Tag Archives: Madison WI

Reflections on Changes in Wisconsin Government

submitted by Bill Haight; photo by Donna Beestman

Todd Berry 3 7 2018.

Guest speaker Todd Berry (left) with Rotarian Steve Goldberg

Todd Berry, retired head of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, reflected on the changes he’s seen in Wisconsin government over the past 40 years.

The observable changes Berry noted are toward more short-term thinking, ideological polarization, gridlock and incivility.

The “old” was characterized by “citizen legislators,” who most likely had spent some time in business, other professions or parenting. The “new” legislator has likely selected a career path toward politics: a political science degree, internship and party activity.

Wisconsin is one of about a dozen states, and perhaps the smallest, with a full-time, professional legislature. These career politicians have a tendency to have their eye on their next election, rather than long-term strategy, bipartisan cooperation or the average voter. They are more beholden to party leaders who control committee appointments, influence allocation of special-interest campaign donations and otherwise affect the political fate of legislators.

Redistricting and Wisconsin’s primary election structure also tend to make a politician focus on special-interest voters at the expense of the average voter who likely doesn’t vote in the primary anyway. Making partisan primaries into all-candidate, cross-party primaries would be a step toward giving voters a broader, less predictable choice, said Berry.  In a recent year, fully half the legislators elected faced little or no real opposition.

In order to attract more non-career legislators, Berry threw out the “crazy” idea of tripling the size of the legislature. This would mean smaller districts, and less susceptibility to special influence funding. Technology could enable part-time legislators to communicate and vote without having to spend lengthy time in Madison, away from their constituents.

An audience member asked: Might the incoming generation of millennials resist the trend toward excessive party-boss influence? Unfortunately, noted Berry, while the average age of legislators dipped in the 70s and 80s, it has been increasing in recent years.

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

New Research in Treating Childhood Cancer

submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

Ken DeSantes 2 28 2018

Ken Desantes pictured here with Club President Donna Hurd

Dr. Ken DeSantes presented us with a hopeful account about the modern treatments for a dreadful, heartbreaking disease: childhood leukemia. Dr. DeSantes is Clinical Director of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology program, and Director of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant program, at the American Family Children’s Hospital. So he knows of what he speaks.

Childhood cancer is not common, but even so, it is the leading cause of death for children and adolescents. Dramatic progress in treatment has been made in the last 70 years in treatment. In 1947 doctors (were they called oncologists then?) began to use a single drug that delayed the progress of Acute Lymphoblasic Leukemia. About 10 percent were cured. Today, using more sophisticated treatments, the figure is 80 to 85 percent. Yet that still leaves 15 to 20 percent who die. Current chemo treatment is rough and sometimes toxic and can take several years. Now, researchers at the AFCH, like Dr. DeSantes and Dr. Paul Sondel, are attacking leukemia with immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own T-Cells to kill cancer cells. They are using truly incredible, sci-fi techniques like inserting specialized DNA into cells that will enable T-Cells to overcome the cancer cells’ defenses. They can create an army of T-Cells that can kill leukemia cells. This “CAR Therapy” has now been approved to treat not just relapsed cancers, but newly diagnosed cases.

Another cancer, Neuroblastoma, has a bad prognosis. But a new technique that combines a genetically redesigned antibody with the body’s natural killer cells has shown a 20 percent better result than standard treatments. This MIBG therapy, which allows radiation to be taken up only by cancer cells, is still not curative, but work is being done by Dr. Sondel to improve the effectiveness of the treatment: a combination of immuno- and radiation therapy. Clinical trials are going on here.

Other cancers are being attacked using Haploid, half-matched stem-cell transplants. Techniques allow removing T-Cells that attack the transplants, leaving only the T-Cells that attack the cancer. In one recent Neuroblastoma case, a boy aged 6 was treated successfully, only to have the cancer return at age 11. Relapsed cancer cases are bad. But using the Haploid treatment, this boy has been in complete remission for two years.

In answer to a question, Dr. DeSantes noted that a very important amount of their funding for research came from relatively small gifts. And one questioner violated Club policy by making a statement: the staff members at Ronald McDonald House consider Dr. DeSantes and Dr. Sondel to be heroes. True enough.

