Recognition – On Wisconsin For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Thu, 20 Sep 2018 14:07:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lester Graves Lennon ’73 Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:09 +0000 Lester Lennon at the Memorial Union Terrace

Sarah Morton

If you were looking for Lester Graves Lennon ’73 back in the late ’60s, chances are you found him at Der Rathskeller.

“I basically haunted the Rath,” says the English major from New York who came to UW–Madison because that’s where smart characters in James A. Michener novels went to college. Lennon could spend hours hunkered down in the Memorial Union hangout, playing bridge or dabbling in poetry.

“When I finished a poem, I’d go around the Rathskeller showing my friends,” he says.

Beyond the Union, the written word played a defining role in Lennon’s UW experience. A standout memory is a Shakespeare course taught by English professor Standish Henning. “I love how he brought it to life,” Lennon says. And he’ll never forget meeting Gwendolyn Brooks; the first African American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry served as the Rennebohm Visiting Professor of Creative Writing in spring 1969. Lennon took her class and came away inspired to keep putting pen to paper.

He continued writing as his path veered from the UW, first to San Francisco and Berkeley, where he worked in a student-owned record store he’d read about in Rolling Stone, and then in city jobs in the Bay area, where he picked up some finance skills. When a friend told him about an investment banking firm starting up, Lennon was ready for the challenge. He set down roots a few years later in Los Angeles, establishing himself as both an investment banker and a poet. The two pursuits, he has found, have a surprising amount in common.

“It’s all about energy, it’s all about creativity, it’s all about trying to find solutions for problems,” he says.

Lennon is working on his third book of poetry, with several pieces started at visits to the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, where he sits on the board of directors. He also serves on the board at Red Hen Press and was part of a mayoral task force that helped appoint Los Angeles’s first poet laureate in 2012.

Through it all, Lennon has maintained a connection to campus, returning twice a year for English department board of visitors meetings. In spring 2017, he was eager to visit his old stomping grounds. He checked out the revamped Memorial Union and searched for a personalized brick that he purchased to commemorate all the hours he spent there.

Its inscription: Poetry written here.

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Andy Rosengarden ’97 Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:33:07 +0000 Andy Rossendarden is pictured in front of a Ben and Jerry's ice cream poster

Joe Vericker

At a bakery where treats serve the greater good, keeping the fiscal house in order is a sweet gig.

Andy Rosengarden ’97 is chief financial officer of the social enterprise that owns Greyston Bakery, most famously known for the brownies in select Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavors. The bakery’s cookies, brownies, and blondies are also sold online and at Whole Foods. (Rosengarden recommends the Snickerdoodle.)

The heart of the bakery is the practice of “open hiring,” the signature effort of the nonprofit Greyston Foundation, which provides a suite of social services in the inner-city community of Yonkers, New York.

“We’re hiring people, no questions asked,” Rosengarden says. “No interviews, nothing. If you want a job, you come in; we give you a job.”

Open hiring is intended to help people who want to work but who struggle to secure jobs that require traditional interviews or background checks. For example, when it comes to filling out job applications, people re-entering the workforce after incarceration or experiencing homelessness can be stymied by questions about a felony record or the lack of a permanent address.

Open hiring, Rosengarden says, can be a path for people to find new opportunities through work — and for life after the bakery.

“We actually like it when people move on,” he says. “Often, they move on for better-paying positions. Also, it allows us to hire more people.”

Rosengarden joined Greyston’s executive team in 2016. After more than 16 years as an auditor and Wall Street investment analyst, he was inspired by his two young children to bring his financial expertise to the nonprofit world.

As the foundation’s CFO, Rosengarden guides the intricate finances of Greyston’s hybrid nonprofit/for-profit organization. He sees to it that corporate donations, community partnerships, and bakery income all go to support programs such as housing, workforce development, 10 community gardens, and about 100 bakery jobs.

He’s also devoting his accounting acumen toward the nonprofit’s expansion effort — the launch of the Center for Open Hiring at Greyston.

“Instead of opening bakeries all across the country or the world, we want to inspire other companies to adopt open hiring,” Rosengarden says. “You have millions of people sitting on the sidelines who want to work. This could change the paradigm in terms of how people are hired, giving [them] opportunities and second chances.”

