could fill.’

“I knew the bar had to be raised for women.”

Mr. Cashin graduated in 1973 and his wife in 1974. They then moved to Milwaukee, where they began to practice.

By 1977, they were looking for a place to set up their own practice and a real estate agent suggested Fredonia.

“They said, ‘You go up there and see those Luxembourgers. They’ll treat you well and they’re good people,” Mrs. Cashin recalled.

“It was a wonderful area,” she said. Their landlord was Mr. Neuens, who told them, “You look like honest people.”

“We shook hands and never had a written lease,” Mrs. Cashin said, noting they operated Fredonia Vision Center until she retired in 2004.

When they opened the clinic, she said, it wasn’t unusual for people to walk in and say to her, “Who are you, the nurse?” 

“It sounds strange in today’s world,” Mrs. Cashin said, although it was par for the course back then. She would tell people that she would give them their exam and if they weren’t satisfied, they could have a man conduct an exam.

“I never had any takers,” she said.

Even when she took her board exams to become an optometrist, she said, the examiner made discriminatory statements.

“It totally embarrassed me, but what could I do?” she said. “I made it through.”

The couple opened a clinic in Fox Point in 1974 and in Mequon in 1991.

Mr. Cashin said a friend with a background in HMOs and PPOs recommended they set up a network, so the couple established Eye Care of Wisconsin. That company, which they sold about two years ago, was his main emphasis while Mrs. Cashin worked in the clinics.

Mrs. Cashin noted that as time went on, people’s opinions of women in the exam room changed.

“The tide has turned,” she said. “If I wasn’t there, people would ask, ‘Where’s the lady doctor?’

“If you do better than average and stick around long enough, you can change minds.”

Mrs. Cashin became a specialist in contact lenses, known around the state for fitting people with the lenses, her husband said, adding people from around the state would seek her out. But while he took positions and was active in leadership roles in professional organizations, she opted not to.

“She didn’t want to wander from her two professions — vision practitioner and mother,” he said.

The couple eventually sold their practices and now split their time between Ozaukee County and Florida. But when they decided to give back to their community, there wasn’t a question of where they would do it.

“We were living in Ozaukee County, practicing in Ozaukee County, and being from the Upper Peninsula, I think we identified more with the residents of Ozaukee County,” Mr. Cashin said.

Krier said the area is all the better for the Cashins’ work and now their philanthropy, something no one saw coming.

The foundation board was “shocked” when the scholarship announcement was made recently, he said.

“We had a moment of celebration,” he said.

Both the Cashins and the board hope this donation may spur further contributions from people in the area, Krier said.

“This is pretty neat,” he said. “We’re just so fortunate. And just knowing this is possible to do, I think, will bring some further donations.

“What a great legacy.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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