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

From Washington to Wisconsin

submitted by Mary Borland; photo by Mike Engelberger

Jo Handelsman 2 21 2018During the February 21 Rotary meeting, we heard from Dr. Jo Handelsman. She spoke to us about her time serving in President Obama’s administration as the Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in Washington D.C. and her return to Madison to become the Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at UW-Madison. In Washington D.C., her area included the following:

  • Office of Science & Technology Policy
  • Science Division
  • Levers for Change
  • Initiatives, most notably the “Precision Medicine Initiative”

She advised President Obama about science, which he is passionate about; managed science and technology in crises, the Ebola and Zika crises occurred in her 8 years in D.C.; managed her budget; scanned for gaps and opportunities; championed new ideas; increased visibility of science and technology; led committees/task forces (26 agencies were on the Ebola task force!); and recommended candidates for the Presidential Medals for Science and Technology.

Dr. Handelsman stated how fortunate she was to work for and with John Holdren, OSTP Director, and President Obama, given both of them digest information quickly and are able to articulate it in summary form extremely well. She also shared that diversity in the agency was extremely important for better outcomes.

The levers utilized to accomplish advancements included:

  • Executive orders
  • National monuments
  • Proclamations
  • Presidential Messages
  • Presidential Speeches
  • Event Commitments
  • Federal Agencies
  • Formation of Commissions
  • Compelling Arguments + Stature of White House

Regarding the Precision Medicine Initiative: the 21st Cures legislation contained $4.8 billion for this initiative, had bipartisan support and passed both houses in Dec. 2016.

Now at the WI Institute for Discovery (WID), she is able to continue many things she worked on in the White House.  WID is currently experimenting with new ways to catalyze interdisciplinary research; generate new research collaborations across campus; and build connections with the State of WI. It is exciting to put the word out to the entire campus to obtain ideas and input on particular issues – it elevates creativity and collaboration!

WID has a “Small World Initiative” course, which is a fusion of research and education to crowdsource antibiotic research in the hopes of discovering more antibiotics. Across the world, 10K students are taking this course and providing research to solve global problems.  This includes collecting soil samples in support of developing new antibiotics. Dr. Handelsman encourages us all to visit the WID.

Our thanks to Dr. Jo Handelslman for her presentation and to Mary Borland for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

18th Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium Held Feb. 16 at Monona Terrace:  Learning the “Right Way to React”

Submitted by Carole Trone; photos by Margaret Murphy


“Oh, I like your pin!” exclaimed Sun Prairie High School student Thomas Collins. Thomas had interrupted his own polite response to my question about why he had signed up for this year’s Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium. Thomas and more than 200 other fellow high school juniors from 23 area high schools gathered on Friday, February 16, 2018, for the 18th Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium, underwritten by the Madison Rotary Foundation. Thomas and fellow classmate Jacob Monforte readily confirmed that Rotary was a familiar organization to them as they rattled off different community events that they had participated in. The Ethics Symposium, however, drew their particular interest. They jumped at the chance to sign up because it was important to them to learn “the right way to react.” Conversations with many other students that day confirmed that these young people were seeking guidance. No strangers to difficult situations, Friday’s gathering of students from across the Madison area embraced the opportunity to learn more about ethics and from each other.

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This year’s Rotary Ethics Symposium chair was Dave Scher, who coordinated the day’s program with the help of 20 fellow Rotarians and the Rotary office staff. For the planning committee, this day was the culmination of months of discussions about the most effective ways to share the Rotary ethical framework through scenarios that were ethically complex and would resonate with high school students. The thoughtful planning paid off. Members of the Edgewood College Theatre Group started the morning by acting out three different ethical dilemmas: 1) a group classroom project where one student slacked off; 2) a dilemma about whether a sports team should kneel during the national anthem; and 3) reporting a felony conviction on a college application form. Many different students shared their responses and judgments to follow-up questions skillfully posed by members of the Edgewood College Theatre Group. Notably, not every comment uniformly confirmed the same judgments, but every comment was met with respect by the large group of peers. Unconditional respect was one of several discussion ground rules outlined in the program and stressed by the Rotary facilitators, and students readily complied.


Students buzzed with conversation as they left this large gathering and regrouped for the next three sessions. For the remainder of the morning, students gathered in smaller groups of about 18-20 students for about 55 minutes per session to explore and discuss three different dilemmas: 1) a sexting scenario; 2) a student-teacher equality ratio policy; and 3) the ethics of taxing soda and sugary drinks. Students worked through the dimensions of each dilemma by applying the Rotary framework for Ethical Decision-Making:

     Recognize an Ethical Issue
     Obtain Information about the situation
     Test Alternative Actions
     Act Consistently
     Reflect on your Decision After Acting
     Yield on your Ethical Judgments

The planning committee strategically assigned students to specific sessions in order to connect as many different students from different schools as possible. “Mixing it up” proved to bring one of the most valued dimensions of the day. Megan Andrews of Middleton High School shared that this was her second year of participating because of scheduling conflict for a junior who was unable to attend last year. Megan sought out the chance to attend this year because she found the mix of other ideas from other students to be so insightful. Other students I talked to also felt that the new connection to students from other schools was a highlight of the day. These students craved the chance to learn more about other schools and students who were so close and yet completely unknown to them. One Monona Grove High School student marveled that it was the Symposium that actually connected her to a rich conversation with a La Follette student, “and we’re just down the road from each other!”

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Building stronger relationships in our community is at the core of Rotary and so it’s not surprising that the Ethics Symposium has attracted many faithful Rotarian volunteers over the years. Rotary member Karla Thennes laughed when I asked her why she volunteered. “Well, last year a member of my Porchlight board suggested that I participate, but after that first year I didn’t need any nudging. The kids are amazing! I don’t remember being challenged like this when I was in school. The students who gather here are leaders—you see a real overlap between the students here at the Symposium and the students who are awarded Rotary scholarships.”


Fellow Rotarian Stacy Nemeth agreed. Stacy has volunteered for at least the past eight years of the Symposium, adding that “it’s my favorite Rotarian day of the year.” Stacy has chaired the committee in the past and served this year as a session facilitator with Karla. It’s a big time commitment on a weekday, but with rewards that are so much greater. “You hear so many negatives about today’s youth but then you come here and realize that we’re all going to be fine with these students in charge.” Stacy also observed that it’s a one-day event that returns so much throughout Dane County. “These students go back to their schools with this new knowledge and they share it with their classmates. It’s such a valuable and unique contribution that Rotary brings to the schools.”

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Lunchtime conversations confirmed Stacy’s point. Students from several participating high schools noted that they had no opportunities to have these kinds of discussions in their busy school lives. They valued the time to reflect and also the time to talk and learn from each other. Rotarian Michelle McGrath’s post-lunch invitation for students to share what they learned readily confirmed how much students gained from the day. Dozens of students shared comments like, “I learned that there’s a lot more to consider than your gut,” and “Sometimes what is easy to do is not always right.” With cell phones in remarkably little use at any point during the day, it was clear that students were hungry for this kind of engagement.

For more photos, visit our club’s Facebook page.

Also, Neil Heinen featured our Ethics Symposium during his February 16th editorial on Channel 3000.  Click to watch it.    

Celebrating Love on Valentine’s Day at Rotary

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski

1718_Tommy Ensemble Holiday Video Shoot_02

For Valentine’s Day, Rotarians and guests were treated to a lively performance of love songs from Broadway musicals by five very talented teen performers in the Southern WI Tommy Ensemble. Students from St. Ambrose Academy, Verona Area High School, Edgewood High School and Mt. Horeb High School sang solos and duets from musicals as diverse as Phantom of the Opera, Carousel, Dear Evan Hansen, Motown the Musical, and Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812.

The Southern WI Tommy Ensemble was created nine years ago, when its first members performed in 23 area high school musicals. This year the group has 92 productions on its schedule, with performances at the Overture Center, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee, The Grand Theater in Wausau and Wisconsin Public Television.

Students have to audition and be accepted into the company. The full ensemble has 21 students.

One high school senior who has been in the group for three years told Rotarians that he is auditioning for admission to post-secondary musical acting schools. Certainly his three years with the Tommy Ensemble will help!

At the end of the performance, after the standing ovation, a Rotarian in the audience asked for an encore. Clearly the performers did not have a plan for that, but they got up and sang a beautiful a capella version of our national anthem, which they have performed at sporting events.

