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New Leader Of Milwaukee Turners Embraces The Motto 'Sound Mind In A Sound Body'

Emilio De Torre was named executive director of the Milwaukee Turners in June of 2020 after working for 14 years at the ACLU of Wisconsin.
Adam Carr
Emilio De Torre was named executive director of the Milwaukee Turners in June of 2020 after working for 14 years for the ACLU of Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee Turners were founded in 1853 with the Turner motto: “Sound Mind in a Sound Body."

The organization quickly became an important cultural hub lead by German Americans and German immigrants who promoted physical health and progressive politics. Over the years, they've worked to support causes such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, worker’s rights, immigrant rights and the elimination of corruption.

Turner Hall in downtown Milwaukee also boasts one of the oldest continuously running gyms and the second oldest climbing wall in the United States.

In June of 2020, Milwaukee Turners named Emilio De Torre its new executive director. De Torre had spent the last 14 years working for the ACLU of Wisconsin.

“When I saw [the executive director position] was open, I leapt on it because this is a fantastic opportunity to have this beautiful building here in the heart of Milwaukee live up to its charge of supporting liberty, tolerance, reason and justice,” he says.

Turner Hall members sit on gymnastics equipment with ropes and swings overhead
James Steakley
Wikimedia Commons
Turners sit atop gymnastics equipment in Turner Hall, ca. 1900

Since the 1960s, De Torre says the Milwaukee Turners had taken on a lower profile in the city, but he has made it his mission to change that. He says he is focused on making sure that the Turners membership is representative of all the different communities in Milwaukee. And as a result, the organization now has its highest number of card-carrying members since the 1800s.

De Torre says they have also tried to spend more time listening to what the community needs from the Turners. He has developed partnerships with groups like Ayuda Mutua MKE, the Brown Berets and Metcalfe Park Community Bridges to be a part of the growing mutual aid community in Milwaukee.

“The strong ideals that created the Turners, and the way that they were able to serve Milwaukee and the different communities of Milwaukee based on the different principals and ideals, is what we need to re-embrace now,” says De Torre.

This includes using their space to continue their mission of building sound minds and bodies, such as using the large Turner Hall to hold socially distanced social events, fitness workouts and events to work on improving mental health.

“We want to provide service and support, we want to be a vital organ in the body that is Milwaukee,” he says.

Ben Binversie was a producer with WUWM's Lake Effect program.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.