Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison Guest Speaker

TR Loon Brings Fun & Games to Rotary

submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Mike Engelberger

HO7A6660The Rotary Club of Madison treated its membership at its August 15 Club meeting to fun and games – highly appropriate in that the day represented the Club’s annual Bring-Your-Child or Grandchild to Rotary Day.

Sitting up front and center, about 50 Rotary children were treated to the wacky magic of TR Loon – The Truly Remarkable Loon, also known as the “Juggler from Madison.”

In a highly engaging performance, TR Loon held kids captive and adults entertained by completing the incredible feat of spinning ten plates or as TR Loon reminded the audience “simultaneously at the same time.”

In inviting the kids to help him count the number of plates spinning, he reminded the audience that “there are three kinds of jugglers – those who can count and those who cannot.”

Humor aside, TR Loon indeed had ten plates spinning simultaneously, all the while receiving help from the kids, who alerted him when any one of the plates appeared to be at the brink of no longer spinning and thus crashing. The absolute highlight, however, was when TR Loon invited the kids in the audience and a few fun-loving adults to launch flying monkeys to bring the ten spinning plates down. The image of spinning plates being brought down by flying monkeys represented to this fun-loving news reporter our Club’s finest moment, and elicited a comment from a Club member that the scene was not much unlike what happens at the State Capitol.

At the end of TR Loon’s presentation, Stephanie Richards, CEO of the Madison Circus Space, informed members that her organization is in the midst of a capital campaign to build a new center in Madison. Circus Space promotes the circus arts as an important art form by teaching interested children and adults on various circus arts such as juggling or aerial stunts.

National Parks – The Joy Trip Project; “Closing the Gap” & Ensuring Access to Our Parks by Diverse Populations

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski

James Edward MillsAugust 1 guest speaker James Edward Mills grew up in a family steeped in the civil rights movement in Los Angeles. His father, who served on the city council and was called the “de facto Mayor of LA” for a time, was an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. His parents strove to make it possible for children of color in their community to achieve, excel and become anything they wanted. They supported James in what he wanted, which was to excel in outdoors adventure.

Right out of college Mills took a backpacking trip from the rim to the floor of the Grand Canyon. He explored Yosemite National Park and climbed the tallest mountain in California, Mount Whitney. He couldn’t help but notice that there were not many adventurers in these places who looked like him.

It’s true. African Americans make up only two percent of the visitors to the National Parks and an even smaller percentage of those who participate in more strenuous adventures. Mills wanted to change that. In 2012 he was part of an expedition of six men and three women who were the first all African American team to climb Denali. In 2016 he won the lottery – that is, the lottery to have a permit to raft through the Grand Canyon. On that adventure the guide told Mills that he was the first African American to join one of his rafting trips in his 40 years on the Colorado River.

As a freelance journalist who has worked in several roles in the outdoor industry since 1989, Mills wants to change the narrative. He learned from documentarian Ken Burns, who produced the series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” that African Americans have long been engaged in the preservation of natural areas. For example, the “Buffalo Soldiers” were members of peacetime all-black regiments of the U.S. Army in the early 20th century. Burns said they were, in effect, the first national park rangers, and they were instrumental in preserving the giant redwoods in California.

Mills figured that if he had not heard that story before, most other people had not heard it either. He launched a blog called The Joy Trip Project (joytripproject.org) to document stories of African Americans engaged in outdoors adventure. Mills also is the author of a new book, “The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors.”

Mills believes that if equality means you can do anything, that includes climbing mountain peaks. He takes literally the words in Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York… from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania… from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado… from the curvaceous slopes of California!”

But you don’t have to go to one of these spectacular places to change the narrative, Mills said. He lauded places in Madison, such as Troy Gardens, the Ice Age Trail and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, which are making intentional efforts to show a broad diversity of people who enjoy natural areas and work to preserve their beauty. He said children need to be introduced to nature from a science perspective, not just for recreation.

“Nature isn’t just the national parks,” Mills said. “Every time you enjoy a sip of water, a fresh salad or a breath of clean air, you benefit from the preservation of natural areas and resources.”

