Alexander Hamilton – A “Hot Topic”

–submitted by Roger Phelps; photo by Mike Engelberger

kaminski-john-12-7-16Alexander Hamilton is a “hot topic” these days.  With the incredible success of Hamilton: An American Musical, there is a lot of review and interpretation of this founding father and his role in history.  According to today’s speaker – Professor John Kaminski – Hamilton was a pivotal player at a pivotal time in our history’s foundation and early years.  However, the play offers a somewhat skewed image of Alexander Hamilton.  It mainly focuses on his positive attributes and contribution without offering much offsetting insight into this patriot’s well-established contrarian views in supporting a strong central government, active central government financial controls, and related topics.

Hamilton’s background as an orphaned illegitimate child and his minimal education continued to plague him throughout his career and contributed to his “fear of concealing his background.”  It has an impact on his personal philosophies and his resulting cautious approach to career advancement.  Hamilton’s personal introspection followed him all his life.

He played a key role in the Revolutionary War and joined President Washington’s cabinet as Treasury Secretary.  In that role, he and Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, developed major conflicts on a number of topics.  Most of them involved a different vision of the role and structure of the United States government.  Hamilton preferred a strong Presidency and a strong congress.  He looked to Britain as the model.  He had earlier advocated for a President for Life and Senators for Life – concepts that were rejected by Jefferson, Madison and others in drafting the Constitution.   Jefferson, on the other hand, was more optimistic about the individual states and their citizens to guide the government’s role in shaping this new nation.

Perhaps Alexander Hamilton’s best writing can be found in the Federalist Papers that he authored with James Madison and John Jay.  This set of essays has been instrumental in revealing the insight that went into the wording of the Constitution.

Hamilton played a critical role in the Presidential Election of 1800.  Although he was not officially a candidate, he helped manipulate the process including trying to change the way the Electoral College picked a winner.  This was typical of Hamilton who used manipulation throughout his career to advance his own ideas.  Ultimately the US House of Representatives chose Thomas Jefferson as the winner.

In 1804, Hamilton and Aaron Burr fought a duel over personal honor.  Hamilton was mortally wounded.

Professor Kaminski’s review of Hamilton’s life clearly described a patriot who was radical and revolutionary – a risk taker who had a huge stake in the formation and early years of the US government.  We Rotarians owe him a debt of gratitude to shine light on this important founding father.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here courtesy of WisconsinEye.


Autumn Hike in the Arboretum

–submitted by Kay Schwichtenberg; photos by Jeff Tews


Indiana Jones would have been proud… sort of!  15 Rotarians and guests set out for a hiking adventure on Saturday morning, December 3, at the UW Arboretum.   High spirited and bundled up for the looming winter weather, we set out to find Madison’s ‘Lost City’ and enjoy the woods, prairies and savannas along the way.

The Arboretum is amazing this time of the year.  While the lilac grove definitely is brighter in bloom, it makes for an interesting backdrop against the changing landscape ready for another Madison season.

Along the way we encountered 25 turkeys.  One of which was easily large enough to be ridden by Ellie Schatz or worthy of a Presidential pardon before Thanksgiving.

Now, back to that ‘Lost City’.  While we gave it our best attempt, it will remain lost to this group … for now.  Another attempt will be made in the spring.  So join us on the next Rotary hiking adventure.

Cost Effective Reduction of Emissions Attributable to Hospitals

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski; photo by John Bonsett-Veal


Club President-Elect Donna Hurd with Dr. Jeffrey Thoompson

Anyone who has spent any time in a hospital – as a patient, visitor, staff or volunteer – is aware of the high use of fossil fuels needed to heat, cool, light and operate equipment in these buildings. In fact, our November 30 speaker, Jeffrey Thompson, noted that a hospital is 2.5 times as energy-intensive as a hotel or other commercial building of the same size.

As CEO of Gundersen Health System in La Crosse from 2001 to 2015, Thompson led the organization through a rigorous and successful initiative to reduce its carbon footprint. They did it, he said, to advance their organizational mission to improve the health and well-being of Gundersen’s patients and communities. There were three objectives behind the effort: 1) to boost the health of the local population; 2) lower the overall cost of care; and 3) improve the experience of care at Gundersen.  A goal from the beginning was to accomplish this without passing the costs on to patients.

