Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison

“Tiny Earth” – The Need for Antibiotic Research

–submitted by Jessika Kasten

Jo HandelsmanThis week, UW-Madison Professor Jo Handelsman talked virtually with the Downtown Rotary about a project she began while working at Yale University in 2012 called Tiny Earth. This important project was developed to increase the number of students pursuing STEM degrees as well as address the growing antibiotic crisis. Researchers estimate that unless we do something soon, by 2050 the leading cause of death will be related to bacteria-related illness.

Over time, humans have become resistant to many antibiotics that treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, ear infections, strep throat and the like. At the same time, there have been far fewer new antibiotics put on the market. Antibiotics are simply not as lucrative to pharma companies, and many pharma companies felt as though the vast majority of known antibiotics (99%) had already been identified through the soil. They were generally not willing to put in the time and resources needed to find the new 1%.

Tiny Earth began with just 6 students at Yale but has now grown to participation by more than 10,000 students per year. All of the students are working towards the same goal of making antibiotic discovery cheaper and more efficient for pharmaceutical companies. Specifically, they are developing new screening methods and new targets to find that 1% of antibiotics that are either new or different than previously discovered. They will then share those with pharma companies, thereby reducing the cost. This form of crowdsourcing most recently has discovered three new chemical structures that are currently underway. The COVID pandemic forced the research to stop earlier this year, but students are looking forward to getting back into the labs soon to continue their research.

Tiny Earth is harnessing the power of crowdsourcing, a student workforce and the need for antibiotic research, in the hopes they can make a significant impact on bacterial resistance in the future.

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

On the Significance of Memorial Day

–submitted by Jessica Giesen

VA Sec Mary KolarOn May 20, 2020, VA Secretary Mary Kolar gave an insightful presentation regarding the significance of Memorial Day. She first offered information regarding the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the services and benefits provided for service members in Wisconsin, where 345,000 veterans reside. The WDVA works hard each day to ensure that veterans have access to all benefits available to them. The programs the WDVA oversees extend from administering the Wisconsin Veterans Museum (a Smithsonian affiliate that welcomes 90,000+ visitors each year), where it continuously educates the public with unique stories and histories of Wisconsin’s veterans, to veterans’ cemeteries where our veterans receive honorable burials, to providing access to mental health and housing assistance.

Sec. Kolar then turned to Memorial Day, a holiday dedicated to remembering those who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The day’s meaning and purpose, she explained, “is profoundly rooted in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the inherent desire of veterans to remember their comrades who never came home.”

The individual stories Sec. Kolar told of Wisconsin servicemen who lost their lives in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War were equally inspiring as they were heartbreaking; they brought this author, for one, to tears: Stories such as that of Morris Togstad, who was the last from Madison to die in World War I and Victor Glenn, one of the first to die in World War II — two men for which the street “Togstad Glenn” in Madison was named. Then there were the Barber brothers – Malcom, Randolph and LeRoy – whose father wrote to their leaders and asked that they be separated and assigned to different ships should anything happen. Unfortunately, prior to that happening, all three remained together aboard the Oklahoma on the fateful Sunday morning of December 7, 1941 – the attack on Pearl Harbor– and all three lost their lives. The USS Barber is named in their honor.

We all reflect together on Memorial Day each year, but it is important to also honor those who serve to protect us throughout the entire year, as well as their families who support them and have been left behind. We can honor these memories through acts of kindness and acts of citizenship – by sharing stories, by voting. Sec. Kolar reminded us that we can never, ever honor our fallen service members enough. This year, as Memorial Day approaches during the COVID-19 pandemic, our community will be unable to gather in person across the state at veteran’s cemeteries. However, a Wisconsin Virtual Commemoration will be held on May 25, 2020, to honor and reflect. Please visit to be a part of that special program.

If you missed our online Rotary meeting this week, you can watch it here.

