2009/09/14 Lifetime Achievement winners honored

Two Madison college professors with religious backgrounds, who have worked tirelessly to change the world -- Esther Heffernan and Joe Elder, pictured above  -- were honored for their lifetimes of activism on Oct. 3 by the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice (WNPJ), a statewide network of 170 organizations working for social change.

Joe Elder, a Quaker peace activist who is a University of Wisconsin professor of sociology and Asian studies, and Esther Heffernan, O. P., a Dominican nun who is emerita professor of social science at Edgewood College, and a widely respected leader on prison reform and criminal justice issues, will receive Lifetime Achievement Awards at a reception following WNPJ’s annual fall assembly at the Goodman Community Center in Madison.

Joe Elder, 79,informed his draft board during the Korean war that he would go to jail rather than be inducted. Two years later he became a Quaker. With other Quakers, he has carried secret messages between authorities in conflict in India and Pakistan; North Vietnam and Washington; North Korea and Washington; and Tamil Tiger militants and the government of Sri Lanka. 

During the Vietnam War, he delivered medical supplies a hospital in Hanoi, and after the war helped organize Madison Quakers, Inc. which has built a peace park and a school in My Lai, and provides micro-loans to village and ethnic women in Vietnam.

Deeply committed to internationalism, as a UW professor in Sociology and Languages and Cultures of Asia he has encouraged countless students to broaden their horizons, learn languages and live and study in other countries. He has long served on Wisconsin's Governor's Commission on the United Nations.

Elder, also committed to inter-faith dialogue, in 1995 was one of the founders of the International Committee for the Peace Council that includes Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Mairead Maguire and the Dalai Lama. During the past decade the Peace Council has met in world trouble spots such as Chiapas and Jerusalem to listen, learn and provide an interfaith presence.

 Esther Heffernan, 80, began her lifelong social activism in the 1940s as a University of Chicago student working for interracial justice. She describes her research in a Washington, DC women’s prison as “life-changing.” It resulted in, Making It in Prison: The “Square,” the “Cool” and “The Life,” published in 1972”, a book considered a seminal work in the field, which continues to serve as a resource to those who set corrections policy.

Her promise to the women in the Washington, DC prison to make their lives visible to others has shaped her deep involvement in criminal justice reform over the last several decades, especially on issues of women in prison and rehabilitation upon their release.

She is currently chair of the Task Force on Money, Education and Prisons, seeking change in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system; a board member of Family Connections that brings children monthly to visit their mothers at Taycheedah Correctional Facility; and a member of the Dane County Task Forces on Disproportionate Juvenile Minority Confinement and on Racial Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System.