Alumni in the News
Craig High School
- Alta May Steinke 1946
- Tom Neuenschwander - 1970
- Jack Schroeder
- Pat Miller
- Janet McLean 1974
- Erin Murphy 1978
- Chris Brose 1979
- Maureen Sheehan 1980
- Gregg Hughes 1982
- Anne Basting 1983
- Andrew Poppas 1984
- John Gage 1985
- Brian Post 2001
- Dawn Kenseth 2001
- Chelsea Miller 2002
- Tucker Fredricks 2002
- Catherine Moore 2003
- Joseph Fulton 2003
- Alex Burkart 2004
- Maria Regan Gonzales 2004
- Nathan Burkart 2004
- Andy Wilson 2005
- Michael Goldstein 2005
- Sam Van Galder 2005
- Ben Zweifel 2007
- Justin Cisewski 2007
- Anthony Nguyen 2008
- Kristin Peterson Kaszubowski 2008
- Matthew Imhoff 2008
- Patrick Terry 2009
- Zach Bayreuther 2009
- Charlie Meyer 2011
- Mike Murphy 2014
- Emily Ward 2016
- Peyton Sippy 2018
- Keeanu Benton 2019
Alta May Steinke
She might not own the place, but her name is right up there—front and center.
For those who wander in to Alta May’s Place in Janesville, it doesn’t take long to figure out who the bar’s namesake is. She’s most likely the one sidled up to a gambling machine, grinning ear to ear when she pulls herself a winner.
At 92 years old, Alta May Steinke has been around Janesville for a while. A Bower City native and Janesville High School graduate, she has also created some strong local roots as the matriarch of a brood that includes six kids, 15 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
But Alta May is much more than just “Grandma.” She’s also a former pro roller skater, a late-life skydiver, a high-end automobile driver, a feature film extra and a killer-whale-shaped blimp navigator. She’s certainly got some stories and, if you’re around the bar at just the right time, you might even get to hear one or two.
To learn more about Alta May’s Place, visit the bar at 708 S. Jackson St., Janesville, or check out the its Facebook page.
1. You are the namesake for Alta May’s Place, a bar owned by your daughter, Suzanne Hamilton. How do you feel about having your name attached to a tavern? My daughter (who also owns Hammy’s Roadside Bar in Janesville) bought it and used my name. I was so excited that I cried. It was the best thing anyone could do for me. My name will live on.
2. As namesake for Alta May’s Place, what are your official duties? I would love to bartend, sweep the floors, pull the weeds. But I am 92, and I can’t see or hear. It’s tough aging.
3. I would assume since your daughter owns the place, you can play any music on the jukebox you want. What would be the first song you’d want to hear? “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles. Myself and my three girls sang it at the grand opening. It’s our family’s karaoke song.
4. Do you collect anything? I collect watches. I have 65 of them. My favorite was very expensive—$350—and I have a SeaWorld watch from Texas that I got for $50. I also have pins from all over the country to put on my Hard Rock Cafe coat. My coat is very heavy.
5. Name the one item you own that you would not want to live without. My dog, Doovey. I got him at 80 years old. He brought so much joy to my life, and it’s been difficult to live without him. I had him for 12 years. I miss him so much.
6. People would be surprised to find out that I: Drove cars at Manheim Auto Auction in Orlando, Florida, until I was 91 years old. I also jumped out of an airplane at 91. Skydiving at 80 was the best thing I’ve ever done. I would do it again.
7. I understand you appeared in the movie “Jaws 3.” How did that come about and what was your role? I was working at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. I was an extra, and my sister Joyce was an extra, too. My daughter Tamie Steinke Shoener had a skiing-talking part.
8. Have you ever met anyone famous? On the set of “Jaws 3,” I met Lou Gossett Jr., Dennis Quaid and Lea Thompson.
9. You went skydiving when you were 80 years old. What made you try that, and would you like to do it again? It was very exciting. President George H.W. Bush went when he was 80, so if he could do it, so can I. I would have gone again at 90, but my family said no. I’d go once a month if I was strong enough.
10. For a time, you were a professional roller skater. How does one become a professional roller skater, and what makes someone a “professional”? I got paid. I was a roller skater as a performer at my school and at a roller rink in Delavan. I liked to be around people.
11. You used to drive the “Shamu blimp” at SeaWorld in Florida. How did you end up doing that? It was for an advertisement back in the ’80s. I just told the SeaWorld ambassador I wanted to drive that blimp. What an honor.
12. You used to drive for Manheim Auto Auctions in Orlando, Florida. What was the nicest car you ever drove? Manheim is the biggest car auction in the United States. The nicest car I ever drove was a Maserati.
13. I understand you perform music. When did you start, and what do you play? I started at age 5, and Marshall School (in Janesville) also had an orchestra. I have five violins, and I also play the cornet and drums. My kids and grandkids have my instruments now.
14. I understand gambling is one of your favorite hobbies. Got any good stories about big wins? I love it, love it, love it. My advice is don’t put too much money in at once. Also, get out of one game and go back later. I won a big amount 20 years ago and threw $100 bills all over the house. The grandkids thought they were rich.
15. What is your worst habit? Gambling.
16. You’ve got six boys and six girls. Where did you find the time to do so many things with so much family responsibility? I did everything with my kids. I went to all of their events and got bleacher butt. I was a chaperone regularly. We lived on the river, and the Rock Aqua Jays was a big part of life for our family.
17. Some people don’t believe Elvis Presley really died in 1977. What do you think? I saw him in Madison once when my son Steve was in college. At the time, Elvis was big and fat, and it was one of the last concerts before he died. I’ve seen his grave in Memphis. He’s dead.
18. What was your first car? I drove a 1927 Chevy that was my dad’s car. He was a mechanic in Janesville.
19. If you won the lottery, what would you do? Gamble, because I love to gamble. I’d also buy an island for my family and friends so they don’t have to work.
20. Share one thing you haven’t yet done in life that you wish you could try. I love the Orlando Magic (NBA basketball team), and I went to a lot of free games because my boss at Manheim Auto Auctions liked me. It always came with a free buffet. I would love to meet (the players).
Tom Neuenschwander, right-hand man to Janesville Craig coaching legend Bob Suter, going into hall of fame
Tom Neuenschwander wanted to join the Janesville Craig High boys basketball staff as a 21-year-old student-teacher in 1973, but there was no room on the bench for him.
Twelve years later, after he taught and was the head basketball coach at Parkview High in Orfordville, there was an opening at Craig as an assistant to Bob Suter.
Editor’s note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
John “Jack” Schroeder
Forget about the hills; John “Jack” Schroeder is alive with the sound of music.
The Janesville native and Craig High grad has been an integral part of the Rock County-based Green Beret Marching Band since its inception in 1966. Aside from arranging and composing music for the group, Schroeder also has served as its director for the past 30 years.
This summer, the band earned a gold rating and Best in Class in the Sound Sport International Division of DCI in Indianapolis, Indiana; firsts at events in Fort Atkinson and Traverse City, Michigan, and seconds in competition in Racine at at a Mid-America Competing Band Directors Association finals event in Whitewater.
In addition to his work with the Green Berets, Schroeder also arranges and composes music for his church choir at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Janesville, and assists the Milton High School Marching Band with its fall program each year. He also has performed with the Choral Union in Janesville, and with the Southern Lakes Masterpiece Chorale in Elkhorn.
Academically, Schroeder holds a degree in avionics from Blackhawk Technical College. He also studied music theory and composition at the Anatowind Music Clinic in Beloit under founder Joe Simmons. Personally, Schroeder retired from AT&T in 2007 after 34 years with the company. He is married to Diana, and the couple have two sons: John T. and Ronald.
In his spare time, Schroeder enjoys fishing, working in his yard and offering private lessons to music students.
To learn more about Schroeder and the Green Beret Marching Band, visit Green BeretMarchingBand.org or search for “Green Beret Marching Band” on Facebook.
1. With so many music opportunities available to young people today, why should they consider joining the Green Beret Marching Band? Most other music opportunities are music clinics/band camps that last only one or maybe two weeks. Some of these camps are school specific. We are open to everyone 10-21 years of age and from all over Rock County.
2. You have been with the band since its inception 52 years ago. What first drew you to the Green Berets? I didn’t want to put down my drumsticks when summer came, so when a friend asked me to join the Green Beret Band, I jumped at the opportunity.
3. What type of music did your parents listen to when you were a child? Did it influence your future tastes? Mom listened to big band and vocals such as Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and The Andrews Sisters. She had stacks of 78s. Dad was into polka, dance music and old-time country and western such as Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers.
4. How many different instruments do you play? Are there any you wish you had taken the time to learn? It all depends on your definition of “play.” I can demonstrate several instruments to start new students, but to actually play, I can play any percussion instrument and saxophone.
5. When I’m not listening to marching band music, I enjoy listening to: Classical and jazz. I like the variety and complexities of sounds and rhythms of a large orchestra. Jazz has spontaneity and some wild chords.
6. The Green Berets is a sort of family affair for you, as your son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren are involved. How does it feel to know other generations of your family share your love of music and the Green Berets? It is wonderful having the whole family involved! We can spend a lot of time together being creative, expressive and still have our own space. Our son and daughter-in-law write all of our show charts. Our oldest grandson, who is 22, is so talented, and he has been composing music since the age of 11. Just seeing what he comes up with gives me great pleasure and pride. The two younger grandchildren are definitely taking after mom, dad and brother. When they are at our house, there are always instruments being played.
7. I’ve always been curious about the uniforms. What material are they made from? When it’s 95 degrees in summer and you have to march and perform, how do you stay cool? When it’s 95 degrees on the performance field, it’s just plain hot! Our uniforms are not heavy wool but a lightweight polyester. They breathe quite well, plus we have plenty of water with us at all times.
8. Discuss your method for teaching music theory to musicians with little experience. 1. Be patient; 2. Go slow; 3. When the music gives you an opportunity to teach, take it; 4. Do a little bit every day; 5. See No. 1.
9. What is your favorite food? Restaurant? My favorite food depends on what is in the refrigerator. I would love a good prime rib once in a while, but who can afford that? I like to try new foods when we go out. I once ordered oysters on the half shell and was shocked to find out they were raw (I still laugh about that one). We like going to Domenico’s in Beloit. I can never make up my mind what to order, so we get the buffet. I can try lots of great food, plus the people are super (wow, this looks like I’m a food critic). I just like food, and we go to a wide variety of restaurants, but most of the time we eat at home.
10. Name a skill you wish you had. I know someone who tunes pianos, and I wish I could. I know someone who welds, and I wish I could. I wish I could drive a race car. I wish I could speak German. There’s a lot of wish-I-coulds.
11. How did the Green Beret Marching Band get its name? The band was started by the Kienow-Hilt VFW in Janesville when ‘The Ballad of the Green Beret’ by Barry Sandler was popular, so it was a natural step to name the band The Green Beret.
12. Do you have a pet peeve? People with talent who refuse to use it. People who take two sips of a can of soda or water bottles then walk off and leave it.
13. Name the one item you own that you could not live without. My calendar. With the Green Beret Band, Milton High School Band, Anatowind Clinic, church choir, Choral Union, etc., I could never keep my schedule straight. Also, with me being the first to retire, it is up to me to keep track of doctor/dentist/chiropractor appointments.
14. Without looking in the dictionary, what would you guess it means to be “panglossian”? Panglossian would be something from the Pang dynasty in early China. (Panglossian actually means “characterized by or given to extreme optimism, especially in the face of unrelieved hardship or adversity.”)
15. How do you come up with the formations the Green Berets perform each season? Now, my son, John, writes the drill. The drill shapes are determined by the music. If the music is soft, you see smooth, slow developing shapes such as arcs and curves. If the music is loud and forceful, you use strong shapes, such as squares and diagonals.
16. If you could have tickets to see any musical act perform, who would it be, and why? If time is not a consideration, I would love to go back and listen to Bach perform his contatas.
17. What do young people learn through their experiences performing with a marching band? Most of all, they learn responsibility. They are responsible for getting to and from rehearsals, for having all of the things they need for rehearsals, such as instruments, music, field show chart book. When they are going to parades/field shows, they are responsible for having everything they need for the performance. They have several performances that require them to pack for overnighters. They are responsible for keeping their things together and for cleaning up after themselves. They learn to be part of a group. Marching band is not a “me” or an “I” activity; it is a “we” activity. Without working together, you would be a solo performer. There are times when we are short a specific instrument and the kids/or one of the instructors will grab a horn and fill in.
18. What interests do you have that are totally disassociated with marching bands? Fishing. It is so quiet and relaxing—the complete opposite of marching band.
19. A couple of years ago, there was concern about the Green Berets being able to continue because membership was down. Has that situation changed? What is the group doing to drum up continued interest? Recruiting is always a problem. In the last two years, membership has been up. More members come from current members, more than any other method. There is no better recruitment tool than the members themselves. Talking about their experiences in the band is the best draw. We have tried advertising in the newspaper, radio, Facebook, door hangers and personal visits. If I had the answer to this one, I would be a genius and also quite wealthy because I could sell it to other band directors. Several of the bands that used to march our circuit have folded because the members just weren’t there.
20. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? I would buy the band an air-conditioned coach bus with a driver. That way, we could travel in comfort and take one BIG problem off of the officers and instructors.
Gage Malensek’s outstanding performance carried Pat Miller to his 400th victory as UW-Whitewater’s men’s basketball coach Wednesday night.
The sophomore guard shot 6-for-6 from 3-point range and totaled 21 points and seven assists to lead the Warhawks past Lake Forest College, 91-58, in a nonconference game.
Whitewater (6-2 overall) shot 58.1% from the floor and held Lake Forest to 29.6% shooting in the second half to blow open a 49-38 halftime lead. The Warhawks opened the second half with an 11-2 scoring run.
Miller, a Janesville Craig product, became the third coach in Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference history to reach the 400-victory mark, doing so in his 550th game. Miller, in his 21st season at Whitewater, has led the Warhawks to two NCAA Division III championships during his tenure.
Miller’s .727 winning percentage ranks fifth in WIAC history among coaches with 200 or more victories. Entering the season, his winning percentage ranked among the top 10 in NCAA Division III and among the top 30 in all NCAA divisions. He is the 35th active coach to reach 400 victories.
Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Janet McLeanJanet McLean has a vested interest in ensuring Janesville seniors have the chance to not only age gracefully but also live fully.
As a supervisor at the Janesville Senior Center, the retired teacher works to expand seniors’ cultural horizons by setting up trips and special events. She also helps organize countless center programs aimed at providing education and socialization opportunities.
After graduating from Janesville Craig High School in 1974, McLean went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in education from UW-Whitewater in 1978. A certified ceramic instructor, McLean worked as a part-time instructor for the Sheboygan Recreation Department before joining the city of Janesville in 1993. She was promoted to supervisor in 2003.
Away from work, McLean has been married to her husband, Dave, for 26 years. She has two sons from a previous marriage: Ned Storer, an electrical engineer in North Carolina who, along with his wife, Maryann, has two children, Sophia and Eddie; and Adam Storer, a financial analyst in Oshkosh.
The Janesville Senior Center invites residents to tour the facility at 69 S. Water St., Janesville, and to participate three times in any program before being asked to become a member (annual fee is $25 per person). For more information, call 608-755-3040, search for “Janesville Senior Center” on Facebook or visit ci.janesville.wi.us.
1. What considerations do you have to make when deciding which programs to offer at the senior center? We sometimes ask the seniors themselves whether they would be interested. Sometimes they bring us program ideas that they would like to see, and sometimes it’s hit or miss.
2. What aspects of working at the senior center bring you the most joy/frustration? I get the most joy from working with the seniors, and the most frustration comes from all the paperwork.
3. What are some of the common misconceptions people have about the Janesville Senior Center? That our center is strictly an activity center. We are not a nursing home.
4. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I watch my recorded TV programs because I don’t have time to watch them when they are on.
5. You have a degree in education. How did you end up working at a senior center? With this job, I am able to teach. When I was hired 26 years ago, it was only for a three-month position. I previously had worked at the recreation department in Sheboygan for eight and a half years. This job was a perfect fit.
6. People would be surprised to know that: Back in the summer of 1977, I was the first female to make it the entire summer working as a seasonal employee for the Janesville Parks Department. A Gazette reporter was surprised to see me cutting grass on the large mower and did an article on me. It was not common to see a female in that position. Times have changed.
7. What is currently the wallpaper on your cellphone? My grandkids.
8. Why is having a vibrant senior center critical to a community’s overall quality of life? It is extremely important to have an active senior center that offers a variety of activities, and it is important for the aging community to stay active and to interact with people. Loneliness is so common among this age group.
9. Are you a “city person” or a “country person”? I’m a city person. I like living near to everything.
10. Is there an activity or program at the senior center that you specifically had a hand in creating? Which was it, and why did you feel it was needed? Line dancing and ceramics. I took those over when I started and have continued teaching them. I teach three line dance classes each week, and they are very popular. I received my certification in ceramics which, at the time, no one was certified. We have ceramics twice a week. I also teach a Tuesday night ceramic class that is open to the public—all ages—from September through May, and I do ceramic birthday parties for kids here at the center.
11. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Something working more with my hands such as carpentry or plumbing. It helps knowing these things around the house.
12. Are there any particular programs that are being considered for addition to the Janesville Senior Center schedule? There are no new programs being considered at this time, but we are always open to suggestions.
13. It seems the way people socialize, or don’t, is changing radically as the population ages. Do you see a steady number of members at the senior center, or has it increased or decreased? We are holding steady with our members. We had a great turnout at our open house in March, and people were amazed at how many things we offer here.
14. My mom enjoys playing euchre at the senior center, but it seems the game isn’t overly popular with younger people. Are activities such as this destined to disappear as generations change? Euchre is very popular here. Duplicate bridge would be a game that is not being played as much. It depends on the generation. Some like to bring back the things they enjoyed doing in their younger years, but they also like to learn new things.
15. Do you share a birthday with anybody famous? I share a birthday with Harry S. Truman, Enrique Iglesias and Melissa Gilbert (May 8).
16. What are some of the more popular activities available at the senior center? Line dancing, euchre, special events, day trips, ping pong, woodcarving and billiards.
17. Are ghosts real? What makes you say that? Ghosts are real. I have always believed there is another level that we go to when we die.
18. Aside from family gatherings, it doesn’t seem that today’s senior citizens and younger people spend much time together. Are there any programs at the senior center that encourage generational interaction? We don’t have any intergenerational programs at this time. I did a program for 10 years where we had Patty Schneider’s “English for Life” class at Craig High School do a program with us. It was so rewarding to see the senior citizens interact with high school seniors. When Patty retired, so did the program.
19. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Candy.
20. As a senior citizen yourself, what would you like younger people to know about seniors? That there is life after retirement. You should find a hobby you are passionate about. I have a lot of hobbies I enjoy, and I am fortunate I’m able to incorporate them into my job. I have a passion to encourage people to stay active through recreation.
A Janesville native running for governor of Minnesota won a vote of her party's members at their convention in over the weekend.
Erin Murphy, a registered nurse and member of the Minnesota House of Representatives from St. Paul, is the daughter of a General Motors worker. She graduated from Janesville Craig High School in 1978.
Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party members voted to endorse Murphy at their convention in Rochester. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who is not running for re-election, endorsed Murphy on Monday.
Murphy still must win the Democratic primary.
Murphy will face U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and the state’s attorney general, Lori Swanson, in the primary, which is on the same day as Wisconsin’s primary elections, Aug. 14.
Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Chris Brose’s career as a bowling alley proprietor was less about opportunity and more about expectation.
“When I was finishing high school, I had some interest in horticulture,” Brose said. “But my dad, seeing the nature of things, said, ‘You’re coming to work with me, boy.”
Brose’s dad, Bob, and two partners opened El-Ra Bowl in Janesville in 1959. Chris, a Parker High School graduate who is now 57, was taught at a young age how to do his part in the family business.
“I started my training under the tutelage of Rosey Kemp (Vine) and was learning how to sling drinks when I was 18—even though Elmer Silbernagl (one of the other original owners) had me making martinis for the ancient gals in the Imperial Lounge when I was 6ish,” Brose said. “The rest is history.”
Chris has three brothers—John, Kurt and Gary—and one sister, Kathy, who all have worked at El Ray at one point or another. Chris’ own family includes his wife of 35 years, Denise, and five kids—Ben, Rob, Rich, Duncan and Dan.
To learn more about El Ra, stop by the alley at 1942 Center Ave., Janesville, visit ElRaBowl.com or call 608-757-3020.
1. What’s your favorite bowling-related film? Why do you say that? None. “Kingpin” is the only one I can think of, and I didn’t like it too much. It had a negative view of bowling as a sport, to which the Dude can’t abide. Is “The Big Lebowski” a choice?
2. When I was a younger, league bowling for kids, adults and couples was a big deal. In your experience, has the level of involvement increased, stayed the same or declined? The level of involvement obviously has declined due to overall societal changes, much more competition for recreational time and dollars, and an explosion in choices for what to do with your free time.
3. You have bumper bowling and glow bowling at El Ra Bowl. What other steps have you taken to help bowling remain a popular pastime? Reinvesting profits back into our center. Folks want to have a modern, like-new place to hang. We fancy El Ra as the south-side country club. Also, we put a lot of effort into youth bowling, in-school bowling programs, youth leagues and tournaments, high school bowling and adult/youth leagues. Some people think youth are the future ...
4. In your experience, what’s more common: picking up a 7-10 split or rolling a 300 game? 300 game, hands down. Lane conditions and modern balls have made hitting the pocket with authority more likely. 7—10 conversions are nearly impossible. The odds are better of a lucky bounce out of the pit.
5. What is your most prized possession? Health. My family’s and friends’ health as well as my own.
6. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I like to vary my activities, but I always enjoy listening to and learning about music.
7. What is one item you simply couldn’t live without? Laughter. I can’t imagine a life without a fair dose of levity.
8. Let’s talk lane wax. Why is it so important, and how often does it have to be applied? Wax? You’re killing me, Schmalz! Oil reduces friction. Oil applied in a certain (top secret) fashion can give the ball guidance. In recreational bowling, this equals maximum guidance within the rules. When bowling is a sport, it provides contestants with a varying degree of challenge. Depending on our schedule, we will oil between 1 to 3 times per day.
9. What’s the one pizza topping you absolutely won’t touch? That topping doesn’t exist.
10. What fruit or vegetable do you absolutely hate? Not too fond of Brussels sprouts that are boiled for an hour and served with vinegar.
11. What was your first car, and how did you get it? ‘68 Nova. Paid $500, drove it for a year, got hit by another vehicle, got $500 in insurance money and drove it for another year. Then I traded it in for $300 bucks. Yes, I’m a little frugal.
12. In your opinion, is bowling a sport or a pastime? Bowling is both. You can go bowling just for fun with no pressure and have a great time. Competitive bowling requires much skill including hand/eye coordination, accuracy, consistency, endurance, experience with lane play, etc.
13. What are the things I need to consider when I’m in the market for a new bowling ball? If you bowl mainly for fun, maybe you just want a ball that fits well and is a good weight for you. If that’s the case, and you don’t want to make it hook, then save your dough and go for a hard-plastic ball. They’re less expensive and are very durable. If you want to get the ball to hook and give you more power, then you want a performance ball. These come in several price points, all of which are more bucks than hard plastic.
14. When you think of the 1980s, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Got married, got kids, got a mortgage …. oh boy.
15. Who is the best bowler you’ve ever seen? Hard question. I am going to go with Earl Anthony. He was so smooth and accurate, had a simple game, and he simply won 43 titles.
16. Why are the rental shoes at bowling alleys always so ugly? A friend once told me it’s to keep people from stealing them. Your friend is correct. We want to have the rentals stand out, so if you lace ‘em up without renting them, we can call the C.S.I. (crappy shoe investigation) team.
17. Where is your favorite place to unwind? Quetico Provincial Park (in Northern Ontario, Canada). 1,800 square miles of wilderness. It’s a pain in the a#% to get there, but the beauty, sense of adventure and solitude is unmatched anywhere on the planet.
18. El Ra is a pretty unique name. How did it come about? Some people think it means “the sunny boliche” spot, but actually, the original owners were ELmer Silbernagl, RAy Shaughnessy and BOb Brose, thus the original logo was EL RA BOwl.
19. What was your first job? Worst job? Sorting empty beer bottles at The Evergreen, a 1960s tavern/restaurant that sat across the street from El Ra. Brown, clear, green, 7-ounce, 8-ounce, 12-ounce ... the idea of a marketing niche is not new. But as I think back right now, I can’t think of any that were too bad. I like to work. Of course, cleaning up bodily fluids ...
20. What’s the craziest bowling alley mishap you’ve ever seen? During the Janesville City Tournament in 1979. The lanes were inspected just prior to the first squad bowled and were found not to be compliant (an employee made a mistake with the antiquated oiler of the day) as the lanes were too dry. My dad went ballistic (there may have been a personality conflict with the inspector) There was no time to re-oil the lanes, so my dad’s solution was to take a bug sprayer and, standing from the foul line, douse the lanes with oil. There was a fog of oil in the air across all 16 lanes, and you had to squint to see the pins. It was unbelievable. You could not get the ball to wrinkle that day. I happen to have bowled in that 1st squad myself, and I had a 279 in the first game. It was the highest game of the tournament that year (but not the highest series, too bad).
She didn’t want to be a doctor, or a nurse, or a veterinarian or a teacher.
Sheehan wanted to be a swimming coach.
“I just kind of knew I wanted to do it,” Sheehan said about her early decision. “I always had great experiences with the coaches that I had.”
So after earning nine letters in swimming, basketball and track and field at Janesville Craig, and being part of four Big Eight Conference championships while on the Kansas University women’s swim team, Sheehan got a job at the Lake Forest Swim Club in Lake Forest, Illinois.
That was 39 years ago. Until she left her position of executive director in January, she spent her life fulfilling the dream job she envisioned back in 1967.
After helping coach five youngsters who went on to compete in the Olympics and guiding thousands of others throughout her four decades at the northern Chicago suburb, Sheehan was inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Associated Hall of Fame a month ago in Dallas.
During her induction, Sheehan’s Kansas University coach Gary Kempf recalled their first year at the school. Kempf was a first-year coach; Sheehan was a freshman.
Kempf was trying to turn around a program with tough training. One day, 13 of the 14 freshman decided to skip practice “to test the waters of the new coach,” Kempf said.
Only one of the freshman showed up for practice. It was Sheehan.
“Her quietness transformed into confidence,” Kempf said. Her stubbornness transformed into strong commitment to excellence and values. Her loyalty grew so she could mentor and guide whoever she worked with.”
Sheehan was inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame in 1996 for her accomplishments at Craig and Kansas.
It turned out those years were a small part of her overall life accomplishments.
Sheehan is revered by swimmers, fellow coaches and parents she encountered at Lake Forest.
Kempf recounted a comment from Cindy Dell, who coached with Sheehan for 30 years.
“She said Mo changed and blessed her life, and she was a great role model for her and her daughter,” Kempf told the audience at the induction ceremony in Dallas.
While the swimmers that went on to compete at the Olympics were the highlights of her coaching, Sheehan believes she fulfilled her dream in a broader scope.
“It’s the overall,” Sheehan said. “Working with kids who are willing to work hard and just want to get better. That’s a highlight of coaching.”
Sheehan works out daily. She took up golf a few years ago. True to her work ethic, she became good enough to qualify for the first U.S. Senior Open.
Then her life changed significantly last summer. She had a persistent cough, which was first dismissed as a cold and then an allergy.
“I kept going, ‘I’m not right. I’m not right,’” Sheehan said.
Then one day while she was coaching her swimmers in the weight room, her lung collapsed.
A non-smoker and workout fanatic, Sheehan was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.
“It’s crappy,” she said of her prognosis.
She’s been on chemotherapy for a year, which has helped.
“Five years ago, I wouldn’t even be here,” she said.
People around Sheehan aren’t surprised with anything Sheehan accomplishes at this point.
Doug Lennox-Silva is one of the swimmers that was influenced by Sheehan at the Lake Forest Swim Club. Lennox-Silva competed for Puerto Rico at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
“He said she’s the toughest person he knows,” Kempf said. “She never shied away from a challenge, and lives with courage, integrity and humility.”
Michael Lawrence, who took over as head coach and executive director when Sheehan stepped down, marveled at her tenacity and fairness.
“Michael said if there’s an example of Midwest grit, it’s Coach Maureen Sheehan,” Kempf said.
And this year, despite the chemo treatments, Sheehan qualified for the USGA Senior Women’s Championship.
“I qualified as a medalist, which is something of a miracle because that was something I’ve been trying to do since I turned 50,” she said. “It’s just one of those crazy things.”
It is something that people have come to expect from Mo Sheehan.
NBC Sports Group Press Box: GREG HUGHESSenior Vice President, Communications, NBC Sports Group
Greg Hughes is Senior Vice President, Communications, NBC Sports Group. He joined the company in October 2011, and reports to Pete Bevacqua, President NBC Sports Group.
