Category Archives: Uncategorized

Behind the Scenes of “The Niceties”

The impetus for Eleanor Burgess’s play “The Niceties” was a 2015 incident at Yale, Eleanor’s Alma mater, that involved a disagreement between faculty, administrators and students about whether Yale should be setting guidelines about which Halloween costumes are appropriate. Those in favor of guidance were trying to ward off controversies over students seen in black face, or stereotypical Native American costumes. Those opposed believed one of the purposes of college is for kids to learn to self regulate and make their own decisions.

Friends lost the ability to talk to each other as the controversy continued.  While this is common today, it was unique in 2015.  People felt the need to pick a side: the university doesn’t have the responsibility to coddle whining snowflakes vs. there should be consequences of making students of color feel uncomfortable. 

After two months of obsessively reading op/eds about the incident in her pajamas, Eleanor realized this incident should become a play. 

Eleanor said she naively thought the play would be out of date by the time it was produced.  But in today’s era of Trump, and the killing of George Floyd, we are still having these conversations.  The difference is, in the play, the professor and student have faith and admiration for each other and believe they can change each other’s minds if they just make the right arguments.  Today, we would back out of those conversations much faster and realize it’s hopeless.

   Eleanor hopes we can learn to talk together again – to thread the needle and realize that two things can both be true at the same time.  In the play, the professor says, “no matter how much we disagree, we’re still stuck in a country together.”  But today, we don’t even share the same reality or set of facts. Eleanor believes we can’t live this way forever. Restoring our capacity to have conversations with people we disagree with is not just a nicety, it is a fundamental necessity. 

Our thanks to Eleanor Burgess for speaking this week and to club member Julie Swenson who interviewed her.  We also thank Janet Piraino for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/SkGEtyy_sCE.

Reflections on Wisconsin’s Economy


UW Economics Professor Noah Williams is the founding Director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) and gave a report on the economic situation since the start of the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 through November 2020. He also gave some insight on economic trends and expectations for 2021.

He examined the impact by looking at labor market statistics from official government sources (State of Wisconsin, Bureau of Labor Statistics), as well as private data collectors that utilize cell phone data and offer employment and business services that can produce data on a more contemporaneous basis.

Professor Williams started by saying the economy is secondary to the course of virus spread and infection. As the virus spread in March, April and May unemployment claims increased dramatically to a peak of over 300,000 compared to approximately 80,000 in 2019. New claims are at the rate of 15,000 per week compared to 5,000 last year. Continued unemployment has declined since the peak but there are still over three times the number of unemployed than there were in 2019. However, this only measures persons eligible for unemployment insurance. It is estimated that the actual number of unemployed individuals is double when you include ineligible and those who have stopped looking for work. In terms of raw numbers that translates to around 205,000 fewer employed than the same time last year.
The impact of job losses has been varied across sectors of the economy. The hardest hit has been Leisure and Hospitality with a 50% drop in employment at the peak in April. While it has recovered somewhat to about a 20% loss year-over-year it is still a dire situation as events, attractions and restaurants have been hampered or outlawed to curb the spread of the virus. Manufacturing and Retail employment took a dip in April (15%), as well, but is now only down from 3.0-4.5% as of October.

Changes in spending patterns and economic activity have been dramatic. For example, Madison has not fared as well due to the absence of students on campus. Foot traffic, measured by cell phone tracking, is down about 40% in Madison, compared to Milwaukee at 26% down and the rest of the state at 30% down. Also, there has been a shift from local and small business to large business and online: Retail purchases are down around 7% and online is up over 20%.

For 2021, the good news is that highly effective vaccines have been developed but we should expect continued economic headwinds (probably at least six months) as it will take many months to get enough people vaccinated. And, while negative surprises were on the downside and recovery surprises were on the upside the rate of improvement has slowed as government support programs are coming to an end. While the most dire of projections have not borne out, the economic consequences of the pandemic will continue to be a challenge.

