Oshkosh woman’s legacy of support inspires sister’s philanthropy

A portrait of a lovely woman from the 1920s hangs in a spare bedroom at Janice Pennau's home. The original painting titled "Miss Julia Due," by local artist Merton Grenhagen, is stored at the Oshkosh Public Museum, where it was displayed for 40 years.

Janice would watch in adoration as her sister, Julia Due, 10 years her senior, followed a rags to riches path in life. Starting as the daughter of poor, Danish immigrants, Julia earned her nursing degree and married a well-to-do entrepreneur. In her later years, Julia gave millions of dollars of the wealth she and her husband, Ralph Petersen, amassed to local organizations, including the Oshkosh Community YMCA, Salvation Army and the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.


"We were quite different, yet the same. I think we each had a desire to help our children and grandchildren, too, but each of us has given back in our own ways." – Janice Pennau



The Julia and Ralph Petersen Fund, a community impact fund, has supported evolving needs at the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry, Tri-County Community Dental Clinic, Winnebago Literacy Council and the Oshkosh Seniors Center. This past year, the fund helped support a $1 million gift to the Oshkosh Community YMCA renovation, Oshkosh's new welcome signs and an ADA-compliant canoe launch on the Fox River.

"I think that (Julia) would be delighted. I think she would be very happy with that. I know I would," says Janice, who admired her sister's gifts so much that she created the Karl and Janice Pennau Fund to support vision and eye care for children in Oshkosh.

Janice was the youngest of three girls, each born 10 years apart to Julius and Marie Due. With no more than a fourth-grade education, the Dues were poor, but worked hard and sent each of the girls to college. Ellen, the oldest, became a teacher. Janice earned degrees in history and business.

Julia met Ralph Petersen, an Illinois man, while attending the University of Wisconsin. During his career, Ralph amassed a fortune working in mergers and acquisitions across the United States. He was credited with saving the Innisbrook golf resort in Florida from financial failure in the 1970s. For many years, Julia and Ralph lived in Berlin, where they raised two children, and later moved to a home on Lake Butte des Morts. When Ralph died in 1991, Julia had no idea of the couple's riches.

Despite the age difference, Janice had a special bond with Julia, and sees now that they both have a desire to give back to the community that led them to successful lives.
 

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