Hughes has strategic oversight of the communications and media relations strategy for the entire NBC Sports Group’s portfolio, including NBC Sports, NBC Olympics, NBCSN, Golf Channel, NBC Sports Regional Networks, NBC Sports Digital, and two transactional sports businesses, GolfNow and SportsEngine.
Among the highlights since Hughes joined NBC Sports Group in October 2011, Sunday Night Football finished as primetime’s #1 TV show in all key metrics for an unprecedented ninth consecutive year; Super Bowl XLIX, the thrilling four-point New England Patriots victory over the Seattle Seahawks, became the most-watched program in U.S. television history, with 114.4 million viewers; the 2012 London Olympic Games on NBC became the most-watched event in U.S. television history, with more than 217 million viewers; and Super Bowl XLVI ranked as the most-watched program in U.S. television history at the time.
Hughes, a longtime communications executive, spent 19 years with Turner Broadcasting (1987-2006), the last 16 as the strategic leader of all sports-related public and media relations efforts. He also served as Senior Vice President, Turner Entertainment Group Press Strategy. Hughes led publicity and communications for TNT’s coverage of the NBA (1990-2006), NFL (1990-97) and three Winter Olympics (1992, ’94 and ’98), and was also in charge of communications strategy for five Goodwill Games, the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Thrashers, and numerous other events and Turner network properties.
From 2007 – 11, Hughes served as President of Sedan Communications, Inc., a public relations firm he founded that represented major sports media companies, events and businesses, including NBC Sports and NBC Olympics, Universal Sports Network, The Whistle, Sportsman Channel, US Road Sports, Banded Nation and the Atlanta Braves.
Hughes received a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis on Public Relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is on the Board of Visitors for UW’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications. He received the school’s Distinguished Service Award in April 2012, and the Ralph Nafziger Award for Achievement in Journalism within 10 years of graduation (1997).
Theater artist Anne Basting wins MacArthur Foundation 'genius' grantJim Higgins
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Anne Basting, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee theater professor who responds to the challenges of aging and dementia with creative engagement, is one of this year's winners of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship, commonly known as a "genius" grant.
"Basting’s perspective on aging and the power of stories is changing the perceptions of caregivers, family members, and policymakers around the artistic and creative capabilities of older adults, regardless of age or cognitive status," the foundation wrote in its announcement.
Over the past two decades, Basting has led a series of collaborative local efforts designed to counteract social isolation and cognitive impairment among the elderly with creativity, beginning with "TimeSlips," which the MacArthur Foundation called her breakthrough project. Working with residents at Luther Manor and other locations, Basting developed an improvisational storytelling method in which older adults with cognitive impairment respond to pictures and cues by imagining stories and poems.
MacArthur fellows receive a $625,000 stipend paid in quarterly installments over five years with no strings attached. While journalists frequently refer to these awards as "genius" grants, the foundation states that it rewards "exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances."
"I have a series of 6-foot whiteboards in my house," she said. "That's how I process everything and get all my ideas out."
Relationships with seniors came easily
A Janesville native, Basting traces her interest in seniors and creativity back to middle school, when her mom signed her up for an art class. "It was me and a dozen retired people with an older professional artist. They became my sanctuary and my friends," she said. "It was normal to me to be friends, to have relationships with older people, to have this connection to people through art-making."
These connections came so readily to Basting that she was surprised and disappointed when a facilitator told her, after a successful reading of a play she wrote, that there is no audience for "a play with four women in their 90s in a nursing home."
Today she tells her students, "if you work with older people, that's not weird. People shouldn't consider you an aberration."
"Islands of Milwaukee," a public art project, broke through the isolation of local seniors via practical, low-tech outreach. Meal delivery drivers and meal programs gave seniors cards with simple questions: If you could go anywhere in Milwaukee right now, where would you go? What is the most beautiful sound in your home? What gift would you give the next generation?
Reading the responses, Basting's creative team realized some seniors wanted to get out more, but they felt street intersections near their homes were too difficult or busy to cross. That led to "The Crossings," street-performance events designed to raise consciousness about the challenging intersections.
For "The Penelope Project," Basting and a team of creative artists worked with residents at Luther Manor on the story of "The Odyssey," culminating in a performance. Basting and her collaborators documented the project in a book, "The Penelope Project: An Arts-Based Odyssey to Change Elder Care" (University of Iowa Press).
She also coordinates the Creative Trust's student artist in residence program, which embeds UWM Peck School of the Arts students in local care communities and aging services programs. This year, students are living at Luther Manor, Chai Point and Eastcastle Place, demonstrating their crafts and engaging their senior neighbors.
Before Basting, the last person living in Milwaukee to be named a MacArthur fellow was urban-agriculture pioneer Will Allen in 2008. Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, a 2015 fellow, did his groundbreaking field work on the connections between evictions and poverty in Milwaukee. Milwaukee native Liz Lerman, a 2002 fellow, was recognized for her work in choreographing and promoting intergenerational dance.
This year's 23 MacArthur fellows include poet Claudia Rankine, graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, bioengineer Rebecca Richards-Kortum and financial services innovator José A. Quiñonez. Milwaukee's Present Music has performed the music of composer Julia Wolfe, one of the new fellows. Baltimore jewelry-maker and sculptor Joyce J. Scott, another new fellow, displayed her work here at the UWM Union Art Gallery in 2006.
In this photo taken Nov. 8, former Army Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, 101st Airborne Division commander, travels to Camp Scorpion, Kabul province, Afghanistan, to visit service members
In this Dec. 12, 2018, photo, former Maj. Gen. Andrew Poppas, second from left, poses with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, third from left; U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass, left; and others after a ceremony at the Afghan presidential palace, where the president conferred the Ghazi Mir Bacha Khan High State Medal on Poppas for his service and commitment to Afghanistan.
A Janesville native who just finished a tour commanding troops in Afghanistan has a new assignment: serving the top military adviser to the president.
He has been appointed to the post of director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to a news release from the U.S. Army.
The job comes with a promotion when he begins the new assignment in February. He'll go from major general to lieutenant general, adding a third star to his uniform.
Poppas will assist the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chief military adviser to the president and secretary of Defense, according to official descriptions of the job.
The Pentagon-based job, sometimes referred to as director of J3, includes keeping tabs on all U.S. combat operations, said John Hall, a UW-Madison professor who is writing historical studies for the Joint Chiefs.
“Only highly successful generals and admirals are selected for this position, and many J3s have gone on to positions of even greater responsibility,” Hall said.
Others who have held the job include Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who went on to become the 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller, the current Marine Corps commandant, Hall said.
The job includes the translation of policy decisions from the president and secretary of defense into military guidance to combatant commanders about operations and plans, and providing “strategic guidance” to those commanders, according to a job description of one of Poppas’ predecessors.
Hall said Poppas will not advise the president, but his work could contribute to the recommendations of his boss, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a job currently held by Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
Poppas graduated from Craig High School in 1984 and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1988.
He was a brigade commander in Afghanistan in 2010-11 and commanded a squadron of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq in 2006-07.
Poppas’ most recent posting was commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan.
His decorations include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star with Valor, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge and the Ranger Tab.
- Anthony Wahl
“We thought it would be a nice tribute to him,” Brittany said.
In the process of finishing “Strange Incorporated,” they honored their dad, John Gage, who died in a car accident in 2008.
But the endeavor stoked raw emotions.
“We knew him well enough to get inside his mindset through the entire thing,” Emily explained. “But seeing him and hearing him in the video eight years after his death was hard.”
Both women work at Janesville's Videogenics, a video-production business started by their father and grandfather, Howard Gage, in 1986.
A premier showing of "Strange Incorporated" took place earlier this month in partnership with the Rock County Historical Society, and another screening may take place early next year.
Material in the film is just as fascinating as the story of how it was made.
In 2001, John Gage and a crew of friends made a video about Bachelor's Grove Cemetery in Illinois.
The small, abandoned graveyard is known as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the United States. Apparitions, floating balls of light and unexplained sights and sounds have been reported there.
John Gage unsuccessfully tried to use the film to sell the idea of a paranormal TV series, then tucked away the idea.
After his death, he left behind hours of additional video shot at Manteno State Hospital in Kankakee County, Illinois, which he was going to turn into a second TV episode.
This is where Brittany and Emily stepped in.
The women, both in their 20s, called upon their father's friends who were involved in the original project and asked them to talk about their experiences at Manteno.
“We were able to sit down with them and ask questions,” Brittany said. “We had no clue where to start with the film.”
Brittany edited the film, while Emily wrote the compelling script about the state hospital, which like Bachelor's Grove has a reputation of being haunted.
“We had 20 tapes of footage sitting there,” Brittany said. “I learned how to take raw footage and make it look good.”
After reviewing the video, they did not find evidence of the paranormal.
But they realized the horrors of life at Manteno were far more frightening than spirits of the dead.
The massive mental health complex conducted experimental testing on patients without consent.
Doctors at the facility also performed regular lobotomies and shock therapy.
In addition, allegations of sexual abuse were common at the complex, which closed in 1985.
Brittany and Emily tell the story of a young woman taken to the hospital by her parents after an argument.
“Upon entry, doctors found the woman named Gennie friendly with no signs of mental illness,” Emily said. “Ten years later after extensive neurosurgery, she couldn't do anything for herself. She eventually went to a nursing home because she was completely incompetent.”
Spray-painted graffiti on tubs and walls of the hospital tell of Gennie's horrible fate.
Brittany calls “Strange Incorporated” the biggest production of her young career.
She and Emily are pleased with the outcome.
“I now understand why my father spent so much time at work,” Emily said. “We have lived and breathed this film. We are not only trying to please the viewers, but also our dad.”
Both believe John Gage also would be happy with the film.
“He would love it,” Emily said. “He always wanted us to be as creative as he was. After 15 years, this film can see the light of day.”
Janesville's Brian Post establishing himself in Bassmaster Open professional fishing series
By ERIC SCHMOLDT Special to The Gazette Oct 3, 2022
JANESVILLE—When Brian Post launches his white and black Falcon F20 Predator fishing boat onto Lake Hartwell in Anderson, South Carolina, he’ll be feeling a little less pressure and lot more confident.
Post, 39, from Janesville, is in his third season of fishing professionally in the Bassmaster Open series. Lake Hartwell will mark the eighth of nine stops during what is his second time competing in every Open event on the schedule.
At the last stop in Louisiana, Post finished 15th in a field of 200 anglers. The $3,740 check pushed Post’s earnings on the year past the break-even point, offsetting his entry fees for the season.
So in the final two tournaments, Post goes in feeling like has nothing to lose.
“It takes the pressure off and lets you fish a little more relaxed,” said Post, who will fish in the Southern Open at Lake Hartwell from Thursday to Saturday. “If you go into this gig thinking, ‘I’ve got to cash a check here,’ then you might as well stay home.”
That’s just one of the lessons Post has learned over the course of his first 20 Bassmaster events. He tasted great success right away, persevered through choppy waters in his first full season in 2021 and is seeing persistence pay off in 2022.
Early highs and lows
These days, Post isn’t ashamed to use the word “lucky.”
But in the summer of 2020, when he put together a breakthrough tournament in just his second try, he couldn’t help but feel he was right where he belonged.
“In 2020, we were just getting our feet wet with the four (Open) tournaments,” said Post, who has been fishing in tournaments locally for about two decades. “And now, looking back, (the Open on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Jasper, Texas) was definitely a lucky event.”
Because he was in the top 12 after the first two days, Post earned a spot in the third and final day. And his 12th-place finish out of 215 anglers earned him more than $5,000.
That was all the evidence Post needed to decide he would fish the entire Open series—nine tournaments—in 2021.
But Post learned that making the finals wasn’t nearly as easy as he made it look in his debut season. His best finish in the nine tournaments last year was 23rd place.
“I’ve chalked that up as a learning experience,” Post said. “One thing I’ve always done to try and relax is put five fish in the boat, regardless of size, and then go find the big ones and upgrade. But at this level, if you do that, you’re already behind.
“I learned you can’t try and do what everybody else is doing. Just fish your way.”
Lessons out of water, too
In professional fishing, finding success on the water is only part of the equation.
To support the costs of gas, lodging, equipment and more, Post and his fellow pros rely on sponsorships.
Post has leveraged his two decades of tournament fishing into several equipment deals. And his work as a general contractor has helped him forge relationships that have led to local sponsors like Marling Lumber, Bee Line Alignment, Rock River Marina, J&D Car Care and Post Builders.
But further sponsorships sometimes require getting a little creative, and for those Brian leans on his wife, Rachael.
“The whole social media thing is not my game; my wife does all that,” Brian Post said. “We were also able to put together a really cool packet with different levels of sponsorships that we took to a lot of local businesses.
“And then you’ll see a lot of decals on my boat that are just names, and all of those came from shirt sales that we did.”
That campaign was so successful that the Posts are running it again for the 2023 season. Fans can visit bpostfishing.com, and for as little as $10 can have their name on a decal on the boat next year.
Through the ups and downs of the past two tournament seasons, Post has also learned to maintain perspective even at the low moments.
“I’ve made a lot of new friends and met a lot of new people,” he said. “This year, expenses are a little bit higher with everything going on, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
Back in the finals
Tasting success again has made the 2022 Bassmaster Open season even more fun for Post.
On the James River in Virginia in April, Post earned his spot back in the finals for the second time in his Bassmaster career. These days, that takes being in the top 10 in the standings after the first two days. Post was ninth, and he moved up one spot on the third day to finish eighth and collect a check worth $10,500.
After two solid days, Post said he went back to one of his go-to spots on the third day only to find the water had muddied and the fish weren’t biting.
“I just kept trying and kept switching baits and then at one point I found a tree where I caught nine fish in 20 casts,” Post said. “That event just really fit my style. It was fun.”
Earlier in the year, Post opened the season by finishing in the money (top 40 finishers) at an event in Florida.
And though it hasn’t been all trophy fish and honey holes for Post, his most recent 15th-place finish now has him in the top 30 in the seasonlong points standings out of more than 530 entrants, including nearly 100 who Post said are competing in all nine events.
“This year has been a really good year but also an emotional roller coaster,” Post said. “I’m either on top or on the bottom. It’s a lot, but I’m ultra-competitive and I love it. I’m gaining confidence, for sure.”
So what’s next on Post’s list of goals? A top-three finish in either overall points, or within any of the three regional divisions, would land him a spot in the Bassmaster Elite series. Or winning an Open event would mean a spot in the prestigious Bassmaster Classic tournament.
“Ultimately, I would love to make it to the Elites,” Post said. “That’d be an accomplishment.”
At this point, that might be too tall an order in 2022. But with two events left, he’ll be firing up his Mercury Pro XS 250 motor feeling like he has nothing to lose.
Editor’s note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Janesville native and Craig High School graduate Dawn Kenseth is a head electrician/stage lighting technician for touring Broadway musicals and regional theater. Some of her favorite past tours include Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” “Something Rotten,” “American Idiot,” “Mamma Mia” and “Avenue Q.”
Kenseth has worked in hundreds of theaters in 49 states, in Canada, Japan and the U.K. Her nontouring work includes the Spoleto Festival USA (South Carolina), Ogunquit Playhouse (Maine), and Chautauqua Theater Company (New York).
Kenseth is a member of IATSE (stagehands union) and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater tech/design with a minor in dance from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. Her current position is as head electrician with “Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations” in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Toronto.
To learn more about Kenseth’s work, visit DawnKenseth.com.
1. How did you end up in the lighting game? I started doing backstage work in the Craig High School drama guild and with Park City Dance Studio back in the late ‘90s. I found it to be a lot of fun playing with the lights and the light board. Before I knew it, I had a college degree in tech theater and was getting hired by summer stock theaters. A college classmate of mine recommended me for a touring job with “Rent” in 2006, and I’ve been mostly working in Broadway musical tour lighting ever since.
2. When you were a kid, did you dream of growing up one day and becoming a lighting specialist on theater productions? I had no idea this was a viable career option until college. As a kid, I went through a long, meandering list of what I wanted to be. Teacher, TV meteorologist and architect are some that I remember.
3. Is theater lighting one of those things that, if done well, goes unrecognized, or is it important that theater patrons notice it? Both options can be right, depending on the intent of the designer and director. Many design decisions might not be consciously noticed by an audience member, but they do impact the audiences’ experience. Color, shadows, brightness ... these things affect you in the same way a bright, sunny day makes you feel different than a gloomy, cloudy day—whether you realize it or not. Then there are the moments when lighting is an important storytelling device, such as with dramatic spotlights or ballyhooing lights.
4. What is the most elaborate, challenging light set-up you’ve ever worked on? In 2016, the Spoleto Festival USA did a huge production of “Porgy and Bess.” It was the grand re-opening for the Gaillard Center performance hall after a long remodeling process. It was apparently a big deal, and it felt like we had lights everywhere you could possibly put them. The overhead lights were so high up that we rented a boom lift so we could reach and focus them above the set of Charleston row houses. The massive scenery also had interior lighting in all sorts of windows, doorways and under balconies. It might not have been the most technically complex show I’ve worked, but it definitely was one of the biggest in terms of scale.
5. Some chefs don’t like to cook away from their restaurant, and some writers avoid reading after they complete big projects. How do you break from work? Sit in the dark? If by “sit in the dark” you mean “catch up on sleep,” then sure. When I’m not actively on a tour, I’ll be either at home bingeing on TV or on some crazy road trip adventure. I tend to stay mostly away from the theater but will occasionally pop in to see other shows and visit friends who work on them. However, I don’t experience shows the same way as an average audience member. I can’t help but notice what lighting gear they’re using or how they’re using it. It’s really hard to turn off those observations.
6. If you cook/bake, what dish do you consider your specialty? I’ve been traveling for many years and living in hotels most of my adult life, so my culinary skills are really abysmal. However, I have succeeded in making grilled cheese and quesadillas using a hotel iron before.
7. You have experience working with dry ice. Can’t it be kind of dangerous to work with? Indeed, dry ice can be dangerous if you don’t understand what it is. First, it’s dangerously cold even by Wisconsin standards, so I use thick gloves when loading it into the machines. It’s also important to make sure nobody lies down for a nap in the carbon dioxide-rich fog. However, that low-lying fog covering the stage floor is an awesome-looking theatrical trick for scary dungeons or fantasy dance sequences.
8. Share some of the most recent innovations in theatrical lighting. LED stage lighting fixtures are the biggest recent innovation. The quality of these lighting fixtures is getting better and brighter every day, all while using less power than the incandescent sources we’re used to. Some big shows are now being completely lit by LED, which is something that would have been nearly impossible 10 years ago. In addition, smaller LED strips can easily be bought and built into custom creations. We used to put in some rope light to add some accent lighting on scenery, but we now can put LED strips on instead, which offers the ability to change colors and make all sorts of effects.
9. What word do you always struggle to spell correctly? Receipts. I’m always getting the “I” and “E” screwed up.
10. Do you have any superstitions? Theater people can be very superstitious, but I find I’m a little more practical and don’t buy into a lot of it. I do avoid saying “Macbeth” inside the theater though, mostly out of respect for others who might be more superstitious than I am. It’s rumored that saying it inside a theater will cause disaster, which is why many will just refer to it as “the Scottish play.”
11. I can buy a 60-watt light bulb at the local hardware store. I’m guessing the lights you use are not that inexpensive or as readily available. What are the costs associated with light repair/replacement with the projects on which you work? We also have to replace bulbs (we call them lamps) for many of the lights we use. For the big moving lights, we usually replace all the lamps at the same time and before they burn out. Those lamps can cost $100 or $200 apiece, so it’s a big expense to do all of them at the same time. A good producer will budget for that cost when planning the show (while a bad one will scowl at the “surprise” expense of $2,000 to maintain the lighting). Some of the other expenses of running a show include periodically replacing the gel (the plastic piece that changes the color of the lights) and the gallons of fog, haze, snow or bubble fluids we might be using.
12. People would be surprised to find out that I: Technically still live at home with my parents. Since I’m usually on the road or working at a theater company that provides temporary housing, it doesn’t make sense for me to keep a house or apartment. Thankfully, my parents have been supportive and haven’t kicked me out yet—probably because I’m only home for a few weeks a year (or maybe it’s because I can get them tickets to shows).
13. What is the one item that, when you’re at the grocery store, goes into your cart whether you need it or not? My newest obsession is LaCroix water. I’m trying to quit my soda habit, and LaCroix has proven to be a great help in that endeavor.
14. Does your company provide all lighting for projects or supplement what a theater already has to work with? A touring Broadway musical may play dozens of different theaters over the course of a tour. We need to create the same show every time, and we can’t rely on all those theaters having the right equipment. Therefore, the show will bring all of the lighting equipment (along with the scenery, props, costumes, audio, etc.) from city to city using semitrailers. My last tour (“White Christmas”) traveled in six semis, which includes about one and a half of lighting. Most of the lighting gear is rented from stage lighting rental companies, but the show will also purchase some unique items that are specific to the show, such as any lighting built into the set.
15. What has been your favorite venue in which to work? There are so many that this alone could fill the whole article. Here’s one: The Orpheum in Memphis, Tennessee. First of all, the theater is right at the end of Beale Street, so we are next to all that fabulous food and live music when we aren’t in the theater. Secondly, the volunteer ushers host one of the best between-show meals for all the visiting touring shows. It’s a gigantic potluck-style buffet of all homemade Southern cooking. All these retiree/grandmother-figure ushers feed the tour staff as if we hadn’t eaten a proper meal in months. It’s so delicious.
16. Do you collect anything? I’ve got a lot of hotel pens, soaps and shampoos. I don’t need these things, but somehow I keep taking them.
17. What is the wallpaper on your cellphone right now? My lock screen is a picture of my Mustang. I love my car.
18. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I’d like to learn more metal fabrication and welding skills at some point. It’s not really lighting-related, but I’d like to be able to make silly lawn art sculptures, fix race cars, or who knows what else it would come in handy for.
19. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? I think I’d fund some vintage theater restorations and upgrades ... from my new beachside bungalow.
20. Is it safe to say that lighting professionals such as yourself always have the coolest homes at Christmastime? Oh my gosh—it’s a chance to nerd out with our technology outside of the theater. Last year, a colleague of mine had his Christmas tree set up on the Internet. Friends could log in to change the colors or flash the lights on the tree while seeing what it was doing on a webcam.
Art teacher Chelsea Miller smiles as she works with a fourth-grade class at West Elementary School in Jefferson last week. Miller, a Janesville native and an art teacher at Sullivan and West elementary schools in the Jefferson School District, was named Wisconsin's 2020 Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
Art teacher Chelsea Miller, a Janesville native and an art teacher at Sullivan and West elementary schools in the Jefferson School District, was named Wisconsin’s 2020 Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
Chelsea Miller always knew she wanted to be a teacher.
“All my experiences with teachers were so positive,” Miller said. “I wanted to be like that.”
On May 9, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction named Miller the elementary school teacher of the year. The award comes with $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Foundation.
“In her teaching and extracurricular leadership, Chelsea Miller combines compassion with art,” according to a DPI news release. “She understands each student is unique and able to change the world, and she aspires to influence those around her in a positive way.”
“Each student is unique” might be Miller’s motto. In her art classrooms in the Jefferson School District, she takes the kids as they are: energetic, mischievous, anxious, friendly or otherwise.
“Every child has a redeeming quality,” Miller said.
Kids seem to sense that when they come into her room, and that spirit makes them feel more relaxed.
Miller, a Janesville native, thinks she won the teaching award not because she is a better teacher but because of her community outreach. She created a Crochet Club, a Construction Club and a Stained Glass Club, which all connect students with the community through donations and learning opportunities.
Her Construction Club, for example, created a series of Little Free Libraries so students in the rural areas of her district would have access to books.
She and other teachers help organize the Veterans Day assembly each year, which features music, thank-you cards and educational visits to classrooms from the 484th Army Band.
Miller—maiden name Liebetrau—attended Monroe Elementary School, Marshall Middle School and graduated from Craig High School in 2002. She then went to UW-Oshkosh to get her teaching degree.
She cites several teachers as influences on her career.
First there was her history teacher and adviser at Craig, Tom Neuenschwander.
“He was always pushing me to do better,” Miller said. “If I got a B in a class, he’d take me aside and say, ‘What’s going on, Chelsea?’ He was always cheering me on.”
Another influence was Craig art teacher Sue Van Galder.
“She encouraged me to be an artist,” Miller said. “I had a lot of freedom in her class to explore.”
Van Galder was the first one to show her how to work in stained glass and metals. When she went to college, many other students didn’t have that experience.
Van Galder remembers her, too.
“Whatever class she was in, every single class, she gave it her all,” Van Galder said. “And she was a fabulous artist. And she spent whatever time she needed to do to get it done.”
Van Galder said all teachers have a handful of students that they miss after they leave. Miller was one of them for her.
Finally, it was Craig art teacher Doug Steiner that encouraged her to become not just a teacher, but an art teacher.
“I hadn’t thought about becoming an art teacher,” Miller said. “I wasn’t good with figure drawing. It’s just not a strength for me.”
But Steiner pulled her out of class and told her that it was important for kids to have a teacher who wasn’t perfect.
Miller loves her job, and she believes her fellow teachers have helped her succeed.
“I want to make sure that people know how awesome my co-workers are,” Miller said. “They’ve been a lot of support and inspiration, as well.”
Before this year, the last time Tucker Fredricks didn’t compete in the Winter Olympics was in 2012, when they took place in Salt Lake City.
As coincidence would have it, when the world’s best speedskaters were competing in Pyeonchang, South Korea, last month, Fredricks was back home—in Salt Lake.
Someone had to man the fort for those still training and practicing at the Utah Olympic Oval.
“I stayed back. The national team coaches and one of the transition coaches (from Salt Lake) had some athletes over at the Games, so I stayed back and took care of my team and a couple other athletes while they were gone,” said Fredricks, now a high-level head coach, in a phone conversation Wednesday. “I wouldn’t say it felt weird, but it was definitely a little different watching it on TV.
“I hadn’t watched a Winter Olympics on TV for a while.”
With two kids at home, Fredricks didn’t have a lot of time to take in curling or luge, but he said he didn’t miss a speedskating event.
“I think I was either teammates with all of them (the Olympic qualifiers) or coached all of them at some point,” Fredricks said. “So I knew all of them pretty well.”
Fredricks competed in the 500 meters during his three trips to the Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He is one of two Janesville natives to ever compete in the Olympics, and he captured 30 medals—11 gold—on the World Cup circuit in his career.
Team USA won just one long-track speedskating medal in Pyeonchang, a bronze in women’s team pursuit.
“I thought, actually, the team did quite well,” Fredrick said. “A couple of them were just on the wrong side of the tenth (of a second). There were some really close times to the podium, and they were just on the wrong side.
“It could have been a different story on any given day.”
While the Olympics ended a week and a half ago, Fredricks’ busy schedule continues through this weekend. Salt Lake plays host to the World Junior Championships, an event that Fredricks knows all too well as he won gold in 500 meters at the 2003 event. Fredricks said three skaters from his main team will be competing.
He was also in Milwaukee—where his speedskating career began at the Pettit National Ice Center—for the U.S. Olympic Trials during the first week of January.
“It was nice to finally have it back there,” said Fredricks, a 2002 Janesville Craig High graduate. “Through my career, they had one Olympic Trials that I was too young, or too slow, to compete in. The rest of them were in Salt Lake City.”
Fredricks is now a long track FAST team head coach at the oval in Salt Lake. Depending on the season, he coaches junior, development and elite skaters ages 16-33, he said.
“I get a mix of a bunch of different athletes,” said Fredricks, who has been coaching since his last Olympic competition in Sochi, Russia. “Each year, I’m learning a lot and getting more and more comfortable, understanding this side of it a little bit more. Just like an athlete, there’s peaks and valleys through a season, but on a whole, it’s the next closest thing for me to skating, so I’m really enjoying it and it’s fun to give back to the sport.”
Fredricks has high hopes heading into this week’s World Junior competition.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “We have a pretty good group this year. They’re still young. I think it’s only two of the athletes’ last year as a junior, or maybe three out of the 10. The rest are fairly young and going pretty quick for their age. It should be a pretty good showing.”
Who knows? Perhaps for a young skater or two it’ll be a step toward competing in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. Or, for Fredricks, a step toward returning to the Winter Games as a coach.
Eric Schmoldt is sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at email@example.com.
Poignant pieces depicting President Jimmy Carter, Stacey Abrams and the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders drawn as Ernie from “Sesame Street.”
Simple pieces of whimsy featuring tin cans, tomatoes and dates.
All come from the mind of Catherine Moore, a highly-regarded freelance illustrator whose clients have included The Washington Post, Ralph Lauren, Men’s Health Magazine and more. Her work also has been featured numerous times in the international illustration quarterly Creative Quarterly, twice in the Atlanta AIGA Poster Show and also in the ICON Illustration Conference Art Show.
The Janesville native, who graduated from Craig High School in 2003, now makes her home in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia, and works as an assistant art professor at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Away from work, Moore lives with her partner, Carlos; their year-old daughter, Ramona, and their dog-hter, Marta.
To learn more, visit CatherineAMoore.com, or search for @catamooreart on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Dribble.
1. In looking at your work, I really like your “Ernie Sanders” illustration. Do you have any personal favorite projects you’ve worked on? The “Arrested Development” series will always be a favorite. I watched hours of the show to get the right expressions.
2. From where do you draw inspiration/ideas for your illustrations? Most of my personal work revolves around portraits of political figures and entertainment celebrities, editorial social justice issues and plenty of puns.
3. What is your preferred medium to express your artistry? I’ve always preferred graphite … grayscale work was my first love. In grad school, I learned how to watercolor and taught myself the pastel/colored pencil combo I’ve used for my color portraits over the past few years.
4. What is currently the wallpaper on your cellphone? It’s buttons on the control panel of one of the Chernobyl nuclear reactors. I was fascinated by the HBO series and recently finished reading “Midnight in Chernobyl” by Adam Higginbotham.
5. Who is your favorite Muppet? Sam Eagle, who, as noted on HottestHeadsOfState.com, bears a striking resemblance to Warren G. Harding.
6. You have had your work featured in some prominent publications. What would you define as your big break? My packaging work for Paris Baguette USA generated a lot of future work, including my work for Ralph Lauren. However, I’ve always loved editorial work, so being commissioned to draw Justice Anthony Kennedy for The Washington Post was a real treat. The design team did an incredible job laying out the full-page image.
7. Are there any other illustrators whose work you admire? Do you incorporate aspects of their style into your own work in any way? Too many. Christoph Niemann is an all-time favorite for his visual puns. Although it’s rather cliche, seeing the Norman Rockwell exhibition in the Guggenheim (Museum in New York City) was an influence in visual storytelling through realism. I’m also continually influenced by my peers and friends from grad school who have been doing exceptional work in illustration.
8. Can you name a popular television show you either have never seen an episode of or that you don’t understand why it is popular? I couldn’t get into “Parks and Recreation.” It was too much like “The Office.” I’m very sorry, everyone else in the world.
9. Your illustration of President Jimmy Carter is in the collection at his presidential library and museum. How did that come to be? It came from Atlanta being a small town that loves its heroes. A friend of mine worked for the Young African Leaders Initiative and had a meeting for their group scheduled with President Carter. After I completed the portrait, she offered to gift him a print of it at their meeting. That print hangs in the Carter Center next to my friend Annalise Kaylor’s photograph of him, which I used with her permission as the reference. Through another photographer friend, I made contact with his presidential library and museum, which also has a print hanging at the entrance to the research library. It’s truly the honor of my career to have these portraits displayed.
10. Do you consider yourself political, or do you simply see opportunities for expressive illustrations in particular politicians? I think political personalities and their images provide the storytelling element people need to get behind a political idea. People are compelling in a way that dry political theories are not. I also don’t think anyone can ever completely align their personal political beliefs with another person’s. For the most part, in my personal work, I draw politicians whose stories I admire, even if I don’t 100% line up with them politically.
11. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Siggi’s yogurt. Low sugar, high protein!
12. Before acquiring your Master of Fine Arts degree in illustration, you earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Why did you not pursue a career in psychology? The question is why did I not initially pursue a career in art. I did not understand how an undergraduate degree in art could translate into a job, and I also wanted to explore a lot of interests in college. However, I finished college without a job and with a withering connection to my calling. I knew that if I didn’t take a leap to pursue art then, it would be something I’d regret forever. I applied to SCAD, was accepted, and it was the most important leap of my life.
13. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Dance.
14. Have any of the human subjects of your illustrations reached out to you with comments about your work? I met a bar owner in Atlanta who told me (“Arrested Development” actor) David Cross was a regular at her restaurant and offered to give a print of my portrait of him to him next time he came in. Instead, he signed it and gave it back to me. That was pretty cool. The real Piper Kerman (author of “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison”) also retweeted my illustration of Piper Chapman from the “Orange is the New Black” series on Netflix. Also pretty cool!
15. In addition to being a freelance illustrator, you also are an assistant art professor at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia. What is your teaching philosophy when it comes to art? The most important connection students will make is that between art and the communion of a diverse society, in which they will encounter viewpoints different from their own. Through all of my teaching, I hope to help students create meaningful and truthful work while participating in a cycle of inspiration, creativity and collaboration.
16. As a writer, I know it’s sometimes hard to be creative on demand. Do you also sometimes struggle to be creative when deadlines approach for your illustrations? Creativity is, like any other skill, a practice. The adrenaline of a deadline fuels creative solutions. However, that said, over half of my jobs come to me with the art director already knowing exactly what he or she wants.
17. Do you collect anything? I have a small coin collection of small coins.
18. Describe your creative process. Being able to freely sketch, without edits or judgment, is the most important skill to develop for the creative process. Be able to open your ideas up to peer critique and allow that feedback to push your ideas further.
19. Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely? Never. This career is a marriage—you have to work for it, but it is sustained by a constantly renewed passion.
20. What advice do you have for any young illustrators who might want to follow in your footsteps? Proficiency follows practice, practice follows passion. Put your energy into proficiency in your craft, not pursuing a paycheck. Your calling lies in the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs.
Joseph Fulton, a 2003 Craig High School graduate, has been nominated for a Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Award for his editing work on the NBC show ‘Will & Grace.’
When the 72nd annual Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards are presented virtually Sept. 12-13, the list of honorees will include a name some in Janesville might recognize.
Joseph Fulton, a 2003 graduate of Craig High School and son of Jeff and Teresa Fulton, is one of four nominees for an Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series.
“It is my first nomination, which is really cool,” he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I’m definitely not the front-runner, but as a lot of people tell me, it’s an honor to be nominated.”
Fulton is being recognized for his work on NBC’s “Will & Grace,” the popular series starring Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally. The show, which debuted in 1998, wrapped in April after 11 seasons that included an 11-year hiatus from 2006-17.
The episode for which Fulton was nominated, “What a Dump,” was the seventh episode of season 11.
“Grace (Messing) is dating a guy and ruins his bathroom. That’s the ‘A’ story,” Fulton said. “And Jack (Hayes) and Will (McCormack) get into a fight about money. That’s the ‘B’ story. It’s not off color, but there’s a lot of 'toilet humor.'”
Another episode of “Will & Grace” titled “We Love Lucy” also is nominated in the same category, along with “Slappy Holidays” from ABC’s “The Conners” and “Boundaries” from Pop TV’s “One Day at a Time.”
Fulton showed interest in film editing early, getting his start making videos with his brother, Brian, and childhood friends Jeff Bell and Chris Horton. While at Craig, he took classes in communications technology and gained some valuable experience shadowing the staff at Janesville’s Videogenics. Fulton went on to earn a degree in radio and television at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.
Since moving to California, he has worked on other TV programs including “Mike & Molly,” “Fuller House” and “The Great Indoors.” He currently is editing an indie film, “A Thousand Little Cuts,” starring Marina Sirtis (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”).
“I don’t know when we’re going to be doing a festival circuit (for the film), but we will certainly be submitting it to BIFF (Beloit International Film Festival),” he said.
Though his name might not appear in the lead credits of the shows he edits, Fulton enjoys his work.
“I like that it is sort of like putting a big puzzle together. You take everybody’s best pieces,” he said. “’The actors on screen ... you take their best work. And then there is wardrobe, sets and writing, and you put the best pieces together to tell the story.
“I just like putting it all together and telling a funny story. My job is to make you laugh. At the end of the day, if I do that, it’s job well done.”
20Q: Catching up with actor/director Alex Burkart
Editor’s note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Alex Burkart is a theater artist who grew up in Janesville and now resides in Los Angeles. He holds an Master of Fine Arts degree in Performance Pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently a visiting assistant professor of theater at Beloit College this fall.
Burkart has authored three full-length plays: “Atlas Pit” (which received a world premiere in 2016 with the Los Angeles New Court Theatre), “El Ciclope” (which was a finalist for the 2018 Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference and was a top-eight finalist among 1,200 submissions in the 2018 Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle Hart New Play Initiative), and his latest effort, “Stone Point.”
Burkart’s acting and directing work has been seen across the country at numerous professional and equity stages, and he has taught classes and workshops in performance at Virginia Commonwealth University, Adams State University, SETC, Beloit College and Zak Barnett Studios in Hollywood, California.
To learn more, visit AlexBurkart.com.
1. You’re a twin (Burkart’s brother, Nathan, is executive director at the Janesville Performing Arts Center). Share a situation where being a twin is beneficial and one where it’s not. Besides being able to use each other’s IDs to get into a bar when the other has forgotten his (it’s worked several times in Los Angeles), the twin-ship has opened some amazing doors creatively. Ultimately, doors in the entertainment world are easier to open if you have something about you that is … well, different. Mine just so happened to be wired-in since birth. This has been a double-edged sword, however. It took me a while to identify who I was apart from being a twin (artistically), as I’ve often struggled to find my own individual voice, opinion, poetics, etc. I became quite used to thinking of us (me and Nathan) as a team rather than as individual persons. I think that was a unique challenge to overcome that proved to be enlightening.
2. You’ve been living in California for some time. Do you miss Wisconsin, or have you gotten used to year-round sunshine? I love the “magic” in California’s air. It’s easy to believe you’re constantly on the cusp of something life-changing. That said, it does tend to be misleading, and I often miss the humbleness and friendliness of Wisconsin. I miss the change in seasons, and I miss my family and roots. Perhaps that’s why I tend to visit a fictional Wisconsin so often in my plays. My creative child constantly drives my imagination back home. Maybe one day I’ll come back for good.
3. Your second play, “El Ciclope,” has received a lot of attention. What’s it about? The play takes place in the same world and in a parallel time frame as “Atlas Pit” (my first full-length play). “El Ciclope” centers on a homecoming queen (Courtney) who is failing Spanish, so her teacher sets her up with a tutor: a teenage, first-generation, Mexican-American foster child (Mateo) who teaches by giving her stories written in Spanish that she has to decode. The stories depict horrific and tragic events in Mateo’s life, and Courtney comes to discover the stories are true. The process ultimately leads to an astonishing transformation of a one-time homecoming queen into her now unrecognizable self. It’s about “otherness” and how embracing our differences can be liberating. I dig it.
4. You’re back this summer to teach theater at Beloit College. How did that opportunity come about, and what do you hope to gain from it? I hold an MFA in performance pedagogy, which is a fancy way of saying I teach performance (acting and directing) for colleges and universities. I’ve been teaching at an acting school in L.A. for the last two years, but I’ve been itching to get back into a collegiate setting. I learned one of my past mentors, Amy Sarno, was actually taking a sabbatical last December, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I’m lucky they picked me. I’m ultimately looking to gain more experience working in the liberal arts college setting, working with a diverse group of students, learning from their stories and hoping they learn a little bit from my experiences as well.
5. What first drew you to a life in theater? My impulse is to say my mother made me do it (letting me, as an 8-year-old, audition for shows with SpotLight on Kids), and I just happened to be relatively good at it, so I figured why not. I used to only be an actor, but that’s changed a lot since I left and found my own voice. Looking back, the real answer is probably that I always gravitated towards telling stories. I used to draw and write comic books with my mom and dad growing up, and I always loved using my imagination. I eventually found a way to put it to good use and be productive with it.
6. When I’m not busy working on my career, I really enjoy: Reading Stephen King novels (I’m a junkie). I used to be crazy about “Goosebumps” growing up. R.L. Stine was my jam, and I was always the one to have the first copy out of all my friends in elementary school. With my love for horror, it didn’t take me long to gravitate towards King. His incredible character development didn’t hurt either. I also love the gym. I go into this zone there where the world is on pause. It’s kind of relieving with all of the hustle and bustle that is going on in L.A.
7. If you could meet anyone living or dead, who would it be? My future children. I’d love to see what a mess I made of them.
8. When it comes to acting, do you prefer doing it yourself or do you get more out of teaching? I get so much more out of teaching. It was weird; I developed this over self-consciousness with my acting work where I started to beat myself up about every little thing. My process became a selfish one, and I became concerned with my ability to break through and climb to the top of this seemingly endless Hollywood career ladder. Teaching however, is completely different. It is never about me in that classroom; it is always about my students, in the most positive sense. And instead of wallowing in my own failures, I’m celebrating theirs. I’m giving them keys that help them unlock doorways into understanding themselves, others, and this world. It is amazing, and I’m really into it.
9. Ever been star struck? I nearly threw up once when I walked around a corner in Macy’s and saw Steve Carell trying on a jacket. I’m such a fan of his work. It can be funny, tragic, and everything else all at once. His performances are incredibly human. I’m insanely jealous.
10. Everyone knows struggling actors have to start out waiting tables. How did you pay the bills early in your career? I waited tables. Just as you said: “Everyone knows struggling actors have to start out waiting tables.” It’s so very true. It’s flexible, pays good money, and you talk to a lot of people.
11. What is your dream project? I’d love to work on a play of mine in New York City. I write mostly for the voices of people I know, so the cast and director would all be my usual suspects. Of course, there are the ongoing politics that help give a play more traction in a city like that, but honestly, dream-wise, I like to work with artists I respect and trust.
12. What is the screensaver on your cell phone right now? It’s a picture of my wife and me on my wedding day. It’s there because she’d probably change it back if it was anything else.
13. In your opinion, what is the single greatest asset most successful playwrights share? Honesty. If a playwright can be honest with himself or herself, the voices of the characters and the worlds they live in will be successful. It doesn’t matter what type of play you write as long as it is honest.
14. Share something “California” that Wisconsinites wouldn’t understand, and vice versa. I had a job once where one day it took me three hours to go 20 miles. The traffic is real. One day, my air conditioner went out in my car. I figured that must be what hell is like: sitting on the 101 in a black car without air conditioning for three hours. California people never understand cheese curds. Deep-fried balls of cheese aren’t really in their diet plans.
15. Ever sung karaoke? I met my wife at a karaoke bar. I sang “Mack the Knife” (I’m a sucker for that older stuff), and the rest was history.
16. Your plays seem to carry very heavy subject matter (drugs, sexuality, death). Why no comedy? I just write what comes out. There are always moments that have humor in my plays, but I don’t write for genre. I write about what I notice in life. Perhaps one more funny than the others will pop out eventually, but none yet.
17. Do you believe in karma? Sure. I mostly believe in it because I want it to be true. Those who give out good vibes should be rewarded for that, and vice-versa for the opposite people in this world.
18. Share the best piece of advice about theater you’ve ever received. I had a teacher who once told me my acting work was a really good coat, and that the only problem was my coat was turned inside-out and I was showing people all of my seams. That teacher said my choices ultimately looked like choices rather than coming out of truth and honesty. It was the best constructive criticism I’ve ever received. We as performers have a mission to give our audiences experiences, and we should never expect them to see our processes. It’s a part of the magic.
19. Has there ever been a time when you almost walked away from acting/directing? After a terrible audition for “Modern Family” where I forgot all my lines, I fell apart crying at the steering wheel of my car (so much happens in cars in Los Angeles!). I decided to drive straight to the beach, where I sat with my now wife and told her I was giving up. I decided to go back and get my MFA instead. It was there I wrote “Atlas Pit,” and I realized my audition catastrophe was all for a reason.
20. Who inspires you? Those who are free. Those who aren’t. Those who fight. Those who love. Those who hate. Those who dream.
Every day after leaving St. Mary’s School in Janesville, Maria Regan Gonzalez would walk to her mother’s place of work, the YWCA, and help out by watching kids or cleaning.
“Growing up as a kid, I saw my mom and dad extremely involved in our community, and they taught us the values of community service,” Regan Gonzalez said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
She never considered politics for a career, but she said her parents’ example led her on a path to being elected mayor of Richfield, Minnesota, on Nov. 6.
Her afternoons at the Janesville YWCA—located near the courthouse back then but now on the city’s south side—came at a time when the city was seeing an influx of Spanish speakers, many of whom looked to the YWCA for help. Her mother, Belem Regan Gonzalez, was the organization’s Hispanic outreach coordinator.
“Of course I was inspired by my mom, who just works tirelessly in our community to help people get resources,” she said.
Maria graduated from Craig High School in 2004. She had been involved in the Human Relations Club with an inspiring teacher, Santo Carfora. She was one of three members of the Gay-Straight Alliance and wrote a column about social and environmental issues for the school newspaper, she recalled.
Volunteering “was just what I did. It was a part of my everyday life,” she said.
Her classmates voted her most likely to change the world, and while she makes no claims to being on that track, she is dedicated to serving her constituents, many of whom come to her regularly because she looks like them and speaks their native language, she said.
Regan Gonzalez graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in international relations and Spanish.
She eventually took a job with the city of Richfield, where she bought a house, helping connect residents with city services. She was struck by the opportunity to make change through local government, something she had known little about.
When an opening on the city council came up two years ago, she ran against an established candidate, getting 57 percent of the vote.
When nobody ran for mayor two years later, she was encouraged to run. She won without opposition.
Regan Gonzalez will be a mayor in a city of 36,000 that is governed similarly to Janesville: A city manager runs the operations, while four council members and a mayor set policy and direction.
The landlocked city has a school district in which 72 percent of students are people of color, she said.
Richfield has been named the Twin Cities’ best suburb. It’s a hot real estate market with no vacant land, so re-development is common. Homeowners sometimes find their neighborhoods transformed by multi-unit rental housing, she said.
Businesses are attracted to Richfield, she said, “but we don’t want to price our families out of their homes and our community, and unfortunately that’s dictated by the market. We can put protections in place, but at the end of the day, it’s the market.”
“I think the No. 1 challenge I’ll face as mayor and we’ll face as a community is change, and change is happening quickly,” she said. “And how are we going to respond to that change? (Will we be) proactive or push it away? Will we open doors to whoever wants to come in or accept change in way that fits our community?”
As mayor, “You aren’t necessarily the most popular person. You have to make decisions for your community and think 30, 40 years out,” Regan Gonzalez said. “And you have to do that on top of a full-time job.”
Her full-time job is as a senior project manager for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. She helps the insurance provider in its efforts to address the root of health-care needs in communities.
She also is working on master’s degree in public health.
Maria sees “huge inequities in who holds leadership in our state,” so she sees the election of a woman and the state’s first Latina mayor as a significant step forward.
“One of things I love the most is going to schools and talking to kids and the way they glow, the way they get excited to know that somebody like me is the leader of our city,” she said.
She said she feels a connection to the wave of women voted into public office around the country this fall, but as the winner of a nonpartisan election, she is glad she doesn’t have to stick to any party’s ideology.
“I absolutely love that it’s nonpartisan. I think it’s a huge asset to our community. I don’t have to adhere to any political party,” she said “I get to focus on what’s best for my community.”
20Q: Catching up with JPAC executive director Nathan Burkart
Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Nathan Burkart, a Janesville native and 2004 Craig High School grad, is back in town as the executive director of the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
After graduating high school, Burkart earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater from Webster Conservatory in St. Louis. From there, he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a professional actor for eight years, appearing in everything from a national McDonald's commercial to the Adam Sandler film “Jack and Jill.”
While in L.A., Burkart started his own theater company, the Los Angeles New Court Theatre, and helped triple the size of an acting school in Hollywood in just six months.
Burkart lives in Janesville with his wife, Megan, and their newborn son, Holden.
For more about the Janesville Performing Arts Center, visit JanesvillePAC.org.
1. You were born and raised in Janesville but moved west to work professionally. What do people who have never left Janesville take for granted about living here? Having affordable housing and education. You need literally a million dollars to own a house in any area that has nice schools and decent living situations. You also live what feels like half your life in your car. It would take me 45 minutes to drive 12 miles to work every day. I saw my hair losing its color in my car mirrors.
2. You're a new father. What aspect of parenthood were you least prepared for? The incredible love you have for your child. Everyone tells you that parenthood changes your life, but actually feeling it is something that I really don't think you can prep for. I always knew I'd love my kid, but the overall emotion that I was overcome with was awesome and powerful to say the least.
3. You and your brother Alex are twins. Name three things people assume about twins that make no sense. 1.) Twin powers. So many people think Alex and I might have some sort of supernatural power because we are twins. Sometimes when people ask, I tell them light shoots out of our hands when we touch to see their reactions.
2.) We are not the same person. Many people lump twins into a group. I always say that when you have salt and pepper, they are “salt and pepper,” not “the shakers.” 3.) All twins like the same things. Alex and I do share common interests, but we also like tons of different things. Some people think we need to like the same things because we have identical DNA.
4. What do you miss most/least about living in L.A.? My friends. I had a wonderful friend group in Los Angeles that was incredibly supportive and stretched me so much as a person and artist. Some of them have already visited, but I miss them every day. I bet you thought I'd say the weather. I don't miss the traffic or paying my massive rent bill every month.
5. Who is the most famous actor/actress you've met, and what were the circumstances? Adam Sandler cast me in one of his movies. I walked into the audition room and he was lying on the couch. I froze for a second before proceeding. Adam was awesome. I also got to work with Edward Albee quite a bit. Edward won three Pulitzer Prizes for his plays and was an incredible person to study from. Another fun story is that, while managing my café in Los Angeles, I routinely took care of Clay Matthews' parents. We became pretty good friends. The first day Clay actually came in, I went and hid in the kitchen and called my dad.
6. Do you have any pets? I have a blind Yorkshire terrier named Oliver. He is 10 years old and still loves to play with his ball.
7. Do you have any superstitions? Not really. I try not to say “Macbeth” backstage. If I accidentally do, I always brush it off and say, “Let's see what happens.”
8. If you could choose someone to play you in a film about your life, who would it be? Andrew Garfield. I think he is an incredible actor, and his acting is very similar to mine. Not to mention my wife thinks he's attractive.
9. Do you plan to do any acting locally? I do. I would love to act and direct eventually. I am taking the time to really dive into my new role at JPAC, but in a few months, I think I'll be ready to take on those other opportunities. Maybe a project or two a year tops. My wife is also a super talented singer/actor, so I look forward to her participating eventually, too.
10. Can you cook? I am a terrible cook. One time, I felt inspired to cook something for Meg, so I made pasta and threw green beans in there. She laughed when she tasted it and let me know I was relieved from any future cooking duties.
11. You're a sports fan. If you had to choose between tickets to your favorite theater production and tickets to Lambeau Field, which would you choose? If they were NFC Championship tickets, I would take those. Otherwise, I would take the theater tickets. I can go to other sporting events. You throw “Hamilton” tickets in front of me, and it's a no-brainer.
12. Share something the executive director of a performing arts center gets excited about that the general public wouldn't understand. When I hear that someone will donate a large tech item I was going to have to rent. When bringing in shows, I need to budget for much more than just the artist fees. There is tech, backline and hospitality. When I can find ways to drive those other costs down, it gives me flexibility to be creative with the rest of my budget. Flexibility makes me excited.
13. Do you have a mentor? I have many mentors. I look at the board at JPAC as my current mentors. They have taught me so much since I've been here, and I look up to them very much. The owner of the acting school I managed in L.A. was another mentor of mine. He taught me how to integrate spirituality and activism into the entertainment field. I work hard to incorporate that into my job as ED at JPAC.
14. Share a memorable experience you've had while auditioning. I was asked to eat a cold burger during my audition. They told me to pretend I loved that burger. After I got done, the person running the audition asked if I was a vegetarian. I said, “No,” and they said, “You looked like that burger was the worst thing you have ever eaten in your life.” We did it again, and I actually booked that McDonald's spot.
15. What is your main objective as executive director of JPAC? To listen to what ideas the community has and to find ways to bring them to life.
16. Ever sung karaoke? My friends used to rent a karaoke room in Korea Town in L.A. Anything from a musical was usually a good way for me to jump into the fun. I prefer to do it with a partner than by myself.
17. Describe the underlying cultural differences between the Midwest and the West Coast. The West Coast is incredibly diverse. Almost every single country in the world is represented in Los Angeles. You get to see how different groups live, worship, eat and communicate with each other. Schools and public buildings would have days off for holidays that weren't just Christian holidays. I got to have so many experiences. I actually went to my first quinceanera and participated in a few events where English was not the primary language spoken.
18. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I still get nervous every time I go on stage. Some people don't realize that actors get nervous, too. I have always justified it by saying it's because I care so much. I always thought the minute I stop getting nervous is the minute I stop loving it.
19. When you were living in L.A., was there anything in particular about Janesville you missed, or vice versa? I missed a Janesville fall. I used to google images of “Autumn in Janesville” and make that my desktop picture. I missed my mentors and teachers from Janesville. I also missed clouds, which provide this awesome filter when you look at the sky. In L.A., there were times where I just saw too many clear blue skies. I know … how could that be possible? Now that I'm back, I would say I definitely miss the mountains and beaches. LA has an incredible terrain.
20. Were you looking for a reason to return to Janesville, or did this position just come along at the right time? I was looking to come home under the right circumstances. I always knew in my heart I'd be coming back to Wisconsin one day—I just didn't know when. When this position came up, it was something that I wanted. I cared so much about this building since (JPAC) was being organized back in the early 2000s. I wanted to raise my family in Janesville, and I wanted my son to know his grandparents. Janesville is an incredible place.
Andy Wilson For singer Andy Wilson, music is truly Sublime.
As lead voice for reggae/rock/ska band Lou Dog, Wilson and his cohorts celebrate the entire catalog of the 1980s-90s California group. Other members of Lou Dog include Zane Bawazir (guitar), Zach March (bass), Jamie Shere (drums) and Adam Tollefson (turntables).
Wilson, a Janesville native, is a 2005 graduate from Craig High School. When he’s not on stage—or on his motorcycle, Wilson is spending time with his wife, Desiree Robinson, and the couple’s sons Carter Robinson, 13, and Sawyer Wilson, 5. The family also includes a rather jealous Australian cattle dog-shepherd Nova Jean and a “giant furry snob” in tomcat Jarvis Wumbo.
To learn more about Wilson and Lou Dog, search for the band on Facebook or seek out “LouDogBand” at Soundcloud .com to stream the group’s album.
1. Where does the name “Lou Dog” comes from? “Lou Dog” was the name of (Sublime guitarist/vocalist) Bradley Nowell’s dalmatian. The iconic dog was kinda the mascot for the band.
2. Lou Dog is defined as a Sublime tribute band. Why cover Sublime? When I was in high school, I really wanted to do a Sublime cover band. It wasn’t until after graduating that I found the right people to do this with me. Sublime appeals to a wide variety of audiences, and nobody was really performing that kind of music around here.
3. When did you first discover your interest in performing music? In 2001, I was living in Sioux City, Iowa. A friend of mine asked me if I would do a guest spot and perform “Sober” by TOOL for his band at a small club show. It was that performance for me that took me to the edge of the cliff, I knew after that I wanted to jump.
4. You’re a motorcycle guy. How did you get into bikes, and what do you ride? Do you have a dream ride? I ride a 2014 Harley-Davidson Limited and a 2005 H-D Dyna LowRider. I don’t have a dream ride, I just like making motorcycles rad. My brother from another mother Jerad (RIP) would say, “It ain’t custom til ya cut it,” and that’ll hold true with any bike I get my hands on.
5. The greatest snack food of all time is …? Defend your answer. I’m not a snack time kind of dude—but I never turn down a piece of jerky. I just don’t buy it very often. I’d rather make it in my smoker. $10 for a little bag of beef jerky is robbery!
6. Along with music and motorcycles, you’ve also spent some time bartending in Janesville. What is your favorite drink to make, and why? My favorite drink to make is when someone comes up to the bar and takes 15 minutes to basically tell me they don’t know what they want. “Something fruity!” Then I pour five different juices and vodka in a glass with a neon straw. (Insert eyeroll here.)
7. At the grocery store, name the one item that goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Dill pickles. Specifically the deli kind—Claussen ... giant plastic jar. If you’re a dill pickle fan, you will not be disappointed.
8. When it comes to music, what bands or artists do you like aside from Sublime? I’m fairly eclectic when it comes to music, and I like a lot of different styles/genres. Deftones, Highly Suspect, Outkast, IDLES, Nothing But Thieves, Excision, Joyner Lucas, Tyler Childers, Led Zepplin, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Wu-Tang, Zomboy, Dirty Heads ... I can keep going but I think you get the idea. I’m everywhere.
9. In your opinion, is Lou Dog simply a fun endeavor, or are you guys hoping to someday take the band to the next level? When we recorded our self-titled album, there were times where we thought we might want to swing for the fences and really try to put Lou Dog on the map. It’s a difficult thing when your foundation has been that you’re a tribute to an established band. We ended up going through some member changes and taking extended breaks between playing/practicing. I think it’s really just a fun thing for us now. The more stress we place on ourselves, the less fun it becomes. We’re just trying to have a good time.
10. The best thing about performing live is: Watching people dance, sing along and enjoy themselves. The free beer part doesn’t hurt either.
11. People would be surprised to find out that I: Am fluent in American Sign Language. My mother is deaf, so ASL was my first language.