Our thanks to Prof. Noah Williams for his presentation this week and to Kevin Hoffman for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/WkOzn3reDmI.

2020 Manfred Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award To Be Presented November 18

Dr. Floyd Rose was chosen to receive this year’s Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award for his decades-long contribution to education in Madison.  The November 18th Rotary meeting will be allocated to this award, and Floyd Rose will be presenting the Rotary program that day.  We look forward to his presentation on November 18. 

This year’s Swarsensky Award Selection Committee was impressed by the caliber of this year’s nominees, and below is a listing and brief summary of each of these candidates who are also building bridges in our community:      

Paul T. Ashe:  If you wonder, “what can one person do?” think of Paul T. Ashe. In 1979, while he was in his mid-20s, he began distributing sandwiches to people in need out of a small Christian bookstore above a convenience store on Gorham Street.  That was a band-aid on a systemic problem.  From that, he formed a partnership with St. Paul’s University Catholic Center on State Street to secure space for a noon meal.  He reached out to leaders of a wide range of faith communities to recruit small teams of volunteers to cook and serve balanced hot meals.  Soon more than 50 faith communities were participating.  This became the Community Meal Program that welcomes strangers.  The Community Meal Program grew to meet the growing needs of the community.  Through the benevolence of the community, and without any government support, a commercial building was purchased and rehabilitated and became Luke House which serves guests 9 meals each week—4 noon meals and 5 evening meals.  Here meals are shared at round tables—family style.  After Mr. Ashe’s retirement, the program remains, as the model of dignified hospitality that Paul established. This nomination submitted by Ernie Stetenfeld.

Dr. Patricia Tellez-Giron Salazar:  Dr. Patricia Tellez-Giron Salazar immigrated to the United States in 1993 and settled in Madison.  She practices medicine at the Wingra Clinic and serves a very diverse and underserved population and reaches out into the community to help build bridges for the Latinx community.  She serves people, primarily Latinx, with limited access to healthcare services by maintaining extensive involvement across a variety of different healthcare organizations that include counseling at Agrace about end of life care issues; educating about nutrition and healthy eating with Centro Hispano, healthcare and family planning; serving as medical director for the Latino health summit, Teen Health Bash, and chronic disease summit; and caring for the geriatric population.  She also supports other organizations in the community including Latino advisory council to the United Way; Chair of Dane County Latino Health Council; advisory to UW-Madison professional association for Latinos for medical school; and the Metropolitan Madison School District Multilingual Guiding Coalition.  This nomination submitted by Ron Luskin.

Becky Steinhoff:  Becky Steinhoff is recognized for her vision to address an underserved area of Madison with a community center—and with her belief that people will come together to do the right thing.  Through her tenacity, the eastside of Madison has the Goodman Community Center.  She found supporters and philanthropists and marshalled other organization to create a state-of-the-art community center from the bones of vacant historical industrial buildings.  She grew the size of the staff from 3 to more than 100 to meet the needs of the 35,000 people who use the Goodman Community Center.  Becky and her staff maintain a safe place where conflict is addressed honestly and in good faith—and joy reigns.  Becky retires after 31 years of leadership, but her legacy and the foundation of a healthy community center survives.  This nomination submitted by Linda Baldwin O’Hern.

Nancy Young:  Nancy Young exemplifies volunteerism.  As a professional mental health counselor skilled in conflict resolution, she uses her training in any way that it is needed.  She has consulted with community adolescent programs and worked on women’s and poverty issues to help women achieve their potential as leaders, and she is active in several capacities in her church.  Her most profound humanitarian contributions have been her service to the American Red Cross where she has been deployed to 14 national disasters that include multiple mass casualties.  The American Red Cross selected Nancy as one of only four mental health professionals in the country to be deployed to the Sandy Hook shooting.  Nancy and her husband Ed host children of Chernobyl each year who come to Madison for relief from the aftermath of the contamination of the nuclear accident in 1986.  In addition, they have opened their home to host numerous international students attending the UW.  She also volunteers for the Madison Symphony Orchestra League and serving on its Board.  This nomination submitted by Mary Helen Becker.

