Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison Guest Speaker

Telling the Stories of Madison’s Earliest African American Residents

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Valerie Renk

Muriel Simms 2 20 2019

From left: Marci Henderson, Ron Luskin & Muriel Simms

Our speaker on Wednesday, amidst a snow storm, was Dr. Muriel Simms, the author of a new book, “Settlin’: Stories of Madison’s Early African American Families,” published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The dedication to the book captures its essence: “To the African American families who settled in Madison in the 1800s and early 1900s. They showed strength, courage and pride as they made a better life for themselves and for others in the community.” And Dr. Simms’ talk illustrated this with the stories of people in the book.

Dr. Simms began by speaking about the importance of the oral tradition in the Black community, and oral histories done by Dr. Simms provide much of the content of her book. She also spoke of what motivated her to write the book. She was always interested in history, and she wondered about the ancestral Black families in Madison, including her parents: her mother joined her father here in 1925.

The talk featured stories and photographs of some of the people in the book in four broad categories: military, sports, volunteerism and “other.” Dr. Simms began with a newspaper article from the Wisconsin State Journal about the return of “Buck” Weaver from service during World War II. The headline referred to him as a “Beloved ‘Red Cap’ at the bus station.” He had been killed shortly before the end of the war. She mentioned Al Dockery, a star athlete at Madison Central High; Lois McKnight, a music teacher who volunteered wherever a musician was needed; and Velma Hamilton, one of Madison’s greatest citizens. There were important Black civic groups such as the Utopia Club, the Wisconsin State Federation of Colored Women, and the National Association for the Protection of Colored Women, and the NAACP (Velma Hamilton was the first president of the Madison branch in 1943). Dr. Simms discovered many of these organizations in the issues of the Wisconsin Weekly Blade, the first Black newspaper in Wisconsin, founded in 1916 by J. Anthony Josey, who declared in his mission statement his belief that “the Negro has in his own hands his destiny.”

It was a great talk. If you missed it because of the snow, get a copy of the book and read it.

Economic Outlook 2019

submitted by Valerie Renk; photo by Valerie Renk

Steven Rick 2 13 2019While 2019 is just starting, economists are already looking at their crystal balls. Steven Rick, CUNA Mutual Group Chief Economist started his Feb 13 Rotary speech with a “five-minute Federal Reserve Board Meeting.”   Rick asked, “What is the economy’s most important price?”  It’s money, measured by interest rates.  The Federal Reserve (Fed) is targeting 2% interest.  They also want labor fully employed and capital resources fully employed.

The Fed has five critical measures:

  1. First, we are hitting their two percent inflation (interest) goal. The 2019 forecast is slightly above this and will drive interest rates.
  2. Second, the unemployment rate goal is 5%; actual is 4%. This is one of the tightest labor markets in history, hindering economic growth. Rick expects this to rise again by 2020 and hinted at a slight recession a year and half out.
  3. The third measure is the economic output gap. The Fed’s goal is no gap. Actual is 2%. This is GDP output vs. federal funds rate.
  4. The fourth measure is Feds Funds Interest rate (overnight bank loan rate) which has a goal of 3% and actual of 2.4%.
  5. Fifth is the 10-Year Treasury Rate. That goal is 4% with actual of 2.75%. This means what you earn at your financial institution for savings and CDs will rise.

Rick said four things cause recessions: financial imbalances or excesses; external shock such as war; high inflation; and high inventories.

Home prices are rising 6% while incomes increase 3%. This could lead to another housing bubble.  “But this time is different because there is not excessive demand due to low inventory,” Rick said.

Rick shared a quote:  “Stability leads to instability. The longer things are stable, the more unstable they will be when the crisis hits.”

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

Good news…you can do something to prevent Alzheimer’s…And it’s never too late

submitted by Linda Baldwin; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

nate chin 1 16 2019   We learned from Dr. Nathaniel Chin that lifestyle factors have a great deal to do with forestalling or preventing cognitive decline leading to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).   And positive change takes place no matter your age… if you do physical exercise, eat better foods, lower stress in your life and sleep better.

Dr. Chin is the Director of Medical Services for Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.   He reminds us that thinking changes normally as we age.  We learn at a slower rate; our recall is slower and more challenging and we have less cognitive flexibility.  So those senior moments are pretty normal.

