Remembering ‘Red Cap’ China lecture series founder and former WCI board chair Wade Fetzer

Wade Fetzer introduces the speaker at a 2015 Red Cap lecture.

Wade Fetzer III, former chair of the Wisconsin China Initiative (WCI) External Advisory Board and a tireless champion of UW-Madison engagement with China, died August 20, 2020, at his home in Glencoe, Illinois.

Mr. Fetzer, a UW-Madison Class of 1959 economics alum and a former managing partner at the Chicago office of Goldman Sachs & Co, was well known for philanthropy in support of his alma mater. Wade and his wife of 61 years, Beverly (Below) Fetzer, established the Wisconsin Athletics’ Fetzer Center for Student-Athlete Excellence, along with the School of Human Ecology’s Fetzer Center for Excellence. As a leader of the Posse Program, Mr. Fetzer was instrumental in making UW-Madison the first major public research university to join this national scholarship program aimed at inner-city youth.

Mr. Fetzer was also the leading alumni benefactor of UW-Madison programs connected with China.

“Wade brought his vision and energy to expanding UW-Madison’s interface with China, in the same way that he generously supported other areas of the university,” said Genetics Professor and WCI faculty director Jerry C.P. Yin. “He realized the current and future importance of China in the world, and wanted UW students, staff and faculty to be at the leading edge of this interaction.  We will miss his enthusiasm and support.”

Board Chair Wade Fetzer with former faculty director Nicole Huang (at left) and board members Alan Myers and Ulice Payne at the April 2014 board meeting.

Mr. Fetzer served on the WCI board from its inception in 2008, becoming board chair in 2013. At the start of his tenure as chair, Mr. Fetzer stressed to his fellow board members that, “We want to make sure our students have a variety of opportunities to experience and understand China as a rising economic power.”

To realize that goal, Mr. Fetzer launched and fully funded the China & Global Economics Lecture Series, better known as the “Red Cap Series” after the hats emblazoned with “Wisconsin China Initiative” distributed at the events. The hats were Mr. Fetzer’s idea, and several hundred were handed out over the years, to his visible delight. The series brought leading economists to campus, including Harvard University’s William Overholt, the Yale School of Management’s Stephen Roach, the Peterson Institute for International Economics’ Nicholas Lardy, and Peking University’s Yao Yang.

“The beauty of the Red Cap lectures was that they were by world renowned scholars, but were not academic presentations,” said Law Professor John Ohnesorge, who served as WCI faculty director from 2008-12. “Reflecting Wade’s vision, they were designed to engage anyone interested in understanding China’s economy.  The large audiences they attracted demonstrate the importance of that vision, and remain a testament to Wade and Bev’s great generosity.”

Mr. Fetzer came up with the idea of handing out red hats at key WCI lectures.

Working with the Wisconsin School of Business, Mr. Fetzer established the Fetzer Fellowship Award program in 2015, which encourages faculty research connecting students with China. The fellowship was used by historian Joseph Dennis to develop a new course, “Chinese Economic and Business History: From Silk to iPhones,” most recently taught in spring 2020. The annual award now funds two faculty research projects each year, rotating between the School of Business, the College of Engineering, and the School of Human Ecology.

“Time spent with Wade was a highlight of my Wisconsin years,” said Nicole Huang, who served as WCI faculty director from 2012-15, and is currently chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong. “He always had great stories, and the way he told his stories was contagious. Always having a big picture in mind, his vision was inspiring and ahead of his time.”

Click here to read Mr. Fetzer’s full obituary.

Chair Wade Fetzer addressing the 2014 meeting of the WCI board.