“Bring Back Civics Education!”

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Pete Christianson

Luke Fuszard 7 18 2018

From left: Paul Ranola, Luke Fuszard and Rick Kiley

Luke Fuszard spoke to us this week on the decline of civics education, which he says places democracy at risk. Luke is a software engineer and has an MBA.  No civics background. But he does have two children, and he is concerned about the decline in civics education.

In 1954 Kentucky required three years of history and civics, and students had to pass a very tough statewide exam. Only nine states today require any such education, and Wisconsin is not one of them. The result is a predictable widespread ignorance. Ninety-seven percent of immigrants taking the [relatively easy] citizenship exam pass it. Thirty-three percent of native citizens who take the same test fail it. For most of American history, it was generally believed that solid civics and history knowledge was needed for people to be good citizens. That seems no longer to be the case.

Two occasions seem to have sped this decline in interest: (1) Sputnik in 1957; (2) the 1983 report, “A Nation at Risk.” Both incentivized the teaching of math and science, and as these expanded, history and civics courses were reduced. Middleton and Wausau still have robust civics programs. Wisconsin has recently adopted a statewide civics exam, but it is online and can be taken multiple times. And in 2012, all federal funds were shifted away from civics or history to math and science.

Why are civics and history important? Many math majors will never be mathematicians. Many science majors will never be scientists. But everyone will eventually be a member of the body politic. Since 1776, hundreds of thousands of people have given their lives in defense of our freedom and our democracy. The least we can do is to lobby our legislators to support civics education. Much civic behavior is learned in childhood: We should pass on to our children our belief in the importance of being an educated citizen, able to make informed political decisions.

Our thanks to Wisconsin Eye for videotaping our meeting this week.  You can watch the video here.

An Update on Stretch Targets for Wisconsin

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

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Dave Baskerville and Club President Donna Hurd

Fellow Rotarian Dave Baskerville spoke to Rotarians and guests about “Stretch Targets for Wisconsin,” an effort he heads dedicated to the proposition that this state can do much better economically than it has for the past forty years. It must set targets for ten years ahead and work to achieve them, just as new or struggling businesses do. Dave emphasized two areas: The economy and education. First he compared trends in Wisconsin to what has been happening in Minnesota. Thirty-eight years ago, the two states were virtually equivalent economically. In the years since, Minnesota has done far better in various important economic statistics, especially job growth and average wage growth. One difficulty, as both Dave and questioner Marv Levy pointed out, is that Wisconsin has had a hard time retaining its formerly great businesses, either because they relocate or the industry atrophies; and, as Dave indicated, Wisconsin has done a poor job of attracting new ones.

Education is an important element in this story. In math, science, and reading, the U.S. ranks 36th among the nations of the world; Wisconsin is better, but can do better. A goal would be to equal such national performers as Singapore, Japan, or Canada by 2038. Dave argued that it can be done, just as nations have arisen from destructive wars to become leaders. In 1993, Massachusetts and Wisconsin were about equal in achievement rates. Now, Massachusetts is in the top ten. It succeeded by establishing rigorous goals for teachers and students. Today, the poor in Massachusetts have the highest wages in the country. There are several schools in Milwaukee that have demonstrated great success despite the prevailing poverty of its children, including one high school that was rated the best in the country by US News.

Success in these Stretch goals can lead to progress in job skills, social mobility and justice, and national security. Wisconsin has great resources and people, and these have to be mobilized. The state’s white high school students currently rank 41st in reading, and its black students rate 49th. The state ranks 40th in average wages. But just as Vince Lombardi transformed the lowly 1958 Packers into the powerhouse teams of the 1960s, Wisconsin can achieve great things by setting goals and working to meet them.

Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week, and you can watch the video here.