In some, normal aging gives way to mild cognitive impairment and then to dementia due to AD or other diseases.  Through research, there’s been a shift in the definition of AD.  It had been diagnosed through clinical symptoms, but now changes in the brain (biological differences) create the condition of AD.  Tangles and plaques begin to form in the brain…sometimes without symptoms.

Research is now looking at modifiable risk factors that may impact the course of the disease.  So, if you exercise regularly, modify your diet to be healthier, reduce stress, sleep well, engage in social activity; in all engaging in a healthier lifestyle…the trajectory from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease may be slowed and potentially halted regardless of genetic predictors.

Good news…better living through science.

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

Joe Parisi: Update on Dane County

submitted by Mary Borland; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

joe parisi 1 9 2019   Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive since 2011, shared information with downtown Rotarians about area lake cleanups; mental health assistance in our schools and an update on airport expansion.

To address algae growth in our lakes due to too many nutrients flowing into them, partnerships have been formed to address run off at their sources. In urban areas, this means creating more retention ponds and in rural areas, partnering with local farmers to plan buffer strips and to utilize manure digesters. These digesters remove about 60% of the phosphorus which leads to algae bloom. Then with the use of nutrient concentration systems, the remaining 40% of phosphorus is removed!

In addition, centuries old streams contain high phosphorus levels in their muck. Two years ago, the County began a 4 year $12M project to “suck the muck/phosphorus” out of streams. This is proving to be a highly successful project and we have another 33 miles of stream to go.

As we are starting to experience warmer and wetter winters and will likely see more frequent high impact rains according to climate change experts, the County is using software to analyze which “choke points’ along the waterways are moving too slow so they can be opened up. For example, they are looking to remove a lot of muck between lakes Monona and Waubesa and to utilize weed cutters more to help keep the water moving so it doesn’t back up.

With increasing population growth, lands to protect are being identified and will be purchased to keep them available to absorb rain and more wetlands may be purchased for water storage.

The County is investing millions of dollars to increase energy and renewables in county buildings. With MG&E, the county is building a 41 acre solar farm near the airport. We are “walking the walk” and when doing good for the environment we are also doing good for the bottom line”, stated Parisi. We all need to consider climate change action plans.

Regarding mental health services, which is a big part of the county’s budget, partnering with schools is a large initiative. Building Bridges is a school-based mental health program that is a collaboration with Catholic Charities. Some area schools now have mental health professional staff available to meet with young people instead of engaging with law enforcement. Issues are being identified early and students are getting the help they need.  In 2019, an 11th school district is being funded.

Our airport is growing!  2018 brought 5 new destinations bringing the total of non-stop destinations to 19. Terminal modernization is being planned to include larger spaces, new seating and more dining.

In closing, Parisi stated the goal is to not rest until all county residents have access to all we have to offer.

“Onward, Upward, and Forward!”

submitted by Carole Trone

Jennifer Uphoff GrayFounding artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Gray of Madison’s Forward Theater Company attributes their growth and success to the strong community involvement, much like the Rotarians gathered to hear about Forward Theater’s first decade. This has been a successful span, but their success was by no means a given in the early days. Gray noted the precarious economic climate in their founding days and how it confirmed their abiding commitment to a sustainable financial model for the theater and especially for the artists they employ.

“Mission-driven growth” for Forward has focused on four key priorities: support for local artists; arts advocacy; audience engagement; and community impact. Ninety-five percent of the hundred staff hired each season are from south central Wisconsin and are paid at least a living wage, inspiring standards for the broader theater community. This core priority strengthens the community and also the artists’ personal investment in it. These ambitious goals have a solid business model behind it, with a growing annual budget that has always operated in the black. Forward Theater incorporates multiple strategies to encourage dialogue, and their post-performance talkbacks have proven to be a favorite part of the audience experience. Finally, Forward Theater has woven multiple partnerships with area organizations around key themes in their plays. This has deepened the engagement among audiences and community members through collaborative outreach events, author talks, and even fundraising.

Gray promised more growth and partnerships to come as Forward Theater surges into its second decade of successful productions: “Onward, Upward, and Forward!”