Our thanks to members of the Southern WI Tommy Ensemble for their musical presentation this week!

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In the “Growth Zone” to End Domestic Abuse

–submitted by Kay Schwichtenberg; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

IMG_5168 speaker 2Stephanie Ortiz, a Prevention and Public Awareness Coordinator at End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin has a unique perspective on the dynamics of power that present themselves in both our work spaces and personal lives.   Her work with rape prevention and programming for Native youth informs her intimate view of these power dynamics.

She opened her dialogue with the hope that the topic makes us all a bit uncomfortable.  In her view, the ‘groan zone’ will yield a ‘growth zone’.

The topic of power and its misuse has saturated our reading, news viewing and discussions over the past many months.

The video from Time magazine’s person of the year laid out the raw nature of self-blame, manipulation and shame felt by those impacted by abuse.  Ortiz emphasized the need for ‘turning these moments into movements’.

Ortiz laid out two areas where power dynamics can be understood and changed.

In our home lives, she said that consent is about shared and equal power.  To facilitate that discussion at home, Ortiz encouraged open dialogue on the nuances of consent, the need for all of us to speak up, and teach people how to treat us.

Work life is the second prominent place that needs a cultural change.  Ortiz suggests the following actions that can positively influence that shift.

  1. Clear policies for gender based violence
  2. Ensure that Human Resources has a level of autonomy to address the issues
  3. Provide a complete list of resources available in your community
  4. Create a culture of accountability

Individuals in the workplace should be encouraged to share knowledge and information, watch documentaries and read books with groups.

Ortiz presented a passionate discussion about the need for engaging all of us to address changing any unhealthy power dynamics that may occur in our personal and work lives.

For each of us these issues are personal and framed by our individual experiences.  What matters now is that this is the perfect time for having these conversations.

Resources to Share: www.endabusewi.org; www.ncall.us; www.riselawcenter.org

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

Culinary Arts Takes a Tour on the Spice Route

–submitted by Joyce Bromley; photos by Keith Baumgartner & Steve Wallman

IMG_0192Instead of following the yellow brick road to get to a magical destination, we drove through some beautiful Dane County roads on February 5 that led us to Vignette where a candle-lighted long table filled the length of the room.  The house was soon filled by Rotarians and that means the sounds of conversation and laughter everywhere.  Chef Mark Wroczynski prepared us for a journey with him along the ancient spice route sampling various spices and surprising us with a variety of techniques he used to make each morsel seem one mile further on the path.

We came to love the succulent descriptions along with the food and Chef Mark’s principle of beginning and ending each meal with a dessert.  His method of blending sweet with savory in each course made each initial taste a springboard of surprises.  Loretta Himmelsbach worked with Chef Mark to perfect the 4-course meal and mother nature perfected the ambiance.  Through the windows that extended along the entire dining hall wall, we enjoyed the snow reflecting light from the ground and the sparkle of diamonds in the air.  The best party is the one anyone who did not attend would regret, and this was that kind of party.

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Photo 1: from left: Haley Saalsaa, Ted Ballweg & Joan Ballweg; Photo 2: from left: Al Goedken, Brian Hellmer, Annete Hellmer, Carol Goedken & Loretta Himmelsbach; Photo 3: Betsy & Charles Wallman

IMG_2849We began with a red wine & star anise poached pear, orange coriander chocolate sauce, brandied caramel cream and for the savory—pepper candied almonds.  Course 2:  We were served a Szechuan pepper marshmallow wrapped in a crispy wonton in a bowl and then the soup was added—sweet  potato bisque with 5-spice roasted pumpkin seeds.  He warned us that it would numb our lips, but not interfere with our further enjoyment.   Course 3:  resting on orange gastrique was a roll of beef wrapped around roasted Chinese broccoli, roasted ginger sesame carrots, with the star of the evening—cashew fried rice arancini (ball) made from creamy risotto rice with mixed vegetables, formed into balls, breaded, and fried.  Course 4: Our last stop on the spice route was Key lime & matcha mousse torte with raspberry sauce.  The pretzel and ginger snaps crust as promised made it both sweet and savory.

Thank you Loretta, Chef Mark, and his sous-chef Brian for giving us such a memorable evening!