As they approach the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association (WMAA) office, guests—including medical students who grab a pick-me-up at the candy bowl—are greeted by a welcoming sign: “The Budzak Family Medical Alumni Suite.”
And at most WMAA-hosted events, guests have a strong chance for another type of pick-me-up: the smiles and laughter that Kathryn S. “Kathe” Budzak, MD ’69, and her husband, Arthur “Archie” Budzak, bring to the gatherings.
Proud of her alma mater, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Kathe Budzak served on the WMAA Board of Directors for several years, including one term as president, and she continues to share her wisdom on its Board Advisory Council and Quarterly Editorial Board. As a class co-representative with John “Jack” Woodford, MD ’69, she keeps classmates connected with each other and the school, as previous class co-representatives—the late Carl Olson, MD ’69, and Wally Burgdorf, MD ’69—had done. Kathe Budzak also credits Ralph Hawley, Mischa Lustok, MD ’35, and Robert Schilling, MD ’43, as mentors in making alumni connections.
Further fostering Badger spirit, Kathe and Archie Budzak raised two daughters— Lynn M. Budzak, MD ’90 (PG ’93), and Ann E. Budzak Garza, MD ’86—who are SMPH alumnae.
Before she retired, Kathe Budzak was an urgent care physician at Dean Medical Center in Madison. Their daughters also established medical careers in their home state: Lynn Budzak in family medicine at the Veteran’s Administration Outpatient Clinic in Green Bay, and Ann Budzak Garza in pediatrics and child abuse care and prevention at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.
A Wisconsin native, Kathe Budzak grew up in Racine with two siblings. She completed high school courses a year early and went on to Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where she was granted a high school diploma upon admission.
Following a year there, Kathe Budzak returned to Wisconsin and Door County, where her family spent summers. She resumed a relationship with a young man, who she married and followed to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, to continue her studies. Realizing she was in an abusive marriage, she moved home to Racine and initiated a divorce. The following semester, she welcomed her first daughter. After time off to care for baby Ann, and with help from her parents, she began commuting to complete her undergraduate degree at UW-Milwaukee.
“It was a lot of work to attend college while raising a baby, but my parents were wonderful. Not everyone’s family would support them like mine did,” she recalls.
In a happy turn of fate, Kathe Budzak met her perfect mate, Archie Budzak, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, who was a senior at UW-Milwaukee. After each had earned a degree—his in education with a biology major and physical education and history minors, and hers in zoology—they married in December 1961.
Archie Budzak was a teacher and coach in the Milwaukee Public Schools, and the couple welcomed baby Lynn the following year. While Kathe Budzak remembers being “a happy housewife,” she also yearned to use or further her education. She received encouragement from her dad, who valued education, as he had worked his way through boarding school and college to become a certified public accountant.
Kathe Budzak found no positions for a woman with a zoology degree. She thought about pursuing a medical technology career.
“In the back of my mind, I always wanted to become a doctor, so I attended night classes at UW-Milwaukee for required classes,” she says. “Because I didn’t have contact with other pre-med students, I had no idea how to study for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), so I read ‘Increase Your Word Power’ in the Reader’s Digest!”
Success followed, but unfortunately, Kathe Budzak experienced some gender bias.
“Marquette University returned my medical school application, $10 fee and photo, along with a letter stating that they felt children needed the emotional support of the mother in the home, so they could not consider my application,” she says.
Kathe Budzak was accepted at Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia, and the couple considered moving there.
“I also was accepted to the UW Medical School (now the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health),” she exclaims. “And I’ve been thrilled to be here ever since!”
She and her husband moved to Madison in time for Ann Budzak to enter first grade. They hired a babysitter for Lynn Budzak, and Archie Budzak continued his career as a physical education teacher and coach.
While Kathe Budzak again encountered some faculty members who thought women should stay at home, she found others who equally supported male and female students.
“Medical school was difficult for everyone. We did not get grades, so if you didn’t have a pink slip in your mailbox, you could assume you were doing OK,” she recalls. “Dr. Otto Mortenson was very kind and encouraging when I felt unsure about how I was doing.”
Although she studied alone after her family’s evening routine, Kathe Budzak found inspiration among her “very cohesive” medical school class and attended its social events when possible. For her required preceptorship, most of which were out of town, Tom Meyer, MD, helped her find local opportunities to remain with her family.
“I was able to do preceptorships with Dr. Jim Moore and Dr. Bill Russell (MD ’46),” shares Kathe Budzak. “I was so grateful!”
Following medical school, she completed an internship at Madison General Hospital (now Unity Point Health-Meriter) and learned that St. Mary’s Hospital was creating an emergency medicine group. Before that, hospitals had physicians from various specialties cover daytime emergency room (ER) needs, and had residents cover nights.
“I practiced in the ER weekdays and every other weekend; I only worked nights if a resident didn’t show up,” says Kathe Budzak.
After four years in the ER, she heard about new positions in the emerging field of urgent care, and she found her weekday-only niche for the next 20 years at Dean Medical Center.
In her era of medical school and early practice, women were a minority in medicine.
“About a dozen women started in my class, but half changed courses before we graduated,” Kathe Budzak shares, noting that this spurred her and a few other female physicians to establish a Women in Medicine group at the SMPH in the 1970s.
“I got a list of women alumni, faculty and Madison physicians, and we organized welcome sessions for female medical students each school year. We wanted them to know women in practice, and some of us provided shadowing opportunities,” she says, adding that as the percentage of women medical students and physicians increased, the leaders felt like they had met their goal.
Kathe and Archie Budzak are proud that their daughters followed her footsteps, including nurturing the next generation of physicians: Both train medical students, and Lynn Budzak also trains residents.
Since medical school, Kathe Budzak has aimed to bolster the close-knit feeling among her classmates by writing letters and encouraging attendance at gatherings. Starting with a small five-year reunion hosted by the Budzaks, collegiality has blossomed. The class now enjoys well-attended, WMAA-sponsored reunions, and classmates have hosted “mini reunions” in Door County, Thailand, Phoenix and North Carolina. To honor their 50-year reunion in spring 2019 (see page 14), Class of ’69 members helped create a scholarship fund.
“The warmth I feel with my class and the WMAA makes me want to keep coming back,” she says, crediting the association for its many activities to support students and connect them with alumni.
Whether the Budzaks are visiting Madison or at their home in Door County, they enjoy helping others and connecting with friends. They attend local theater events, take classes, and spend time with their daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchild. And Kathe and Archie Budzak rarely miss a chance to don Badger apparel and recite “On, Wisconsin!”