Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison

Keeping Dane County Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This week’s presentation by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Rotarian Charles Tubbs, Director of Dane County Emergency Management, was not philosophical, but it was profound.  Many club members have limited contact with or personal need for the services our speakers described.  But in this period of colliding glaciers—the things that keep Charles Tubbs up at night—the scale and complexity of work performed by Dane County–is staggering.

Dane County responded to the pandemic mid-March, when it issued the first stay-at-home orders in the state and moved 80% of its staff to virtual work.

The County is addressing especially the negative impact of the crises on shortages of funds for rent and food, and for small businesses and unemployment:  partnering with Second Harvest Bank and local farmers, spending $6 million to-date and an additional $1 million per month; using $11 million in grant funds for the “Dane Buy Local” initiative; $3.5 million for grants up to $15,000 to licensed child care providers; and earmarking $10 million for tenant rent coverage.

Alliant Energy Center now houses a 400-bed reserve field hospital, which also stockpiles personal protective equipment, administers about 2,000 Covid-19 tests daily, and follows up positive tests with contact tracing.

Charles Tubbs puts in seven-day weeks on more functions than can be contained here:  Conference calls of up to 450 people daily with parallel agencies and policy sources; staying in touch with 61 county units of government; keeping social media up to date; housing the homeless; and on-the-ground work with United Way. 

Tubbs says three things keep him awake at night:  threats such as active shooters, civil unrest, and cyber-attacks; severe weather and climate change; and the pandemic . . . to which one could add, the need for sustained federal financial support.

Dane County’s work is sometimes unsung, but it is critical to the fabric of Dane County’s society.

Our thanks to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and to Charles Tubbs for their presentation this week and to Ellsworth Brown for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:

Pivoting for Change and Adaptation

In the Q&A following Chazen Director Amy Gilman’s presentation, she was asked if pandemic adjustments have had any benefits.   She replied that as the continuum suddenly ended, stillness enabled the Chazen—actually, all of us—to pivot from thoughts about how to return to normalcy and about how the museum can be more intentional about the future fulfillment of its mission.

The Chazen, a UW-Madison museum, has turned its attention to digital/virtual communication, foregoing written communication; alignment of resources (and possible shortages of tax income) with programs; expanding attention to donor communications; creating virtual programming; development of collections; the rejuvenation of the original Chazen facility to more reflect change over time; and applying the measures of diversity and inclusiveness to all elements of its work.  In particular, she recommended to us Parkland: Birth of a Movement by David Cullen.

Two programs are illustrative:  First, virtual tours are in development in support of the UW Art History program, which was accustomed to using the museum’s galleries as part of its activities.  And the Chazen asked 100 Black Men of Madison what is needed by those whom they serve and that the museum could provide.  The result was 1,400 complete kits for two “making art” projects, complete with instructions, examples and necessary supplies . . . part of a significant museum pivot.

Extensive and significant responses to questions followed.  Several focused on the Alliance of American Museums’ forecast that 30% of the nation’s museums—not just art, and usually smaller and more fragile—might fold.  Gilman provided professionally accepted ethical standards for care of collections including their disposition to other museums with shared missions or use of funds from sales of collections for the care and growth of collections rather than for operations.

This was a thoughtful, introspective and constructive presentation informed by a continuing history of service to a variety of audiences—and complete with an invitation to virtual services now and to return to visits when possible.

Our thanks to Amy Gilman for her presentation this week and to Ellsworth Brown for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:

“What Good Shall I Do Today?”

First, the surprise news:  District Governor Bill Pritchard asked the president of each club in our district to select a “Yes Person” for recognition by Governor Pritchard, a person who always says “yes” when needed.

President Jorge selected Brian Basken, who assembles weekly the YouTube meetings we view as a cohesive whole.  Each club’s recipient will receive a journal imprinted with Benjamin Franklin’s words “What good shall I do this day?”  And one among the many named recipients will be given a free trip to the June 2021 Rotary International conference in Teipei, Taiwan.  Congratulations and thanks, Brian!

Governor Pritchard is no stranger to our club.  A “numbers guy”, he recited statistics of our attendance, membership decline, and diversity, as well as key metrics of exemplary participation in fellowship groups, charitable giving and community support, and generous contributions to District 6250 and Rotary International.

He addressed the current “new virtual normal” and the need to pivot in our long-term approach to club needs with a “hybrid future” that may provide useful flexibility in our operations. 

Governor Pritchard also urged us to hold new members’ attention into the critical three-year member mark that cements interest, by ensuring that each new member’s expectations are deliberately discerned and addressed.

If you haven’t seen the Governor’s speech yet, it’s worth watching.  Those with questions for Governor Pritchard may send them to Jorge or the Rotary office so that they may be shared with the Governor next Tuesday when he attends our club’s Board meeting.

Our thanks to District Governor Bill Pritchard for his presentation this week and to Ellsworth Brown for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:     

Building a New Vision for Downtown Madison

Club President Jorge Hidalgo (left) pictured here with guest speaker and fellow Rotarian Jason Ilstrup (right)

The recent protests calling for social justice and racial equality have awakened many to the challenges people of color face daily that create barriers to business ownership and feeling safe and welcome downtown.