Staying Connected

submitted by Club President Andrea Kaminski

Because it is unlikely that we will be able to hold luncheons with 200 Rotarians in one room for some time to come, several of our directors, officers and committee members have been reaching out to club members to find out how people are doing and how Rotary can best serve our members and keep folks connected in the coming months. As part of this effort, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with several Rotarians about how the pandemic has affected their personal, family and professional lives, as well as how they are feeling about Rotary in this new environment.

We have not yet heard officially about any club members who have personally become ill with Covid-19. However, we have members who are working on the front lines to provide health care or elder care or to keep people safe. We have educators teaching children online and bankers  working around the clock to administer the federal government relief package to assist small businesses. We have business owners and directors of nonprofits who are struggling to maintain their workforce despite drastically reduced demand for things like restaurant meals, new cars, consumer goods and the performing arts. And of course we live in a community where many service workers and gig workers have lost their jobs.

Yet the dozen or so Rotarians I have spoken with have been generally positive despite the challenges, and they value what Rotary has to offer. Most have been viewing the online weekly meetings, and a few have participated in the fellowship groups or committees that have been meeting online.

Longtime Rotarian Karl Gutknecht said,  “Although our lunch meetings have built many friendships, I find enduring value in our Four-Way Test. When we apply our resources, abilities and energies into bettering our community and our world we will continue to make a positive difference!”

It is clear that our Rotary meetings will look different in the future because there are likely to be restrictions on large gatherings for some time. Also, we know that many of our members, for good reason, will not feel safe attending a big luncheon. The board and our executive director are looking at a number of options to address these concerns. For example, one possibility might be to have the weekly meeting at the Park Hotel with a speaker and a program, which would be live-streamed to smaller gatherings in community rooms on the east and west sides of the city. In this scenario, members who are more vulnerable to the virus would have the option to view the streamed meeting online from home.

Let us know if you have any suggestions for how to continue Rotary’s tradition of providing fellowship opportunities, excellent programs and service to the community through the pandemic and beyond. Send an email to or give me a call at 608-957-2865. I look forward to hearing from you.

Mayor Rhodes-Conway: How Madison is Responding to COVID-19

submitted by Dave Mollenhoff

Satya+Rhodes+ConwayIn Rotary’s first live Zoom meeting, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, against a backdrop of red tulips and the capitol dome, provided a comprehensive 30-minute overview of Madison’s responses to COVID-19.

“Our goal,” she began, “is to keep people safe, reduce the number of COVID-19 infections, and not overburden our health care facilities.  Our initial focus was to help the most vulnerable, especially the homeless and those faced by food insecurity.”

To achieve that goal, she said the City has taken dozens of steps. One third of city employees are teleworking, most city committees have been paused, and the City’s IT department is working overtime to facilitate virtual meetings. The library and Monona Terrace are closed. Bus schedules have been changed and riders enter by the back door. Parking regulations have been relaxed so that businesses can provide curb service.

“But be warned,” she continued, “the economic impact of the pandemic will be drastic.”  It has inflicted substantial increased operational costs and we have already lost $35 million in revenue, so coming up with a balanced budget will be incredibly challenging.

She reminded everyone that our extraordinary parks system is open and available with only a few new restrictive policies.  Then she added wistfully, “How I wish I had time to get out there and enjoy them. In fact, I spend so much time attending Zoom meetings that my Fitbit thinks I’m dead.”

The mayor ended her talk about a long list of “hard and depressing” topics with hope and optimism.  “Madison,” she reminded everyone, “is amazing, and I believe we will emerge with a city that is more accessible, equitable, sustainable and affordable.”

Club member Jason Ilstrup provided a spirited introduction and posed members’ questions to the mayor at the end.

