Historian and honorary UWM doctorate Irene Bishop Groggans dead at 91

A celebrated historian in the Milwaukee African-American community and honorary doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee passed away at the age of 91.

We first told you about Irene Bishop Goggans back in July of 2015. Goggans was 89-years-old and had just earned an honorary doctorate from UW-Milwaukee.

"I was speechless--I had no idea where all of this was coming from!" Goggans exclaimed.

It was a call she almost missed. Goggans admitted she was so busy enjoying her grandson, she quickly got the chancellor's office off the phone not knowing what the call was about.

"I told him I didn't have time to talk because Jaden and I were having too much fun," she said.

"As soon as she hung up I thought, who did she say that was? What was that? I said Oh well, they'll either call back or they won't and it won't make any difference," she also said.

Goggans was a well-known caretaker of local history. She gathered newspaper and magazine information on just about every notable African-American.

"As I collected all of this stuff, it was so interesting,” she said. “I cut them out not knowing the people but being so proud of their accomplishments."


Goggans had more than 300 heritage books or scrapbooks. (Though some would call them scrapbooks Goggans preferred to the name heritage books). They were all of local people who made her proud.

That collection helped earn Goggans an honorary Doctorate of Community History from UWM. In the beginning, she was reluctant for the spotlight.

"I said, oh no, I don't need any recognition for that,” she said. “I said that's a gift from God I'm so blessed with that."

Goggans personal symbol was the butterfly. She says the struggle to get out of the cocoon held deep meaning.

"I think of my life, if there had been no struggle or no challenges, I would have been a weaker person,” she said. “But using all of that strength to get out of...if you had decided poor little thing I'm going to help her get out, it would have weakened me."

Goggans shared her wisdom freely, with enthusiasm charm and grace. She never grew tired of reminding others that they are special, and that they can soar.

"Each of us are angels but we're only given one wing. We can only fly when we embrace each other."

Goggans died June 23 at the age of 91. Goggans did not want a funeral, so friends family and loved ones will gather to celebrate her life Saturday, July 8 at St. Matthew Church, 2944 N. 9th Street, Milwaukee. The ceremony starts at noon.
 

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