Decades after sharing the graduation stage with their mother, brothers set up memorial scholarship in her honor

Written by Alison Parkins on |
Hirsch Family

When twin brothers Mark and Jon Hirsch walked across the University of Wisconsin-Platteville graduation stage in 1986, they had an experience like few others as their mother, Ardith Stark, graduated with them at the age of 45. As a single mother, with two children still at home, Ardith graduated with honors, earning a business administration degree with a dual emphasis. It is this legacy that Jon and Mark hope to honor with the creation of the Ardith Stark (Hirsch) Memorial Scholarship, which will help other non-traditional students have the same opportunity. 

Ardith was born and raised in Boscobel, Wisconsin. She started her family at the age of 18, when Jon and Mark were born. Less than two years later, they were joined by their brother, David, and eventually younger siblings Andrew and Sarah. Ardith passed away in 2017.

“She was the valedictorian of her high school and was someone people really expected to go far,” said Jon. “But she ended up raising a family, and I think she always felt bad that she didn’t go to college because she was very intelligent and driven. When she did go to college, she was that student who was all in.”

Jon and Mark reflect fondly on the uniqueness of sharing their college experience with their mother, although they acknowledge that wasn’t always the case. 

“Both Mark and I were in classes with mom,” said Jon. “She would be in the front row and Mark and I were in the back, probably with our heads down. When the professor asked a question, mom’s hand was always the first to go up—maybe for every question because she knew every answer. There were times where I thought, ‘Wow, Mom is really an amazing student,’ and other times, at 20-years-old, I was a little embarrassed.” 

After graduation, Ardith worked for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa, selling ads. Ironically, one of Mark’s first jobs out of college was also at the Telegraph Herald as a photojournalist. 

“Not only did I go to school with my mother, but I entered my professional career with her too; not too many people have that experience,” said Mark. “But that was exciting. We both had really great experiences and my mom was an incredibly successful business person.” 

Ardith went on to lead a successful career at the Telegraph Herald, eventually retiring from there.

“Mom wasn’t like the average college kid coming in to start her career,” said Jon. “She came in with worldliness and wisdom. She was very successful and also super driven.”

Mark and Jon attribute that success largely to the education Ardith received at UW-Platteville. They also credit their own professional success to the university. Jon is the Director of Business Development for Auer Steel and Heating Supply Company. Mark is a photographer and publisher, known widely for his book, "That Tree." For this reason, they said the decision to set up the memorial scholarship at UW-Platteville was an easy one.

“Mom had a tremendous experience at UW-Platteville, and Jon and I had what I would say is a tremendous experience,” said Mark. “I was an undeclared major for a long time, and I discovered my passion and UW-Platteville was very supportive of the process.”

The Ardith Stark (Hirsch) Memorial Scholarship will award $1,000 annually to a student, with preference given to a female, non-traditional student.  

“We know our mother would have been all about supporting and helping anyone trying to get their education,” said Mark. “But she would especially support other women and other non-traditional students returning in a similar circumstance.”

“Mom achieved something in a later point in her life that most people don’t recognize is a possibility,” added Jon. “How many people in their 40s recognize that they too can go back to college and get a degree? For those who don’t, I think mom would encourage them to do it. If you ever want to achieve something, in most cases the only thing prohibiting it from happening is yourself.  Mom was highly motivated and inspired herself to go back and get a degree later in life. I know mom had incredible fondness for her years at UW-Platteville as a student. It is a great institution, and you are never too old to go back to college.”

For more information about the UW-Platteville Foundation, and how to create or support an existing scholarship, visit