12. You provide the vocals for Lou Dog. Have you ever taken any sort of vocal lessons, and how do you warm up before a show? Never taken a vocal lesson outside of choir classes. Singing has always just been kind of a natural thing for me (shout out to Bob Schrank at Craig High School). I use Schrank’s vocal exercises before each performance—especially the breath control exercises.
13. Do you think you have a good voice, or was it a tough sell getting you to sing in public? I’m a modest dude. I don’t think my voice is all that great, but it can’t be that bad I guess since people still come to our shows. I used to have to do solos at choir concerts and stuff, so I didn’t always get a choice if I was going to be in the spotlight or not.
14. When it comes to music or life, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? “Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it.” Shout out to Mr. Newy at Craig High for that life lesson. I live by it still today and make sure my kids understand it, as well. Best advice I’ve ever gotten.
15. Do you have any useless talents? My feet are so flat they suction to the kitchen floor when I walk around barefoot. I tell my kids I can walk up skyscrapers like a lizard.
16. Have you done any songwriting? Is that something you’re interested in doing? Songwriting has always been a collective thing with band members. I write all the lyrics and vocal melodies/harmonies and give my input with some instrumental things, but I’d say everybody kind of writes their own parts. I’ve attempted songwriting on my own but have never accomplished anything I’m truly proud of on my own.
17. When you’re not singing in Lou Dog, what do you do for a living? If you could be doing anything for a career, what would it be? I work for Harley-Davidson of Madison currently as a service advisor. I was former service manager for Boardtracker Harley-Davidson (sore subject). If I could be anything, I’d be a chef or a food critic. I always wanted Anthony Bourdain’s job, honestly.
18. Did you grow up in a musical household? Did your parents’ tastes influence your own in any way? My brother and I were heavily influenced by music growing up. Our parents are deaf, so it wasn’t something that was an influence from them but more of an escape or solace for us. Mom’s family is so musically talented it’s unbelievable. My aunts and grandfather play music like nobody’s business.
19. Are you a video game guy? If so, what sort of games do you play? Not really. When I do play, I get on my son’s PS4 and fire up some “Grand Theft Auto.” Otherwise, I like to play some of the classics such as “Super Mario Bros,” “Street Fighter” and “Goldeneye.” Video games don’t hold my attention for too long.
20. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be a zookeeper. I had “Ranger Rick” magazines memorized, and I still watch “Animal Planet” documentaries on the regular before bed. As I got older, I realized zookeepers have to clean up after animals, and yo, they stink. I can’t even handle a litter box.
By Anna Marie Lux firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Goldstein knows the transition from adolescence to adulthood, especially for college students, can be brutal. Moving away from home, making new friends and learning new routines often create anxiety.
“Mental health has been a real challenge on college campuses in the last 10 years,” Goldstein said. “Depression, anxiety, suicide have increased. On one hand, we have all this social media to connect us, but it can actually lead to more loneliness.”
Add a pandemic to the mix, and student stress levels skyrocket. But Goldstein has a remedy. Reducing stress might be as simple as learning how to breathe.
Goldstein is the chief author of an article published earlier this summer on the benefits of yogic breathing to manage stress.
The 2005 Craig High School graduate lives in Boston, where he is a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University. His work is important because suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 15 to 34.
During the last decade, anxiety and depression have steadily increased on college campuses to the point where university counseling centers are overburdened, Goldstein said. “Now the pandemic and heavy reminders of racial inequities have only further exacerbated the student mental health crisis,” Goldstein said.
The article in the Journal of American College Health reports on research for Goldstein’s dissertation in the clinical psychology program at the University of Arizona. Goldstein’s rigorous clinical-trial study compared two wellness interventions for college students.
One emphasized breathing techniques, mindfulness and social connection to manage stress and improve overall well-being. Students learned yogic breathing and took part in discussions to promote social connections, leadership skills and community service.
The second intervention, known as the cognitive method, focused on talking about how to respond to stress, time management, study skills, sleep habits and nutrition. Students had fun and enjoyed the cognitive method.
“But the focus was on the science of stress and strategies to think their way out of stress,” Goldstein said. “Sometimes, no matter how clever we think we are, we can’t think our way out of a stressful situation. The harder we try, the stronger the feeling of helplessness or loneliness.”
The yogic- or healthy-breathing method took a different approach. It taught skills of awareness or mindfulness and a connection with the body through breathing.
“When we are focused on our breathing, it gives us something concrete to focus on versus being carried away by our thoughts,” Goldstein said. “We can feel more stable and be more connected with our breathing.”
The workshop trained students to recognize stress and discomfort as a normal part of everyday life. “So, rather than trying to conquer stress, students learn how to develop a capacity to experience discomfort without suffering,” Goldstein said. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
About 70 students took part in both methods from 2014 to 2017. Those trained in yogic breathing showed no changes in their breathing and only slight changes in their heart rates during stress tests.
The cognitive group showed significant increases in their breathing and heart rates during the same tests. “When doing some kind of breathing practice, we can spare our hearts,” Goldstein said. Cognitive strategies are still helpful, but they are greatly boosted with breathing techniques, he added.
Another study, independent of Goldstein’s, took place at Yale University using the same yogic breathing and cognitive interventions. Yogic breathing also showed the greatest improvements in the Yale study.
Goldstein hopes the information will be useful to educators, who can make breathing and mindfulness part of the school curriculum. “More research is needed to better understand the effects,” Goldstein said. “But with all the upheaval in the world, strategies that focus on breathing and mindfulness can be useful. I don’t think they are the be-all, end-all. But they are undervalued.”
He called it more cost-effective for universities to hire lecturers to teach these interventions than to keep adding staff to “their already overburdened campus health services.” “It is imperative we teach college students life skills for resilience and social connection, alongside academics,” Goldstein said.
Yogic-breathing programs are available online, so students can do them virtually in the age of COVID-19. But Goldstein recommends a teacher be involved to help each person practice accurately. He described himself as passionate about helping young adults who are discovering their identities. “It can be a pivotal time to develop skills to manage stress and to stay connected,” he said.
During Goldstein’s undergraduate work, he volunteered as a counselor at a youth and family-crisis center. At the University of Arizona, he also worked as a therapist, which led to his dissertation study. His current research at Harvard focuses on sleep. He is optimistic about the future of breathing techniques to reduce stress. “There’s hope,” he said. “Breathing is a valuable tool we’re always carrying with us.”
Sam Van Galder
When he’s not surgically dissecting the landscape at one of the area’s lush, green golf courses, it’s quite likely Sam Van Galder might be re-creating it as a painting with oils on canvas.
A recognized figure in Janesville sports, Van Galder is a seven-time winner of the annual city men’s golf tournament. And you might have seen his surname on the side of countless coach buses that travel regularly throughout the region.
But most days, Van Galder is helping mold the minds of a new generation of creatives as an art teacher at Parker High School.
A 2005 graduate of Craig High School, Van Galder earned his bachelor of fine arts degree at UW-Whitewater and holds educational licensure through Norda Project Teaching. In his seventh year of teaching with the Janesville School District, Van Galder also coaches the Parker boys golf team and runs the school’s chapter of the National Art Honor Society.
Van Galder and his wife, Emily, have a 4-year-old daughter, Caroline, and a 2-year-old son, Vincent. A golden- doodle named Charlee June rounds out the family.
To learn more about Van Galder, his art and information on commission opportunities, visit his Instagram page (@samvangalderart). To see artwork from his students, check out his classroom’s Instagram (@vgs_art_room) and Facebook (VG’s Art Room) pages.
1. You recently published a book you created with a former student called “Ethan’s Animal Alphabet.” Can you explain the idea behind the book? The idea came from just watching Ethan draw. He has a unique way of drawing out his ideas. He loves to draw animals, school supplies, cars, trucks, etc. Meanwhile I have my own two young kids that love to read children’s books, and I came up with the idea of turning Ethan’s drawings into this neat little animal alphabet book after seeing other various children’s books pull off the same playful, illustrative look. It all came together nicely, and I think the book really hits home with a lot of people.
2. Traditionally, educational emphasis is placed on math and sciences. Why is art is so important? Art forces students to solve problems in their own way. In a world where most answers or information can simply be Googled in a matter of seconds, art physically makes students attempt to solve the assignment in front of them. There isn’t one correct formula they must use or one exact answer. You can look up examples and information via research, but in the end, it is the student who must take the leap and trust his or her instincts and ideas on each project. I also think art creates a great form of interaction between students. I promote a social setting in my classroom, and I want students to gather, chat, work together and observe what others are doing. Kids need this verbal interaction more than ever as I see more and more kids relying solely on their smartphones to communicate with their peers.
3. When did you first discover you wanted to become an art teacher? Well, my mom was an art teacher and an artist herself. So I guess since I showed that art was definitely a strength of mine (probably somewhere around age 8-10), it has always been in the back of my head as a possibility. The graduating Class of 2019 really proved to me that I’ve made the right decision, at least for this part of my life. It was my fourth year at Parker, and my first graduating class I had known for all four years. It was a group I made some great connections with and gained the trust of a lot of students. It was very reassuring to have a solid group of students who really valued my opinion and help.
4. You’re a pretty decent golfer. I am not. Do you have any advice that might help me enjoy being on the course a bit more? Get a handicap. Regardless of your ability, everyone who plays or wants to play should get a handicap through the course you most commonly play. The handicap will allow you to compete with anyone of any skill level and will make the game more competitive for you. Just going out swinging a club aimlessly is only so much fun. Golf is one of the only sports that the recreational players could square up in a head-to-head match with, let’s say, Tiger Woods and possibly beat him—using the handicap system, of course.
5. Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? I feel like I fall more in the middle. I think being a teacher forces you to be a bit of an extrovert just because every day you have to put yourself out there in front of groups of people and entertain the crowd. But I certainly enjoy lounging at home and keeping to myself as well.
6. In your own opinion, what is your worst habit? Procrastination. I am awful at planning ahead. I always get so mad at myself for putting things off to the last minute, and I have been this way my entire life. My brain seems to function better when I am under the stress of a strict deadline.
7. Name a popular actor/singer/artist who doesn’t appeal to you. This will be an extremely unpopular opinion, I’m sure, but I have never been able to get into Bruce Springsteen. I just never understood the hype. I have a very clear memory of driving in my mom’s car back when I was probably 6 or 7, and one of his songs was a big hit and always on the radio. I can’t remember the song, but I do remember it was just so depressing, and I used to make fun of it by mocking the tone of his voice. Ever since then I just haven’t been able to understand the hype around “The Boss.” Sorry to all the huge fans out there. Don’t take it personally.
8. There is an entire fleet of coach buses in the area that have your family name on the sides of them. Did you learn a lot about buses through osmosis growing up, or was that simply a subject you weren’t too interested in? My sister and I were always down at the bus lot growing up. My dad would go into work a lot, and he would drag us along. We’d go exploring all over the place. It was a real family operation back then, and many of the employees would let us hang out with them and do whatever jobs they were doing. I drove a school bus after college for a few years. My route consisted of schools on Janesville’s south side, and many of the students I picked up in the morning and took home after school have now been my students. Interesting how that all turned out.
9. It’s your night to select a board game for the family to play. Which one are you picking? Monopoly. It is probably the longest game you can choose, but I’ve always loved playing it. Not really sure why I would pick Monopoly over anything else, but to be honest with you, I’m not much of a board game person to begin with. I grew up in an UNO family. We were pretty serious about it. We have a championship belt we play for and everything.
10. People would be surprised to know that I: Believe it or not, I think I have to say “make art” for this one. Even though I don’t feel like I hide my artistic skill, I don’t think to this point in my life I’ve done a very good job at promoting myself.
11. If you could hang one famous piece of artwork in your home, which one would it be, and why? “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper. “Nighthawks” is a city landscape, but it also includes a few figures to help tell a story. It is my favorite painting and is what really opened my eyes to what I like to do within my own personal work, which tends to be a combination of figurative work within a landscape of some sort—much like the work of Edward Hopper.
12. When you go to the grocery store, name one item that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Milk. Having kids now has shown me you can never have enough milk in the fridge.
13. Select your favorite Muppet. Kermit the Frog. I guess when I think of the Muppets, Kermit just seems to be the face of the brand and what comes to mind on the spot. I think I was more of a “Sesame Street” kind of kid.
14. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I would hit range balls. I love going to the driving range and working on my golf swing. It’s like a reset button for me. Some people like to go running or ride their bikes to get their minds right, but for me, a couple of buckets of golf balls usually does the trick.
15. Name a skill you wish you had. I wish I could play an instrument good enough to be a part of a band. To me, that just seems like such a rush to perform music in front of a crowd. I am always envious of people I know who do this, even if it’s just at local bars. It just looks fun.
16. Right now, what is the wallpaper on your cell phone? A picture of me and my dad on a golf course. It popped up a few months ago as a memory on Facebook, and it has always been one of my favorite photos with him, so I made it my background that day.
17. Name one movie or TV show that, if you happen to come across it even though it’s half over, you’ll still sit down and watch it. I can sit down and watch “Seinfeld” at any time. I just love the characters, the roles they play and all the everyday problems they seem to encounter. My favorite episode is when George pretends to be a marine biologist and saves a whale by removing the golf ball Kramer hit into its spout.
18. If I had to choose one meal to eat every day for the rest of my life, it would be: I think I would choose breakfast. There are just so many options for breakfast, and I don’t think any one of them has ever been bad. If I have to get more specific, I would say a Denver omelette with hash browns.
19. Health food or junk food? I think everyone would love to choose healthy food here, but let’s be honest with ourselves—who doesn’t love a bit of good junk food? I mean, if you’re stranded on an island and someone presents a plate of assorted vegetables or a cheeseburger and fries, I am choosing the latter every time.
20. If you weren’t an art teacher, what would you be doing? I would most likely be a golf professional giving lessons and running a golf course somewhere. I’ve thought a lot about giving up my amateur status at some point and begin giving lessons on the side while continuing to teach, but I’m not quite ready to stop playing competitively. More recently though, a friend started his own sign company and has opened me up to the idea of environmental branding. I have been working on my own mockup ideas and designs on the side. It’s fun, and I think it is something I could be really good at if the opportunity presented itself.
- Anthony Wahl
- Anthony Wahl
He folded the razor closed with a soft flick of his wrist and snapped his cellphone out of the pocket of his tan dress slacks, straightening his tan-striped necktie with the same hand that held the closed razor.
“Hello. Ben the Barber. How may I help you? Yeah. That's great. Come on over,” Zweifel said into the phone.
The phone went back in his pocket, and Zweifel returned his attention to the man who sat below him in one of the swivel barber chairs at Zweifel Cuts & Styles at 105 W. Milwaukee St. in downtown Janesville.
Zweifel's barber shop has been open six months—long enough, Zweifel says, for him to broaden his client base and begin building a team of a few apprentice barbers.
Zweifel even has a couple of young hands—his younger brother, Jerome Hughes, 12, and Hughes' friend, Qu'ran Haynes, 11—who help sweep up the shop and clean the tall storefront windows between haircuts.
At 24 years old, Zweifel might be one of the youngest business owners downtown—and he also operates what probably is the first black-owned and operated barber shop there.
Zweifel doesn't shrink from that distinction, but he's quick to clarify what it means to him.
“It cuts two ways. I'm a black barber, obviously. But I cut all people's hair, all races. All people,” Zweifel said.
Zweifel's clients on one afternoon this week included a 40-ish black man and a white 8-year-old boy. Some days during the week, Zweifel said, his customers range from local high school football players, to local lawyers and doctors, to plumbers and electricians.
The shop has a gray-painted wooden plank floor, and its walls are painted a grayish-white, broken up by sections of exposed brick beneath high ceilings. The atmosphere that afternoon was relaxed and casual, with a big-screen TV broadcasting news from the wall of front waiting area, above a card table with a large checkers set laid out.
At one point, Hughes and Haynes had a dispute over the rules of American checkers: specifically, the direction a king piece is allowed to move. One of the boys' brooms fell over and hit the floor with a clap.
Without looking up from the haircut he was giving, Zweifel broke off a conversation with a customer about the macroeconomics of big-box stores. He set the boys straight.
“When you've got a king, you can move in any direction you want, but you've got to land behind whoever you jump over,” Zweifel said. “Also, you need to pick up that broom you just knocked over.”
Zweifel and his customer, a man with curly red hair, chuckled.
“I like that I can give young people the opportunity to work in a good place. That's something I didn't have when I was a kid,” Zweifel said.
Zweifel spent part of his childhood in Janesville, but he moved from city to city, spending some of his childhood in Madison, St. Louis—and part of his teenage years back in Rock County, in Evansville, where he lived with his grandparents and attended Evansville High School.
He said his parents both spent time in prison, and Zweifel himself was in trouble growing up, he said, landing in juvenile detention a few times.
He cuts a profile with the maturity and poise of someone older than 24. He's clean-cut with short hair, and he spreads his feet wide in a boxer's stance above his customers. But his hands work effortlessly around their faces and hairlines.
Every day at work, he wears a shirt, tie and dress slacks, and his black wingtip shoes are spotless. He demands the same attire from his barbers.
“That's what you do. You need to look professional," Zweifel said. "I'm downtown now, and this is how you give respect to the block that you're on. This is a nice business district, so you've got to look nice, too.”
Zweifel has cut hair since he was 17 years old, starting first cutting his brother's and sister's hair, and then cutting hair on the street in the Fourth Ward with nothing but a backpack full of barber's clippers and attachments. He spent a few years on and off in cosmetology school, earning barber's credentials.
For a few years before opening a barber shop downtown, Zweifel ran a shop in the garage of the home where he and his wife and children live in the Fourth Ward.
Zweifel said he sought a location that put him in the middle of one of the professional centers in his hometown. He wants to earn a reputation as the barber of choice for anybody who works or does business downtown, regardless of their color or race.
He laughed about the first few times he handed his business card to people. A few told him they had some black friends they'd refer to his shop.
“I know they didn't mean to offend me or anything. But you have to be honest. Race is an issue. For me, it means I have to really keep grinding. But it's not a big enough issue to stop trying to do what I do in Janesville,” Zweifel said. "I cut hair, anybody's hair. It doesn't matter.”
Last week, Zweifel closed his shop for a few hours and took his equipment to the Rock County Youth Services Center to give free haircuts to juveniles in detention. He said he wanted to spend time talking with youths whose troubles are similar to ones he'd grappled with as a kid.
“I'm teaching myself as I go how to run a business. Finance, credit, keeping the door open—I didn't have anyone to teach me any of that. Now, I'm teaching myself to break down some barriers here downtown.
"When you're the first to try to do something like that, then you've got the map. And when you've got the map, you owe it to show other people. They can see from what you did how they can break through and do something, if they just grind it out.”
Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Among a generation of jaded millennial angst and cynicism, Justin Cisewski can be seen as a renaissance man.
The Janesville native fronts Banana Wind, the area’s only Jimmy Buffett tribute band, alongside his father, Donald. Two years into this experience, the group is continuing to gain ground in the community music scene not only as a well-polished performance piece but as a mouthpiece for what live music should be above all things: fun.
Along with Justin on acoustic guitar and lead vocals and his father on guitar, harp and vocals, Banana Wind consists of Greg Logue on bass and vocals, Johnny “Bongo” Schultz on drums/percussion and vocals and Steve Christophersen on guitars and vocals.
For more information about the band, search for “Banana Wind” on Facebook. For bookings, message through Facebook, call 608-346-1359 or email BananaWindBuffett@yahoo.com.
1. Why Jimmy Buffett? Growing up, Jimmy’s music was always something that brought me wonder and excitement toward the world and all the things we have to experience in it. He made his mark in the music industry through unique and personal storytelling without massive amounts of airplay. I think his writing and sound resonate with a lot of different walks of life, because it reminds us that so much our lives are dictated by deadlines and commitments. It speaks to the adventurer in each of us who dreams of packing up everything and living the dream life in a tropical paradise. When I first came to my father with the idea for this project, I really felt like this was something people would take to.
2. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? Not specifically. The interesting thing about playing live music is the variance between performances. I feel like doing things a certain way limits that emotional vigor that makes for an earnest performance. Some days, I might feel a little more depressed or angry than others. Or perhaps I am excited and full of energy. Different kinds of emotions drive different performance styles. This may lead to some gigs being more energetic or more somber than others, but it makes for a different experience than the last show. The last thing I want to do is give people the same show they saw before.
3. Is Banana Wind your first band, or have you been in others? Banana Wind is my very first band, and I could not be more satisfied with the experience so far. I would play and jam with friends throughout high school and college, but nothing comes close to the making of an actual band. I suppose you could count the rap album that a friend and I made a few years back as a band, but I normally don’t talk about that in vivid detail outside of my close circle. Some things are best kept a secret.
4. What inspired you to become a musician? Music has always been the primary source of happiness in my life outside of friends and family. I see it as the ultimate art form because it paints a picture of a person that you just cannot get in other mediums. It has always seemed fitting to me that artist releases are called “records” because it really is like a record of events. I’ve always been more of an introvert, so the idea of putting myself in a position to be a performer has always satisfied my need for being the center of attention without the mental exhaustion of mingling with scores of people.
5. At your favorite restaurant, what is your favorite thing to order? I suppose that depends on what I consider my favorite restaurant at any given time. Probably one of those burritos from Qdoba that are the size of a small child. I eat one of those at least once a week. Other than that, usually it’s the greasiest piece of meat on the menu for me. If I am paying to eat somewhere, I’m going to make sure I enjoy every bite of it.
6. Share a skill you wish you had. I wish that I had a better knack for writing lyrics. Even more than a great novel, I feel like great lyrics are even more difficult to accomplish since the writer basically needs to tell the same story in such a sparse number of words. I think that I tend to ramble on too much in my writings to accomplish this, unless I start trying to write 30-minute prog-rock epics or something.
7. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I really liked astronomy when I was a youngster, but I don’t know if I ever really had a grasp on what sort of jobs would really be associated to that kind of interest. Looking back now, I hate math too much to ever want something like that as a career. Honestly, I have always seen careers as such an antiquated way to define who you are. I don’t think that there is any perfect job out there, and it should more or less be something to help you afford to do the things that do make you who you are.
8. Have you ever gone to see a movie that was so bad you left before it was over? I love bad movies, especially the ones that are so outlandish in their delivery that you can’t help but laugh. Movies like “Roadhouse” or “Bloodsport” are always the kind that I will purposely put on with my buddies to enjoy. I suppose something like long biopic movies could make me tap out due to the lack of anything exciting happening. The last movie I fell asleep to was “Lincoln.”
9. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I always try to remain an open book about myself. I would say that people might be surprised to find out that I have struggled my entire life with very heavy anxiety and depression. I remember sitting in tears on my 5th birthday because I was one year closer to dying. I really wish there was less of a social stigma with mental health because more people suffer than you think, and it doesn’t ever get better until people are open to discussing it—as uncomfortable as it may be.
10. Are you a gamer? I’m definitely a Nintendo fanboy. I actually have a very extensive collection of NES and SNES games. Super Nintendo has always been my favorite gaming console, and honestly, most current games don’t do that much for me. I play platformers the most (stuff like “Mega Man,” “Metroid,” “Castlevania”), but anything from my childhood holds a special place in my heart, for sure. I love to imagine my generation sitting in nursing homes, playing games on headsets with grandchildren. Amazing how technology changes between generations.
11. What do you do that you would consider a guilty pleasure? That’s tough because, if you like something, you should always be earnest about it. One thing I hate about our culture these days is how nobody seems to truly like something wholeheartedly. People do things ironically or sarcastically, or at least put on the guise that they don’t care that much. Those are the people that never get to truly enjoy life because they spend their time worrying about what the general public thinks.
12. At the grocery store, what item always goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Probably milk because I can never remember how much I have left. And I do not want to find myself unable to eat my breakfast cereal in the morning because I was too forgetful to pick up more milk. That and white Russians are delicious.
13. What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made? The best would probably be the NBA Jam arcade machine I have in my kitchen. It’s a great excuse to have people over at the house. Oh yeah—I suppose my house is a pretty good purchase, as well. My worst might be the time I bought an authentic Eddie Lacy jersey, after which he immediately got injured and left the Packers. No fun wearing his name when he isn’t playing.
14. What is it like playing in a band with your dad? It’s kind of surreal. I have been playing and learning from him since I was a little kid. He used to play all of my favorite Beatles songs while I would sing along. Fast forward to now, we really built this band together with his experience in the area music scene. He found the most talented and easygoing guys to work with, so it has really been amazing building a rapport with the guys. Honestly, I feel like this is more of a dream project for him than it is for me. We have disagreements from time to time, but we try to settle it as peers rather than father and son.
15. Is island music really that popular during winter in Wisconsin? More popular than you would think. Perhaps it has more to do with the longing for sunnier days and warmer weather again. Obviously, there is a lull in local music as a whole during this time of year, but I definitely think that there is something to the concept of thinking hot and fun with your music when the weather outside is cold and dreary.
16. What is your favorite Jimmy Buffett song to perform? Obviously, the well-known ones like “Margaritaville” and “Fins” are great for the fact that the audience becomes more engaged with the songs they know, but my favorite one to play on most days is a tune called “Coconut Telegraph.” It’s a catchy one that a lot of people get into even if they aren’t familiar with it. We do a lot of other covers that Jimmy plays that are fun, as well: “Southern Cross,” “Iko Iko” or “Brown-Eyed Girl,” for example.
17. If you could get the absolute and total truth to one question, what would it be? What happens when we die is really the ultimate question, isn’t it? However, I feel like that might be a door that would be dangerous to open. I would love to know everything that our government knows about extraterrestrial life, but I do think some things should remain a mystery. I love conspiracy theories and how deep people go.
18. Do you have any useless talents? I can name all original 150 Pokemon in order, I am really good with a yo-yo, and I play a mean game of rod hockey. So no, nothing useless at all.
19. If you could take any song by any other artist and convert it to a Buffett-style tune, what would it be and why? This one is tricky because you definitely would want to pick something that, at its core, sounds different enough from the rhythmic steel drum sound to make a unique cover. At the same time, you want something that melodically and lyrically embodies the escapism lifestyle that a Buffett song entails. I would say something feel-good like “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams would be a fitting one.
20. If Banana Wind was suddenly signed to a multimillion-dollar record contract, what would be the first thing you’d do with your share of the money? Hire a lawyer, probably. Otherwise, if I’m being honest, I’d probably do something simple like go and get a giant bowl of ice cream to celebrate. I don’t need anything too lavish. I’m more of a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy anyway.
By car, Cookeville, Tennessee, is less than 10 hours from Janesville, Wisconsin. But for Anthony Nguyen, it’s almost a world away.
Nguyen, a 2008 Craig High School graduate, has spent the last several years working on a music career in this small city near Nashville with his band, The Smoky Nights. Along with Nguyen and his guitar, the band features Tennessee natives Carson Correll (percussion), Eric Cullins (violin) and Patrick Shipley (trumpet). Helping front the group is Green Bay native Lily Bethke (vocals/mandolin) who, this coming Saturday, also will be become Nguyen’s wife.
Nguyen, whose parents Dung and Teresa of Janesville are musicians in their own rights, started out as a jazz saxophone soloist in high school before teaching himself drums and guitar. He graduated from Craig as one of the school’s valedictorians but has since “grown my hair out and I’m gonna be a rock star. Take that suburban life.”
Nguyen, who spent six years as a professional engineer before breaking off into music, also has two younger brothers, Alex and Benji, who both attended UW-Madison. Rounding out the family is pet cat Tibby (short for Tiberius).
Wisconsin fans will get a chance to see Nguyen and his new bride perform during a special event starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at Fermenting Cellars Winery 2004 W. Manogue Road, Janesville.
For those who can’t make it, learn more about The Smoky Nights at TheSmokyNights.com or at the band’s pages on Facebook and Twitter (@thesmokynights) and Instagram (#thesmokynights). Albums and more music also are available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, Google Play and other online platforms.
1. Where did you first develop your love for music? I was always around music growing up. My dad was and still is a drummer, and my mom was always singing and playing guitar. I think there were different CDs constantly playing at our house—pop, rock, Latin, soul, soundtracks, etc. Never a silent moment.
2. Are you a fan of all musical genres, or are there specific styles you prefer? Anything you can’t stand? I think I have some appreciation for most genres, especially Motown/soul music. Never been a huge fan of bro country or metal.
3. Name a skill you wish you had. Man, I really wish I could fluently speak different languages. I’m somewhat decent at Spanish, but I would love to speak Vietnamese, Japanese, Hebrew, French, German, Russian—it’s a universal skill I’d love to learn someday.
4. You started out as a jazz saxophone soloist in high school and taught yourself how to play drums. Are there any other instruments you play or that you would like to learn? Yes, I was playing saxophone and drums before everything else. I’m currently the rhythm guitarist for our band and taught myself about 10 years ago. I would love to learn piano at some point. I think it could really expand our songwriting.
5. You also taught yourself how to play guitar while attending engineering school. At what point did you decide a music career was a better option than engineering? I worked as a professional engineer for six years and tried to balance being an engineer and music as a hobby. But I never really got an opportunity to focus entirely on a music career. It just kind of spontaneously happened that the band became more popular, and we dove headfirst into writing, arranging and recording with our band.
6. Your current band, The Smoky Nights, recently dropped its first album, “Burning Bridges.” How did you come up with the names for the band and album? (Singer) Lily (Bethke) actually created the name “The Smoky Nights.” It was inspired by her love for the Great Smoky Mountains after moving to Tennessee. We came up with this concept about relationships: “I’m tired of burning bridges” and that positive message became the theme for the whole album.
7. Lily is your partner in the band, and she will become your partner in life in a matter of days. How did you two meet, and was music involved? Music was definitely involved. We met at an open mic night in Green Bay. We’ve always shared a connection through music, and as we grew together, we started to perform together more often, ultimately forming The Smoky Nights.
8. Share something people would be surprised to know about you. I’m actually a black belt in the South Korean martial art Kyuki-Do. I think that’s fairly uncommon for musicians from southern Wisconsin.
9. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? Yes, we basically never eat before performing. It throws us off and makes it a lot harder to hit high notes. But that means we eat everything in sight after finishing.
10. You live in Tennessee and perform regularly in the Nashville area. What do you miss most about Wisconsin, and what is better in Tennessee? I’ll give the obvious answer of missing family, but I also miss all the delicious food (beer brats, cheese curds). Things that are much better in Tennessee: the roads, the mountains, the weather (especially winter) and the fried chicken.
11. To this point, what would you consider to be the highlight of your musical career? I’d have to say that recording and releasing our album “Burning Bridges” has been the biggest highlight so far. Being able to share our original music with everyone is such an important milestone, especially with getting to record professionally in a Nashville studio.
12. You just started adding original music to the band’s repertoire this year. From where do you gain your inspiration to write songs? Lily and I were always inspired by a lot of other musicians—just listening to different genres and styles of music. We pulled elements of pop, folk, soul, R&B, Latin and even jazz music to create the sounds on the album.
13. Aside from your guitar or other musical instruments, name the one item you own that you could not live without. Sunglasses. I can’t go anywhere without my sunglasses.
14. The Smoky Nights incorporates many different instruments including mandolin, cajon, fiddle and, most recently, trumpet. Is it beneficial artistically to have so much instrumentation or can it make things more difficult when composing new music? We’re so lucky to have such diverse instrumentation in the band. I think it helps to have a variety of instruments when composing songs, but it’s much more difficult managing live shows with a five-piece band. Adding a new person to the band means he has to learn a lot of music quickly to play four-hour shows with us.
15. When you go to the grocery store, what item goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Salsa. Hot, spicy, definitely-not- Tostitos-brand salsa.
16. Aside from music, do you have any other creative outlets? If not, how much time in the span of a week would you say you dedicate to your music? I guess I’ll go with art here. I spend a lot of time working on different graphic art for our band. I designed the band logo, business cards, the website, a banner, the CD layout, and various advertisements and fliers.
17. Share details of the first concert you ever attended. I was 10 years old, and went with my dad to see Dream Theater live at The Riverside in Milwaukee. It was my first concert, first experience with prog rock, and I had to wear earplugs the whole time since it was so loud. I had a new appreciation for live music (and proper hearing) after that night.
18. Do you collect anything? Actually, yes. This might be odd, but I collect various Hard Rock Cafe guitar pins from different cities I’ve traveled to.
19. If you could get the absolute and total truth to one question, what would that question be? “What year will the singularity and subsequent machine uprising occur?”
20. People assume that the life of a professional musician is all parties, fun and money. Can you offer a personal example that breaks that stereotype? Yeah, I’d have to say being a local folk/pop musician is nothing like being in Aerosmith or The Rolling Stones. We play about four shows every week, and we still try to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Matthew Imhoff is a 2008 Craig graduate who now lives in New York City and works as a director, scenic and lighting designer with professional, regional, educational and off-Broadway companies.
Imhoff graduated from Luther College in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in music and theater, and he earned a Master of Fine Arts in production design from Michigan State University in 2015. He is an adjunct faculty member at The City University of New York—Queensborough College and is director of musicals at Craig High School in Janesville.
The New York Times has described Imhoff’s work as “beautifully designed (and) dreamily evocative.”
To learn more about Matthew Imhoff, visit Matthew Imhoff. Viewbook.com.
1. What initially drew you to the theater? The only limitation to theater is your imagination, and that canvas of limitless possibility is what attracted me.
2. When you were a kid, what did you hope to become when you grew up? A ringmaster. I was a big fan of the circus. I think I dressed up as one for Halloween one year. I don’t think that job exists anymore.
3. Along with your fine arts degree in production design, you have degrees in theater and music. When it comes to theater, is there anything you can’t do? I’ve done just about every job in the theater. I’ve sewn corsets and curtains and played in orchestras. Even though I don’t intend to do those jobs again, it’s good to have an idea of how those individuals function and the work that goes into their crafts. I’ve never done sound design, and the technology behind that seems so daunting that I’ll leave that to the professionals.
4. People would be surprised to find out that I: Can probably quote most of the episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” or “The Office.”
5. What is your favorite board game? It’s not a board game, but I’m a big fan of Uno. Harry Potter Uno, to be specific.
6. You’ve used CAD (computer-aided design) technology to produce your theater designs. What benefits are there to using this program as opposed to manual design? The benefit to CAD drafting is that when a change occurs to the design (as it inevitably does), the time to make that change in the computer program is much shorter than if you had to redraw every blueprint long hand. Drafting by hand does have a sense of artistry and “soul” that the computer has yet to replicate.
7. If you imagine a grandiose design at the onset of a production and just can’t make it happen, does that ruin the experience for you, or can you adapt and be happy with a lesser vision? When I design, I often have maybe a dozen different ideas of what the set could be. Sometimes the director and I settle on my favorite; sometimes we move to a route that I wouldn’t have gone by myself. I have a sketchbook full of unproduced ideas that were rejected for one reason or another, and when I’m stuck on a design, sometimes this notebook helps inspire me, or I can take an old idea and find new life for it. I try not to get hung up on what could have been, but in finding the right design for a particular show with a specific group of collaborators and getting excited about what we’re creating.
8. What has been your favorite venue in which to work, and why? My first professional show in New York City was Carnegie Hall’s revival of “West Side Story.” It was produced in an old warehouse, and the combination of that building’s history with that musical made for a wonderful night of theater. It had more than its fair share of complications, but finding logistical and artistic solutions to those was also rewarding.
9. What was your first car? A 1992 red Cavalier convertible. I was in college at the time, and I remember getting out of class in the spring and grabbing a few friends and driving around the countryside of Iowa. I was sad when I ultimately had to sell it for a more appropriate, year-round vehicle.
10. What is the most elaborate, challenging production you’ve ever worked on? My thesis show in graduate school was “Carrie: The Musical,” and that contained several phases of automation. We had a few lifts (like you see at The Fireside in Fort Atkinson) as well as a set of bleachers that moved around on tracks set in the stage. Everything was timed to the music, and the planning that the director and I went through in coordinating that was a huge undertaking.
11. Have you ever met anyone famous? Living in New York, you’ll see quite a few famous people on the street if you’re aware of your surroundings—and I usually am. Most recently, I ran past Harvey Fierstein (who wrote “Newsies” and also starred in “Hairspray”). I had a great conversation with him, and he was very personable and genuinely interested in my experience as a young theater creator. His personality is just as large in person as it is on stage.
12. What is the most common mistake production design professionals make, and what is the worst mistake one could make? In my opinion, the most common mistake designers make is over-committing. I’m surprised by how many meetings or rehearsals I’m at where people are absent because they’re on another show. While part of that is the reality of freelance theater work, for me it’s crucial to be invested and present with the show at hand. The worst mistake a designer can make is limiting his or her design to what he or she perceives the limitations to be. If you have an idea, find the people to help you execute it and come up with solutions to your ideas. Technology comes out of such innovative thinking.
13. Do you have any acting experience? If so, are you more comfortable in front of the audience or behind the curtain? From elementary school through high school, I acted in every show I could. At the time, I thought that if there were a future for me in the theater, it would be as an actor. Nowadays, I cannot imagine being onstage, and I have no idea how I managed to memorize lines and cope with nervousness like actors must. Being around the theater at a young age definitely paved the way for my career.
14. If someone else paid for the experience, would you jump out of an airplane? I try to say “yes” to things rather than finding a reason out of it. As long as they’re paying for the parachute, too, I’d be down. They might have to give me a push out, though.
15. Is production design one of those things that, if done well, goes unrecognized, or is it important theater patrons notice it? As an artist, I am always flattered when someone notices and appreciates my work. The design of a show should always be in support of the story, and I am always careful not to overshadow that. I do think it’s important for audiences be aware to how the set changes over the course of a show, as often those changes are deliberate and underscore and enhance an important part of the story or themes.
16. Do you speak any languages besides English? If not, have you ever wanted to learn a particular language, or at least made the attempt? In high school and college, I took Spanish classes. As a singer in college, I also sang in quite a few foreign languages (French, German, Italian, Latin, Russian) and so I know the mechanics and sounds of those languages, as well as specific translations for songs, but I’m far from fluent. American Sign Language is next on my list of languages to tackle.
17. When I was in high school, stage productions involved donated clothes and hand-painted backdrops. How are today’s students able to put on such high-quality productions? We are fortunate to live in a city that supports its high school performing arts programs and has talented teachers who spend a huge amount of time outside of the school day working with the students to put on these high-quality productions. I also think the kids themselves are really driven to put on wonderful shows, and when students are motivated, the possibilities are endless.
18. Do you collect anything? I haven’t actively collected anything (other than books) in a few years since NYC apartments are so small. I do have a large collection of Christmas nutcrackers in boxes in my parents’ basement.
19. In theater, all five senses are critical. Which of your five senses would you say is strongest? I would say the sixth sense is the strongest, the ability to feel. Theater isn’t about what happens with grand sets or lavish costumes, but what happens in the audiences’ minds and hearts.
20. You grew up in Janesville but now are based in New York City. What do you miss most about Janesville when you’re in the Big Apple, and vice versa? I definitely miss my family when I’m in the city, but the Big Apple has yet to catch on to the joy of a deep-fried cheese curd the way we have in Wisconsin. When I’m in Janesville, I miss not being able to walk or catch a train to where I need to be.
Patrick Terry performs at the Wigmore Hall in London in 2017. He graduated from Craig High School in Janesville in 2009 and found his way to opera singing at the University of Minnesota. He is one of five performers to join the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at London’s Royal Opera House, where he will be a salaried employee for two years working on opera house productions.
This photo shows Janesville native Patrick Terry performing in 2016. Terry has been chosen from hundreds of applicants from 59 countries to be among five singers to join the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at London’s Royal Opera House.
- Submitted photo courtesy of Robert Workman
Patrick Terry recalled a perfect moment on stage with London’s Royal Academy of Music.
He sang Ruggiero in Handel’s opera “Alcina,” the story of a passionate sorceress who inhabits a world made up of the souls of her past lovers.
One night, his friend sang the role of Alcina and nailed the performance.
“The band was completely with her, and we were so electrically connected,” Terry said. “It was like I knew exactly what she was thinking, and I could respond to her in character without any effort.”
The Janesville native is never happier than when opera feels like a conversation between people on stage, between singers and the conductors and between the audience and the music.
“It means everyone is contributing to the performance and making it completely unique, even if it is the millionth performance,” Terry said.
A commitment to excellence has propelled the up-and-coming countertenor to new heights.
Terry, a Janesville native and Craig High School graduate, has been chosen from hundreds of applicants from 59 countries to be among five singers to join the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at London’s Royal Opera House.
He will be a salaried employee for two years and will work on opera house productions. He also will receive coaching in all opera disciplines.
“It is such an immense honor,” Terry said. “To me, it means that all the sacrifices I have made to pursue my dreams haven’t been in vain.”
He will join the opera house in September after a rigorous audition process that began in late summer 2017.
Terry knows the honor does not guarantee him a steady and fulfilling career in the demanding world of opera.
“There is so much work left for me to do,” he said. “But this opportunity does provide me a safe and supportive environment to hone my skills, showcase my work and begin to build a career.”
At the opera house, the artist will receive vocal coaching and performance opportunities. He also will attend classes in performance psychology and languages.
“I plan on using my time in the program to build and improve my repertoire and to become a more engaging stage performer,” said Terry, who turns 27 this month.
He has been in London more than three years.
In 2016, he completed a Master of Arts at the Royal Academy and will finish his current program at the academy in July with an advanced diploma in opera studies.
Terry graduated from Craig High School in 2009 and the University of Minnesota in 2014.
He has been singing his whole life, with many performances in musicals, show choir, church and community theater.
But Terry went to college with virtually no knowledge of opera.
Singing in university choirs and taking electives in the music school opened up the world of classical music.
“I fell for it hook, line and sinker,” Terry said. “I studied as a tenor for a few years until I was experimenting with my ‘falsetto’ voice in a lesson with my teacher and mentor, Adriana Zabala.”
After Terry revealed his “falsetto” voice, both he and Zabala quickly decided he should change his voice type from tenor to countertenor.
“Up to that point, I had never heard any countertenor or had any idea what kind of music they sang,” Terry said. “But singing with my falsetto allowed me to more easily use all the technique I had been learning as a tenor and ultimately gave me more expressive options and nuance.”
Zabala remembers the first time she heard Terry sing. He auditioned for the voice faculty at the University of Minnesota to be admitted to the voice program. While Zabala looked at something in a file, Terry began to sing Quilter’s “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal.”
“I was immediately arrested and looked up, totally drawn in by this kid with a very nice but not entirely polished voice, who had something to say, who sang with his soul,” Zabala said. “I had no idea where it would lead, but I knew he was special, and I knew I wanted to be a part of his incredible journey.”
Eventually, Terry traveled to Greece to study with English countertenor Michael Chance. The next fall, he auditioned for the Royal Academy of Music, where he continues his studies.
Terry currently is working on one of his favorite operas, “Flight,” which premiered about 20 years ago and uses modern musical idioms.
Unlike so many famous operas that focus on the lives of emperors, French courtesans or mythological figures, “Flight” tells modern stories about modern people.
“I think that is something audiences, especially those new to opera, really connect with,” Terry said. “While the opera is fun and funny, it also tells the story of a refugee and asks its audience to consider his story and humanity, something which is incredibly important today.”
Terry sings The Refugee.
When he is not working, Terry enjoys life in London.
“It is very rainy and busy and crowded,” he said, “but it is among the most important international crossroads on earth. Every night there is incredible art to see. As a young artist, it is amazing because I have access to so many art makers through the academy and the Royal Opera House.”
In spite of all the amazing art, he confessed to missing cheese curds—a lot.
A decade from now, Terry hopes to live closer to Wisconsin.
“I hope I have a busy performance schedule that takes me all over the world and connects me to forward-thinking and inspiring artists,” he said.
He also hopes to be part of the vocal faculty at a conservatory or university.
Over and over, Terry talks about how opera makes him happy.
But it also makes him angry, sad, elated, flirtatious, terrified, hopeful and despondent, depending on the scene.
He loves the rush and energy of live performance. He loves learning languages and studying poetry. He also loves singing professionally because it involves listening to a lot of people sing.
“One of my favorite things,” he said, “is when someone sings to me.”
Support from home
Terry is the youngest of three children, the son of Mark Terry and Brigid Terry. His stepmother is Mary Terry.
He called the Janesville community “a constant source of support and cheerleading for me.”
“I have such a beautiful support system in Janesville,” Terry said. “I’ve had family and friends travel to see me perform in Chicago, and some have become opera converts.”
He is thankful for the outpouring of support for a fundraising concert in 2014 to help him pay the roughly $40,000 a year tuition at the Royal Academy.
Terry’s father said his son did not show any signs of being an opera singer growing up.
“He, like many children, enjoyed singing as a youngster and always enjoyed school plays,” Mark Terry said. “His talent started showing up as he received more major roles in school plays and SpotLight on Kids performances.”
Mark Terry is not surprised at his son’s achievements.
“He has a God-given talent,” he said. “He also has had lots of people mentor him and believe in him, especially in high school and college.”
The proud father has told his children “to make your passion your pay.”
“Patrick is doing that,” Mark Terry said. “Patrick’s passion is leading him and opening up opportunities for his career… Only God knows how far he will go.”
To climb baseball’s coaching ladder, you need experience, a mind for the strategies and nuances of the game, and a love for the sport.
But like many professions, it can be more about who you know, not what you know.
Zach Bayreuther hopes the connections he made this past summer as a hitting coach for the Madison Mallards will open up new opportunities in the future.
“This was just taking another step up the ladder,” Bayreuther said. “For me, my goal is to be a DI coach someday.”
The 2009 Janesville Craig graduate has always been around baseball. He grew up playing catch and fielding grounders in his backyard, was a key starter for the 2009 Craig team that went to state and went on to win three Midwest Conference championships while playing for Ripon College. He hit .288 at Ripon and graduated as the school’s all-time leader in walks (94) while ranking second in games played (150).
Bayreuther is working on his master’s degree at Wayne State College in Nebraska and served as a graduate assistant for the school’s baseball team in the spring.
He knew several people working in the Mallards’ front office, and, looking for a way to continue coaching during the summer, took a chance.
“I was just looking for a summer job and sent out emails. It’s better to know people and to know things,” Bayreuther said.
Mallards manager Donnie Scott called Bayreuther and the two talked for several hours before Bayreuther was offered the hitting coach position.
The chance to spend a summer working with some of the top college hitters in the country, while coaching under the guidance of Scott, a former MLB player and minor league manager with the Rangers, Mariners and Reds, was one Bayreuther eagerly accepted.
“It was kinda perfect how it worked,” Bayreuther said.
The Mallards were among the best offensive teams in the Northwoods League this season. They averaged 6.4 runs per game, second only to the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (6.6), and hit .262 overall.
“I’m not gonna take much credit for that,” Bayreuther said with a laugh. “That’s just the guys going out and playing every day.”
Bayreuther said the biggest change was adjusting to the packed summer schedule. The Mallards played 72 games in 77 days. College teams might play two or three games a week.
“When you’re playing every day it’s totally different from the college grind. You’re on the road, you’re on the bus for two to six hours every day,” Bayreuther said. “More of the coaching you do is on the mental side, and how to keep them motivated to do the extra work.”
He picked up plenty of lessons watching Scott.
“I knew he had a lot of knowledge,” Bayreuther said. “That was the biggest reason I wanted to go.
“He let guys just play their game. It was fun for me, because he always made everybody relax. No matter how big the situation, there was always a way.”
Baseball is the sport that brings Bayreuther and his family together. His father, Dan, is the head softball coach at Craig. His sister, Haley, starred at Craig before playing collegiately for UW-Oshkosh.
“Growing up, we hit millions and millions of balls in my backyard. That’s kinda where the love of the game came from. Some dads go fishing, but with him it was always baseball or softball,” Bayreuther said.
Bayreuther plans on coaching at Wayne State again in the spring. After that? He’ll be on the hunt for the next opportunity to climb the coaching ladder.
“It’s going to be up in the air for a little bit. Obviously, I want to stay at the DI or DII level,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. It‘s more about making connections right now and someday down the road they’ll help me out.”
Based on his first-hand experience and years of coaching, Bayreuther has some tips for aspiring sluggers.
“Just go play, don’t over-stress it,” he said. “Every at-bat’s a new at-bat, you have to learn from the past. But when you get up there it’s a new at-bat, you can’t go up there with negative thoughts.
“It’s the hardest game, because if you fail seven of out 10 times you’re still a successful player. You’ve gotta learn from those failures and move on.”
Then, through his training of young basketball players, he found that more and more students and their parents were turning to him for advice.
And so Murphy killed two birds with one stone.
Earlier this month, his book was released. “Down and Back: Adversity in Amateur Athletics and Life” is currently available on Amazon.com.
“I’d get questions from parents … or kids themselves on what they could do to get more playing time or build more strength or getting kids through a tough time,” said Murphy, a 2014 Janesville Craig High graduate. “It sort of hit me: writing and then actually having something (to write about).”
Murphy tackles those subjects in two parts. The first chronicles his basketball career—from his travel-team days in middle school through his days at UW-Platteville. The second explains how he’s used the experiences in Part 1 to develop a philosophy and perspective in how to tackle athletics and life, and the adversity that might come with them.
Murphy believes the subject matter is something that can be useful to young athletes as well as their parents and coaches.
Local readers will certainly relate to Murphy’s book, particularly the first part as he tells of growing up playing basketball in Janesville.
He writes of dreaming of one day playing for legendary Craig boys basketball coach Bob Suter. Suter contributed a foreward to Murphy’s book.
“People might be quick to judge his credibility because of his age, but Mike being so youthful is the best thing about the book,” Suter wrote. “Wisdom tends to be measured by experiences and Mike Murphy has lived those experiences in order to tell such a touching story.”
Murphy includes in that story the lows and the highs.
He made Craig’s JV team as a freshman but wound up with little to no playing time and was asked at the end of the season to play with a freshmen team.
But by his junior year, Murphy became a focal point of the Cougars’ varsity team. He might be most-remembered for hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer his junior year against crosstown rival Parker, and he recalls that story in one of his chapters.
“People looked at me my junior and senior years when the success finally started coming along, and that’s all people saw,” Murphy said. “They didn’t see the struggles early in my high school career.”
Murphy eventually went to play Division III basketball at Platteville but saw his basketball career quickly come to an end due to a shoulder injury his freshman year and an Achilles injury his sophomore year.
He also experienced adversity in college through his brother going through an open-heart surgery and his parents going through a divorce.
“It was really tough that first year of college,” Murphy said. “You don’t really expect things to keep happening, or you expect to catch a break.
“I just think it’s really important for kids to know if you want to have success in a sport, you have to understand adversity … and the importance of failing.
“I had never faced anything wildly challenging outside of basketball until those college years. And if it wasn’t for those late nights in the driveway trying to figure out how to get better or those early mornings in the weight room, I don’t know how I would’ve handled what I went through that first year of college.”
And so Murphy tackles all of that in his book.
He learned about the Amazon self-publishing process through an author he met during his studies in Platteville. He had some folks close to him read over his manuscript, and he mostly edited it himself.
Down and Back is available in paperback for $14.99 or on Kindle.
“I want it to reach as many people as possible,” Murphy said. “I think that it can apply to any kid in any sport in any state across the country. It applies to middle school kids entering high school. It can be applied to high school kids that aren’t having any success and those that are having a ton of success.
“Some people, I think, overlook the things you can take away from playing sports,” Murphy added. “The lifelong lessons I got from it might have saved my entire college career academically or might have even saved my life in college, just because of what I went through in sports.”
Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette.
Writing, and publishing, for a cause
Writing, and publishing, for a cause UI sophomore Emily Ward self-published a novel and will donate all proceeds to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.
The Daily Iowan; Photos by Alex
University of Iowa Freshman, Emily Ward, poses for a portrait on Sunday ,March 26th, 2017. Emily just published her first book called "The Disturbance" this year and is donating the proceeds to charity. (The Daily Iowan/James Year)
March 28, 2017
By Madeleine Neal email@example.com
After struggling with self-worth issues in high school, writing became a coping method for University of Iowa sophomore Emily Ward.
Ward is the author of a self-published novel, The Disturbance, which she described as a dystopian novel about finding a way to better oneself.After being a member of Alpha Chi Omega for more than a semester, she has chosen to donate her novel’s proceeds to her sorority’s philanthropy — the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.
Kate DelCotto, the assistant vice president of Alpha Chi Omega’s philanthropy, said the sorority works closely with DVIP.
“[We] work very closely with it to spread awareness,” she said.
The philanthropy, she said, focuses on what a healthy relationship is.
Although domestic violence is not explicitly mentioned in Ward’s story, DelCotto said, the color purple, which she described as being synonymous with domestic-violence awareness, is mentioned in Ward’s novel.
“[The story] alludes that there is something there,” she said. “[Something] affecting our society.”
Cindy Ward, Emily Ward’s mother, said her daughter always had a passion for telling stories.
“I remember when I helped her write her first book when she was 5,” she said. “[Emily said], ‘Mom, I need to write a book about what happened today.’ ”
When it comes to her writing, Cindy Ward said she has never done it for her own gain. “Her main motivation and goals [are to] do something good for others and not just [for] yourself,” the elder Ward said.
Emily Ward began working on the novel her junior year of high school, but she had had the idea for a long time.
When publishers turned her away, she said, she felt burnt out. At that point, she taught herself how to market the novel.
Ward said she hopes the book allows readers to focus on self-discovery and also enjoy reading it.
The Disturbance, she said, is the first book in a trilogy.
“[I’m] excited to finish it,” she said. “[I] keep writing new things.”
As an English and creative writing double-major, she is also working on poetry and short stories. Her writing cannot be done without family, friends, and an open mind, she said.
But after her doubts about her self-worth, she has discovered herself.
“[I] reached a place where I could find value in myself,” she said.
Janesville Craig graduate Peyton Sippy finished 30th for the University of Wisconsin at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships held Friday in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Sippy, a senior at UW, covered the 6-kilometer course in 21:02.0, crossing immediately after teammate Vivian Hacker, a Madison West graduate. Both helped the Badgers take third in the team competition.
Ahead of the conference meet, Sippy was named the Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Week for her performance in the Illinois Open, a 5K race she won Oct. 21 in a time of 17:28.1 in Champaign, Illinois. She was the first female Badger to win the award since 2019.
Wisconsin defensive lineman Keeanu Benton sacks Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields during a 2019 game.
Keeanu Benton and Noah Burks celebrate a fumble recovery by the Janesville Craig product. Benton earned all-Big Ten Conference second-team honors at nose tackle.
Wisconsin's Matt Henningsen and Keeanu Benton display the Freedom Trophy after the Badgers beat Nebraska.
Wisconsin Badgers defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, a 2019 Janesville Craig High graduate, is already being mentioned as a potential NFL prospect.
Wisconsin defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, a 2019 Janesville Craig graduate, rushes against Michigan players during a Big Ten Conference game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at Camp Randall Stadium.
Janesville Craig product Keeanu Benton added another honor to his resume on Wednesday.
The University of Wisconsin nose tackle, a 6-foot-4, 317-pound junior, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from The Associated Press, voted upon by a group of 26 media members from Big Ten markets.
In the Badgers’ 12 games, Benton helped Wisconsin control the interior of the line. He made 10 solo tackles and 14 assists, with five tackles for 17 yards lost and 2½ sacks for 13 yards lost.
Wisconsin (8-4) ended the regular season ranked second nationally in total defense, giving up 2,889 yards on 692 plays from scrimmage for an average of 240.8 yards per game.
Wisconsin also ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 16.4 points per game.
Wisconsin’s first-team selections were senior offensive guard Josh Seltzner, junior linebacker Leo Chenal and senior linebacker Jack Sanborn.
Other Badgers making the second team were freshman running back Braelon Allen and senior tight end Jake Ferguson.
Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud were named co-offensive players of the year by The AP. Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson was named defensive player of the year.
Parker High School
- Pat Thom
- Steve Preston
- Gerry & Cathy Luiting 1976
- Bennie Guerra 1994
- Owen Alabado 1998
- Lisl (Horning) Detlefsen 1999
- Ryan Callahan 1999
- Mistie Bass-Boyd - 2002
- Evan Pingel 2004
- Britten (Grafft) Langfoss 2005
- Tyler Kutz - 2005
- Analiese Eicher 2006
- Alonzo Velazquez 2007
- Ben Armer 2007
- Meghan Walker 2007
- Seth Lambert 2008
- Leah Letson 2010
- Ellen Reid 2013
- Haley Hedgecock 2013
- Riley Parkhurst 2017
The stage has always been special for longtime director Pat Thom, who is celebrating her 52nd year in local theater.
A Janesville native, Thom got involved in theater as Parker High School student. Her passion for the stage followed her for two years as a student at UW-Rock County and as she went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in speech/communication arts at UW-Whitewater. Thom’s allegiance temporarily switched to radio as a staff member at UW-W’s WSUW-FM, where she hosted several shows and eventually became the station’s first female program director.
After graduating from UW-W, Thom attended the University of Massachussetts, where she obtained a master’s degree in communication arts. She took a break from the stage and went “theater-free” until returning to Janesville in 1976, where she went on to become a teacher at both UW-Rock County and Blackhawk Technical College, earning several teacher of the year awards. In 2015, Thom was inducted into the United Arts Alliance Hall of Fame.
When not behind the curtain, Thom gets her hands dirty tending to her garden “pets” that include a hosta named Henry; her favorite clematis, Winny, and a “troublesome climbing rose” she calls Rascal.
For more about Stage One Inc., visit StageOneWI.org.
1. What initiated your love for theater? There was no initial love for theater; I was encouraged to participate because I was shy when I was young. My brother had been in theater in school, and my mother thought it would help me to engage with others more easily. At first, I was scared to death, but I learned I could use a theater character to pretend to be someone different than the real me. It became an opportunity to try out new personalities, and that was not only fun, it was liberating. I was hooked.
2. Have you always been more interested in directing or was there a time you enjoyed acting? While acting was fun to “play at,” memorizing lines and opening up to an audience of strangers was hard for me. But you can’t just BE a director. You need theater experience, so I’ve done my share of acting along with lots of backstage work. However, I’ve always known my talent is in understanding a script, being able to visualize the big picture and teaching others how to make their best impression while performing my vision of the play.
3. Who have been your role models? First and foremost is my mother, Doris Thom. She was a very strong woman who didn’t let others tell her “no.” She was a local feminist who was the first woman to work on the line at the GM plant in Janesville. She inspired many people, and I admired, learned from and emulated her “can do” attitude throughout my life. Then, Gary Lenox expanded my theater world. He was the founder of Stage One and produced all shows and projects for the first 10 years. He taught me the business of theater and all that it takes to put on a show. Finally, Kirk Denmark was my directing mentor. When I met him, he was retired from Beloit College. He had directed professional theater all over the U.S., and he took a liking to Stage One. He taught me what directors do. I served as assistant director to him on several shows, including his final play when he died two days after opening weekend. He literally gave his life to theater, and I honor his memory with every show I direct.
4. What is it about theater that keeps you involved after all these years? I’ve worked in theater for 52 years, and it is the storytelling that keeps me involved. Stories give us the opportunity to vicariously experience different emotions without the messy consequences. Of course, you can get these stories from books, film and TV, but nothing is as immediate and real as feeling these emotions in a darkened theater with live actors telling the story and real people sitting next to you experiencing similar emotions.
5. As a former senior lecturer in the communication and theater arts program at UW-Rock County, what are some of the things you’ve learned from students? I’ve taught thousands of students, and they have confirmed a number of important truths. My public speaking students proved through perseverance and positive thinking, anyone can overcome long-held fears. My film students taught me anyone can think critically when they need to. And all of my students taught me that the next generation brings energy, intelligence and optimism to our world. They are our hope for the future, and our future will be bright if we let them try.
6. You are a founding member of Stage One in Janesville. How did that come about? Stage One began in 1982. Several of us from Janesville Little Theatre broke away to attempt more meaty, cutting-edge plays than what they were producing at the time. Our goal was to produce plays that not only entertain but also make people think and perhaps push them to experience life in new ways. We tackled a mix of award-winning, experimental and unconventional plays. We were a resident company at UW-Rock County and were very successful for about 15 years. But it was a lot of work, and eventually many of us burned out. We stopped producing shows around 1997. Then in 2011, several of us reinvented the company. Our goals are the same as they were originally, but we now have a new generation of actors and artists who are again inspired by this approach.
7. What is your opinion of the trend of turning successful stage plays into big screen productions? I have no objection to this as long as the audience doesn’t expect them to be the same. Just like reading a book is never the same as seeing the film, the same goes for a play. A play is a much more “in-your-face” experience, while watching a movie you are physically removed and far less emotionally involved. They are two different interpretations of the same material, but they are not alike.
8. Name a skill you wish you had. I’d love to have the ultimate power of persuasion so I could convince everyone to agree with me about everything. OK, just joking. But my real answer is, “None.” If I want a skill badly enough, I’ll learn it. If not, then I guess I don’t really need it after all, do I?
9. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. In 1970, at the Sound Storm rock festival in Poynette, I partied backstage with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. I was quite a hippie in my younger days.
10. What person in history would you most like to meet? I love a good story, so the best American storyteller I can think of is Mark Twain. I admire his sarcastic wit, his compassion, his common sense and his ability to effortlessly engage his audience and speak to them in an informal, colloquial manner. He was the ol’ man next door just shootin’ the breeze about a funny character or situation. But, by the end of his entertaining tale, he had made a salient, memorable and hilarious point. I’d love to hear him cut loose about today’s politicians, technology or what we are doing to our world.
11. Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? I’m an introvert because I prefer to deal with people in small groups or one-on-one. I guess I try to adapt to individual situations and people, and I can’t do that as well in large groups. However, I’ve surely grown from my early days of shyness, and I am no longer intimidated by anyone or any situation.
12. Who is your favorite Muppet? Jim Henson. I don’t mean to be cheeky, but I am drawn to the creative genius behind the characters rather than the characters themselves. Isn’t that what you’d expect a director to say?
13. Have you ever met anyone famous? About 20 years ago, I ran into film critic Roger Ebert at the British Museum in London. Since I had taught film for many years, he was a hero to me, and I was very excited. We were the only people in the room. I recognized him immediately and took a step toward him. Then I observed his facial and body expressions. I could see he dreaded another “fan” encounter but was graciously preparing himself to deal with it. I stopped, smiled, nodded and shrugged. He looked so relieved, sighed, gave me a thumbs up and a wink. Not a word was spoken, and the whole encounter probably lasted 15 seconds total. But I felt like I had made a real connection with him. We understood and respected one another, and isn’t that what we all strive for in conversation?
14. What is the single most difficult aspect to directing a theater production? To me, casting is the hardest step. Some people are just right for a role, while others are not. This can be based on appearance, voice, attitude or experience. That varies, but I usually know it when I see it. However, there are times when the right person doesn’t audition. Then you take a leap of faith and hope that through direction and rehearsal you can mold the actor to fit the part. Of course, I am always eager to work with whomever I choose for a part, but if the cast is right, the rest of the production flows so much more smoothly.
15. In one word, describe the theater scene in Janesville: Complimentary
16. Certain plays seem to be produced on a regular basis. What little-known play would you like to direct if given the chance? Last fall, I saw the world premier of “Witch” by Jen Silverman, a fabulous new play at Writer’s Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois. It is a smart, modern fable inspired by a 1621 play about the witch craze of the time. The play keeps its period setting but employs modern language and attitudes. The devil is portrayed as a salesman peddling wish fulfillment in exchange for souls. But the men of the village fear the devil less than they do the local outcast, a falsely accused witch who is blamed for all the town’s troubles. While the men are easy prey for the devil’s sales pitch, the woman stands her ground and this, in turn, only further intrigues the devil. I loved this play because it was contemporary yet timeless, sharp and witty yet relevant, and smart yet entertaining. I would love to direct this show.
17. Explain what “blocking” is? One of the most important tasks of directing, blocking involves directing the actors on how to move. You tell them where to enter, where to exit, when they should move from one place/character to another, when to sit or stand, and what physical movements they should use during the play. The script explains some of this, but not much. Some directors believe in “organic blocking,” meaning the actor does whatever feels natural or right as he or she plays the scene. That is not my style. I choreograph all movements of the actors in the play because movement can convey as much meaning as dialogue. I see the stage as a chessboard, and I want to checkmate my audience. Everything needs to be precisely planned out.
18. Why is community theater important to a city’s social and cultural fabric? For two reasons. First, it serves as a creative outlet for community members. Community theater is a great social scene where people can meet and interact with all types of people in the city. Whether you are an actor or work backstage, you not only meet new people but you get to work together on a project. It promotes wonderful team-building skills. But there is also a secondary benefit. Attending live theater makes for more empathetic citizens. It gives people a chance to live through a variety of experiences they would probably not otherwise encounter and to do it in a live setting.
19. Aside from yelling “cut,” what is the job of the director on a local theater production? Sorry, but it’s only a film director that gets to say, “Cut.” But, overall, our jobs are the same. A director takes a script and creates the artistic vision of the final product. When I read a script, I literally see it playing out in my mind’s eye. The director’s job is to see that all the details mesh together to turn that artistic vision into reality. Directing a good production gives me a high like no other.
20. When it comes to theater, what is more important: talent or passion? I believe, in any endeavor, passion is more important than talent. Talent can often be learned, while passion can’t. Of course, when they are equally combined, genius ensues.
Janesville native begins new chapter as chief of Goodwill
Steve Preston was between meetings in Puerto Rico when he called The Gazette for a pre-arranged interview Wednesday.
The former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and administrator of the Small Business Administration is a Janesville native, a graduate of Parker High School.
He’s consulting on a rebuilding project in the U.S. island territory through the Rockefeller Foundation. It’s a realm he worked in through his two government jobs during the George W. Bush administration.
Preston’s expertise in government, private finance and most recently running two companies has led him to a new job.
Starting Jan. 14, Preston will take over as CEO of Goodwill Industries International. It’s a job that combines his skills in business and government, and he seemed excited about it.
The local Goodwill stores are controlled by 160 member organizations around the globe, Preston said. He will head up an umbrella organization that works across this network of affiliates to support them and works with federal agencies and foundations, he said.
The affiliates have a common mission: to help people who have difficulties in joining the labor force, Preston continued.
“I’m a strong believer that employment gives us dignity, gives us purpose, gives us a sense of connection that all go beyond the basic financial benefits of having a job,” he said.
Goodwill’s programs are known for helping people with disabilities, but they also target others with job challenges, such as those coming out of prison, veterans, troubled youth and senior citizens who want to work, he said.
Preston still has one of his five children living at home. He’ll be moving the family from Chicago to Rockville, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., for the Goodwill job.
Preston said the special thing about working in government was using his business skills to focus on a clear mission and help people directly.
With Goodwill, he’ll have a similar situation, he said, in helping people find their ways to a sustainable future.
Preston maintains contacts with the federal government. He hosted a gathering of former HUD secretaries for the incoming HUD secretary, Ben Carson, when Carson began his tenure in 2017.
He did the same for President Barack Obama’s first HUD secretary, Shaun Donovan, he said.
Preston declined to talk politics, but he did talk about the political climate.
“I’m deeply concerned about the increasing polarization in the country. … I just wish very much that we would come together more as a country and realize we have so much more in common than what separates us. … We’ve got big problems to solve, so we need to come together. I wish we were doing more of that.”
Asked if he has any advice for fellow Janesville native Paul Ryan, who is leaving his government job next month, Preston said he applauds Ryan for taking the time to spend with his wife and children.
“And I applaud (him) for serving the country with all his heart and energy. … And don’t leave public life. We need him. He’s the real deal, he really is,” Preston added.
Preston said he attended his high school reunion a few years ago, and each time he visits Janesville, “I’m reminded about what a great place I’m from.”
“I couldn’t believe, after 40 years, I had an immediate connection with people I hadn’t seen. … They are such good, solid people who care about their community, their families, their relationships. That’s what the best communities in the country are about. It’s about supporting each other.
“We’re so divided in this country right now, we have to remind ourselves about being part of such a great community.”
- Anthony Wahl
It was the early 1990s, and they were competing in doubles at a very high level, but not just with their own separate partners but often for rival teams.
In 1992, Gerry took Cathy to Janesville's Rotary Gardens, where he convinced her they should put their longtime friendship on the line and try dating. By the next show ski season, Cathy had left the defending national championship team to team up with Gerry and the Rock Aqua Jays.
“People just right away assumed that because we were getting together that we were going to be this amazing couple,” Cathy said. “But it takes time and patience and learning to work together. It's like anything else when you form a partnership, you have to work things out.”
It took the Luitings less than a year to work out the kinks.
By the end of 1993, thanks in part to a Billy Joel music video and a highly supportive group of teammates, the Luitings were national champions in doubles and as a team. And they were engaged.
And nearly a quarter-century later, they're renowned as one of, if not the, premier doubles team in water skiing history, and their careers and commitment to their sport continue today.
The Luitings' efforts are once again being recognized, as Cathy and Gerry will be inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame. They'll join Ernie Furrer, Tucker Fredricks, Curt McGinness and Tony Huml in the 2017 class that will be enshrined during a May 6 ceremony at the Janesville Country Club.
“What a tremendous honor, not only for ourselves but for our team, all of those people how have been there helping us along the way, and certainly our family,” Gerry said. The Luitings are the first members of the Aqua Jays to be inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame.
“We were so shocked we just stood there like, 'Oh my God, we can't believe this,'” Cathy added. “Not being originally from Janesville, Janesville has always been so warm and welcoming. … It's just a huge honored to be recognized this way.”
Gerry, a Parker High graduate, and Cathy, originally from the Milwaukee area, met while competing against each other at the Tommy Bartlett show in Wisconsin Dells in the 80s.
Cathy jokes that it took about 10 years for her to warm up to him.
“We were afraid if we dated and things didn't work out that we wouldn't be friends afterward,” she said.
Gerry picked Rotary Gardens as the perfect spot to convince Cathy to give a relationship a try, and it blossomed quickly both on and off the water.
It took time, however, to hone their craft as a doubles team, despite the fact that doubles was their specialty. Cathy describes the process much like ice dancing or pairs figure skating, where body styles and proportions can dictate what a pair can accomplish, first and foremost, and then the two must build chemistry together.
“We were both wanting to take doubles to a different level, but were trying to figure out how,” Cathy said.
The process tested the Luitings' patience, at least initially. As the height of the season ramped up, they finished just second or third in the state doubles competition.
But on the eve of the national competition that year, Gerry drew some inspiration from the music video to Joel's “Uptown Girl,” which features the singer as an auto mechanic chasing after supermodel Christie Brinkley Cathy, working in Milwaukee and planning to arrive at nationals just in time to compete on a Friday evening, had no idea what was in the works.
“I was watching MTV and it came on and I thought it was something we could incorporate into a skit,” Gerry said. “I had a '59 Corvette, and I wondered if I could drive it onto a dock. At 11 o'clock at night I took it down to the park and drove it out very slowly onto the dock, which the guys had just rebuilt.”
Gerry tracked down a friend with old gas station pumps and rounded up some mechanics coveralls.
“I had to tell our driver that he was going to drive Cathy down in the Corvette and I was going to be waiting on the dock,” he said. “All this had to take place, and Cathy didn't know a thing about it until she got there. There were three couples that went before us.”
To this day, that performance remains Gerry and Cathy's favorite.
They won the 1993 national doubles title with it that year. Cathy was named the US Show Nationals female MVP for the first of two times, and the Aqua Jays won the national championship.
The Luitings used the skit again to win their seventh and final national doubles title, as well, in their final performance at nationals.
The list of accomplishments between those titles and since then could fill this entire page. They were inducted into the USA Water Ski Hall of Fame last year.
Here is a sampling of the Luitings' accomplishments, provided by the USA Water Ski Foundation:
Cathy is a two-time world show ski team champion, 12-time national team champion, seven-time triple crown team champion, 13-time regional team champion, seven-time national doubles champion and nine-time regional doubles champion. She also is a two-time recipient of the Willa Cook (national MVP) Award, regional tournament MVP, two-time international tournament MVP and four-time MVP of her ski clubs.
Cathy was a key player in many show skiing firsts and holds several world records. She has been active in the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation, an originator/instructor of Show Ski Camp and chairwoman of Think Tank for 21 years. Cathy also has been a longtime board member of the National Show Ski Association, where she has served on committees, championed new programs and promoted the sport nationwide. She is a show ski-rated instructor, driver, scorer, safety coordinator and senior judge.
Gerry is a two-time world show ski team champion, 19-time national team champion, 11-time triple crown team champion, 16-time regional team champion, seven-time national doubles champion, nine-time regional doubles champion, two-time national jump team champion and five-time regional jump team champion.
He received the first Skip Gilkerson Award during the Show Ski National Championships, when he was named MVP of the tournament. He also has been an international MVP and four-time MVP of his team.
Gerry also is an innovator. He organized and participated in the first four-high and five-high human pyramids, set several world records and invented skiing solutions that included the floating rope, ladder handles and knot-savers.
Gerry is president of the National Show Ski Association, has served as its chairman and on a variety of committees, and helped develop and implement many new programs. He was instrumental in setting up the World Water Ski Show Tournament and co-authored its first set of rules and contract. He is chairman of the International Water Ski and Wakeboard Federation Show Ski Committee and a rated-instructor, driver, scorer, safety director and senior judge.
The Luitings are honorary lifetime members of the Aqua Jays.
They say they rarely look back on all those accomplishments.
“We're our own worst critics, and we always figure we're judged by our last performance, so let's make it our best performance,” Cathy said.
“Perfection is an elusive thing that will never occur, but you have to chase it if you want to be good,” Gerry added. “Are we happy we had a good run in the tournaments? Absolutely, I'm not going to kid myself or anybody else about that.
“But a lot of what comes back to my mind is not just the time we spent together, but all of the friends that we've made along the way. Those relationships that we've built are what we tend to dwell on. Some of our biggest competitors at the time became our lifelong friends.”
Boat drivers, riders and other Aqua Jays teammates became family to the Luitings. And then their son, Aragorn—a 2013 Janesville Craig grad—truly made water skiing a family endeavour when he began competing, too.
“Our team has been behind us since Day 1, the day we got together,” Cathy said, noting that the Janesville hall induction is a credit to the Aqua Jays, as a whole. “They pushed us and encouraged us when we were frustrated. And our drivers, too.”
Now into their 50s, the Luitings aren't slowing down. This week they were in Florida for the Chain of Records, an annual event where water skiers from around the world converge in an attempt to break records.
Together they've combined to put in more than 75 years of active involvement in organized show skiing.
“It's one of those things that became something we did together as a family, and I can't even put a value on that,” Gerry said. “We were going to retire a number of times, like after the '93 season. I had won the MVP a few years before, Cathy had won it that year, our team won the triple crown, we were national champions, we were national doubles champions, we built the first five-high (pyramid) in a tournament.
“It just seemed like, at the moment, it really doesn't get better than this.”
Instead, the Luitings' Hall of Fame career had only just begun.
Parker wrestler Bennie Guerra gets a hug from his father, Ben, after pinning Luke Sullivan of Verona in the final round 275-pound regional tournament. Gazette Archive Photo
Who else made an issue of Sports Illustrated at that age?
On Page 92 in the “Faces In The Crowd” section of the July 28, 1985, issue, was this: Bennie Guerra, Janesville, Wis.—Bennie, 10, who will be a fifth-grader at Madison Elementary School, won the Northern Plains regional wrestling title for 9- and 10-year-olds in the 100-pound weight class. The win raised his freestyle career record to 121-4.
Guerra went on to win AAU/USA state titles from first grade on through eighth grade and was a four-time national youth champ.
He then was a standout in both football and wrestling at Parker High, earning seven letters.
On May 11, he will be part of the 2019 Janesville Sports Hall of Fame induction class, along with Patrick Campbell, John Furrer, Andy Meehan and Susan McKeown.
While he enjoyed playing football as much as wrestling, it was on the mat that Guerra collected the most recognition.
“He had a great background,” said Ron Cramer, Guerra’s wrestling coach at Parker High. “His dad wrestled; I remember the story was he wrestled Jim Plunkett.”
That was in California when Ben Sr. was in high school. Plunkett went on to play 16 seasons as a quarterback in the NFL, throwing 164 touchdown passes and leading the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins.
He took Bennie, then a third-grader, to Parker High wrestling practices—to participate, not just watch. The sight of a third-grader taking on the 98-pound high school wrestlers prompted an article in The Gazette in 1983.
Bennie also was influenced by his two older brothers, Mark and Ray Martinez. Ray was a 2010 Janesville Hall of Fame inductee and will be the guest speaker at this year’s induction ceremony.
When Bennie entered high school, his father was his main wrestling partner. No other Vikings wrestler could push him like his father.
“Bennie was like a cat at practice,” said classmate and teammate Dan Schultz. “We were like mice to him. He’d walk up behind guys and put his hand on their head and just play with them like a cat.”
That was not the case with his father.
“Bennie never took his dad down in practice,” Cramer said. “Ben (Sr.) can still take out almost everybody around right now.”
Bennie’s goal was to take his father down to the mat. It happened.
“I was a junior, because I remember that day,” Guerra said. “Growing up, I remember telling my mom (Edna), ‘Someday I’m going to take him down.’ All heavyweights, everybody gunned for him.
“Even some of the assistant coaches wanted to go after him, and they couldn’t do it.”
But then came Bennie’s moment.
“I did a leg sweep, and I took him down and landed on him,” Bennie said. “I had the biggest freaking smile. I remember turning and looking at Cramer, ‘I did it.’”
“I didn’t even want a ride home,” Bennie said. “I just wanted to walk home and enjoy the moment. I was so freaking happy. That was like beyond winning any tournament.”
Bennie was no slouch on the football field, either.
Schultz compared him to Boobie Miles, the do-everything player in the movie “Friday Night Lights.”
“I kicked, I punted, I played fullback nose guard, defensive tackle, middle linebacker,” Guerra said. “If I got a scouting report and the guy is 6-4, 280 pounds, I have no problem with that. I’ll just go right under him.”
He earned all-Big Eight honors at defensive tackle as a senior.
“He was the classic three-sport athlete,” said Joe Dye, who coached Guerra in football and in track. “One thing about Bennie, he always had fun. He always had great enthusiasm.”
That included skateboarding and snowboarding. Cramer remembers younger kids waiting for Guerra at the doors of the gymnasium with skateboards.
“I hung around with everybody,” Guerra said. “I wasn’t just ‘a jock’ only.”
And while he wasn’t a Tony Hawk on the boards, he was impressive.
“I was able to skate a ‘vert’ ramp, which is a professional ramp,” he said. “I couldn’t do major ‘airs,’ but you don’t see people 230 pounds doing that.”
His passion for boards did interfere with his wrestling at times. Guerra’s freshman season was limited to 20 matches after a snowboarding incident at the Janesville Country Club. The day before the prestigious Mid-States tournament, Guerra and friends were using a sand trap as a jump.
A recent snowfall sent Guerra into the jump faster than he anticipated and launched him five feet farther than he expected.
“I landed squarely on my knee,” Guerra said.
Afraid to tell anybody, especially his father, Bennie saw the knee swell up.
He hobbled into the Mid-States and wore a double knee pad, but he ultimately had to fess up to the coaches.
“That was a big tournament, and I was in the ninth grade and I was the No. 1-ranked wrestler,” he said.
Bennie always had the target on his back. A couple of upperclassmen quit after spending seasons preparing to wrestle heavyweight for Parker, only to see a freshman come in and deny them the chance.
“They could have gone anywhere else in the Big Eight Conference and wrestled varsity,” Bennie said.
The expectations placed on him did affect the happy-go-lucky Guerra. He admits the pressure got to him sometimes, especially early in his high school career when the vast majority of varsity wrestlers his age were in lower weight classes. Bennie was going up against young men.
“I was 14 years old and 195 pounds going up against 17-, 18-year-olds that were 275,” he said. “That got a lot of attention. How was this small guy going to compete? It was technique and experience.”
One of Guerra’s early losses came against Jason Maniecki, a Wisconsin Dells High athlete. Maniecki went on to play football at the University of Wisconsin and spent three seasons as a defensive lineman for Tampa Bay in the NFL before a back injury ended his career.
Maniecki was a man among boys in high school. He went 34-0 to win the Division 2 state title in 1991. One of those wins came against Guerra, then a 15-year-old sophomore.
“I was the only guy he didn’t pin,” Guerra said. “I did pick him up six feet off the ground and toss him on his back. When he landed, he shook his head like, ‘What the hell just happened?’”
When Guerra met some of Maniecki’s Badger teammates years later, they referred to him as “the guy that wrestled Maniecki from Parker.”
He was a three-time Big Eight Conference champ and won the Mid-States his junior and senior year.
Guerra was the first Parker High heavyweight to make it to the WIAA state tournament. Unfortunately, a back injury affected him his junior year when he finished second.
He also lost in the title match his senior year to a wrestler that transferred into the state from Utah, so Guerra was not familiar with him.
He finished with a 112-18 high school record with 65 pins. He went 70-6 his final two years, with two of those defeats coming on forfeits in the regional tournament his junior year due to the back injury.
Guerra went to UW-Whitewater, where he wanted to play football and wrestle, which was not met with approval from either coach.
During his freshman wrestling season, Guerra landed wrong on his ankle and tore ligaments, ending that season. It healed, but he re-injured the ankle during preseason football practice.
While Christmas is a special time of year for many people, Janesville native Owen Alabado remembers it as the launchpad for his acting career.
As a third-grader, Alabado was cast as Santa Claus in a school play. His interest in acting and performing took off from there, and he has since leveraged his natural talent into a lucrative profession.
Upon graduating from Parker High School in 1998, Alabado attended UW-Stevens Point and acquired his Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting. After a stint in regional theater, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television.
Alabado’s first break in TV came when he landed the role of the accuser in the dramatic “Michael Jackson Trial Reenactments,” but he also has 10 years of stand-up comedy and improv experience (including a comedy performance at the Armory in Janesville earlier this year). He has since appeared on such shows as “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “Days of Our Lives,” “Shameless” and “This Is Us.”
In addition, he wrote and directed his own comedy web series, “Dudes,” which was loosely based on his personal life. The show has won numerous awards at the Austin Indie Film Fest, the Canadian Diversity Film Festival, the Accolade Global Film Competition and the Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival, to name a few.
One of eight siblings, Alabado’s brothers and sisters include Garrett, Linnea, Nikki, Angela, Alan, Bobby and Rickey. His parents are Gwen and Terry Riese and Jessie and Dinah Alabado.
1. As a kid in Janesville, did you ever dream you would one day wind up being a professional actor? I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a performer of some kind. I think when I was in the paper for the third-grade talent show at Wilson Elementary, it gave me the light bulb of the entertainment industry.
2. You were back in Janesville this year to headline a set of comedy shows at the Armory. Do you like doing stand-up, and what does the experience provide to you as a professional performer? I am mainly an actor and a writer. I do stand-up to feed the need of being on stage and to develop my writing. I also love making people laugh. Stand-up gives me a boost of confidence when it comes to comedic roles and auditions.
3. You are a trained martial artist and dancer. How do the two complement each other, and are they helpful in your career? It’s always nice to have special skills. I was training in martial arts as a kid, and I got into dance when I was a teenager. It helps with my overall health and fitness and gives me an edge when auditioning for roles that need martial arts or dance training.
4. How old were you when you discovered you loved attention, and what other actors have influenced you? It was during that elementary school Christmas play, playing Santa Claus. Being in Filipino dances, as well, while growing up gave me the performance bug, plus I always loved being in the middle of dance circles and having everyone watch me. I have had many actors influence me, and I have always admired Leonardo DiCaprio. After he played in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” I have always respected his ability as an actor. I also think Johnny Depp’s versatility is admirable. Oh, and Robin Williams. He was my favorite growing up.
5. You’ve appeared on one of my favorite TV shows, “Shameless.” Describe the experience. It was amazing working with that cast. I was a fan of the show, so going in to read for it was nerve-wracking. William H. Macy is incredible and super nice. I got to sit next to him—our chairs were right next to each other. And I got an amazing compliment from Emmy Rossum. She was in the room when I auditioned and said I was by far the most professional and polished person that came into the room.
6. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Cheese. Duh.
7. Do you have any superstitions? Not really. Well, I guess the only one I kind of have is one from high school. My brother always said white lighters are bad luck, so when I see one, I automatically think about bad luck.
8. What is the single greatest snack food in the history of mankind? Defend your answer. Cheese and pepperoni wrapped in a tortilla and then sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Try it and you will understand.
9. If you could co-star with any actor/actress currently working, who would he or she be? It would be my friend Regina King, who just won an Oscar. I knew her from one of my jobs. She came there a lot to eat and became a friend. I have dreamed someday we would work together on something. I just adore her.
10. You are the oldest of eight kids. What do most people not understand about coming from a family that large? I think what most people don’t understand is that, when you are the only child, the world doesn’t revolve around you. And it’s crowded.
11. Thus far, in your professional acting career, what would you say has been the most gratifying role you’ve played? It’s going to sound weird, but playing the accuser in the “Michael Jackson Trial Reenactments.” It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. And to this day, it is still the most challenging acting I have ever done.
12. People would be surprised to find out: That I love country music.
13. Name a popular actor/singer/artist who doesn’t appeal to you. I am going to have to say Kevin Hart. Not in every role he plays, but in a lot of roles. He is a bit much for me.
14. What is your astrological sign? Do you believe in astrology? I am an Aquarius, and yes, I do believe there is some truth to it. Download the app “The Pattern.” You put in your birth date, time of birth and city of birth. It is amazing how accurate it is.
15. Aside from acting, what do you consider your favorite hobbies? I love karaoke, throwing theme parties, oh ... and I play dodgeball every week.
16. What do you consider your essential tools for performing? Knowing who you are as an actor, as well as what the industry sees you as. Keep your tools sharp. If you say you can do martial arts, you better be able to do it. Take classes, teach classes, watch videos. Know your craft.
17. Without looking in a dictionary, what would you guess a “glabella” to be? Glabella is an Italian drag queen. (The glabella is actually the space on your forehead between your eyebrows).
18. What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done? I have cliff jumped in the Philippines and swam with whale sharks. (They aren’t that dangerous. Super nice creatures).
19. Do you have any advice for young thespians just trying to get into the business? Just because you were the lead in high school and college means jack in the real world. Work hard and know yourself.
20. What are the best and worst things about being a professional actor? The best thing is being able to do what you love and getting paid to do it. I love transforming into another person and giving the audience a glimpse into someone else’s world. The worst things? How much time do we have? It’s inconsistent. Long hours on set. Repeating yourself over and over. Traffic. A lot of not-nice people in Hollywood.
