Well, today is the day we got it fixed -- we are unsure how, but this is what we did...
We installed the two MADWifi packages from Synaptic that we found, rebooted. Tried installing wifi through PCC using ndiswrapper and the athwi package that the program offered. This, of course, didn't work. In fact it worked so badly that the next time i rebooted and went to Network it wouldn't allow me to install using the already installed pci card, but instead only offered me Ndiswrapper and in fact i never got ndiswrapper fully setup bec. it alwasys said it was missing -- ndiswrapper!
Anyway, on one of the reboots i remembered to turn off wireless on the front of the computer and leave the lan connected. This allowed me to boot into the desktop and then run PCC and to finally delete that adapter. i also went into Synaptic and totally uninstalled the two MADWifi packages. When i rebooted the next time and had wireless turned on, i was able to see that wireless was actually connected to one of my neighbor's wireless which doesn't require any key! So i unplugged the lan, just to make sure and sure enough, it stayed connected!
So, i decided to go the final mile and see if i could connect it to our router. During the configuration it already had the password
so i just closed that window and finally hit ... Connect. Which it very obediently did. Victory!
Thanks for all your help and suggestions. i also got a lot of help and encouragement from LinuxQuestions.. http://www.linuxquestions.org/questions/showthread.php?p=4401595#post4401595
What went wrong originally, what really fixed this problem, i don't really know. It remains a hidden mystery.
Have a great afternoon!