Emissions from the fossil fuels burned to power hospitals and clinics cause a myriad of public health problems, including cancers, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease and strokes. In addition, hospitals produce hazardous wastes, including pharmaceuticals, which pollute our waters.

With 7,600 employees, 61 clinics and six hospitals, Gundersen now is internationally recognized for its energy conservation and innovation. It operates the only energy-independent hospital in the world.

Thompson stressed that not only was the initiative the right thing to do, but it has been financially successful as well. To fund the initiative Gundersen diverted five percent of the assets it otherwise would have invested in stocks and bonds. The project led to significant savings and an impressive return on this investment.

Gundersen has increased its recycling rate to 40 percent, compared to a national average of less than 10 percent. They have cut cafeteria food waste by 80 percent, preventing approximately 18 tons of food from going to the landfill each year. They have established a donation program for leftover food that provided more than 6,000 meals in 2014. They have reduced hazardous pharmaceutical waste 17-fold.

Conservation should be our first fuel, said Thompson. It is the best place to start and offers the best returns. The Gundersen team looked for conservation opportunities in every aspect of their operations. The hospitals and clinics now are 53 percent more efficient than in 2008.

Gundersen has launched a biomass boiler, a geothermal field, and landfill and dairy biogas operations. They have installed solar hot water and wind power. Working with county government, they now heat and cool one campus completely with biogas from a landfill.  Thompson said this project had a three- to four-year return on investment for the county, and a seven- to eight-year return for the health system.

Gundersen’s investment in the energy infrastructure project had a 10-12 percent return on investment in the same period that its investments in Treasury bills, stocks and bonds returned 5.8 percent.

Thompson has been invited to the White House, the Paris climate talks and Beijing to talk about energy conservation. But he said there is much we can do to conserve energy without even waiting for government to act. The Gundersen project, he said, can be scaled down to the personal level or expanded across different industries. He encouraged people to do more to conserve energy in their personal lives. He also noted that if healthcare, schools and the business community acted together, they could vastly improve the well-being of most of our population.

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video


What’s So Exciting About the First Folio?

–submitted by Dave Mollenhoff; photo by Mike Engelberger

“It’s the book that gave us Shakespeare,” explained Joshua Calhoun in a spirited talk to the club.  “Just imagine,” continued Calhoun, an assistant professor of English at the UW Madison, “When Shakespeare died 400 years ago, only half of his 36 plays had been printed.”  Without the First Folio we would never have known the Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, the Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, MacBeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.  Happily, all of these and several more were published in 1623 in one of the most famous books ever printed.  And what a book it was!  Four pounds, 900 pages, 2 inches thick and about 13 inches high and 9 inches wide.  And expensive!  In today’s dollars, it would have cost at least $250.  Only 750 were printed and about 250 survive.

This rare book is the centerpiece of an exhibit at the Chazen and will be on display until December 11.  Accompanying the book is a thoughtfully-curated exhibit entitled “The Globe’s Global in Shakespeare’s time.”  The exhibit has triggered a great surge of interest throughout Wisconsin.

Calhoun delights in getting his students to contrast today’s media and technology with Shakespeare’s.  “It’s about the power of words,” concluded Calhoun.  “It’s about what makes us human.”

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video here.

The First Folio!: The Book that Gave us Shakespeare

–submitted by Ellie Schatz; photos by Valerie Johnson

dsc00571The First Folio!: The Book that Gave us Shakespeare is on exhibit at the Chazen Museum until December 11. On Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 9, nearly 40 Rotarians of the Special Events Fellowship Group and their guests enjoyed a foray into the life of Shakespeare and the preservation of his works, followed by a social hour at the University Club.

Folio is a term for a big book, usually reserved for royal, religious or reference materials. The Shakespeare folio was published in 1623, 7 years after Shakespeare’s death, the first folio in England devoted to plays. This complicated project, containing more than 900 pages, was put together by 2 of Shakespeare’s friends and acting colleagues. Of 233 copies remaining of the 750 that are estimated to have been printed, the one here is on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C., carefully encased under glass and open to the Hamlet soliloquy, “To be or not to be.”

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The First Folio contains 36 plays, printed one right after another; The Tempest is the first. Eighteen of the plays had not appeared in print before the First Folio was printed. So we would not have Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, The Winter’s Tale, Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like it, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, and several other plays were it not for this book.