On Tuesday, March 21, she will make sure a new generation of children understands how the native fruit is grown and harvested in the state.
As part of Rock County/Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom, Lisl will read from her 2015 children's picture book, “Time for Cranberries,” at three Rock County schools and two libraries.
The purpose of the effort is “to teach students the importance of agriculture and the vital role it plays in their lives and society,” Sheila Everhart said.
Everhart is Rock County Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom coordinator.
In the past, students have learned about the importance of bees, soybean science, making maple syrup and other topics.
Lisl lives on a cranberry marsh in central Wisconsin, but she grew up in Janesville and is a 1999 graduate of Parker High School.
While in Janesville, she never dreamed of becoming a cranberry farmer or an ambassador for Wisconsin's No. 1 fruit.
“I couldn't wait until I moved to a bigger city,” Lisl said.
Her husband, Robert Detlefsen, changed her mind. He is a fifth-generation cranberry farmer with a passion for his work.
January snow covered the bogs when Robert showed Lisl his cranberry farm for the first time.
Later, he brought her back during the harvest when the marsh was in full autumn blaze.
“It was Dorothy stepping into Oz,” Lisl recalls. “The red berries were floating on the water, and autumn colors were all around.”
The experience inspired Lisl to write the children's book explaining how the harvest occurs. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water but on low-running vines. During harvest, farmers flood cranberry marshes and gather the floating fruit.
Today, Lisl and Robert operate a 140-acre cranberry farm west of Wisconsin Rapids in the town of Cranmoor. Robert's great-great grandfather bought the land from the state in 1871.
Lisl describes the town of Cranmoor as “the most highly concentrated area of cranberry acreage in the world.”
“Most of the farms have been family owned for generations,” Lisl said. “It's special to have all these family businesses farming together. We all understand what the others are going through.”
In her book's dedication, she fondly writes that “Time for Cranberries” is a love letter to her husband, family and the cranberry community.
“I call it a virtual field trip,” Lisl said. “This is what the harvest is like. I want to be sure it is clear to kids who don't get to see the marsh. The book helps show people outside of the community what we do.”
Lisl knew she wanted to be an author since she was young.
“All I ever wanted to do is write children's books,” she said.
Her mother, Susan Hornig of Janesville, read to her often when she was a child.
Lisl called the publication of her cranberry book “a lifetime dream come true.”
She hopes the book inspires young people to ask questions about the origins of their food and to appreciate agriculture.
She is honored that her book will be read across the state as part of Wisconsin Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom day.
“I really look forward to coming back to Janesville,” Lisl said. “I really love talking to students.”
The 31st annual event is Saturday, May 16, at the Janesville Country Club. It starts with a 5 p.m. reception, followed by dinner at 6 and the induction program at approximately 7.
Tickets, priced at $35, go on sale April 1. They must be purchased in advance at outlets that will be announced later.
This year’s five inductees are: Mistie Bass, Parker’s All-America basketball star (1999-2002) who played at Duke University and for 10 years in the WNBA; the late Ron Brown, a 33-year staple as an assistant coach in Parker’s high-level wrestling program; John Koebler, a 1972 Janesville Craig graduate, who had a key role as a player and coach in eight football championships; Joe Shere, a 1997 Craig graduate, who already has been inducted into two halls of fame in honor of his baseball accomplishments; and Anne Sonka Nagle, the lead runner on Craig’s 1991 cross-country team, the only girls state championship team in school history.
Callahan was appointed last May as UW-Whitewater’s interim athletic director. That came with a two-year contract.
Callahan went from pitching for Parker to pitching for UW-Whitewater to being drafted by the San Francisco Giants and playing minor league baseball. It was first with the Giants then the Minnesota Twins at high Class A level.
Callahan earned that professional opportunity through an outstanding NCAA Division III career with the Warhawks. He was a three-time All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) pick and a two-time all-region selection.
Callahan was part of four WIAC championships, two conference tournament titles and four NCAA tournament appearances. He led the Warhawks in complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and strikeouts, while compiling a 2.21 ERA during a 2004 senior season that ended in the Division III World Series—which also led to his induction into the UW-Whitewater Hall of Fame last October.
After winning the American Legion Athletic Medal as a Parker senior in 1999, followed by his college days and time in professional baseball, Callahan returned to UW-Whitewater.
He became the Director of Continuing Education in 2012. He was named Athletic Director for Internal Operations in 2017, a position that included maintaining budgets for all 20 athletic programs on camps, which led to his appointment as interim AD.
Janesville Parker great Mistie Bass-Boyd getting inducted to Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame
Mistie Bass-Boyd led Janesville Parker to two WIAA Division 1 girls state championships, then became an MCAA Dicision 1 scholarship player at Duke and had a 10-year WMBA career. She is also a member of the Janesgville Sports Hall of Fame and is being added to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Mistie Bass-Boyd travels around the country working with NBA teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks, as a Nike marketing director.
Later this week, the 2002 Janesville Parker High graduate and now Portland, Oregon, resident will return to Wisconsin for reasons other than working with clients such as Giannis Antetokounmpo.
It’s gonna be a big week for Evan Pingel.
Despite being a relative newcomer to the stage, the Janesville singer will open for Chris Kroeze at 7 p.m. this Saturday when the Season 15 runner-up from NBC’s “The Voice” headlines SpringFest in Chippewa Falls.
Pingel, a 2004 graduate of Parker High School, admits he couldn’t have imagined such a gig when he first started picking strings a few years back. Self-taught and armed with only some middle school band experience, his fledgling career has begun to take off through a smattering of local shows and some Facebook concerts posted during the pandemic.
“I have always loved music,” he said. “Once I turned 21, after a few drinks, I got the courage to sing karaoke when I was out with friends and got more comfortable singing in public. It was a hidden talent before then, and I finally started playing guitar at 28.”
Pingel’s support network includes his wife, Samantha; the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Sloane; and occasionally howls of encouragement from Bella, a Labrador-mix dog the family recently adopted.
1. Do you come from a musical family, or are you the only one? In my immediate family, I am the only one. But I have an uncle who loves to sing and another who would play in bands.
2. I’m sort of embarrassed to admit it, but I really like the music of: I’m not embarrassed by any of my musical interests, but one that might surprise people is Bruno Mars. He’s such an entertainer, and every song is different from the last.
3. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Definitely sweets. Whether it’s cookies, cheesecake, brownies ... you name it. I should really lay off a little bit.
4. Do you understand music theory or do you perform by ear? Write any songs? I have no idea how to read sheet music. I played saxophone in band when I was younger but I don’t remember anything. I learn songs and write my own by just writing what chords to play and changing it up by ear.
5. You perform in front of people. Do you tend to be an extrovert or an introvert? I’m very much an introvert around new people. I can be quite shy until I get to know them. Around my friends, I’m very much an extrovert, though. It can take me a while to come out of my shell.
6. Are you more of a night owl or an early bird? Definitely an early bird. Since I was young, I’ve always woken up early. I feel like if I sleep past 8 a.m. I’ve wasted so much of the day.
7. Name one movie that, if it comes on, even in the middle, you will stop everything to watch? There’s plenty to list, but the one that comes to mind is “Major League.” I’m a huge Bob Uecker fan, and I went out as Rick Vaughn for Halloween one year. I even shaved the zig-zags into the back of my hairline.
8. Favorite ice cream flavor. Vanilla. Plain and simple just like me. But I do love caramel with it, too.
9. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I’ve lived in Wisconsin my whole life, and I’ve never been on a snowmobile. I don’t hunt or fish. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing in this state.
10. When you were a small boy, what did you want to be when you grew up and why? Being a famous country singer was always right at the top. Veterinarian was another one. I’ve always had a love of animals, I just didn’t want to do any of the dirty work that goes along with it.
11. Away from the stage, you like playing golf. Are you good, or do you find release in the frustration of the game? It depends on what you mean by good. I would say I could be good, but I’m very inconsistent. I can shoot 79 one day and 92 the next. Even if I’m playing bad, a day on the course is very relaxing—although I’m cursing through each hole.
12. Can you name a popular television show you either have never seen an episode of or that you don’t understand why it is popular? “Game of Thrones.” I’ve tried to watch it twice, but I can’t get through the first episode.
13. If you could perform with any artist or band, who would you choose and why? Hands down, Garth Brooks. He is the reason for my love of country music. The first album I ever owned was “The Hits.”
14. What is your worst habit? Overthinking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned around to make sure my garage is closed when I leave home. I know I shut it, but I question myself the more I think about it (it’s shut every time).
15. This weekend, you’re opening for Chris Kroeze at SpringFest in Chippewa Falls. How did you land that gig, and are you nervous? I will probably be nervous until I finish the first song, but after that, I’ll never want the show to end. It’s a huge opportunity and the biggest show I’ve ever played. My cousin is on the board for SpringFest and showed the rest of the board members my Facebook videos, which apparently went well enough for them to want me to open for Chris.
16. You’re a new father. Has the change to your at-home dynamic made it more difficult to practice playing? Absolutely, but not that’s a bad thing. I don’t get nearly as much practice time in these days, but chasing my daughter around is such a great trade-off.
17. Do you play video games? I do. I stick to sports games. Football, baseball and golf are my go-to’s depending on what is in season.
18. Do you have any interest in learning more instruments, or are you still just trying to master guitar? I would love to learn mandolin and piano at some point. I’ve heard that if you can play piano, you can play any instrument if you have the desire to do so.
19. Who is your favorite Muppet? Animal! I was called Animal as a small child because I was always going 100 miles an hour.
20. What song are you working on right now, and how is it coming along? I’m in the middle of writing about five songs right now. One in particular is a break-up song I think will be really good, but since I’ve been happily with my wife for 6 years altogether, it’s hard remembering what those break-up feelings are like. You’ll never hear a cookie cutter song from me. I want people to really feel the meaning in my songs, so I’m very critical of my writing.
Langfoss was born and raised right here in Janesville. A graduate of Janesville Parker High School, she also holds a degree in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis.
Langfoss, her husband, Joel, and their dog, Dexter, reside in a historic home in the city's Courthouse Hill Historic District. She devotes many hours to downtown development as the chair of the Downtown Development Alliance, has sat on a variety of committees that relate to the ARISE Implementation Strategy and just finished serving her second term on the city's historic commission.
Langfoss also serves as vice president of business development for Grafft Investments, whose business portfolio in Janesville includes The Venue, a downtown event and banquet center, and the Wisconsin Wagon Co.
Langfoss is the daughter of Jim and Heidi Grafft, and she has three brothers: Jay, Riley and Charlie. In her spare time, she enjoys playing volleyball and golfing with family and friends.
1. Why call your new place “The Venue?” We were trying to come up with a unique name, but were trying to not make it sound churchy since it was a former church. My father came up with the name “The Venue,” and it stuck.
2. What did you see the first time you entered the facility that convinced you it had potential? The amazing architecture could definitely be seen via a beam of a flashlight. We took one pass through, and everyone in the family knew that it could be something wonderful—not only for the building, but also downtown Janesville.
3. Was there ever a time in the renovation project you felt you might have bitten off more than you could chew? Every day. It was an extremely aggressive timeline, but we had an amazing team in place, which gave me the confidence to know we could make the goal date, which just happened to be my wedding date.
4. What historic attributes of the building did you go to the greatest lengths to maintain? The amazing ceiling, archways and woodwork in the Bower City Ballroom is by far the most amazing part of the building. It was all in really good shape, so it wasn't the most difficult part to maintain—but the most important. The most work went into the tin ceilings and the wood floors, which we restored.
5. Favorite ice cream flavor? Hands down Mint Chocolate Chip.
6. Since opening, The Venue has hosted its share of wedding receptions. What wedding day tradition do you hope never goes away, and which one would you be fine with seeing disappear? I hope the tradition of the bride's father walking her down the aisle is something that doesn't go away. My father and I are extremely close, so it was very emotional, but a very special moment. I like seeing new ideas for the unity part of the ceremony. I have seen so many couples do the candle and the sand, so we chose to pot a plant with soil from both our childhood homes that both our parents still reside at in our hometowns.
7. Do you think spatially or analytically? Strangely both. I blame my schooling in both architecture and business, which gave me an interesting perspective. If I had to choose one, I would say spatially.
8. You're very involved in the community. Explain why it's important to you? I plan to be here in Janesville for a very long time and want to make Janesville the best it can be. My husband and I would like to start a family and intend to raise our family here in Janesville. I believe I am investing in Janesville's future, downtown's future, my future and my family's future.
9. Are you a Facebook/Twitter/Instragram person, or do you avoid social media altogether? I am on Facebook, not only as myself but I am an administrator for six other groups/businesses. I have not gotten into Twitter and Instagram. I do it personally as well as for The Venue and Downtown Janesville. Sometimes I wish I could unplug, but I feel it's important to keep in touch—especially for the businesses and groups that I am involved with here in Janesville.
10. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you: I have my motorcycle license.
11. What is your most prized possession? The ring my husband gave to me when he proposed, as it was his grandmother's ring. Family is very important to me, and most possessions can always be replaced.
12. You studied architecture in college. How did that benefit you during the renovation of The Venue? It helped me with most every aspect of that project, but it was especially helpful when reading blueprints and understanding what I needed to convey to the work team each day. I have always had a passion for historic architecture, but my schooling just solidified that was what I wanted to do.
13. You've taken part in triathlons in the past. Do you still compete in these? No, time management is an area I need to improve upon. I have gotten so involved with other things and purchased a home that I don't have adequate time to train, but I do still play volleyball year-round and hope to get back into triathlons in the future.
14. Name a skill you wish you had. Plastering—it is an art. Luckily we have capable craftsmen in Janesville such as Lloyd's Plastering. We had so much plastering work that needed to be done at The Venue, and now my husband and I have a few projects that need to get done at home as well.
15. Are you left-handed or right-handed? Do you believe it means anything? Right-handed, but I used to joke that I am an ambidextrous volleyball hitter. I don't think it means anything.
16. At the grocery store, what item always goes in your cart whether you need it or not? Eggs. My husband also knows to put them in his cart when he goes grocery shopping as well. I can never have enough eggs. I eat them almost every morning, and I love making hard-boiled eggs.
17. Do you collect anything? For a while it was race medals, as I ran a race every month for 18 straight months—even through the winter. Some might claim I collect shoes, but that is a worn collection and not just for display.
18. Aside from weddings, reunions and business events, what other types of events do you see The Venue hosting in the future? Eventually, we would like to get mid-level musical acts as the acoustics are great, and we have a liquor license to appeal to the over-21 crowd.
19. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? Go golfing. The past few months, my husband and I have been spending much of our free time doing work on our home because it was just on the historic house tour for the Rock County Historical Society, so hopefully the work on our 100-year-old home will slow down now.
20. What does downtown Janesville need more than anything to thrive? People. Not only people who want to live, work and play in the downtown, but also people who care and who want to make an impact.
JANESVILLE—For nearly two decades, artist Tyler Kutz has been putting other peoples’ names up in lights.
The 35-year-old neon artist and Janesville native said he creates nostalgic and custom designs, as “everybody always wants to see their name in lights.” One of his first pieces still hangs at Parker High School, in teacher Sam Van Galder’s art room.
But now, with his first public art exhibit lighting up late last month, it’s finally Kutz’s turn for his name to shine.
“It feels like I accomplished something … (it’s) something that I’ve been wanting to do my whole life,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to have my name in lights. I always want my kids to know that … I stuck to my guns and I always worked hard to get to where I want to be.”
Kutz is one of approximately a dozen and a half artists and collaborators who are setting Olbrich Gardens in Madison aglow with neon figures and LED lights as part of its annual Gleam exhibit. The show, which operates at night so viewers can revel in the glowing artwork, is set to run through the last week of October.
Kutz’s exhibit, composed of 10 insects, is located halfway through the exhibition. A quartet of ants can be seen climbing a tree, as five butterflies fly towards them and a centipede saunters off alone into the woods.
It took Kutz approximately six months and nearly 200 hours to complete the glowing insects, whose bodies are made of swirled glass tubes filled with gas and adorned with wings, legs and antennae of different colors. A father of two who spends his days installing flooring, he resigns himself to his neon work at night.
Much of the work Kutz has commissioned in the last two decades has come by word-of-mouth recommendations, often from people who are looking for that wave of nostalgia by way of clocks and beer signs. He also does custom designs and personalizations.
He learned to create neon artwork as a high school student, at a time when art was the only thing that pulled him through to graduation. He enrolled in a year-long program as a teenager where he learned how to do glass blowing and neon work from the late Jeff Coan, a Beloit teacher and artist.
Neon artwork typically starts with exposing glass tubes to heat, where they become malleable and shapeable. Kutz uses two types of torches that reach 4,000 degrees.
Electrodes are inserted at either end to complete a circuit and heated again to clean the tube and metal of any impurities before a noble gas such as argon is pumped inside it. A small bit of mercury is added to create a chemical reaction with the gas and to give the neon its final color.
Kutz’s Gleam exhibit represents each person of his family, as he let his kids choose what bugs he would create.
The butterflies were chosen by his 6-year-old daughter, who loves them because her mom does, too, Kutz said. And his 8-year-old son is obsessed with ants, catching them in his bug container.
Kutz himself chose the centipede, as he considers it a misunderstood creature whose usefulness isn’t always seen because some can’t get past the bug’s outward appearance.
It took him nearly 50 hours to create the five butterflies, which stand approximately two feet high, and are about two feet in diameter.
it was nearly the same time commitment for the 1-foot by 1-foot ants. The centipede was the most time intensive, with nearly 80 hours going into the 8-foot creature. Kutz’s children occasionally watched him work on the insects.
“(My kids) love neon, they love watching me work,” he said. “My son has actually done a couple of bends on his own. If I could get him to do perfect bends, he could almost be the youngest neon bender.”
Art got him through
The piece that still hangs at Parker High School holds a larger meaning than just being one of Kutz’s first neon signs.
While it now belongs to Sam, it was first given to his mother, Sue, who taught art at Craig High School for 22 years. Sue taught many of the 3D art classes, and it was during her sculpture and stained glass courses that Kutz realized he enjoyed working with glass.
Combine that with his love for playing with lights—as a kid, he put lights on his roller skates, Kutz said.
Van Galder supported Kutz outside of her classes that he was enrolled in. Her art room became a sanctuary for him, as he didn’t excel at other academic subjects and often found himself kicked out of class.
Rather than have him leave school, Van Galder made space for Kutz, and helped facilitate his learning by going to his other teachers and having their classwork sent to her room because he could better focus there, Kutz explained.
Kutz later made her the neon sign, which reads “VG’s Art Room” as a way to thank her for being one of his most important teachers.
“She’s the only reason why I graduated high school,” he said.
When Kutz was first considering submitting designs for the Gleam exhibit, he turned to his former teacher for guidance. Van Galder gave him tips on talking to Olbrich’s committee and coached him on what his sketches should include to give them a glimpse of his work and his expertise with neon. He’d know more about neon than a lot of the people on the committee, she added.
Kutz’s journey is a “perfect example” of what a person can accomplish if they receive encouragement in the right direction, Van Galder said.
“I think it speaks loudly to those students that don’t think they have a voice and they really, really do—and he found it,” she said. “It sometimes just takes one person to give them encouragement and direction and they’re on their way.”
When Analiese Eicher was 10 years old, her mom took her to Marshall Middle School for a rally supporting Tammy Baldwin, who in 1998 was running to be the first woman from Wisconsin elected to Congress.
Baldwin had been in the state Assembly and was then running for a House of Representatives seat. She held the Janesville event with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, Eicher remembered.
It was a moment for the young Janesville native to see that women could be involved in politics.
“For a 10-year-old girl who was super into playing boy-dominated sports like soccer and basketball … it was a pretty, pretty big thing for me to have that experience,” Eicher told The Gazette last week.
“And I think that was really the big change for me in thinking like, ‘Oh, politics could totally be a thing.’”
It was Eicher’s first major political memory.
Her latest notable moment in the field came Wednesday, when One Wisconsin Now announced she would be taking over as the liberal group’s executive director. Her first official day in the position was Friday.
She lives in Sun Prairie with her boyfriend and their 5-year-old black Labrador (named Bernie after the Milwaukee Brewers mascot), and her work involves a lot of time in Madison. She is also on the Dane County Board of Supervisors.
But Eicher, 30, connected her progressive beliefs to some of her early moments growing up in Janesville schools with parents who worked in the district. Her father, a science teacher at Parker High School, taught her AP Biology, and her mother was a school psychologist.
They are both retired now, she said.
Her praise extended to her other teachers. She said they “very much shaped” who she is and what she has done.
“I love that I’m from Janesville,” she said. “I love being from Janesville. It was an incredible place to grow up.”
Eicher graduated from Parker High School in 2006. She went on to study at UW-Madison.
Her post-high-school path was not linear, however. She said in 2011 then-Gov. Scott Walker’s legislative efforts on public unions “interrupted” her education, so she wanted to fight more for regular people.
Two of her priorities for One Wisconsin Now that came up most during an interview were tackling student debt and ensuring voting rights.
Her work with a statewide student group eventually connected her with Scot Ross, her predecessor in the executive director position. Ross left for work in the private sector.
“We’re excited to have Analiese as our new Executive Director and look forward to more of One Wisconsin’s tireless advocacy on critical issues and their fearlessness holding powerful politicians and the right wing accountable,” the board chairs of One Wisconsin Now and One Wisconsin Institute said in the release.
Eicher explained how the two affiliated, nonprofit organizations are different: One Wisconsin Now, a 501(c)(4), focuses more on communication, and One Wisconsin Institute, a 501(c)(3), has more emphasis on education and research.
She is “incredibly proud” of the group’s progressive ideals and said she does not think the group’s political lean hurts its credibility when it comes to publishing findings, which includes Walker’s use of planes to travel the state.
“Folks can think what they want, but at the end of the day we’re doing this so that everyone in Wisconsin has equal opportunity and equal economic opportunity at that, as well,” she said.
Another Janesville moment that shaped who Eicher became happened while she was working at Riverside Golf Course—which included the time when Janesville’s General Motors facility closed. She saw the impact on families who would come to the public course and play every week, she said.
It is why, she said, she is “committed to working folks and to regular people and to ideals and policies that benefit regular folks.”
“That was a huge influence on me,” she said.
Alonzo Velazquez, a Janesville Parker High graduate, has played in 23 games, starting 22, on the offensive line at the University of Wyoming, where he just completed his junior season.
Alonzo Velazquez, a Janesville Parker High graduate, has played in 23 games, starting 22, on the offensive line at the University of Wyoming, where he just completed his junior season.
Alonzo Velazquez, a Janesville Parker High graduate, has played in 23 games, starting 22, on the offensive line at the University of Wyoming, where he just completed his junior season.
He had played sports before but didn’t plan on playing any in high school. His friends were sure he could help the Vikings—especially on the football field—and were determined to get him in a uniform as a sophomore.
Velazquez didn’t decide to give football chance until he was approached by a Parker coach over the summer.
“I didn’t know much of what I was doing that first year, and I wasn’t that strong,” Velazquez said, “but I loved it.”
Velazquez was a wide receiver and tight end during his first season, but he moved to left tackle before his junior campaign.
“It had nothing to do with his inability to catch the football. That wasn’t a problem at all, because he is a great athlete,” Parker coach Clayton Kreger said. “We had a need at left tackle, and we knew (Velazquez) had the size and frame for it, and probably wasn’t done growing.
“I don’t think he was happy about the move right away, but, obviously, it worked out for the best.”
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Velazquez blossomed into a three-star recruit and signed with the University of Wyoming. The junior has started every game but one when he has been healthy for with the Cowboys.
“I was always one of the bigger kids growing up,” Velazquez said. “I was a chubby kid, so I was playing the offensive and defensive lines. I loved defense, but I didn’t like O-line.
“When I moved to O-line in high school, I could just bury people. That’s when I started to love it and realized I had the potential to be a decent player.”
Velazquez was more than decent. He has been utterly dominant in the 23 games he has played for UW.
Prior to the Cowboys’ Sept. 14 game with Idaho, Pro Football Focus College tweeted a graphic that Velazquez hadn’t given up a sack, quarterback hit or hurry.
Velazquez took to the offensive line quickly, but also took extra time to learn the finer points of the position, Kreger said.
“He worked hard to learn techniques, he went to some camps, and he watched a lot of film to figure out what we wanted from him,” the coach said.
“He is a smart kid, and he truly understood it after a couple months. Once he learned it, it was off to the races.”
The athleticism that helped Velazquez play receiver and tight end during his sophomore year of high school help him as an offensive lineman, UW redshirt sophomore guard Patrick Arnold said.
“He moves his body in ways a lot of guys can’t,” the Gretna, Nebraska, product said. “His pass setting is flawless. I’m looking at it like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty impressive.’ For him to have had as many injuries as he has had and still function is no small feat.
“He is going to make some NFL team pretty happy with their pick some day.”
Injuries have been Velazquez’s arch nemesis during his time in Laramie.
A knee injury kept Velazquez off the field for three games in the middle of his true freshman campaign. Last fall, Velazquez missed UW’s final seven games after having microfracture surgery on his left knee. That injury kept him on crutches for nearly two months and forced him to miss the Cowboys’ spring drills.
Velazquez was a full participant for fall camp and showed first-year UW offensive line coach Bart Miller why he has been entrenched as the starter since arriving on campus.
“He is athletic and has the mentality and desire to be great,” Miller said. “He looks hungry and was building confidence throughout camp.
“This is such a mental game. Having that renewed spirit this fall has helped him. He is a physical kid, a smart kid and really wants to play his best for his teammates.”
Velazquez is universally loved by his peers, who describe him as funny, playful and passionate about football.
“Whenever we’re in a hard drill or something, he brings the fun and joy to it,” sophomore center Keegan Cryder said. “He comes in with a big smile and is always encouraging. It doesn’t matter if it’s period 24 in practice and we’ve been getting beaten up the entire practice, he is still smiling and having fun.
“You see how much he is enjoying playing football, and you can’t help but enjoy it, too.”
Arnold describes Velazquez’s approach to football as business-like, but quickly points out that Velazquez also keeps the mood light during meetings with a twisted and self-deprecating sense of humor.
“There aren’t a lot of boundaries with his sense of humor,” Arnold said with a laugh. “He does some things other guys might not do, and he isn’t afraid to make himself the butt of the joke. As an offensive lineman, you have to have thick skin and be able to laugh at yourself.”
Velazquez’s playful side comes out during locker room wrestling matches, junior right guard Logan Harris said.
“Sometimes he gets a little too wound up and forgets how strong and explosive he is, and he throws guys across the room,” he said. “He is a really strong dude. I don’t think he intentionally does it but, sometimes I think he does it just to show you, ‘Yeah, I can do that. Don’t mess around with me.’”
Kreger describes Velazquez as mature for his age.
“When he first wanted to play football, he had to take care of his sister while his parents worked,” he said. “He made arrangements to take care of his sister while he was lifting weights or at practice, and he also held a job.
“He does everything he can to help other people. He is just a phenomenal kid, and that’s why he is successful.”
How does a high-schooler who never planned on playing football fall head over heels for it, and end up becoming awfully good that the sport?
“It gave me an identity,” Velazquez said. “I realized this is who I am and what I want to be. I found the extra drive to play for my family, play for my teammates and be the best I can.
“I’m a competitor, so I’m not just going to play the sport just to play it. I want to be the best I can at it. That pushed me to this level.”
As an undergraduate student at Western Michigan University, Ben Armer spent two years earning credits toward a business degree.
But the 2007 Janesville Parker High graduate and standout punter on the Broncos football team—he averaged 41.5 yards a punt his senior season—had an epiphany the summer before his junior year and decided to switch majors.
Armer felt a degree in exercise science would better suit his on-the-go lifestyle.
“I just couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk for 30 years,” Armer said. “I wanted to be on my feet, and I knew there would be plenty of opportunities in that field.”
Armer graduated with his degree in exercise science in 2012 and immediately took a job at his alma mater as the football program’s strength and conditioning intern.
He spent one year at Western Michigan before becoming a strength and conditioning graduate assistant at Ball State University in 2014.
After one year at Ball State, he took a job as the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Miami of Ohio University.
Armer left Miami of Ohio after one season with the football team and is currently the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Ball State football program. He has held that position since 2016 and wouldn’t trade it for the world, he said.
And although he knows the same job with an NFL team or at a Power 5 conference program would be much more lucrative, he doesn’t plan on going anywhere.
“I truly love being at Ball State and being a part of this great program,” Armer said.
“I’ve been a part of the MAC (Mid-American Conference) since 2007 and love what it stands for. It’s a blue collar and gritty conference, which really fits my personality.”
Armer was a standout athlete at Parker.
He earned an all-Big Eight and all-state selection in football.
He was an integral part of Parker’s 2006 conference championship team that was top-ranked in Division 1 and went undefeated during the regular season before being upset in the first round of the WIAA playoffs.