Downtown Madison, Inc. President Jason Ilstrup defined the “downtown” footprint adding that the Business Improvement Impact’s footprint is more centrally focused around the square. Eighty-five percent of downtown residents are 18-34.  Many are college students who may not return to living downtown at this time. Also, many employees are working from home. Events and tourism are also on hold. Thus, the footprint of people living, working and visiting downtown has shrunk.  Seventy percent of revenue for shopping/retail comes from events and tourism; our economy is challenged.

COVID-19 has shed light on the racial disparities that exist in our community – including business ownership, employment, transportation, health care, education and safety. Now is the time for us to address these issues and be change agents to create a downtown that is truly welcoming. Dense cities have creative centers, employment opportunities and create the environment for regular collaboration to meet diverse needs. We need to invest intentionally to create a thriving, diverse center.

DMI has assembled a Downtown Recovery group to develop short- and long-term actions to support economic recovery and a welcoming environment that breaks down racial disparities. Goals include mitigating business closures, supporting entrepreneurs of color, increasing safety, making use of public spaces and finding ways to support safe outdoor and indoor retail/dining options. It will take a collaborative effort from businesses, the city, individuals, non-profits and the entire community to build this new vision.

Please send Jason your ideas for downtown’s future, order take out from local restaurants and buy local to support local jobs.

Our thanks to club member Jason Ilstrup for his presentation this week and to Emily Gruenewald for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:   

Meeting Some “Extraordinary Ordinary” People in Dairylandia

Born and raised on the east coast, Steve Hannah (right) fell in love with the Midwest years ago when a planned cross-country trip was detoured then cut short in Wisconsin. At our meeting this week, Brady Williamson (left) interviewed Steve about his new book, Dairylandia: Dispatches from a State of Mind, that captures the charming, extraordinary “ordinary” people of Wisconsin. Dairylandia features 30 of Hannah’s profiles he collected from around the state during his career as a journalist.

Hannah describes Wisconsinites as modest, humble and seldom “get too big for their skis.” He gave an example of a New Jersey lottery winner who spoke loudly of his “huge luck” and long list of expensive purchases he planned to make. By contrast, when he interviewed lottery winners on Fond du Lac’s “Miracle Mile,” a $1 million winner decided he’d purchase a Kitchen Aide mixer because he “liked to cook” and a teacher who won $100 million remarked quietly “it’s not too bad” to win such a sum after years of working hard for a teacher’s salary.

Hannah was struck by the open, candid, unfiltered stories people told him, especially elderly people who had lived extraordinary lives that seemed completely uninteresting to themselves. Hannah entertained us with a taste of these stories: words of wisdom from an elderly woman (try not to be boring, don’t tell others if your friends or neighbors are going out of town or you’re inviting a robbery), philosophies of a rattlesnake hunter and a woman who froze her pet robin because she just couldn’t bear to part with him. These were some of his favorite assignments that drew him closer to his adopted state and the people who quietly make it a wonderful, interesting place to live.

While we couldn’t offer Steve’s book for sale at the meeting as we normally would, it is available for sale on Amazon.

Our thanks to Steve Hannah and Brady Williamson for their presentation this week and to Emily Gruenewald for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:

Can Wisconsin Transform the Lives of Black Women and Their Families?

submitted by Emily Gruenewald

Lisa Peyton Caire 8 5 2020Lisa Peyton-Caire is the Founding CEO and President of The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness (FFBWW), a Wisconsin based organization committed to eliminating health disparities and other barriers impacting Black women, their families and communities.

When Lisa’s mother passed away from heart disease in 2006 at the age of 64, she reflected on the number of black women in her life who had died in middle age. She realized her mother’s death wasn’t an anomaly and began researching the broader influences on Black women’s health. Since forming FWBBW in 2012, the Foundation now serves over 5,000 women and girls each year through direct health education, wellness programming, leadership development and advocacy while mobilizing women and community partners to be change agents in advancing health equity.

Wisconsin is number one in the nation for: racial inequities, economic inequities, health disparities, birth disparities, educational disparities, Black child poverty and over-incarceration. These disparities and inequities create a constant stress on daily life that negatively impacts overall health and wellness for Black women and their families. Lisa encourages us to read the “Saving Our Babies Report” ( to understand the significant health crisis Black women and children face in Dane County, and the initiatives to advance maternal, child and family wellbeing.

When asked what we can do to help transform the systems impacting Black women’s health to take Wisconsin from being the worst place to raise a Black child to one of the best, Lisa said, “Don’t assume you have the answers.”  She encourages us to, “Go directly to those who are impacted and ask, ‘What do you need to build the infrastructure to make these changes?’” Call FFBWW to start a conversation to learn more deeply about the issues. Become an advocate in your network and support initiatives that will transform Wisconsin into a leader in health equality.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: