Fluent in Life

“Beurre de cacahuètes.”

Connie Burmeister’s Danish father didn’t learn much of the French language while stationed in France during World War II, but he did learn the French word for peanut butter.

“I never knew a French person to eat it, but my dad loved peanut butter,” Connie recalls.

She credits her father and his time in France with sparking her interest in the language—one that would become the basis of her career.

Formative Family

Connie was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. Home to one of the largest Danish populations in the country, Racine became home for Connie’s parents, Bernard and Lillian, both Danish immigrants. Her parents spoke Danish in the home “only when they didn’t want us to understand,” Connie explains, so she was familiar with the language, but not fluent.

Bernard was a mason, having done his apprenticeship in bricklaying. In fact, he was working on the Johnson Wax building when a man came along and asked Bernard’s opinion of the building. He replied honestly, ‘Well, I think there’s going to be a lot of problems.’ It turns out Connie’s father was speaking to none other than the building’s architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

And Bernard was correct: the things he predicted, did, in fact, go wrong. Despite later getting into trouble with his boss for his candidness, Bernard’s honesty was rewarded with a standing contract with Johnson Wax.

Connie walks her dog, Benji, around the Prairie Ridge campus

Journeys and Destinations

Connie is the oldest of four, with two younger sisters and a brother. Her love of the Northwoods stems from childhood, where the family spent three weeks every summer in Woodruff, Wisconsin.

Exposed to different languages from a young age, Connie knew growing up that she wanted to be a translator. When it was time to choose a college, Connie didn’t think she wanted to attend a large school. However, being already advanced in her French studies, she found herself moving to Madison at 17 years old to attend the University of Wisconsin. She graduated with a French teaching major and a Spanish teaching minor.

After college, Connie started teaching French at Sun Prairie High School. Upon having her first baby with her husband, Wayne, she “retired” to stay home with her daughter and welcomed a second daughter a couple of years later.

Retirement didn’t last long. A few years later, Connie took a job at Madison East High School. From there she went back to Sun Prairie to teach, where she worked until her second retirement.

It wasn’t until after her second year of teaching that Connie made her first trip abroad, as it wasn’t yet a requirement for students pursuing foreign language teaching degrees. That trip would be the first of many for Connie, who would go on to travel often with student groups, and travel with Wayne as well.

“I took students frequently, and they loved it,” Connie explains. “We always went in the spring as part of spring break. I wouldn’t have given up my time in the summer because that was for being up north with my family.”

Those treasured summers up north inspired Connie and Wayne to purchase a home in Minocqua in 1984 so they could create memories with their daughters in their special place. Summers served as designated up north time for the Burmeister crew.

“I would pack up all my summer schoolwork—boxes and boxes of materials—and I’d work sometimes 14 hours a day in Minocqua,” Connie recalls. “Wayne would be on the floor playing with the girls night after night—they called him their jungle gym—while I was at my desk working.”

Connie took her second retirement at the same time Wayne retired from American Family Insurance to take care of their grandchild.

"When Wayne passed, I was really glad that I lived here. I'd already made friends and I never ever felt alone."

Joining the Oakwood Family

When Connie’s father passed away, Connie’s mother, Lillian, had to decide which of her children she was going to live near. Since Connie was already retired, Lillian made the decision to move to Madison. Lillian got onto Oakwood’s waiting list while still living in Racine, learning of Oakwood through her church. She moved into Prairie Ridge independent living in 2003, just a few years after the campus had opened.

If you ask Connie when she knew that she, too, wanted to live at Oakwood, she answers without hesitation. “The day mom moved in. I thought this place was fabulous and I knew right away I wanted to live here!”

When the Prairie Ridge expansion was announced, Connie and Wayne were one of the first to put down their deposit on the new Grasslands apartments. Connie told her mom she was going to have her over for a lobster dinner when she and Wayne moved in. Sadly, Lillian passed away a year before they would move in.

In June of 2019, Connie and Wayne moved into their new apartment and started their life at Oakwood. However, Wayne passed away six months after making the move.

“When Wayne passed, I was really glad that I lived here,” Connie says. “I’d already made friends and I never ever felt alone.”

Shortly after Wayne’s passing, Connie adopted a dog, Benji, who has been her loyal companion.

Finding Creative Outlets

Benji keeps Connie busy, as do her numerous involvements at Oakwood. She’s been a passionate knitter her whole life, and has been on the board of the Madison Knitters Guild. She also served as the vice president and president for the guild. At one point, it was the largest knitters group in the country.

Connie’s passion for knitting can be seen throughout her apartment at Oakwood. From her vast collection of yarn whose colors span the rainbow, to finished pieces that adorn her walls and her wardrobe, to current projects, knitting is a big creative outlet for Connie. She has been knitting since she was a young girl. She learned from her grandmother, and she has passed on the craft to her own daughters and two of her grandchildren. Thus far, no one has carried on with the craft, but Connie is hopeful they may one day!

Connie has found fluency not just in language, but in knitting as well.

“No matter how difficult a pattern I chose, my grandma always assured me that I could do it.”

"No matter how difficult a pattern I chose, my grandma always assured me that I could do it."

At Oakwood, Connie has immersed herself in the community. She delivers meals to residents in The Grasslands apartments who may be unable to pick them up on their own due to illness or mobility challenges. She’s a regular participant in the daily coffee gathering in The Crossings with her neighbors. Connie has found strength—literally—through her regular workouts with personal Trainer Savanna Anderson in the The Acorn Club onsite, which she says has had a huge positive impact on her. Connie is also the Vice President of the Prairie Ridge Resident Association.

It’s fair to say that no matter what language Connie Burmeister is speaking, she communicates with the intention of building connections with others. And Oakwood is a better place for it.

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