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Cynthia Hornig ’91 Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:07 +0000 Portrait of Cythia Hornig

Rachel Schultz

Ten years after Cynthia Hornig ’91 and her friend Jen Jones left their jobs in 2001 to start a public-relations agency in New York City, they launched a website to fill a critical need. Women You Should Know features a collection of untold and inspirational stories about the impact women have on their communities and the world.

With a nod to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the pair shared the stories of seven female first responders during the terror attacks. In less than a day, Huffington Post republished them, and the site was off and running as a pioneer in digital empowerment. Today, you’ll find features on feminism, entertainment, and women in science, technology, engineering, and math; trailblazers in photography and finance; a look at concussion dangers in women’s ice hockey; and a profile of an 11-year-old who is collecting 1,000 books about black girls.

Along the way, Hornig and Jones heard from women who were raising money for new businesses, charitable causes, and artistic projects. Recognizing another way to support the important work that women do, they designed the crowdfunding platform Women You Should Fund and offered hands-on public relations and marketing feedback for every campaign.

Women You Should Fund launched in March 2017 with a bid to raise funds for the nonprofit Harriet Tubman Home historical site in Auburn, New York. The campaign exceeded its $25,000 goal in less than three weeks. The platform has since supported 12 additional campaigns, including an illustrated series about women in science and a cheese-storage-and-preservation device (sure to appeal to Hornig’s fellow Badgers). United Women Firefighters raised nearly $20,000 on the site to fight gender disparities at the New York City Fire Department.

Hornig and Jones have also launched a product called (em)Power Laces — a collection of shoelaces featuring words such as fearless and warrior — to support their women’s advocacy initiatives. And Women You Should Fund has been featured on, Upworthy, and other media outlets.

Filmmaker Leah Warshawski turned to Hornig and Jones to raise money to market and distribute her feature documentary Big Sonia, about her grandmother — a business owner and Holocaust survivor.

“Cynthia and Jen are two of the hardest-working women I know,” Warshawski says. “We talked almost every day. We felt like a team.”

Thanks to more than 600 donors, the film crew beat its goal and raised just under $80,000. “The campaign was a success, but more importantly, [Hornig and Jones are] like family now,” Warshawski adds. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

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Alex Frecon ’09 Wed, 23 May 2018 14:24:07 +0000 Alex Frecon and teammate wearing hockey gear pose on ice rink with hockey sticks

Courtesy of Howe International Friendship League

When Alex Frecon ’09 left his home in Minnesota to play hockey against the North Korean men’s national team in Pyongyang in March 2017, he didn’t tell his parents — or anyone else except for two close friends.

“I didn’t want to hear everyone’s opinion,” Frecon says. “I wanted to do it for myself.”

Frecon had read and admired Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” as an English major at UW–Madison after transferring from Connecticut College his junior year. And today, working in advertising in Minneapolis, he retains the nonconformist, seize-the-day spirit the campus gave him. Which might explain how Frecon ended up spending a week on skates in one of the world’s most notorious dictatorships.

In late 2016, Frecon came across an internet link to the Howe International Friendship League, which promotes goodwill sports trips around the world. One of them was an opportunity to travel to Pyongyang and play hockey against the North Korean national team.

“It looked like a real trip,” Frecon says. “But I had no intention of going, originally. It was just so crazy.”

Still, he was intrigued. Frecon had played hockey growing up in Minnesota and recreationally as an adult. He emailed Scott Howe, the league’s founder, and peppered him with questions. Was it even legal for an American to go to North Korea? Could he take his GoPro camera? Yes and yes. Frecon signed up.

In Pyongyang, the visitors were met by English-speaking guides, who were a constant presence during the trip. “If you’re not provocative, they’re very polite,” Frecon says. “They were curious about life as an American.” Frecon found the city to be modern with respect to auto traffic, though lacking in electric stoplights and indoor heat.

The tourist team was outclassed on the ice, but the camaraderie with the North Korean players was the highlight of the trip. Although the Friendship athletes typically competed against their hosts, they did play one game mixing the visitors with the North Koreans. With everyone wearing Friendship League jerseys, laughing, and scrambling after the puck, it might have been an outdoor rink in Minneapolis.

“We knew we had the love of the game in common,” Frecon says. “A government doesn’t always represent its people.”

Afterward, Frecon traveled to Beijing and called his parents.

“They were in a state of shock,” he says. “But I think they came to realize it was a profound experience — a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

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Emma Straub MFA’08 Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:12:36 +0000 Emma Straub stands in front of storefront sign that reads "Books Are Magic."

