Carole Casamento '58
SJA alumna uses her talents to be an advocate for others
Published August 2016
Carole (Tennessen) Casamento, '58, is a member of St. Joan Antida High School’s (SJA) first graduating class who has taken the values she developed at SJA and brought them into her fascinating career as a journalist. Her excitement for being an advocate for others comes through in every breath, whether she’s discussing the friendships she formed at SJA or the stories of labor work she’s written in her journalism career.
Casamento’s journey to SJA began with her family, who valued a Catholic high-school education. SJA was an affordable option, and Casamento was excited to attend along with a group of her primary-school friends. For Casamento, SJA was a place to both practice a work ethic and have room for mistakes and growth.
“Students were expected to do their best, and if you got in trouble, you washed the windows,” Casamento laughingly recalled.
But the all-girl environment appealed to Casamento and she credits it with her ability to make mistakes and try again. She remembered, “I was afraid to embarrass myself, but at SJA, you’re free to do that. I was glad there was so much freedom.”
The ability to learn from her mistakes was a vital part of Casamento’s growth at SJA. One of Casamento’s favorite things about SJA was the Sisters who taught her.
“Sister Alfreda was the kindest woman I ever met. She taught me how to love – she opened the wall,” Casamento said.
The Sisters also provided students with a solid academic foundation.
“The nuns were brilliant! Sister Mary Tarcisia was so smart,” said Casamento. “I enjoyed many classes, from drama and music appreciation to typing and home healthcare. SJA gave you a good basic education – you could do anything.”
She spent time at SJA participating in choir with other schools through the Archdiocese, enjoying the many dances such as the Winter Whirl and prom, and creating life-long friendships with her classmates. The culture of SJA was one of camaraderie.
“One of the best things to come out of SJA was the sisterhood,” Casamento said. “We were a group; we tried to keep everyone going, together.”
The friendships she built at SJA taught Casamento fairness and compassion.
“I learned to give back from the way we cared for each other,” said Casamento.
She carried this compassion into her professional life as a labor journalist, stating that “in both the Catholic church and the labor movement, we call each other brothers and sisters. We are each other’s keepers.”
After some time in sales at the Milwaukee Sentinel, Casamento began her illustrious 40-year career with the Milwaukee Labor Press, AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations). The Milwaukee Labor Press ran for 73 years, through 2013.
“At one time, The Milwaukee Labor Press was the second largest home-delivered newspaper in Wisconsin,” Casamento boasted.
She worked her way up from the Advertising Department to be the Editor of the publication, reporting on crucial events in Milwaukee’s labor history along the way.
“My SJA education came back to me – how to construct your writing, and how to tell a story and honor the subject,” she said.
Casamento recalled one of her most eye-opening stories, when she participated in and reported on the State AFL-CIO’s tour of maquiladora plants in Juarez, Mexico. The growth of maquiladora plants in Mexico skyrocketed under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and Casamento and the Milwaukee Labor Press sought to shed light on the poor working conditions that NAFTA was bringing about.
“It was all young girls and boys making 50 cents an hour. The water from the creek that ran behind their cardboard huts was full of glass shavings from the Ford plant. Children played in it as pigs wallowed in it. It was the only drinking water available,” she stated. Her reporting on the shocking labor conditions earned her the prestigious Saul Miller Journalism Award in 1994, a national award that highlights writing related to some of the key activities of unions.
This compassion and activism is a common theme throughout Casamento’s career.
“You must speak up and defend others! This is a part of Christian teaching. We need people to work together,” she stated.
Other professional experiences that are close to her heart include interviewing Vietnam veterans about their experiences in the war. “They were all crying,” she recalled. “I didn’t have to say anything - just listen.”
One high-profiled story that will always stand out was when Casamento reported on the fatal crane accident during the construction of Miller Park in 1999. Prior to the accident, one of the workmen who was killed, Jeffrey Wischer, had taken her in a ride up and down in the bucket of the crane. Remembering the tragic occurrence, she stated, “what I learned from that is to always see a solution after something goes wrong.”
Casamento’s personal life has also had both trials and times of strength. She overcame breast cancer twice, in both 1980 and 1985. Looking back on those times, she said, “I made it through – I’m a survivor.”
Her husband Joseph has been a source of support through the years, helping her run their household and make things work.
“The strength of your mate makes all the difference in the world,” she said. “He’s always been my rock.” The couple will celebrate their 53rd anniversary this October.
Casamento retired in 2002 and enjoys spending her free time volunteering with Three Holy Women Church, participating in a book club with their Christian Women group, and quilting to keep her math skills sharp. She loves spending time with her family and the children of her nieces and nephews.
When Casamento reflects on her life thus far, she feels pride in her career and satisfaction in having been an advocate for others. The compassion and work ethic that she developed at SJA have informed many of her goals and accomplishments in her life, from supporting unions and reporting on important labor issues to fostering her connection with her husband, family, and church. Although Casamento is a well-respected journalist, she reminds us, “don’t worry what other people think of you; it’s not between you and them, it’s between you and God.”