Category Archives: Weekly Rotary Guest Speaker

August 24: Ben Schumaker’s Talk about The Memory Project—Portraits of Kindness, he Founded, Likely Will Stay in Rotarians’ Memories for a Long Time

–submitted by Sharyn Alden

It’s hard to imagine how you might feel if someone you’ve never met drew a beautiful likeness of your face based only from a photo. It’s a special gift from a high school art student from across the world.

Art can be a connector of kindness throughout the world even during times of extraordinary stress. That’s one of the main takeaways from Ben Schumaker’s memorable program.

In 2003, as a graduate student at UW-Madison, Ben traveled to Guatemala as a volunteer to work in an orphanage. When he returned to Madison the seed of an excellent globally beneficial idea was formed.

Schumaker thought if young artists could draw a child in a disenfranchised country and give them a portrait of their face it could foster kindness, joy and hope throughout the world.

“It’s just that simple,” said Schumaker. “Many of the portrait recipients have never seen a photo of themselves much less have someone take the time to draw their portrait.”

The results of that simple idea are staggering. Since the Memory Project was born 18 years ago, it has connected 300,000 people in 56 countries. Even the State Department in Washington D.C. recognized the value of the project via a portrait presentation. 

The Project connects high school artists in the U.S. with youth living in challenging situations. High school art departments receive photos of young people in other countries that have been collected by the Memory Project. On the back of the portrait the art student draws one of their own hands. It’s another connector when the recipient puts their hand on top of the artist.

For 12 years the program focused on connecting with orphanages, but in 2017, it began including refugee camps.

Shumaker shared a personal story of getting to know a widow in Kabul, Afghanistan, with three children. “This is one of the hardest countries in the world to just be a girl,” Schumaker said. After the Taliban took control last August his heart sank knowing the two young girls in this family would not get be able to go to back to school.

The family asked if he could help them in their dangerous attempt to flee to Pakistan. “I told them I didn’t know what I could do but I’d try,” he said. He connected with a contact in Pakistan who helped them out but they arrived with no documents. Basically, they were stuck.

“But then, you won’t believe who got involved,” he said. A photo of the Malala Fund was shown on screen; the international, non-profit organization, co-founded by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

The family eventually reached Canada where Schumaker met up with them. “They all gave me a hug,” he said.  “Women in their faith and culture can only hug men who are family members. “Without question, this meant a lot to me,” he said.

If you missed last week’s Rotary meeting, you can watch the video here:

August 17: Guest Speaker Jennifer Javornik of Filament Games Explained the Power of Play

–submitted by Sharyn Alden

Jennifer Javornik, Vice-President of Partnerships & Business Development with Filament Games, an educational games developer in Madison, said her program was interactive, just like play is an interactive experience.

“Games allow you to learn by doing; they give you confidence, help you hone skills, fail in a safe place. These playful experiences help improve people’s lives,” she said.

Filament Games has partnered with numerous companies to showcase topics in a fun, meaningful way. For example, they partnered with PBS Kids on the program “Hero Elementary” which features fundamentals of recycling.

In developing games she said you have to decide who the player (you) are going to be—like in Pac-Man where the player becomes Pac-Man.

After a brief background on how ideas for digital games are developed, she threw a challenge to the audience to become a game developer for the day. Each table was asked to describe a game around the survival of three animals– a gibbon, elephant and turtle. Each animal has unique characteristics like a trunk, long tail or hard shell that have helped them evolve

Javornik suggested young people in the Rotary audience might have good ideas.

She was right. One girl suggested animals could ‘shape-shift’ to change their identifies against predators.

Another child suggested a simple, effective idea. “When objects or predators block the animals, you could have buttons on screen help save them, but you have to hit the right button based on what you know about the animal.”

With a collective, ‘Ohhh” from the audience, it would seem these types of educational games already have interested fans.

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

August 10: At the 50-Year Mark, the Dane County Farmers’ Market is Still Going Strong!

–submitted by Sharyn Alden

During the August 10 Rotary meeting, Market Manager Jamie Bugel provided an interesting history and updates about the iconic market on the Capitol Square.

When Jamie Bugel talked about the ‘Dane County Farmers’ Market, a fixture on the Capitol Square since 1972, she knew her stats.

“Fifty years ago the market started with 11 farmers, but by the next weekend 85 farmers showed up,” she said.

It didn’t take long for one of Madison’s best-kept secrets to start growing exponentially. Bugel pointed out last week there’s a major difference in how and where vendors are located on the Square compared to when the market first opened.

In its early years, vendors just showed up and took the best spots around the Square they could find. “Sometimes they would arrive at 4 in the morning and sleep on the Square to save a spot and secure the best foot traffic.”

Since 1991, though, that method of ‘finders keepers’ went away. The model since the early 90s the location is based on how many years a vendor has been part of the market.

Bugel said there are currently 230 members (farmers/vendors) of the Dane County Farmers’ Market, yet her staff is “just two and a half’ associates. On an average Saturday on the Square there are about 100 vendors offering products.”  When asked how a business can become a Farmers’ Market vendor she said, “You don’t have to milk the cows that supply milk for your cheese, but you do have to be the owner of the business you represent, and you must be active in the production of the food or goods you sell.”

As the number of vendors has grown, today’s Dane County Farmer’s Market is a unique repository of food and other products that are grown and made locally. Sometimes they are new to shoppers on the Square.

Bugel gave an example of some of the market’s unusual products. “Black currants, which are more common in Europe are now one of the products you might find when you’re at the market,” she said.

If you missed our meeting last week, you can watched it here:

July 20: The Power of a Grand Civic Vision: Monona Terrace

–submitted by Ellsworth Brown

Who knew that 115 years ago Madisonian John Olin, believing that Madison was a special place, engaged John Nolen, a preeminent city planner from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to produce a 1911 plan for Madison that became a preeminent example of the urban landscape movement?  And who knew that John Nolen,  author of projects for well over a dozen cities, created plans as well for the Tenney Park-Yahara River Parkway, the UW, and Wisconsin’s state park system?  And especially, who knew that the track of Nolen’s plans affirmed a four-generation vision for Madison that inspired the city, county, state, non-profit organizations and private funding to give us Monona Terrace and leave its traces in a Downtown 2000 Master Plan including 1.7 miles of Lake Monona waterfront, a six-fold increase in the tiff valuation since 1995, a new State Museum, the Overture Center, hotels that will soon double room numbers within two blocks of Monona Terrace, and an affirmed self-confidence in Madison’s common future? 

George Austin knew, and he shared it with us on Wednesday, July 20.  The exceptional attendance at Wednesday’s meeting honored his 23-year career with the city, including 15 years as Planning and Development Director and leader of the Monona Terrace project; and now the Wisconsin History Center’s project manager. 

This is one of Madison’s greatest stories, told to us by the successor to the visions that preceded him.

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

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.