Category Archives: Rotary Weekly Guest Speaker

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 www.WisVetsMemorialDay2020.com to be a part of that special program.

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

Ramadan Traditions Revealed

submitted by Rich Leffler

Nasra WehelieFellow Rotarian and board member Nasra Wehelie spoke to us virtually via YouTube this week. Her subject was the traditions of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which are both rewarding and challenging. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, said to be when the Koran was revealed to Muhammad. Because it is based on the lunar calendar, it varies according to the Roman calendar.

One of the more well known traditions of Ramadan is fasting from sunrise to sunset. This fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and it offers several benefits: self-discipline, empathy, closeness to God and health. All adult Muslims are required to fast, except the ill, travelers or pregnant women.

Important elements of the holiday are the fellowship and community that take place at Iftar, the evening meal at the end of the daily fast. The current Covid-19 pandemic has made this difficult. But Zoom is being used in lieu of personal engagement.

Muslims who are celebrating Ramadan need some support at work or at school. It is best to avoid activities in the evenings, when the end of the fast is celebrated. And the scheduling of school activities should be sensitive to the demands of Ramadan.

The end of Ramadan is traditionally a time of celebration and community. But not this year, because of Covid-19. This will be a hard time for everyone, even if there is Zoom.

After the YouTube session, there was a question-and-answer session via Zoom. Nasra mentioned some of the benefits of this year of the pandemic and quarantine: Being home provides an opportunity for contemplation and self-reflection, and it helps eliminate temptations during the fast.

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

Q&A with Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidate Judge Jill Karofsky

submitted by Ellie Schatz

Jill KarofskyOne candidate accepted the invitation and spoke to our club about her background and plans for serving as Supreme Court Justice: Jill Karofsky. Having been a judge, a local and state prosecutor, and director of the state’s Office of Crime Victim Services, she has advocated for victims’ rights across every court in Wisconsin. She convincingly tells how she has the experience, values, and toughness to lead a legal system that works.

Supreme court cases have consequences for now and the future. To name a few, consider gerrymandering, women’s access to healthcare, and gun control. Whatever the case, following the rule of law is the bottom line, and Karofsky says her record of being fair and impartial is clear.

Her values include upholding laws to protect the environment. She is concerned about climate change but will follow the rule of law. She is strong on individual rights, attacking problems of racial disparity by informing policy makers of what she sees in the courtroom day after day. She says judges need to inform the legislature, have a dialogue with them, but are not there to legislate. More than anything, our courts are about constitutional rights and through the court systems she has fought for the needs of crime victims, stood up for racial justice and civil rights, and protected the right to marriage equality, never allowing for the rights of women to be rolled back. Her goal is to be collegiate on the court, to help pull all sides together under the rule of law. Right now she sees political forces seeking to roll back advances made in civil rights. We must not go backwards, she stresses.

As the Wisconsin Chief Justice is drawing up her budget, Karofsky is pushing for her to put treatment courts at the top of the list as opposed to a business court, which is essentially two courts – one for businesses and one for the rest of us.

When asked about the perception that she is a progressive candidate, she responds: “I am clear about my values, and I have support from Republicans and Independents. I ask for support as someone who follows the rule of law.”

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

HAMILTON: An American Musical

Sarah Marty 2 26 2020“Hamilton: The Musical is the biggest tour of a Broadway show to hit the road in years, maybe decades,” Sarah Marty, Producing Artistic Director of Four Seasons Theatre in Madison, told Rotarians on Wednesday, February 26. “Hamilton represents an entire industry, with ripple effects that go far beyond the lights of Broadway,” she said, adding that it had surpassed the reach of any other Broadway musical, including the phenomenal popularity of Oklahoma following its 1943 debut.

Locally, Madison’s Overture Center sold over 53,000 tickets to Hamilton, and Marty cited an estimated additional economic impact of $37.36 per person beyond the ticket price.  Both nationally and locally, Hamilton was hugely popular, inspiring people to stand in line for hours for tickets.  There are currently six productions of Hamilton touring all around the country, bringing in millions of dollars every week.