Ted DeDee on His Tenure at Overture

submitted by Dave Nelson; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Ted DeDee 4 25 2018Ted DeDee outlined the challenges he faced when he became president and CEO of the Overture Center for the Arts in 2012 and the achievements at Overture during the six-year period that will end with his retirement at the end of the 2017-2018 season. DeDee inherited a public dispute about the management of Overture, as Overture was transferred from city management to private nonprofit status.  He organized Overture as a start-up company while respecting the history of the Center and the role of the extraordinary Frautschi contribution. During those six years, Overture maintained a positive financial situation with donor support going from $12.4 million to $22.6 million; generated a cash reserve of a million dollars; and developed programming that included 11 weeks of Broadway shows that brought ticket buyers from all over the Midwest. DeDee particularly noted that the Frostiball had become an invaluable part of the Overture fundraising program.

Another change under DeDee’s leadership was an increase in diversity and inclusion. People of color now comprise the Overture Board, and Overture works with over 200 community partners to make performances accessible to students who might not otherwise afford performances. Club 10 offers $10 tickets to more than 50 shows during the year.

As DeDee’s retirement approaches, Overture is beginning to develop a “living strategic plan” that will provide flexible directions for the next decade.

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

Brandon: Behold the New Madison Economy!

submitted by Dave Mollenhoff; photo by Mike Engelberger

Zach Brandon 4 18 2018Zach Brandon, President of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, wants civic leaders to see a great new future for Madison.  Today’s perception is that Madison is a place of government and education and not a very good place for business.  But that is not the Madison that is evolving before our eyes, he asserted in a spirited talk.

In 1948, Life carried a cover story with a question: Is Madison the best place to live in the country?  Since then dozens of magazines have trumpeted Madison’s superlatives.  But in the last twenty years national writers have been touting a new surprising set of superlative metrics, a place that is among the top cities in the country measured in economic momentum, confidence about the future, percentage of tech workers, educational attainment, millennials in high tech positions and overall innovation.  These are the qualities of the future workforce, which we ignore at our great peril.

“How can we best nurture this exciting new future for this special city?” Brandon asked.  Only if we find better ways to recruit our future work force, he replied.   To find out how to do this, the Chamber hired Brainjuice, a London company that specializes in effective recruiting campaigns.  Their 500-person national survey produced some surprising and critically important findings.

Workers in Madison’s new economy consciously seek something special—a city where their experience is more important than possessions, a city where natural beauty abounds, a city that crackles with spirit, life of the mind, cutting edge knowledge, justice and equity.  This is the city our discerning future workers seek, Brandon emphasized.

Armed with this template, the Chamber is creating new communication tools using drones and state-of-the art video techniques to give prospective new economy workers a vivid and compelling image of the city.

What a privilege to hear this new vision!

Madison Public Market Coming in 2020

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Mike Engelberger

Trey Sprinkman & Amanda White 4 11 2018Two Rotarians, Trey Sprinkman and Amanda White, are part of the effort to create a public market in Madison, and they reported to us today at the Alliant Energy Center. In addition, nine vendors were available prior to the meeting to provide free samples of the goods they might have available at the new market. These vendors remained after the meeting to show and sell their goods (including dog treats made from Wisconsin trout!).

The new Madison Public Market, which will be located at First Street and East Washington Avenue, seeks to replicate public markets that exist in many cities in America and elsewhere. It will open in 2020 after groundbreaking next year. The project will be financed with $8.5 million in contributions from the city, $2.5 million in tax credits, and perhaps $4 million in contributions from the community. A major fund-raising effort has been launched. When the Market is opened, it is expected that thirty-five new businesses will be launched in the first year and that the Market will attract 500,000 visitors every year, with sales of from $16 million to $20 million annually. One hundred and eighty businesses already have expressed an interest in participating.

The market will celebrate local cultures and the local economy. It will make available food that is to be found nowhere else in the city. Unlike the farmers’ markets, it will be indoors and year round. Its 30,000 square feet will become a hot place in town. It’s the “next big project” in Madison. After three years of city support, the Public Market will be self-sustaining. It will be a driver of entrepreneurial development and diversity: 83 percent of the workers will be people of color, 60 percent will be women, 33 percent will be first-generation immigrants. There will be a hybrid of old established businesses and new ones. Trey and Amanda encouraged members to join in the effort to create this Madison Public Market. Their brochure invited people to visit their website, www.madisonpublicmarket.org, to learn how they can support this “next big project.”

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