At Western Michigan, Armer was an all-MAC selection as a punter, three-time academic all-MAC and named to the Ray Guy Award watch list three straight seasons.
Armer is now a proud member of the Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association and the National Strength & Conditioning Association.
“Those two associations are the gold standard of our profession, and I’m honored to be a member of both,” Armer said.
Armer’s weekly schedule at Ball State, especially during the season, is a busy one. His job is to keep all members of the football team in shape and to develop proper eating, studying and lifestyle habits.
Every day is scripted down to the minute, whether it’s a recovery day in the pool, an upper body workout or a day to work on core muscles.
“These players know that every day is a point of emphasis and another opportunity for them to get better,” Armer said. “And I have great players to work with.”
Armer has been married for three years to his wife, Crystal, and has two sons. Lincoln is 2 years old and Owen is 2 months old.
“I’ve got a great wife, two healthy kids and a job I love,” Armer said. “Life is good.”
Janesville photographer Meghan Walker, standing, takes a photo of a model posing in a kiddie pool to create the image “The Ivy Coil.” Walker often creates her own costumes and scenes for her art work.
JANESVILLE—There was a time you could have called Meghan Walker’s dream of becoming a professional photographer pure fantasy.
A UW-Madison grad with a degree in English lit, she had no idea how to get started shooting pictures. She had never taken a photography class. She didn’t even own a camera.
About all Walker had going for her was desire—and an overactive imagination.
“I have lived in the clouds for most of my existence, and I needed an art form where I could create what I imagined,” she explained. “My drawing skills are humorously bad, so I needed something more attainable.”
Walker eventually discovered fantasy photography, a genre she describes as “conceptual work done through more of a fantastical or historical aesthetic.” A fantasy/horror film fan, the idea of capturing elaborately dressed subjects posed in magical, dream-like surroundings appealed to her.
“I ended up finding photographers from all over the world who do similar work, and I was inspired,” she added. “So I bought a used camera online and started looking at what was already out there, trying to figure out how I could do something similar but different.”
After three years of trial and error and fact-finding missions on YouTube, Walker has developed her niche. This year, her work has appeared in exhibits in Orlando, Florida, and Paris, France. In November, it will be included in a show in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
On Sunday, Aug. 5, she will join 60 other exhibitors taking part in the 61st annual Tallman Arts Festival on the Rock County Historical Society campus in Janesville.
The Tallman show holds a special distinction for Walker, who spent two years as RCHS marketing and outreach coordinator.
“I never participated as an artist, but I helped set up the event and find artists,” she said. “I’m really excited to see how it goes from the other side.”
Artistically, Walker is comfortable in her skin. She immerses herself into her craft, spending countless hours searching for ideal set locations. She often crafts by hand the creative wardrobes featured in her work.
“There have been shoots where I’ve made my own costumes out of natural materials,” she said. “There was an Elizabethan gown where the hoop skirt was 200 inches in diameter, and I made the whole thing. There was a dress I made out of book paper that took me four months to craft. I dropped it in a puddle on the way to the shoot, so I only got two pictures. It did its job.”
In most photos, Walker serves as both photographer and subject. In “Rain Dance,” she appears dressed in a flowing yellow dress as she walks away from the camera, toward an oncoming rainstorm. In “Into the Dark Unknown,” Walker seems to float nude in dark water, surrounded by what appears to be the same yellow dress. In “Forever Home,” she is a near-transparent spirit in a blue dress, haunting the library of a historic home.
“I’ve been approached by people interested in being my subjects, but my specialty is self-portraiture, so I’m the model 90 percent of the time,” she said. “I like to do the work myself, I know what my vision is, and I’m always available to work with myself. If I waste my own time, it’s only me.”
If customer feedback is an indication, Walker isn’t wasting her time.
“Even if they’re not coming in to buy, I’ve never had anybody say ‘that’s boring,’ and turn around and leave,” she said. “They want to talk about the photos because they’re conversation pieces.”
As interest in her work increases, Walker remains inspired ... and perhaps a bit impatient.
“I wish I could be further along, but three years ago, I was taking pictures and feeling defeated because they didn’t match up to the artists I was inspired by,” Walker said. “Now I can look at my work and say I got to exhibit right beside them.
“Sometimes we need to take a step back and just say, ‘Hey, that was pretty cool.’”
Music is life for Seth Lambert.
For the last 11 years, the Janesville man has been the driving force behind The Leptons, a local rock trio that also features McKenna Dodson and Justice Toberman. Along with its first release, “Hurricane Gospel,” the band last year dropped a second album, “Pseudonym,” that features songs Lambert penned.
“’Pseudonym’ comes from the nature of the project. I recorded all the instruments myself,” he explained. “It’s very much a reflection of me, and reflections are distorted versions ourselves. It’s not a perfect image of me; it’s an image of my id.”
Along with the album, The Leptons also released a music video for their first single, “Ballad of an Evil Twin,” and for“Extraordinary People,” which also features other local musicians performing in front of the city’s former General Motors plant as a tribute to the 10-year anniversary of its closure and as “a celebration of our city’s resilience.”
Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Lambert has lived most of his life in Janesville. The 2008 Parker grad’s family includes his wife, Danielle; their four children, Henry, Margaret, Daisy and Nora, and two dogs, Haiti and Digger.
The Leptons’ albums are available on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, Bandcamp and other streaming services, and Lambert also is known to hand out free, handmade CDs at performances. To learn more, search for “The Leptons” on Facebook.
1. According to your band’s Facebook page, your music is “for bitter, anxious weirdos.” What genre does that fall into? Everyone who is in music kind of bats around the same influences, and we end up getting subdivided into these ideological camps. If I say we’re punk, there are kids that will say we’re not hard enough. Garage rock bands tend to be a little more kitschy than we are. To me, it just seems like a good message to let people know if our music is for them. Anxiety is something I deal with daily, and I have a tendency to feel uneasy in a room full of people. And bitterness is a state none of us like to be in, but sometimes it takes a lot to get away from those feelings of cynicism and powerlessness. Our songs—we play them too fast. It’s confrontational, but I mean to take people on a trip with us. We’ve got a song that says, “You’re all extraordinary people, but you’re killing me.” It can be exhausting just to step away from the rat race, and if you want someone to commiserate with—someone who identifies with that—we might be the band for you.
2. When did you first become interested in music? My earliest music memory is when I found my dad’s Boston CD. I remember hearing “More Than A Feeling” and just being astounded by the sound of it. The vocal harmonies and the propulsive guitar riff transported me a million miles away. I remember somewhat timidly approaching my dad with the CD in hand and saying, “What is this? Can I keep it?”
3. What do you do for a living outside of music? I’m a computer programmer. I graduated from UW-Whitewater with a computer science degree. Engineering and programming specifically are creative disciplines. It’s about meeting requirements within limitation. In that way, it’s very similar to what I do musically. I have a tendency to be limited in my musicality, you could say.
4. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? We always wait to write the set list until about an hour before we go on stage. I usually drink a few cups of coffee. I’m very competitive when it comes to performing, and my anxiety level depends on the bands that play before us. For example, if we’re sharing the stage with The Red Flags on a particular night, I’m like a prisoner preparing for an execution. They bring it so intensely at every show, I just can’t compete.
5. Name a musical act you enjoy that might surprise fans of your music. I think people mistake us for lunatics a lot of the time because of the speed and the intensity we play with. They might be surprised to learn how much I love Lady Gaga. My 2-year-old daughter demands “Bad Romance” almost daily.
6. Do you understand music theory or do you perform by ear? I studied music theory in high school and college. I’m incredibly pretentious about it, as well, even though I’m a terrible piano player, and my grades were not exceptional. Eventually, I’d like to get a real music degree, but it’ll most likely be in my 70s. If I’m lucky enough to make it that far.
7. What are you most afraid of? Excluding anything excessively grim, I’m unreasonably afraid of misremembering someone’s name. There was a span of several years where I refused to say anyone else’s name because I fully believed I would blurt out the wrong one.
8. Name a skill you wish you had. I often oversell my skills as a carpenter. Growing up, we always had construction projects around the house, and my dad and I would build these complex models for school projects. In my adult life as a homeowner, it’s a lot of duct tape and quick fixes. I’d love to have skills to craft some ornate furniture or beautifully detailed pieces like you see in historic homes.
9. Most people are surprised to find out that I: Am a musician. I’m not especially outgoing in social interactions, and I’m not a flashy dresser. I don’t self-promote well, and I prefer to fade into a crowd. On top of that, people are sometimes shocked to hear my songs. I have a modesty in life that melts away when I’m in a performance. Once, while performing at The Looking Glass’ open mic, the emcee declared me a “punk rock dark horse” because my on-stage volume is nothing like my social voice.
10. Name a musical act today that is quite popular but doesn’t at all appeal to you. I’m not really into tearing down other people’s music, but I can say I just don’t get what’s going on with Greta Van Fleet. Some people are hailing them as rock ‘n’ saviors, but you’re not going to “save” rock music by reheating Zeppelin II in the microwave. They’re great musicians, but it’s just a tribute band.
11. Do you collect anything? I have a little collection of coffee mugs. My most recent addition is covered in Kurt Vonnegut quotes.
12. If you had to change your name, what would you change it to? Pete Christmas. It’s got a good ring to it. I picked it out a long time ago. I don’t even like the Christmas holiday; I just like the sound of it.
13. Name your favorite Muppet. I’m a Kermit fan. “Rainbow Connection” is a really moving song. I love the first Muppets movie. I think we have very few totally perfect things in the world, and that’s one of them.
14. What was the first concert you ever attended? My dad took me to a Cher concert during the “Believe” era. I remember the show was bombastic in a Cirque du Soleil style. It also was the first time I saw someone in drag, which was amazing.
15. What is your most prized possession? I’ve got a beautiful Fender Jazzmaster that was given to me by my mother-in-law, who passed away in 2016. She was a monumental figure in my life. She showed me how to truly care for your family, and how essential that is. That guitar was the last gift she gave me, and it is my most sacred possession. I play it daily and, in a lot of ways, my guitar playing is my true voice. In a fire, the first thing I’d do is save my family and my pets. The next thing I’d grab is that guitar.
16. How many instruments do you play? I played saxophone in school through my first year of college, but it never moved me when I played it. I idolized Clarence Clemons and jazzers such as (John) Coltrane and Ornette (Coleman), but the stuff they play in school isn’t like that. A lot of composers use saxophones tonally as filler, chordal tones. It’s an essential element, sure, but when you’re 16, you’d much rather learn to play “Jungleland” or “Tequila.” I sometimes sing well, must mostly not. The words and the feeling are always most important to me in the vocal delivery. My main instrument is guitar, preferably played through a fuzz pedal at high volumes. On the new record, I also play drums, bass, organ and harmonica ... all with varying degrees of tunefulness.
17. If you could perform in any venue in the world, which would you choose? It’s my dream to perform on “Saturday Night Live.” My family watches every episode together. My son’s favorite thing is when they introduce the cast members. He has all their names memorized. It would blow his mind to be there live.
18. Would you rather be a poor band playing the music you love, or a rich band playing what the record label tells you to? The Leptons is therapy for me. It will always be a platform for making exactly the music I want to make, regardless of any business interests. For something else though, I’d very happily gig with a professional band. To be able to make a living entertaining people with music would be an awesome achievement.
19. If it weren’t for music, how else would you express your creativity? I like to draw little cartoon characters. There’s a few I’ve created based on our songs. Sometimes I post them on social media. Recently I’ve been bouncing around ideas of different ways to feature them. Could be animation or a comic strip.
20. What is your ultimate goal as it pertains to music? I plan to write and play music until I die. The goal is to live a life that allows that to happen. Whether it’s to a huge audience or at home with my kids, I’ll never stop. Music is the only thing that I have in my life that could come close to being considered a religion. I think it’s the purest and most sacred human art, and it’s elemental in its beauty and grace. There’s very little chance I’ll ever get to call music my career. I don’t make money from my art now, and I probably never will, but creation is a reward in itself. Unfortunately, those that own the channels that funnel money and power to the smallest groups of people know artists feel this way. The “starving artist” cliche is one our society views as the norm. That probably won’t change in my lifetime.
Her normal isn’t quite what it used to be.
While attending a UFC event in Milwaukee on Dec. 15, Letson was stopped for photos and autographs. Her Instagram following has more than quadrupled, while her Twitter following has almost doubled in just a few months.
She’s got “The Ultimate Fighter” to thank for her newfound popularity.
The 2010 Janesville Parker High graduate, who put her mixed martial arts career on hold to serve a six-month tour of duty with the Air Force in United Arab Emirates, was one of the biggest winners on the 28th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Letson, 26, was one of 16 fighters—including eight females—to appear on the show and was one of the final four women left.
She made her official UFC debut Nov. 30, when she defeated Julija Stoliarenko by split decision during “The Ultimate Fighter” finale in Las Vegas.
After enduring a months-long filming process filled with reality-TV hoopla and winning on her sport’s biggest stage, Letson can focus on her bright future again.
She is also able to finally talk about her experience on the show that greatly elevated her profile among mixed martial arts fans.
“It’s kind of like basic training, where you’re glad you did it one time, but you probably wouldn’t want to go through all that again,” Letson said of “The Ultimate Fighter” during a Dec. 17 interview. “It’s a stressful process being on camera all the time and then living with people that you’re fighting.”
Letson said she was mostly satisfied with how she was portrayed on the show. But she was unhappy with how little attention was given to her frustration over the lax training regimen she had to follow under coach Robert Whittaker, UFC’s current middleweight champion.
“We didn’t spar a single time. We barely hit mitts,” Letson said. “We didn’t really drill any combos, we just kind of shadow boxed and did some jiu-jitsu technique. That was about it for our training.
“I kind of wish they would have shown a little bit more of me working out on my own and training on my own, because I had to do that a lot. The training we were getting from the Whitaker coaches wasn’t sufficient at all.”
But Letson was also quick to say she enjoyed her time on “The Ultimate Fighter.” She recounted pranking a pair of other fighters and a mock boxing match staged in the backyard of the Las Vegas house where the show’s contestants lived during filming.
“They didn’t show a lot of the fun stuff we were doing at the house. None of that made it into the show,” she said with a laugh.
“I’m really grateful I did the show and had the opportunity for people to get to know me.”
Letson’s bid to win “The Ultimate Fighter” featherweight title ended with a semifinal loss to Macy Chiasson. The fight was filmed in August but didn’t air until mid-November, so Letson had to relive her emotional defeat multiple times in the days ahead of her UFC debut.
“I kind of went through two grieving processes,” Letson said. “It’s heartbreaking when you lose.”
Letson’s three-round win over Stoliarenko went a long way in wiping away the sting of her “The Ultimate Fighter” loss.
“That was the moment I’ve been dreaming about every day for the past several years and throughout my deployment last year,” Letson said. “My cardio felt great. I felt like I could have gone five more rounds.”
Letson expects to fight again in April or May. She has resumed training at Milwaukee’s Pura Vida under coaches Jake Klipp and Zak Ottow and regularly posts videos or photos of her workouts on her social media accounts.
Since Letson appeared on “The Ultimate Fighter,” more people are taking notice.
Ellen Reid first saw the light when she was as student at Parker High School.
The 2013 graduate started her career path as a light technician on high school productions before eventually heading north to UW-Stevens Point to obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theatrical design and technology.She also spent a year at the Yale School of Drama to learn about projection engineering.
These days, the Janesville native travels the country setting up light productions as the head electrician/video for NETworks Presentations of Maryland. Reid recently swung through Madison while working with the first national tour of “The SpongeBob Musical.”
When she’s not at work, Reid can be found hanging out with her golden retrievers, May May and Rugie Bugie.
1. How did you end up in the lighting game? I started in high school and never stopped.
2. What are the best/worst things about having the job you have? It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work. It often goes unnoticed until something doesn’t work.
3. When you were a kid, did you dream of growing up one day and becoming a lighting specialist on theater productions? Not really. I had a phase where I wanted to be an astronaut and then a music teacher. But I enjoyed doing lighting for the school shows and just kept doing it.
4. Is theater lighting one of those things that, if done well, goes unrecognized, or is it important that theater patrons notice it? It’s a mixed bag. If I do my job perfectly, no one should notice. It’s about supporting the work onstage and making the experience the best it can be for the audience. I take pride in a job well done.
5. What is the most elaborate, challenging light set-up you’ve ever worked on? Oh boy, I’ve had some crazy projects. The one I’d say was the most elaborate was a projection install project in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, where we had three 50-foot screens with slow-motion dancing that played every night for a month.
6. Some chefs don’t like to cook away from their restaurant, and some writers avoid reading after they complete big projects. How do you break from work? Sit in the dark? If you count sleeping in a dark hotel, that would be it. I take my time off seriously and surprisingly enjoy solo traveling. I went on a backpacking trip this summer for a month across Europe after I got off my last tour and am looking forward to my next trip. I have traveling down to a science at this point.
7. If you cook/bake, what dish do you consider your specialty? I like to think I make a mean pot of chili. Pretty thick and just spicy enough to add flavor. Family recipe.
8. Share some of the most recent innovations in theatrical lighting. The most recent innovation that has changed the lighting industry has been the revolution of LED lighting. In the past decade, it has become a front-runner in the industry that has been led by a local company in Middleton, ETC, which has been on the forefront of entertainment lighting.
9. If assembling a new item, do you follow directions or just work on the fly? On the fly. I have a pretty good sense of how things work, and it’s fun to put it together like a puzzle.
10. Do you have any superstitions? When I was young, a cousin told me to not breathe when driving past cemeteries or else I’d inhale the spirits. It’s a bunch of nonsense, but I still find myself not taking a breath when I see a cemetery.
11. I can buy a 60-watt light bulb at the local hardware store. I’m guessing the lights you use are not that inexpensive or as readily available. What are the costs associated with light repair/replacement with the projects on which you work? It depends on the fixture, but the repair costs of my equipment are pretty steep. The overall lighting and video rig I’m traveling with costs in the ballpark of $500,000 to $750,000 alone, not to mention how expensive the labor is to get it all up and moved all around the country.
12. People would be surprised to find out that I: Am a triplet. Granted, most of the School District of Janesville had all three of us in class, but it’s always interesting to see the type of reactions I get when I say I’m a triplet.
13. What is the one item that, when you’re at the grocery store, goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Seltzer water and a local craft beer. Getting to experience local beers is half the fun of traveling. Seltzer is for when I’m on the clock.
14. Does your company provide all lighting for projects or supplement what a theater already has to work with? My company, NETworks, is the producing company that casts the show and provides the technicians. All of my equipment is rented out of shops in the New York City area. We use house fixtures at every stop, especially the follow spots.
15. What has been your favorite venue in which to work? I really enjoyed working at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. The people are pretty great there. The Saenger Theater in New Orleans was also breathtakingly beautiful, and the city was pretty cool.
16. Share your worst lighting-related pun. All of my jokes are about audio. But that’s an inside joke in and of itself.
17. What is the wallpaper on your cellphone right now? I have a comic book cover from X-Men. I’m a bit of a comic book nerd and really enjoy reading comic books in my spare time.
18. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I’d love to learn how to fly a plane. It seems like such a zen thing to me.
19. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? I’d pay my parents back for my college tuition and then put the rest in my savings and continue doing my job. I enjoy it too much, but there would be a lot less stress about money.
20. Is it safe to say lighting professionals such as yourself always have the coolest homes at Christmastime? Most definitely. Lighting nerds go a bit hog-wild during the holiday season. It’s easy to spot a lighting technician’s house on the block.
Haley Hedgecock loves wrestling.
So much so that three years ago she decided to transfer from UW-Oshkosh to the University of Jamestown to join the Jimmies' women's squad.
The University of Jamestown is in North Dakota, some 600-plus miles from her hometown of Janesville.
Like I said, she loves wrestling.
“It was the closest school that I could compete at,” she said.
Haley, who is ranked fifth nationally in the 109-pound weight class, began wrestling in sixth grade. Even at that age, she was behind the curve of the Hedgecock family.
Haley's father, Mat, was a long-time youth wrestling coach and volunteer assistant at Parker High before his third-shift job forced him to give up those duties. Her brothers, Jordan, who is 29, and Wade, 27, both wrestled for the Vikings under coach Ron Cramer.
“It's definitely a family thing,” Haley said.
“I used to take Haley up to the state tournament,” Mat said. “We loved watching that.”
But Mat wasn't gung-ho about allowing his daughter to wrestle. He finally allowed her to begin in sixth grade, after a one-on-one basketball game. Haley lost and had to train with her dad for a month before wrestling.
If that didn't convince him his daughter could handle it, her first tournament did.
“She got beat pretty good,” Mat said. “But she loved it.”
Hedgecock lettered her first two years at Parker High with Cramer as coach. Cramer retired after her sophomore season in 2010, and Andy Tubbs took over.
At about that time, a shoulder injury cut short her time on the mat.
“I separated my shoulder at the end of my freshman year going to nationals,” she said. “It just kind of lingered on throughout high school.”
She finally underwent surgery before her senior season because she wanted to wrestle in college. That kept her out of her senior season.
Hedgecock has fond memories of her wrestling experience at Parker.
“At Parker, we had a lot of girls (out),” she said. “We had more girls out than the rest of the conference combined. There were at least five or six of us.”
And the guys accepted them—especially Haley, who knew most of the upperclassmen through her father being a coach.
“We were very welcomed,” she said. “Our team was very accepting of the girls. I never did (feel uncomfortable).”
First Oshkosh, then Jamestown
Haley enrolled at UW-Oshkosh, but only after she visited Jamestown and talked with Tony Deanda, the women's wrestling coach. Her shoulder still wasn't 100 percent, so she went to Oshkosh.
The shoulder responded to rehabilitation, and the itch to wrestle returned after two years away from the sport.
She informed her parents of her intention to transfer to the North Dakota school after her freshman year at Oshkosh.
“I was excited,” Mat said. “I don't think my wife (Laurie) was, though. She was more worried about the shoulder.”
But Haley was off to Jamestown, one of the few schools in the country that offer women's wrestling.
She won three matches her sophomore year as she got back into the swing of things. Last season, she increased the win total to 10. Now this year she is 18-8 at 109 pounds.
Deanda, who coached at Northern Michigan University from 2005 to 2011 before taking over the Jamestown women's program, said Hedgecock has been a great addition.
“She's done a lot of great things for us,” Deanda said. “She's a leader.”
GPS needed for students, meets
The Jimmies' women's wrestling roster includes students from Staten Island, New York; Chicago; Santa Monica and Van Nuys, California; Houston; Toppenish, Washington; San Diego; Traverse City, Michigan; Regina, Saskatchewan; Anchorage, Alaska; and El Paso, Texas.
Apparently, if you start a women's wrestling program, they will come.
Finding other teams to wrestle, though, is difficult. With so few schools offering women's wrestling, multi-team tournaments make up the schedule.
This season, Jamestown had meets in Fremont, Nebraska; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Forest City, Iowa; Marshall, Missouri; Regina, Saskatchewan; Las Vegas; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Lebanon, Illinois; and this weekend in Oklahoma City.
On Tuesday night, Hedgecock and her teammates were in the midst of a 14-hour bus trip to the site of WCWA College Nationals on Friday and Saturday.
The Jimmies are used to it. A trip to Saskatchewan takes 12 hours, Deanda said. Winnipeg is only about five hours away.
“Winnipeg isn't next door, but it isn't as far as a lot of them,” he said.
Hedgecock likely won't have to put up with many more of those bus marathons. She is now battling a muscle injury on the top of her foot. But with this weekend's national tournament possibly the final competition in her career, she is not going to sit out.
And her family will be there to watch. Mat plans to hit the road as soon as he gets out of work Thursday morning. It will be a 13-hour drive for them.
Haley, who made the Dean's List (3.5 GPA), is majoring in exercise science, with a minor in psychology, and has applied to both UW-La Crosse and UW-River Falls for their graduate programs in clinical exercise for cardiac rehabilitation.
She also found another reward by transferring to Jamestown. She met Austin Helmer, a D.C. Everest High graduate, who wrestled at Jamestown and is now an assistant coach for the Jamestown High wrestling squad.
They are engaged, and Haley hopes they can return to Wisconsin if she gets accepted into a graduate program.
Until then, she will finish out with the 14-hour bus trip back to Jamestown after this weekend's competition.
It's the love of the sport that put her 630 miles away from home.
“Hopefully, within a couple of years, Wisconsin or Northern Illinois will have a women's program,” she said.
Riley Parkhurst is a full-time college student at UW-Rock County/UW-Whitewater and a part time worker at Chipotle, but he’s best known for the acting chops he developed as a Parker High School student in Janesville (he graduated in 2017).
Parkhurst currently is majoring in music education with a minor in theater education. His most recent project was playing Carl Bruner in Rock River Repertory Theatre’s production of “Ghost: The Musical,” and his most recent off-stage work involved assisting UW-Rock County theater director Trevor Rees on the play “Dog Sees God.”
Parkhurst feels family is important, and he’s especially proud of his sister, Brooke, a soccer player he says has “gifted feet.” He also has a dog, Lefty, who is left handed/footed just like his owner.
1. How did you first become interested in theater? As a freshman, a friend convinced me to audition for “Shrek: The Musical.” I didn’t make the cast/ensemble listing at first, but then the guard who had been cast had to drop out of the show, and I was in my first musical as the Shrek guard.
2. How many plays have you performed in, and what has been your favorite role thus far? Of the 15 musicals I have done, my favorite role has been Bert in the musical “Mary Poppins.” The role had dancing, singing, strong character acting and voice dialect. During the song “Step In Time,” I walked up the side of the stage and danced across the top of the proscenium stage (the metaphorical vertical plane of space in a theater).
3. What is your dream role? I would love the chance to audition for Evan Hansen in “Dear Evan Hansen” and Gabe in “Next to Normal.” Both roles have amazing songs and vocals, and I also feel the mental health messages in these two musicals are impactful.
4. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. Anyone who has seen me perform would be surprised, if not shocked, that I have a stutter in normal conversation.
5. How are you able to act and sing without your stutter affecting your performance? People affected with stutters are almost always fluent when singing. I didn’t know I could be fluent when acting, though. I really credit the vision of (local director) Jim Tropp and (local music director) Jan Knutson. There is an aspect of memorizing lines along with the voice amplification (a mic) that allows me to be fluent when performing. It is as if the speech comes from a different area of my brain when being recalled by memory. I was not aware of it when I started acting, but there are several famous actors who stutter, such as James Earl Jones and Bruce Willis. It is amazing, as a stutterer, to take something that should be my biggest fear—speaking and acting on stage in front of a sold-out audience—and making it a strength. I feel free when performing.
6. If you could perform on stage or in a movie with any famous actor or actress, who would it be? I want to take a stage combat class and then I would love to be in an action movie with Robert Downey Jr.
7. Do you have any pre-performance rituals? I jam out in my car to “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles to make sure my voice is warm.
8. Share one truth and one lie about your personality without explaining which is which. I always use a funny alias such as “Grant Bail” or “Bill Payer” when making a take-out order, and I have a K-cup collection.
9. You’re currently studying music education at UW-Rock County. How many instruments do you play, and how did you get your start musically? I play 10 instruments. I started musically in the Van Buren Elementary band and took voice lessons from local teacher Fran Peyer.
10. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Living in Wisconsin, the superpower of having weather control would be awesome. In my downtime, I could end a drought or avert a natural disaster.
11. If money was no object, what would you be doing right now? Chilling in the Bahamas drinking a large nonalcoholic beverage.
12. What is your astrological sign? Cancer. The outlook sounds bad already.
13. You’ve won three Tommy Awards (now called Jerry Awards) which recognize excellence in high school musical theater. How cool is that? It is cool. Most high school performers have a goal of winning a Jerry Award. It was a goal of mine. Performing on stage at the Overture Center as part of the Tommy/Jerry Awards has been a highlight of my young acting career.
14. Share a topic about which you know more than you probably should. There are more than one million permutations for making a Chipotle burrito. You could eat a different burrito every day from Chipotle for more than 2,870 years before having to eat a duplicate combination. Who says math isn’t important.
15. Most people have no idea that high school theater is: A hot ticket in town. Parker and Craig high schools have amazing shows with fantastic talent and directing. The costumes, lighting, sound and sets are of professional quality. You cannot find a better value for your entertainment dollar than with our local high school theater scene.
16. When it comes to music, which artists do you most admire? I admire the artists whose music is good enough to touch multiple generations. The Beatles and Johnny Cash are two of my favorites.
17. How much time do you devote to practicing music in a given week? The hours vary from week to week. I tend to only practice one instrument at a time, so it’s not difficult. Voice is the instrument I use the most.
18. Do you watch much TV? Are there any shows you absolutely, positively will not miss? TV ... not much. Video games ... yes. The guys and I binge.
19. Describe your perfect day. I love supporting and watching people I know perform. So, if someone I know would get a gig at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, I will be there for my perfect day.
20. If taking part in high school theater has taught me one thing, it is: No one can put out a show on their own—it takes teamwork ... it takes a theater family. The teamwork lesson is applicable outside a theater, too.