Willett combines social work and county politics throughout career

Bruce Willett, BSW ’59, MSSW ‘67
Member, Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors and Former Director of Human Services in Taylor, Green Counties

Bruce Willett’s experience serving in the army during World War II made him want to have a more positive effect on other people. When the war ended, he worked as a common laborer around the country and, one summer, in Mexico. After he got his master’s degree in social work in 1967, Willett worked for seven years as a social worker in Marathon County. He later became the director of Human Services for Taylor County, and then Green County. Willett retired from social work administration in 1990, and is now a member of the Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors.


What originally inspired you to become a social worker?

I was raised in the home of a clergyman who believed in the social implications of the gospel. During World War II, I was drafted into the army and became a high-speed radio operator, delivering encoded messages. In the army, I learned to effectively kill other human beings and was repulsed by such low goals. Might does not make right. I could see that in the war, and then later when I worked in the suicide ward of a mental hospital in New York. I was part of a group there that met at night to discuss how patients were being treated. We became enlightened as far as the mistreatment of the mentally ill, and the overcrowded conditions.


Community involvement is important because you become acquainted with the larger community instead of the confines of a social work department or agency.

Walk us through a typical day in the life at your job.

As Director of Human Services at the county level, I worked with the county board to work out a budget, met with department staff and hired personnel, and created public awareness of services. I enjoyed the process of pushing for programs that were enabled through state requirements or county initiatives. There were a number of people in the community, as well as some board members, that were very supportive of such initiatives, especially in mental health, so I would work with the community on implementing those programs.


Part of the job as a director of Human Services, I felt, was to help the community recognize some of the problems. When I went to Taylor County, the former director of Social Services said that they didn’t have a single case of child abuse. After one year of being there, we had reported 52 cases. It was just a matter of the community becoming aware and the state also enabling, or requiring, certain people such as the schools and the hospitals to report child abuse.


Do you have any advice for current students in the School of Social Work to prepare themselves for their future careers?

By all means be a part of and pay attention to the community and local community values. Community involvement, such as service on boards and committees, is important because you become acquainted with the larger community instead of the confines of a social work department or agency. You can learn the values of the community and start to work in their values instead of just pushing entirely your own. In Eau Claire, there are five social workers of the 29 county board members, and it makes a positive difference. For example, social workers have been instrumental in creating Eau Claire County’s four specialized treatment courts, respectively for veterans, those in need of assistance for alcohol and drug use, those with mental illness, and single mothers of kids under 12. Certainly the social work background encourages a lot of community coordination.

Last edited by karnaky on Wednesday, February 04, 2015 | Printer Friendly Version