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times/Redux

A Store Grows In Brooklyn

The planning took months. For a brief moment, when emotions ran high, they almost called it off. But when the big day arrived, it was glorious. Some might even say magical.

“The opening itself felt very much like a wedding,” says best-selling novelist Emma Straub MFA’08, owner of Books Are Magic, a New York City bookstore. “All of a sudden, the doors were open, and people could come in, and we just hugged everyone.”

Straub and her husband, artist Michael Fusco-Straub, opened Books Are Magic this summer, near their home in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. The store is designed to welcome everyone from families to the literary community — and the stock is pointedly curated.

“My goal when we opened was to be a feminist, female-author- centric bookstore,” Straub says. “I want to be a loudspeaker for women writers and other marginalized writers, writers who are often not taken seriously or not given space on a bookstore shelf.”

The store carries Straub’s own New York Times best sellers — 2016’s Modern Lovers and 2014’s The Vacationers — as well as her 2012 Wisconsin-influenced debut novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures. Alumni will recognize a Madison flavor in her 2011 collection, Other People We Married; she wrote many of the short stories while in the UW’s creative writing program.

At UW–Madison, Straub was delighted to study with author Lorrie Moore, whom she describes as “one of my favorites of all time.” As a graduate, she’s the latest in a line of distinguished alumni that includes her parents, Susan Bitker Straub ’66, a literary advocate, and Peter Straub ’65, a best-selling horror novelist.

The bookstore is younger than Straub’s two preschool-aged sons, but no less demanding of attention. Her husband serves as the store’s first responder (think leaky roofs or shoplifters); Straub hosts dozens of fellow authors for events, and she’s hiring booksellers so she can devote time to writing her next novel.

Straub says they had just started planning for Books Are Magic during the November 2016 election season. Amid the national mood of political strife, the couple wondered if their timing was right.

“When the election happened, we thought, ‘Oh, God, no, the world is falling apart. We can’t open a bookstore; it’s too risky,’ ” she recalls. “That was for, like, three hours, and then we realized, ‘No, this is exactly why we need a bookstore.’ It’s even more important now.”

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Gordon Hempton MAx’82 Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:12:36 +0000 Gordon Hempton in green forest wearing headphones, standing behind microphone.

Shawn Parkin

One Square Inch of Silence

In 2005, Gordon Hempton MAx’82 was hiking an unmarked trail through a wild, wet corner of Washington state when he finally found what he was looking for: silence.

Hempton, an Emmy Award–winning sound recorder and engineer, placed a red rock on the spot and declared it the quietest place in America. The act was more symbolic than scientific, but it drove home the point that few places are truly free of human noise.

“Natural quiet is the antidote to the toxic noise that’s all around us now,” he says. “There is not one place on Planet Earth that’s set aside for protection from noise pollution.”

Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence site in Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest has become a monument to silence. Hundreds of people make pilgrimages to the rock-marked grove every year. A Russian TV crew, a German magazine reporter, CBS Sunday Morning, and a team of New York Times journalists have come calling.

Hempton has circled the globe three times, capturing the rarest nature sounds — “sounds that can only be fully appreciated in the absence of manmade noise,” he says. His recordings have been used by the National Geographic Society, Microsoft, and the Smithsonian Institute. In 1992, he won an Emmy for a PBS documentary about natural soundscapes on six continents.

At UW–Madison, Hempton studied the quietest of living things — plants. He was aiming for a master’s in plant pathology when he made a fateful pit stop in a cornfield. “I pulled over, and I just listened to the crickets and then an amazing thunderstorm that came over me,” he says. “I thought, ‘How can I be 27 years old and never [have] truly listened?’”

Hempton’s hero is naturalist John Muir x1864. From Muir, Hempton learned to listen deeply to nature.

“In his writing, he takes you on a sonic journey,” Hempton says. “With a river, he describes all the various voices — in the mountains where it starts, the river’s young and ‘babbling’ and ‘boisterous.’ Lower down, it’s quiet and meandering in old age.”

A few years ago, Hempton suffered an unexpected and career- crippling bout of hearing loss. He recovered, but not fully. His hearing comes and goes, but his work as a recorder and advocate of natural sounds remains constant.

“I’m still on a search for that next beautiful concert,” he says.