Rotary Membership Dues Modifications

Due to Covid-19 we’ve been unable to meet in person since March, and we’re unlikely to resume in-person luncheons before at least January. Even then, many members may prefer to wait longer to return.

Most members have been paying dues that include the cost of weekly meals, but many of us may not know that 46% of pre-paid meals are not actually consumed by members which helped fund our club’s operating expenses each year. The board recognized that continuing to charge members for meals they can’t consume is not sustainable, but we know that without the surplus generated by meals, the club would have an insurmountable operating deficit. That’s why an ad-hoc committee was formed to study this and make actionable recommendations. The committee included the following members:  Jason Beren, Jorge Hidalgo, Teresa Holmes, Jason Ilstrup, Andrea Kaminski, Charles McLimans, Mark Moody (chair), Valerie Renk, Haley Saalsaa Miller, Susan Schmitz, Rob Stroud and Rob Van den Berg.

The new approved dues structure reflects the true costs of the club and spreads them more equitably among the different types of members. Lower dues for Exempt and Life members will continue, in recognition for their many years of service and financial support to the club.  Standard members will pay $390 for dues per six months, and this is retroactive to July 1, 2020; Exempt members will see an increase in dues effective for the next billing cycle of January – June of 2021 from $185.50 to $235; and Life members will change to $225 starting July 1, 2021.

The Board acted under emergency authority to approve these changes.  Once the pandemic emergency has subsided to the point where a membership vote is possible, the revised dues structure will be put to a vote of the members.  We believe these changes to our dues structure are necessary and appropriate to assure the financial viability of the club.  We agree that the elimination of the meals subsidy was overdue and necessary, and the dues now reflect the true cost of operation of the club.

Our ad-hoc committee will hold a Zoom Q&A on August 20th at noon for interested members who have questions or want to hear more background.  A letter about this new dues structure was mailed to members on August 11, and a link to the August 20 Zoom meeting is included in the Friday, August 14 email from the Rotary office.

Jorge Hidalgo, Club President

 

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” (http://ffbww.org/savingourbabies/) 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: https://youtu.be/PazT9BZNoKc.

The Future of Restaurants – A Challenge

submitted by Linn Roth

Greg Frank 7 29 20Greg Frank, a co-owner of the Food Fight Restaurant Group in Madison and current Treasurer of our club, gave an overview of the history of restaurants, their current status and future challenges facing the industry during these uncertain Covid-times.  Most recognize that the restaurant business can be quite difficult, and operations must survive on very low margins, typically less than 5%.  Nevertheless, restaurants are an integral part of virtually every community, and have been so since the late 18th century when the first restaurant opened in France.  The first American restaurant established, Delmonico’s in New York City, was established in 1830, and restaurants throughout the world have evolved in a variety of formats over the years.

Since 1970, restaurant sales in the US have grown from $43 billion to approximately $900 billion, with over 17 million employees working in the industry.  However, that was before the Covid crisis struck and severely impacted virtually all types of restaurants.   The situation in Madison is no different than any other area in the country.  Restaurants are struggling to change their business models and survive until the crisis has ended.   Unfortunately, lay-offs have been rampant, and other common changes include a focus on delivery and curb-side pickup, as well as outside dining whenever possible.

Regardless of when the health crisis ends, it seems likely that restaurants will be making a considerable number of changes to survive and prosper in the future, and Greg touched on several of these that we could expect to see.  For example, establishments might become smaller to reduce capital costs, incorporate new technologies (e.g. wireless links and digital menus) to improve efficiency, offer limited gourmet dining, provide prepackaged meals and drive-through pickup, and even use “ghost kitchens” that provide food to a number of establishments utilizing a single, centralized kitchen.

Certainly this industry will change significantly over the near and longer-term future, but it behooves all of us to support our local restaurants in order to enable this essential component of our community to evolve and prosper.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/dD1t2pI3MuY.