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

What’s Your Pandemic Purpose Statement?

submitted by Ellsworth Brown

Whelan pptSometimes it’s better to begin at the end, in this case with Professor Christine Whelan’s personal May 6, 2020, Pandemic Purpose Statement:

“Because I value relationships, perseverance and creativity, I will use my gifts for translating research, making connections and organization to positively impact the lives of my children, my students and the broader public.  I accept my fears and anxieties about not being perfect enough, not being helpful enough and fear for the future and still today make conscious, purpose-based commitments to make a fun baked potato bar tonight, take a bike ride with the kids and check in with my students.”

During this pandemic, we all feel the push of pain (including physical, financial, stress and more), the pull of possibilities, or most likely both.  This push-pull can manifest itself as either ego or “eco.”  Achieving the latter is the goal because it affirms the reality that institutions and people are inherently interconnected and always in change, though more so at this time.

So how is “eco” achieved?

Whelan’s statement embodies combining an individual’s selection of three elements within each of three virtually infinite areas:  core values (e.g. happiness, independence, peace) strengths or gifts; and impact (e.g. upon groups, individuals, organizations).  It also requires that one accept (though perhaps not let go of) fears and anxiety and dare to go forward anyway.

A daily pandemic purpose statement can relieve pressure, contribute to better health and increase happiness.  Even those at greater risk can find that accepting help is itself a gift to a helper, illustrating that the holistic practice of “eco”—purpose—is by definition pro-social.

Professor Whelan, we’re all coming over for the potato bar tonight.

Our thanks to Dr. Christine Whelan for her online presentation this week and to Ellsworth Brown for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

New Digs for Me, New Options for Rotary

submitted by President Andrea Kaminski

You may notice as I introduce the May 6 online meeting that my background will be a little different from that of the past few weeks. It won’t be a tropical isle created by Zoom, although that sounds nice! It will be my new home in downtown Madison. Before the coronavirus outbreak, at least in Wisconsin, my husband Tom and I made an offer on a condominium at Metropolitan Place and had it accepted. When the Governor’s Safer at Home order went into effect shortly afterward, it exempted moving services so we decided to go forward with our plans.

We lived in our house across from Edgewood College for 35 years, and it is where we raised our three kids, housed their grandmother for a few years, and hosted some 30 foreign students and professional visitors. The result was an excess of twin-size sheets, plastic hangers and board games, not to mention our family photographs.

Downsizing while social distancing presented a particular challenge, in that thrift stores, Habitat ReStore, and homeless shelters were not able to accept donations. On top of that, many of the items that seemed priceless to us seemed worthless to our kids!  We have had to move things that we will donate in the future.

Then there was the moving itself. We did it in stages: 1. Close off one bedroom and a bathroom in our old house while the movers were there; 2. Oversee the placement of furniture and boxes in the condo; 3. Go back to the house and disinfect the kitchen and the main floor; 4. Live there with almost no furniture for three nights to allow for any viral contamination in the new place to die off; 5. Finally move in!

Through all of this it has been a pleasure to be able to continue to facilitate our weekly meetings, something that would have been impossible without huge assistance and support by our Executive Director, Pat Jenkins, and the volunteer technical expertise of Brian Basken and Jason Beren. In addition, our Club directors and directors-elect, who will meet online for the second time on May 4, continue to be active leaders in guiding our Club through the new challenges facing our membership and our community. And our committees and fellowship groups continue to meet online for business and fun.

LHS April 13 2020 2

Screenshot of first time ever Virtual Scotch Whisky Lew Harned Society event held on April 13.

If you haven’t yet viewed one of our weekly online meetings, I encourage you to do so. The programs have been terrific, our committee chairs have been reporting on their activities in support of our club and the community, and the live Q&A sessions with our speakers are particularly informative. Find instructions and links for the weekly meetings and other innovative, online member connections on the home page of the Rotary Club of Madison website.

For Tom and me, the challenges of moving to a downtown condo in the time of social distancing have given us a better insight about what’s important in our own lives. The same could be said for the way the Rotary Club of Madison is creating new ways for members to connect, serve and grow.  I hope every member will stay engaged, serve the community and find fellowship through our Rotary Club, while remaining safer at home.