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Extra Credit

A Generous Thank You

By Jasmine Song

Bill Penzey, owner of
Penzeys spices sends
free gift boxes to all
Wisconsin teachers.

When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker began his assault against public workers, including the state's educators, Penzeys Spices, based in Wauwatosa, Wisc., began giving complimentary spice boxes to Milwaukee's public school (MPS) teachers.

“I thought what was happening was simply the rookie mistake of a brand new governor,” says the company’s owner, Bill Penzey. “My hope was to find a way to do something to bring the community together, to stop this mistake from destroying the morale of the Milwaukee public school system.”

Penzeys Teacher Gift Boxes contain a “Teachers Care” bumper sticker, a “Teach” heart pin, Smoked Spanish-style Paprika, Penzeys Forward! seasoning, and a 24-page booklet of stories and recipes from educators nationwide.

“For teachers, who at the time were feeling under attack, to see that the community valued them for the very reasons they actually are valuable, seemed to make a real difference,” says Penzey.

“MPS is not an easy spot to teach; it takes heart,” says Penzey. “With no institution more important to Wisconsin’s future, the Teachers Gift Box was our attempt to keep those hearts from breaking.”


Although the gift boxes have been sold to individual teachers all over the U.S., the Wisconsin based spice company gave every Milwaukee public school teacher and supporter a free gift box of their own. Between sales and gift boxes already given away, Penzeys has sold over 275,000 boxes.

Since receiving their gifts, teachers around the region have reached out to Penzeys to show their gratitude.

“It made me feel great that someone actually appreciates and values what we, as teachers and staff in a school system, are about to face,” says Mary Char Goodavish-Guten, a Browning Elementary School teacher. “Very little recognition is given to us for our hard work and dedication, and in this economy there is certainly no financial incentive to do this challenging job.”

Penzey says he also wanted to counter propaganda from ultra-conservative radio talk shows claiming the greed of teachers collapsed the American economy. “But as they repeated this message over and over, day after day, and their callers’ anger at teachers steadily grew, we saw it was beginning to take a toll,” Penzey says.

Wisconsin Republicans also recently passed controversial right-to-work legislation, which many workers advocate will merely undermine their wages, benefits, and the state’s labor movement as a whole.

Amidst the turmoil many Milwaukee public school teachers faced, it seems these uplifting gift boxes arrived at just the right moment.

Last school year, MPS finished in the top 10 percent nationwide in teacher attendance.

“The real credit here should go to the teachers themselves for being valuable and giving back to the community through their jobs,” says Penzey. “All we did was point this out, and with that, teachers got back in the game.”


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