Beyond the economic impact of its huge success, though, Marty points to Hamilton’s other ripple effects, including increases in actors, producers and audiences of color.  Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton.  When Miranda picked up the hefty Chernow book in an airport and then read it, he immediately thought, “This is a hip-hop story,” calling an early version of the piece The Hamilton Mix Tape.  The elaborate musical production that eventually resulted is so complex that fans have put together a website at Genius.com to provide footnotes and links to all the many facts alluded to in the musical.

Marty cited the end of Hamilton as pointing to the importance of the work:  It causes us to think about “who lives, who dies, and who tells your story.”

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video on our club’s YouTube Channel here.

UW System President Ray Cross: The Importance of the UW System to the State of Wisconsin

submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Valerie Renk

Ray Cross 1 8 2020UW System President Ray Cross gave an impassioned talk about the past and future of the UW System, and the role it has played in the development of the state and impact on the world.

With his impending retirement Cross spoke openly about the challenges the University System and state face together and the successful partnership the two have employed to create opportunities and real growth for both.  That partnership embodies the philosophy and values of the Wisconsin Idea in the truest sense.

He made the observation the people of Wisconsin often do not understand or appreciate the significant historical impact the University has on the economic and agricultural development of the state.  For context, Cross related how University faculty and research was critical to navigating difficult times from the mid-1800’s to today.  Without knowing where we have been and how we got to the present there is little appreciation for the foundation we have today.

With the rapidly growing over-65 demographic and the nearly flat growth of the working-age population, one of the most pressing challenges is to have adequate human resources to meet future employment needs.  The quality of a University of Wisconsin education attracts students from across the country and the world.  A huge opportunity for attracting a qualified and talented workforce is to create opportunity that retains UW graduates that are already here for an education.  While there are programs to attract people from Illinois and veterans, little is being done to retain UW educated talent with the result that only about 15% of the out-of-state graduates remain in the state after graduation.  He encouraged the UW and businesses to work more proactively to welcome and attract students to remain in the state.

Another challenge the University is positioned to have significant impact on is improving access to clean, fresh water.  This is important to quality of living issues as well as manufacturing, agriculture and recreation.  Almost every campus in the state has some program on water quality, management, or research.  From agricultural effluent to lead contamination to invasive aquatic species to pollution, the University has the locations, experts and laboratory resources to partner with local and state government and industry to solve problems that threaten future water resources.

His last challenge to consider was for us, as citizens of the state, to support deeper and stronger ties to the University.  At a time when the knowledge and expert resources of the University are needed most there is a skepticism, negativity and distrust toward academics, intellectuals and learning.  Problematically, the Internet allows access to great volumes of information but also has allowed citizens to cherry-pick what to believe.

With the outreach and engagement embodied in the Wisconsin Idea, the UW System remains positioned to help Wisconsin (and the world) navigate the challenges and create opportunities.  The UW and the people of Wisconsin need each other.  Continued support for the University will drive future capability to meet the challenges and create opportunity for citizens of Wisconsin and improve the human condition beyond state borders.

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

“Adversity — An Opportunity for Growth”

submitted by Larry Larrabee; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

Melvin Juette 12 11 19

Club President Andrea Kaminski pictured here with Melvin Juette

The presenter at our December 11 meeting is the Director of Dane Counties District Attorney’s Office of Deferred Prosecution, Melvin Juette.  He gave a very inspirational presentation starting with a brief history of his life from the time he was paralyzed by a gunshot wound at 16 on the south side of Chicago.  As he says, “My life went from earning respect by intimidating others to earning it by hard work.”

Wheelchair basketball inspired him and carried him to two gold medals in the Para-Olympics before moving to Dane County.  His story is about those who positively affected his life and helped him realize it’s ability that counts, not disability.

In 2008 he authored Wheelchair Warrior.  Melvin says, “I can control how I react to adversity.  Adversity is an opportunity for growth.”  He and his wife have been foster parents to 82 children, seven of whom they have adopted.  He uses his life experiences in his work with those who choose differed prosecution to help them realize that it’s not about blaming others but about using adversity to become a better person.

He used the story of his life to inspire us, and his life is truly inspirational.  Melvin can be proud of his life, and we can be proud to have him as a part of our community where he serves others.

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