Juan Jimenez Has Good Reason for Being V-Hawk to the Core

Juan Jimenez '01, '06, is completing his second term on the Viterbo University Alumni Association Board, on which he served as president. He also served on the Viterbo board of advisors.

As Western Technical College’s associate dean of general studies, Juan Jimenez ’01, ’06, admits with a grin that his Viterbo University jacket might not be the best thing to wear around the office. But he can’t help but wear his love for Viterbo on his sleeve, so to speak. As Jimenez sees it, he owes a lot to Viterbo, including his very life.

Jimenez grew up in the Chicago area, the second of five children born to Mexican immigrants who put a high value on education. He knew he wanted to be a teacher, and Viterbo’s reputation as a great school for educators drew his attention. What sealed the deal was the reception he got when he came for a campus visit.

“Everywhere we went, somebody would come up to us and say, ‘Hey, what’s your name? Nice to meet you.’ Every single student we passed would say, ‘hello.’ It was the only school we visited where that happened,” Jimenez said. “After that, I said, ‘This is the place I’m going to go.”

Juan Jimenez and his wife-to-be, Kristine, met on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, and that's where they were married in 2016.
Juan Jimenez and his wife-to-be, Kristine, met on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, and that's where they were married in 2016.

Jimenez also admitted that Viterbo’s 9-to-1 female to male student ratio was an attraction. While he didn’t find his soulmate when he was a student, on a 2014 Viterbo pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, he met his wife, Kristine, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Viterbo in 2013.

When Jimenez started his studies at Viterbo in 1997, he felt like he was among family. But even so, that first year he fell into despondency so deep that he attempted to take his own life.

Jimenez didn’t talk about that chapter in his life until a few years ago. He had come to realize what a turning point in his life that was and how the love and concern of his Viterbo family pulled him through.

He recalled one incident after he was released from the hospital in particular. He was walking across campus and another student he barely knew approached him and punched him in the arm. Then she scolded him in a loving way, telling him that before he ever gets to the end of his rope he’d better come talk to her first.

“That is the heart of what Viterbo really is, caring about everybody. Even if you only had one small connection, that is all it took. That stuck with me,” Jimenez said. “There are times when I think I shouldn’t be here, so I live my life based in small measure on what was given to me in that time.”

Like so many Viterbo students, Jimenez formed strong bonds with professors, none stronger than with the late Earl Madary, ’88, who taught religious studies and directed the St. Francis Choir, in which Jimenez sang.

“He was like a second father to me,” Jimenez said. “He showed the way to speak truth to power in a way that was kind but stern, with the iron of your convictions.”

Jimenez keeps a copy of Madary’s Viterbo Teacher of the Year acceptance speech handy in a file drawer in his office, going back to it often to refresh core lessons he—and many others—learned from his mentor.

Madary concludes the words he shared on that occasion in 2006 with his Viterbo family as follows: “We insist that you use the privilege of education to build the common good. Please don’t fear failure. Learn, learn, learn, and then learn again. Find a worthy purpose and cause and crash yourself against it. Don’t be afraid to be broken. Be brave.”

Jimenez has undergraduate and graduate degrees in education from Viterbo as well as a certificate in ethical leadership. He’s on the final leg of work on a doctoral degree from Sam Houston State University.

After starting his career in education as a classroom math teacher, Jimenez transitioned to working for unions representing teachers in Racine and Kenosha. His associate dean position at Western involves hiring, firing, and dealing with employee issues. While it can seem odd to be on the other side of the table from where he used to be as a union rep, in the end Jimenez said both jobs were about protecting a process that ensures fairness and equity.

“And, like working for the common good, pushing for fairness and justice is really a Viterbo thing,” he said.

Juan Jimenez, right, is sworn in as a member of the La Crosse School Board in April 2019.
Juan Jimenez, right, is sworn in as a member of the La Crosse School Board in April 2019.

“Paying it forward” also is something Jimenez considers a Viterbo thing, and it’s a thing that burns in his core. On top of serving on the boards of the Wisconsin Humanities Council and the National College Learning Center Association, Jimenez also is an active volunteer at the La Crosse Warming Center, vice chairman of the La Crosse Promise board, and a first-term member of the La Crosse Board of Education.

It means a lot to him, also, to give back to Viterbo. He has volunteered at numerous campus events and has served about 12 years on Viterbo’s board of advisors as well as six years on the alumni board. He was alumni board president for two years, which afforded him a chance to attend board of trustees meetings.

“It’s amazing to see the amount of work and heart it takes to keep Viterbo on its mission,” Jimenez said. “Serving on the alumni board and the board of advisors was very eye opening, and it was great to see a different side of Viterbo and get involved in Viterbo life, even in a small way.”

Jimenez is concluding his service as an active member on the Viterbo board of advisors and the alumni board. “I will miss the people, the friendships, the camaraderie, and the connection,” he said.

It’s time for new voices to come to the table for the university, he said, and those new people should rest assured that they will treasure as he has the chance to support Viterbo and its mission.