Because of the way in which the First Folios were printed and have been handled over the ages, no two First Folios are alike. A finished First Folio in a calfskin binding cost about £1 in 1623, which today roughly equals between $150-$200. In 2001, a First Folio sold at Christies for just over $6.1 million. The most recent sale was in 2006, when a First Folio sold at Sotheby’s for $5.2 million.


It is presumed that each play was first written down by Shakespeare in his own hand. This handwritten manuscript was most likely written largely in what was known as “secretary hand,” a small script that is hard for us to read today. The author’s manuscript was sent to a scribe or scrivener who copied it over, making what was called a fair copy, a more readable version. Usually, what went to the printing house was the fair copy of a play. There, a typesetter or compositor would read the copy and get to work. Since no copies of the plays have been found written in Shakespeare’s handwriting, the First Folio is the closest thing we have to the plays as Shakespeare wrote them.

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The exhibition also includes 6 panels adorning the walls of the room with general information on the folios and Shakespeare, as well as rooms with posters that have promoted admission to theaters featuring his plays around the world.


New Partnership to Serve Homeless Individuals in our Community

–submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Loretta Himmelsbach

fonder-thom-11-9-16Fellow Rotarian Jackson Fonder—president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Madison—and Bev Thom—chair of the Bethel Lutheran Church homeless ministry board—were our speakers on Wednesday. Jackson led off. He recalled a Christmas Eve in 2015. Scot Sorensen, senior pastor at Bethel Lutheran, was going to have to close the homeless day center at Bethel because funding was ending. The Wisconsin State Journal ran a headline that read “Downtown Shelter to Close.” Somehow, private funding kept the shelter going during the winter. At the same time, Catholic Charities was thinking about what it could do for the homeless. Jackson and Scot, both Downtown Rotarians, met together and entered into a gentleman’s agreement: they would work together to provide day shelter for the homeless. In Madison in January 2016, there were 663 homeless people. Most of them are unseen to the public. Five percent of Madison Public School students are homeless at one time; 40 percent are homeless at some time. It’s a story of people rather than statistics — people who suffer from domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse. A day shelter can provide a sense of belonging, of trust, of family.

Bev Thom offered the stories of three people who affected her:  three vignettes to explain how people become homeless. All suffered from abuse during childhood that profoundly influenced the course of their lives. Bethel gives people shelter and a chance to recover.

Jackson explained that a new day shelter, which he will lead, is scheduled to open in 2017 at 615 E. Washington Avenue, the former Chamber of Commerce building. The building is being completely remodeled and will become the “Homeless Day Resource Center.” He asked for help from people willing to volunteer their time and to serve on an advisory committee. The intention of the new center is to serve the homeless population and to be a great neighbor.

The partnership between Lutherans and Catholics is an historic coming together to serve the Madison community and was facilitated by the fellowship of Downtown Rotary. Jackson asked, “Isn’t that what Rotary is all about?” And he wondered whether this would have happened if Scot and Jackson had not been Downtown Rotarians.

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video here.

The Nature of Autumnal Storms in the Great Lakes States

–submitted by Larry Larrabee; photo by Loretta Himmelsbach

martin-jon-11-2-16With the enthusiasm of Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, Professor Jonathan Martin informed and entertained us regarding the unusually severe nature of November storms in the Great Lake States region.  He is a member of the faculty of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin and nationally recognized for his studies of mid-latitude atmospheric dynamics.

As Professor Martin informed us, UW is the birthplace of satellite meteorology and he was able to share with us numerous satellite images of past storms as they progressed through the Midwestern States.

He began his presentation by providing the physics behind hurricanes and cyclones as they travel across the world, divided north and south by the tropical weather pattern that flows in the opposite direction, east to west.

In his individual description of five specific November storms between 1911 and 2010 he illustrated the uniqueness of these weather phenomena and how the extremes of temperature differences and low barometric pressures contribute most significantly to the relatively high winds associated with these particular inland storms.

For instance, the November 11, 1911 storm contributed that day to Janesville, WI experiencing a daytime high of 70 followed with an overnight low of 20 with a 35-degree drop in just one-hour.  The community also experienced that day an F4 tornado and six inches of snow that evening.

The other storms described had their extremes as well.  In 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald was sunk in Lake Superior as it succumbed to 80-foot waves and on October 26, 2010 the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded on Earth was recorded in Northern Wisconsin.

Professor Martin’s enthusiastic delivery and our in-born fascination with weather and it’s extremes made for an informative and enjoyable program.

If you missed our meeting this week, click to watch the video.