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Jenni Radosevich ’05 Fri, 03 Nov 2017 23:02:05 +0000

Jon Mattrisch

DIY Career

Jenni Radosevich ’05 (above, center) was crafting long before it was cool — before Pinterest and the do-it-yourself (DIY) deluge in pop culture.

She has many fond memories of visiting the craft store with her mom, dipping her hands in tie-dye, and giving thrift-shop clothes new life. In the last decade, she’s turned her hands-on approach and eye for design into a personal brand that includes a blog, a publishing deal, and now, a television pilot.

After graduating, Radosevich worked as a graphic designer for InStyle magazine. Noticed for fabricating her own fashion inspired by high-end designs, she developed a DIY column for the publication that morphed into her I Spy DIY website and book.

Missing Wisconsin, Radosevich returned to the Midwest three years ago and turned her focus from food and fashion to something bigger: houses.

She had always had an interest in home décor, blogging about wine racks, wall art, and workspaces. So the transition to home renovation seemed natural. Radosevich was weighing the viability of flipping houses when a friend suggested she share her talents with a television audience. The unique concept — a cast of five friends instead of a family, set in a city that hasn’t gotten a lot of airtime on cable — intrigued HGTV. Last summer a production crew followed the friends for three months while they flipped a house in Milwaukee.

Radosevich describes the floor-to-ceiling renovation as a Cinderella story. “We found the worst-of-the-worst house and made it a really beautiful home,” she says. The My Flippin’ Friends pilot first aired in April.

The production crew used plenty of drone footage to capture the city Radosevich describes as a hidden gem. “Watching the pilot, I thought, ‘Wow, they’re making Milwaukee look sexy!’ ”

Some of the less appealing characteristics typical of older homes in the region (think maroon walls and orange cabinets), along with vintage dark wood trim and built-ins, present Radosevich with some interesting design challenges, but she strives to find balance. “I pepper in more modern elements, while respecting what’s classic,” she says.

Milwaukee’s also an ideal environment for flipping, Radosevich says, with lower prices making everything from minor changes to a full remodel within reach for the average viewer.

“In New York or California, the cost of flipping is so astronomical that people can’t really relate,” she explains. “[In Milwaukee], the cost is more manageable, so we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback.”

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Mike Splinter ’72, MS’74 Fri, 03 Nov 2017 23:02:05 +0000

Courtesy of Mike Splinter

Taking Stock of Success

When Mike Splinter ’72, MS’74 (above at Rheinfall, Switzerland) joined the board of Nasdaq, Inc., known for its U.S. stock exchange, he predicted the company’s high-tech edge could be a game-changer for financial-market services. That was in 2008. Nine years later, he’s been elected chair of the board. Nasdaq technologies are now behind the business of more than 70 of the world’s stock exchanges. And the advent of innovations such as blockchain technology, which enhances the security of transactions, is proving Splinter’s prescience.

“Artificial intelligence and deep learning [a technology that provides advanced AI processing power] are going to be everywhere, but they’re going to be especially pronounced in the financial-services field,” he says. Splinter’s futurism follows a 40-year career at the nexus of business, engineering, and innovation.

After graduation, he took his UW degrees in electrical and computer engineering straight to a research center at Rockwell International. He then headed to Silicon Valley, where he was an executive at Intel, which became the epicenter of microchip technology during his tenure. Next up was high-tech equipment maker Applied Materials. After being named CEO in 2003, Splinter identified solar energy — particularly photovoltaic cells — as an area rich with opportunity. The Semiconductor Industry Association credits him with transforming the production of these cells from a “boutique industry to a meaningful source of renewable energy power to the world.” Splinter retired from Applied Materials in 2015 as chair and CEO, receiving an honorary doctorate from UW–Madison that same year.

This past February, Splinter’s peers honored him again, this time as a fellow of the National Academy of Engineering. Engineers who want to succeed in today’s team-based business world, Splinter says, need to understand how to relate to people, and “there’s no place better to learn those social skills than in college or out on the Union Terrace.”

Splinter serves on several boards, including the UW Foundation’s. He’s also a general partner in WISC Partners, an investment collective that supports Wisconsin-based startups with both funding and expertise.

Splinter shares his Silicon Valley experience to help these Midwestern businesses think big and stay competitive through constant reinvention. But the Horicon, Wisconsin, native also knows that Badger State entrepreneurs bring a unique edge to business: “There’s a kind of a naturalness about leadership style and people from Wisconsin,” he says.

