In his early teen years, Andy Gussert admits he was a juvenile delinquent. He was arrested many times and abused alcohol and other drugs. But you’d never suspect that to meet him today. The focus of his life now is to help youth avoid what he went through.
“I found myself making bad choices and getting caught,” he said. “At 15, I was in a 100-mph car chase with officers. There was an accident.
“I didn’t get hurt, but a lot of people said, ‘This needs to stop.’ An intervention from police officers, teachers and my parents changed my life. I started to focus. I graduated in the top third in high school. I got a full scholarship to Lawrence College, graduating in the top quarter.” Gussert then went to law school, graduating in the top 10 percent.
His career took a few turns, including running political campaigns, such as when former Gov. Jim Doyle originally ran for Attorney General. He became the State Federation President for the American Federation of Teachers in Wisconsin and later ran his own business, Progressive Strategies.
His current position ties most directly with his troubled youth. He is the first State Alliance Director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Wisconsin and raises resources through government funding or private organizations for the 159 clubs serving 157,000 kids across the state.
“If you want to have the biggest impact, you work with children because you can change their lives,” Gussert said. “You have 60 years of return on investment.”
An example of how his position benefits all Boys and Girls Clubs in Wisconsin (BGCW) is his success in coordinating a new program that makes it possible for nearly 700 kids to visit Washington, DC. He’s also coordinating club support to raise the age for tobacco and vapor products to 21 in the state.
In only two years, he already has achieved national recognition for his BGCW work, being named National Professional of the Year at a national conference.
Gussert was born to a teenage mom as his birth father was going off to fight in Vietnam. He was adopted by his father, a state trooper, and his mother, who worked at Fleet Farm. He grew up with a brother and sister in Clintonville.
“My parents are incredible human beings. They made all the difference,” he said. Gussert also stays in touch with his birth parents, who later married each other and had two daughters.
He lives in what is known by many as the “silo house” on Riverview Drive in the Town of Westport. Next to his house, the silo was part of a farm subdivided for residential housing. His house sits on a half-acre lot, and another half-acre of woods sits outside his living room window.
“It’s all windows and natural light on a hill with a big view,” he said. “I’m only a short drive from Madison or Waunakee, yet I’m surrounded with deer and other animals.”
One reason he purchased this home in 2005 was the connection with nature. He’s always loved being outdoors, even living on a boat while attending law school in Miami, Florida.
It also connects with another passion. For over three years he was Chief Operating Officer for the First Unitarian Society of Madison, the church designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He became fascinated with Wright’s concept of “organic architecture,” focusing on unity of buildings, furnishings and nature.
“When you have a house built into the land with a lot of natural light, it changes the way you feel. Being part of nature where I live and work is important to me,” said Gussert.
He also helped “build” the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, a self-guided architectural tour of Wright-designed public buildings across southern Wisconsin. He became volunteer treasurer for Wright in Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization.
“I’m mostly Welsh, I’m 5’ 7”, and I drive too fast. I understand the coincidences of my life and Wright’s life,” he laughingly said. Wright’s mother’s family was Welsh.
He lives alone but is rarely alone. His father had nine siblings and his mother had six, resulting in over 60 first cousins-most of them living not far away. They frequently stay with him.
He also has his two dogs—both Newfoundlands: Sasquatch, an incredible 13 years old, and Nessie, 6.
Gussert turned 50 this year, but it doesn’t bother him.
“It’s a lot better than the alternative,” he chuckled. “Actually, I feel more empowered and healthier than ever.”