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

Human Genome Editing

submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Mike Engelberger

Alta Charo 12 5 2018The recent claim by Chinese scientist  He Jianjui that he successfully altered the DNA of twin girls to build up the twins’ HIV resistance served as a backdrop of the Rotary Club of Madison’s weekly meeting, whose guest speaker Dr. Alta Charo, a UW-Madison professor of law and bioethics, offered as a broad outline of ethical considerations concerning Human Genome Editing.

Jianjui’s actions have drawn wide condemnation by the medical, ethical, and research community as there are allegations that his work lacked an ethical compass that according to Charo at this point in time should be guided by the thought that “other than prevention or treatment” human genome editing “should not proceed.”

Genome editing, according to Dr. Charo, is best explained by “adding, deleting, inactivating, or making targeted alterations” of DNA. Genome editing is acceptable practice in research laboratories. Somatic gene therapy, in which therapeutic DNA is integrated in the genome, is a process used to treat disease that is highly regulated. “Somatic gene therapy should only be employed for treatment and prevention but not for enhancement,” said Dr. Charo. Gene therapy cancer vaccines are being developed , but among the most common uses today of somatic gene therapy are to treat cystic fibrosis, heart disease, hemophilia and AIDS.

If human genome editing is pursued for purposes of enhancement, there are obviously significant risks. Among the medical concerns rising to the very top is the potential of newly introduced genes not interacting with the existing gene structure. Dr. Charo characterized the ethical concerns revolving around the idea that human mankind may be closer to “making a step toward designer babies.” Other ethical concerns in Jianjui’s work is “the lack of consent by the affected person” and circumventing the traditional medical peer review process, instead publicizing his work directly with popular media sources. In summarizing Jianjui’s work, Dr. Charo said “two edited baby girls have been born.”

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

Stu Levitan Tells Rotarians About Madison and Club Members in the Sixties

submitted by Jerry Thain

Stu LevitanThe 1960s were a tumultuous decade in the United States and certainly in Madison.  Club member Stu Levitan drew on his new book “Madison in the Sixties” to illustrate his talk to the Club on November 7th.  The book, whose genesis was 34,000 articles from Madison newspapers of the decade reviewed by Stu by digital scanning (followed by more in depth research) focuses on five major issues of the time –civil rights, University of Wisconsin, urban renewal, Monona Terrace and student unrest – but Stu’s remarks to the Club dealt with the involvement of Club members in the 1960s, not only appropriate to the audience but also a natural theme given the prominence of so many Rotarians in the life of Madison then, as always.  Space does not allow for more than a few examples of the highlights of the presentation so for a full listing one will just have to buy the book!

Among the Rotarians prominent in the chronicle of Madison in the 1960s were current member Mitch Javid, the physician who treated UW boxer Charlie Mohr after his injury, ultimately fatal, in the ring at the NCAA boxing tourney in Madison.  Two mayors during the decade were Rotarians – Henry Reynolds & Bill Dyke.  Pat Lucey, who eventually would be elected Governor, was a Rotarian and prominent realtor in the city.  He was the only realtor to speak in favor of a fair housing ordinance which eventually passed.  Other Rotarians of the time included the two Madison police chiefs of the decade and the UW football coach, Ivy Williamson.  Rotarian Arlie Mucks advocated, initially unsuccessfully, for admission of Jews to the Madison Club in the nid-1960s.  Current member Nelson Cummings joined the Club in that decade as the leader of the Madison Urban League and, as older Club members know, was able to find housing for his family in the city only after a long struggle to do so.

Rotarian Judge Joe Jackson was the presiding jurist at the trial of students charged in the disturbances related to protests of Dow Chemical conducting interviews on campus.  Jackson also was the judge in the trial of the female performers who danced nude in a psychedelic theatrical version of Peter Pan.  Rotarian James Boll was the prosecuting attorney in each instance.

Among those speaking to the Club in the 1960s were General Lewis Hershey, head of the draft, whose presence drew many protestors, and Warren Knowles, whose remarks denouncing student activism on the Madison campus apparently were well received, and came less than a month before his re-election as Governor of Wisconsin.

For greater detail, see the book!

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