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John Hanc MA’83 Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:28:35 +0000

Courtesy of John Hanc

To write a book proposal on a woman known as the Marathon Goddess, John Hanc MA’83, a runner himself, spent a weekend shadowing Julie Weiss in Los Angeles — even running part of the 2017 LA marathon at her side. Weiss earned her nickname by running 52 marathons in 52 weeks to raise funds for pancreatic-cancer research. “She said I really nailed her voice,” Hanc says. “I did that because I’d been with her; I heard her; I looked her in the eye and ran in her shoes.”

The author’s love of participatory journalism — immersing himself in the lives of the people he covers — is modeled after his hero, George Plimpton, the late editor of the Paris Review and a renowned practitioner of this journalistic craft.

Hanc channeled his subjects’ voices with precision and empathy when cowriting a string of award-winning memoirs, including Not Dead Yet with diabetic bike racer Phil Southerland, and The Ultra Mindset with endurance athlete Travis Macy. Hanc was on site when the city of Athens, Georgia, closed down for its historic Twilight Criterium — a grueling, 80-lap (roughly 50 miles) bike contest in which Southerland competed and lost. Hanc seized on the defeat and the intense atmosphere to open the memoir.

Drawing people into his method of telling incisive stories extends beyond the printed page. As an associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology — where he was voted the professor who made the greatest impact — he will often have students read his rough drafts “to let them see the writing process as it unfolds. Students love that immediacy,” he says.

Hanc’s own career took off after working postcollege in the public- relations department of his hometown newspaper, where he yearned to hone his journalism skills. With a scholarship in hand, he enrolled as a graduate student at the UW to earn his master’s. “I did the degree in a year, which almost killed me, but they taught me to think more critically and write more concisely,” he says. “I learned how to read research papers that turned out to be very helpful to this day. It was a thrilling experience to be there with so many brilliant, talented people.”

Hanc’s tenacity also drove him to journey 7,000 miles with 228 people from 15 countries to the bottom of the earth to take part in the 2005 Antarctica Marathon, which he chronicled in his own memoir, The Coolest Race on Earth. For 26.2 miles on King George Island, Hanc tramped through dense mud, loose rocks, and slushy glacial trails, eventually finishing 17th in four hours and 42 minutes. Some parts of the race went unreported because, he explains, he was “delirious with pain. While aspects of it were magical, improbable, and even laughable, it was a really hard slog.”

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Steve Marmel ’88 Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:28:35 +0000

Courtesy of Steve Marmel

“Madison made me fearless,” says Steve Marmel ’88, describing his six-year stint as a journalism major at the UW. Initially hoping to emulate Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Mike Royko, Marmel instead developed his comedic voice on campus and now produces the Disney Channel’s kid-friendly, animated-robot series Mech-X4.

“If I was working on anything outside of school — and if you checked my grades, you’d know I probably was — it was either standup comedy, or it was [my humor column for] the Badger Herald,” he recalls.

Marmel, who lives outside Los Angeles with his wife, Judi, and their two dogs, has plenty of reason to remember the UW fondly, starting with his humor column. “After freshman year,” he says, “I stayed on for summer school just so I could get into the Herald when all their regular columnists went home for summer.”

Marmel also performed standup for the first time at Memorial Union. After judges for the Catch a Rising Star showcase deemed him the “second-funniest person in Wisconsin,” he spent most nights hanging out at the Comedy Cellar on State Street. Even a stint in student government had a comedic aspect to it when Marmel was elected student-body president during his fifth year. “I ran this whole joke campaign with a slate of student senators, and we won,” he says.

After graduation, Marmel freelanced for USA Today and traveled the country, doing his comedy act at small clubs. His big break came in 1996, when a TV executive hired him to write for the Cartoon Network series Johnny Bravo after seeing him perform at the Hollywood Improv. “I’d never written a script in my life, but I found myself sitting at a desk in Hollywood learning by doing, just like I did at the Herald,” he says.

More TV projects followed, including teen star Demi Lovato’s live-action series Sonny with a Chance. A couple of years ago, Marmel conceived Mech-X4, which begins its second season this fall. “I told Disney, ‘I want to do an action comedy with kids and a monster-fighting robot.’ They read my script and said, ‘If you can make it on our budget, let’s do it,’ ” says Marmel, shown above in the control center of the giant robot. “I track it all back to Wisconsin, because that’s where I took a chance and found something I love.”

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