Category Archives: Weekly Rotary Guest Speaker

May 11: Mike Falbo on UW System Leadership Transition

–submitted by Valerie Renk

Mike Falbo shared a path to university system success on May 11; 37,000 degrees will be granted this year by the UW System. Falbo is the interim president of the University of Wisconsin System.  He was a regent for 11 years, being appointed twice. 

Jay Rothman takes over the helm as system president June 1, following a national search that started in January. Falbo served on the search and screen committee when he visited all UW campuses and talked with many stakeholders. Rothman led Foley & Lardner, where he developed his leadership skills. Rothman grew up on a farm in the Wausau area. 

Falbo originally told Rothman, “You have zero chances of getting this job, but you’ll learn a lot from the process.”  While he has no academic experience, Falbo described Roth’s qualifications, saying a good leader knows their strengths, a great leader knows their weaknesses. 

The UW System is big business, with 40,000 employees, a $6 billion budget, and 165,000 students.  Falbo said the system is trying to leverage positives such as the Chancellor group, making it campus driven. They are building into a strategic plan in a short time frame, finishing by end of 2022.  He found separate groups during the campus visits, so team building is important. 

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

April 20: Changes to the Military

–submitted by Rich Leffler

Col. Sheri Swokowski (right) pictured here with Club President Teresa Holmes

Our speaker, retired Army Colonel Sheri Swokowski, served for 35 years. She is the highest ranked retired Trans officer. She discussed the military’s dual nature concerning minorities, the “DOD Dichotomy.” Until 1948, the military segregated Blacks. President Truman ordered the end of this discrimination and ordered equal pay for women. The military has since become a leader in the integration of minorities. She herself was discharged from the Army for transitioning in 2007. But she was eventually rehired by the Pentagon as an analyst and got her military record corrected. In 1993 the exclusion of gays was somewhat ended under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Similarly, discrimination against women and Trans personnel was ended under President Obama and again in 2021 after a hiatus under President Trump, but still not by statute and so, subject to reinstatement. Today, over 2,000 Transgender people serve, 86% of them either senior officers or enlisted personnel. Col. Swokowski then discussed LGBTQ issues in the larger society. Ultimately, the solution is for all people to be treated with respect and courtesy. Simple, but not achieved so far. Except perhaps in the military.

April 13: Monona Terrace: Building On A Dream

–submitted by Rich Leffler

From left: Club President Teresa Holmes, Connie Thompson and Ken Opin

Ken Opin, who was a leader in the effort to pass a referendum authorizing the construction of the Monona Terrace, and Connie Thompson, Executive Director of the Monona Terrace, spoke to us about history and reality. The original Frank Lloyd Wright plan was for a “Civic Center” of grand aspiration. For many years this plan languished and failed in two referendums. After the referendum calling for a less ambitious convention center passed 1992, newly elected mayor Paul Soglin, with the assistance of George Austin, and Roberta Gassman, began the planning and building of the Monona Terrace. Also involved were Rotarians Don Helfrecht, the late Wayne McGown, Fred Mohs, and Mary Lang Sollinger. Construction began in November 1995 and was completed in July 1997. Since it opened 25 years ago, the Monona Terrace has hosted 16,661 events with an economic impact of $697 million. Along with the Overture Center, it has revitalized downtown Madison.

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

January 19: State Line Distillery: Building Community One Bottle at a Time

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski

As a biology major at UW-Eau Claire several years ago, John Mleziva was interested in the science behind fermentation and brewing. Eventually he came to Madison to teach at Edgewood College. In 2012 he enrolled in a second master’s program, this time in Scotland and specializing in brewing and distilling. Then he returned to Madison, bought a small still and began testing recipes in his kitchen. He opened State Line Distillery in a beautifully rehabilitated facility on Madison’s east side in 2017. The first few years saw tremendous growth, but they had to shut the doors in March 2020 because of the pandemic. One day as John sat in the empty cocktail lounge wondering if the distillery would survive, he was asked to produce hand sanitizer for the state of Wisconsin. This kept State Line and many other distilleries afloat through the pandemic.

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

DAIS: Making Adjustments to Provide Services During a Pandemic

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski

On January 12, Shannon Barry, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Service, spoke about how her organization adjusted to support survivors through the pandemic. This required new strategies just when their clients’ own situations were more dire. During the Covid lockdowns, victims were isolated with their batterers. DAIS provides an array of personal services and advocacy and has the only domestic violence shelter in Dane County. The volunteers who previously staffed the DAIS 24-hour helpline were let go, and all staff members had to help staff the line. With a Paycheck Protection Program loan, DAIS has purchased additional phones, improved its technology and made the workplace safer.

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

December 8: Impact of Large and Small Capital Projects on Their Communities

submitted by Kevin Hoffman

Club Member and Past President Bob Sorge (left) and Tom Linfield (right) of the Madison Community Foundation (MCF) gave an informative, eye opening and thought-provoking presentation on the tangible benefits of non-profit capital projects on the Madison area. 

Bob gave background information on the MCF and the financial resources directed into the community.  MCF distributed about $29M in grants in 2020 that were largely directed by individual fundholders.  The MCF was also able to help other non-profits in the area leverage another $114M in resources from outside agencies for a total impact of $143M.  In addition, to create an authoritative reference for making informed giving decisions, the MCF has spent the recent past developing capabilities for researching and evaluating area non-profits.  The result has been the Greater Madison Nonprofit Directory which can be found on the MCF website.  This is a resource open to all community members. 

Tom covered the impact of capital campaigns on the Madison area by pointing out that buildings quickly become a community asset elevating the area surrounding the structure and becoming a center of development in the neighborhood.  New buildings also transform the non-profit’s capacity for services and development of resources to benefit the community.  Think about the impact that libraries, schools, health centers, community centers and affordable housing (to name a few) has on a given area.  There are about 15 building campaigns a year.  The financial impact is large not just for the physical buildout, but it also creates momentum within the non-profit for increased services, outreach, performance space, work efficiencies, and hosting/meeting space.  Once complete, this allows the non-profit entity to leapfrog to the next level to the community it serves.

If you missed our meeting on December 8, you can watch the video here: