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Game changers
13 people who are making Milwaukee more interesting, intellectual, caring, exciting, artistic, relevant, beautiful, and decent

By NAN BIALEK, BOB GOSMAN and JANET RAASCH
Photos by Dan Bishop

November 2013


Sue Black - Milwaukee Wave

It takes guts to be a game-changer, says Milwaukee Wave soccer club owner Sue Black, but she subscribes to Helen Kellerís philosophy, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."

"Whether itís the chapters in your life, or books in your life, the only thing you can be sure of is thereís going to be change," Black says. "You either embrace it, or not."

A UW-Madison alumnus, Black has been a change agent throughout her career. As Wisconsin State Parks chief, she was the youngest and only woman among the 50 directors of state parks nationally. During 10 high-profile years as Milwaukee County Parks director, Black recharged the parks system and put together public-private partnerships to help offset budget pressures, earning national recognition for her accomplishments.

When Black was dismissed from the directorís position in 2012 by County Executive Chris Abele she again was faced with change. Change, she says, "tests your character" and when she "soul-searched" about whether to move on to another state, "I realized just how much I loved this state and this community and leaving just didnít feel right." ĽIn April, Black became the new owner of the Wave. She says she plans to reintroduce the Wave to the community, and has started by unveiling a new team logo, uniforms and website in its 30th anniversary year. She is also energized by the opportunity to work with the charitable arm of the team, Wave of Hope. ĽBlack is the only female sole owner of a menís professional soccer franchise in the United States. "Itís been that way my whole career, it was always a manís world," she says. "But itís about results, and the more you can prove results, the better."

 

J.J. Watt - Justin J. Watt Foundation

About the only strike against J.J. Watt in these parts is that he is a dominating defensive lineman for the Houston Texans, not the Green Bay Packers. Just think about the possibilities if Watt joined Clay Matthews on the defensive line.

While Watt doesnít play for the Packers, he is still making his presence felt in Milwaukee, his hometown of Pewaukee and the rest of the state. Watt is the founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which provides after-school sports opportunities for children in Wisconsin and Texas.

"One of our main points of emphasis is that when kids have an after-school sport to look forward to at the end of the day, they stay alert and perform better in the classroom," says Watt, who in 2012, his rookie season, was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year after notching 20 1/2 sacks and batting down 16 passes. "I also think athletics teaches kids a lot of things that they can use both on the field and in everyday life ó discipline, work ethic, time management, teamwork and leadership." ĽFor Watt, who played college football at UW-Madison, it was natural that half of the foundationís funds be directed to Milwaukee and Wisconsin. "This is where Iím from and where everything really started for me," Watt says. "Iím trying to give back to Wisconsin as much as I can and also my new hometown of Houston and Texas.

In his downtime, Watt relishes the opportunity to return to Pewaukee. "I really enjoy spending time out on the lake, just relaxing with friends and close family," he says. "The people are so great and itís always fun to go back. I enjoy everything about Wisconsin."



Bruce Keyes

For Bruce Keyes, a partner at the Milwaukee law firm of Foley & Lardner, the secret to effecting change is "getting the right people around the table to focus on a project and make it happen." With that formula in mind, Keyes has been instrumental in shepherding many of the areaís most exciting developments from conception through ribbon-cutting and beyond.

Since 1997, Keyes has been actively involved with the nonprofit Menomonee Valley Partners, transforming what was once an industrial wasteland into one of the cityís most visible success stories. He played a key role in "demystifying the environmental issues" and helping the organization gain site control of key properties that were redeveloped into the Harley-Davidson Museum, Canal Street Commerce Center, Urban Ecology Center and Three Bridges Park. ĽKeyes is past president and on the management committee of Friends of Hank Aaron State Trail. Working on the expansion of the trail from Miller Park to 124th Street and Bluemound was tremendously satisfying, Keyes says.

"My legal/professional practice is really urban redevelopment," he says, "and every project I work on is either finance, real estate or brownfields, and some are a combination of all three." ĽHis latest project borrows an idea from cities like Boston, New York, Montreal and Paris. Keyes is board president and co-founder of the nonprofit Midwest BikeShare, which plans to bring 250 BikeShare bicycles and 25 kiosks to Milwaukee by next spring. With a daily or annual membership, BikeShare participants can pick up a bicycle at any self-service kiosk and return it to any other kiosk.

"It evolved because Milwaukee just needs it," he says.

Keyes says none of the projects heís been involved with are one-man shows: "Whether it has been with other individuals, or organizations, or funders, or the city, state and county over the years, it has always been many hands."

Whether his involvement is professional or personal, Keyes says he pursues these and other community projects because he is passionate about the city. "No way I would put in the hours and effort if I didnít love it and love seeing the results."

 

Dawn McCarthy - Milwaukee Preservation Alliance

As president and full-time volunteer for the nonprofit Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, Dawn McCarthy works to renew the architectural profile of the city by honoring its history.

"Knowing the story of how your community evolved makes where you live more meaningful," McCarthy says. "I know how much I appreciate the architecture and culture and history of the community. I feel weíre responsible to future generations to retain, to some extent, that character as well."

The primary mission of the member-supported Alliance, McCarthy says, is to advocate for historic preservation of buildings that make Milwaukee unique. That often means educating the community about particular properties that have historic significance and testifying at Common Council committee meetings and public hearings in support of preservation and adaptive reuse. ĽAt the moment, McCarthy and the alliance are focused on the restoration of Old Main and the Ward Theater at the Civil War-era Soldierís Home. The alliance convened a coalition of organizations, including veterans and neighborhood groups, Friends of the Hank Aaron Trail and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to work together to get the buildings repaired and adapted to the needs of todayís veterans.

"Two years ago there were gaping holes in the roof of Old Main and they had been there for a year or two," McCarthy says. "It was through our advocacy efforts that we were able to encourage the VA to take the necessary and required steps to protect those buildings." ĽMcCarthy says there are solid economic reasons to promote historic preservation. A city that maintains its architectural authenticity tends to attract young professionals, become a destination for tourists and create local jobs.

"I donít feel a city should be put under glass," McCarthy says. "We hear we want to stop all development, we want to freeze time or create a museum and really none of that is true of our efforts. We believe a building needs to be used in order to survive."

 

Mark Young - ABCD

In both his professional life as a lawyer and his volunteer work as board president of ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Mark Young has clarity of purpose.

"Iíve been practicing law for 37-plus years and Iíve been with Habush, Habush & Rottier for 26-plus years," Young says. "All throughout, our firm has been involved in representing injured people and helping people in trouble, and also encouraging community involvement, so thatís a strong theme for all of us."

ABCD was an emerging nonprofit organization in 1999, when Youngís wife, Erika, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Founded by television news anchor Melodie Wilson, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2009, ABCD provides one-to-one mentoring, information and support for people diagnosed with or affected by the disease.

Young says Wilson organized ABCD because she "was struck by the fact when she was diagnosed that there wasnít anybody whoíd been through it to talk to." ĽReferred to ABCD by her surgical nurse, "Erika became one of the original mentors with the organization," Young notes.

"When Erika passed away in 2005, I continued with our familyís support." About four years ago, he joined the ABCD board of directors.

Today, ABCD has more than 300 trained and experienced volunteer mentors, all of whom have been personally affected by breast cancer, and offers a national 24/7 help line.

"There are many different forms of breast cancer, many different stages, people in different economic circumstances and life circumstances," Young says. "We successfully match people with someone whoís walked through that situation before."

ABCD plans to expand throughout the Midwest and beyond, Young says, and is working to make one-to-one personal mentoring part of a national standard of breast cancer care.

Young says through his work as a lawyer in helping people whose worlds have been turned upside down and his familyís experience in battling breast cancer, he understands the importance of simply having somebody to talk to. Ľ"You do whatever you can to provide that kind of support and help," he says.

 

Ian Abston - NEWaukee

Ian Abston really, really likes Milwaukee. And if anything, that might be understating his passion for the city. "Growing up in Elkhart Lake, Milwaukee was this big, intimidating city," he says. "Then I moved here after college and realized it was the friendliest big city. Itís walkable, bikable, and there are so many great opportunities here."

When Abston moved here after college, he read about so many "cool places" to see but didnít have a group of people to experience them with. So with his co-founder Jason Larcheid, he started NEWaukee as a way for young professionals to network, socialize and explore the city. What began as a small group of friends in 2009, has quickly expanded into what Abston says is one of the nationís largest group of young professionals.

NEWaukeeís programming and events include everything from cultural events, happy hours with live music, behind-the-scenes tours, an adventure club and networking opportunities. In April, NEWaukee organized a well received Young Professional Week.

John Graham Jr., a global treasury analyst at GE Healthcare, was an early convert to NEWaukee. "I had a good group of friends here, but when I (attended) a NEWaukee event I was hooked," Graham says. "I can honestly say that NEWaukee is a big part of why I chose to stay in Milwaukee for the long term."

Graham says Abston was born to lead a group such as NEWaukee.

"His personality is perfect for this," Graham says. "He has the ability to engage people and when he hears an idea he likes, he goes with it and works on details later. That has allowed NEWaukee to host fantastic events and grow at a rapid pace. Ian is tireless and in constant motion."

 

Catherine Jacobson - Froedtert Health

Catherine Jacobson was not actively seeking to leave Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Of course, opportunities like the one she was offered by then-Froedtert Health President and CEO William Petasnick in 2010 donít come along that often.

"When I recruited Cathy as our CFO, I was looking for someone who not only had strong financial and analytical skills but was also a great strategist," Petasnick says. "I was also looking for someone who could be my successor and help take our organization to the next level."

Sure enough, on July 1, 2012, Jacobson became Froedtert Healthís new president and CEO.

"Iíve always had a passion for academic medical centers and the special place they have in our health-care system," Jacobson says. "I was intrigued by the chance to work with Bill and really have a chance to make an impact."

Already, Jacobsonís leadership was instrumental in the collaborative, Quality Health Solutions, which in September announced a new accountable care initiative that will provide coordinated care to more than 100,000 Wisconsin residents enrolled in United Healthcareís employer-sponsored health plans. It is one of the nationís first multiple-system accountable care organizations.

Jacobsonís family has adjusted to life in Brookfield as easily as she has fit into her new job. "Itís a very livable city and day to day life is so much better when youíre not dealing with 50 to 90 minutes of traffic just to get to work," she says. "There are so many hidden gems. Weíve been here three years and we feel like weíre still exploring Milwaukee."

The time she saves commuting, she plows into a steady stream of service work, serving on six boards. "When you reach a leadership position, you have an obligation to your community beyond your own organization," she says. "You go into it thinking you can contribute your expertise and then you get so much more out of it. Itís very personally gratifying."

 

Jack Turner - Dear MKE

Film and television producer Jack Turner is pretty sure about this: If youíre going to tell Milwaukeeís story, it had better be real. Turner is one of the creative forces behind Dear MKE, a tourism branding campaign for VISIT Milwaukee thatís a multimedia love letter to the city.

Turner has a tricoastal perspective on what should make Milwaukee famous. Based in New York, his work often takes him to Los Angeles, and he gets back to Milwaukee often.

After graduating from Whitefish Bay High School in 1991, he went to college on the East Coast and worked for a major motion picture studio as well as on independent films. Among the feature films heís worked on are Steven Soderberghís "Traffic," Terry Georgeís "Hotel Rwanda" and Michael Mooreís documentary, "Bowling for Columbine." Turnerís television projects have not yet been released.

Jonathan Jackson of the Milwaukee Film Festival contacted Turner more than a year ago and asked him to do a series of video profiles for Dear MKE, portraits of Milwaukeeans who, Turner says, are doing great things.

He responded by producing videos about people who, in their own way, personify Milwaukeeís spirit. Itís a different take on the idyllic beauty shots that typify most tourism promos.

"We just felt that was a more honest way of showing off the city," Turner says, "and we could get the support of the city and people who live here. If it doesnít feel true, then it doesnít really work."

Turner, working with Barry Poltermann of AboutFace Media, finds the cityís story in the details of his subjectsí lives. His portrait of Reginald Baylor reveals that the artist drove a truck to support himself before becoming successful enough to devote all of his time to art. Turner was struck by the moment Baylor realized he didnít have to drive a truck anymore. ĽHis piece on Harley-Davidsonís Bill and Willie Davidson includes some authentic home movie footage.

"You see Bill Davidson riding on a motorcycle for the first time. You see that for them, motorcycling has been a part of their whole life," Turner says.

He notes that thousands of people have viewed these and other videos on dearmke.com, and Turner predicts that as more true-to-life videos are made and released, other cities
will follow suit.

 

Rob Henken - Public Policy Form

In a highly charged and polarized political climate, Rob Henken, the president of the Public Policy Forum, says the PPF will continue to do what it has for the last 100 years: strive to enhance the quality of public policy decision-making in southeast Wisconsin with nonpartisan and objective research.

"I think the forum is the best thing in Milwaukee since the all-you-can-eat fish fry," says noted Milwaukee historian John Gurda. "Itís vital to have a clear voice speaking to the issues of the day, a voice everyone can trust. The forum is exactly that."

Since he joined the PPF in 2008, Henken earned two national awards for reports he authored on the Milwaukee County Transit Systemís fiscal crisis and structural reform in Milwaukee County government.

Previously Henken worked in Milwaukee County government, directed a pair of nonprofits and worked on Capitol Hill.

"He may be the only person in Milwaukee who can get along with everyone," says Mordecai Lee, a professor of governmental affairs at UW-Milwaukee. "Rob has the perfect blend of experience, education and temperament for this role. He is an even-tempered, disciplined leader who knows how to avoid the quicksand and sand traps of the policy-making and political world. He is playing the long game rather than trying to win todayís headline or vote."

After growing up outside of Boston and living in Washington, D.C., Henken says he made an easy transition to Milwaukee. He appreciates the easy access to cultural and entertainment options and the character of the city and its people.

"Sometimes people in Milwaukee tend to under appreciate the cultural and entertainment assets we have here," he says. "Itís an accessible city and a wonderful place to raise a family."

 

Paul Upchurch - VISITMilwaukee

Milwaukee is a great place to visit ó just ask residents of northern Illinois. Ľ"When we went down to Taste of Chicago a few years back and interviewed people, we found that if they come to Milwaukee once, they come at least two or three more times," says Paul Upchurch, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee. "Itís a market weíve worked very hard to get a good foothold in."

Since he began leading VISIT Milwaukee in 2010, Upchurch and his staff have seen those efforts to attract visitors from Illinois pay off. Events like Summerfest, ethnic festivals, the Wisconsin State Fair and attractions like the Milwaukee Art Museum are bringing tourists to the city. "Weíre seeing a shift where a larger percentage of ticket-buyers are from northern Illinois," he says. "They love Milwaukee, and theyíre marketed by a million other events in the Chicago area and lots of other cities and destinations."

Why do they love Milwaukee? "You get here, itís a beautiful day, you see that itís easy to get here, we have phenomenal hotels ó you just see a great city," he says.

VISIT Milwaukee also concentrates on bringing groups and conventions to the city. A major coup was landing the Connect Marketplace meeting plannersí convention last August. Connect Marketplace brought 539 meeting planners who book national conventions to the city, many for the first time. "In the U.S., there are almost 220 convention centers, so we have a lot of cities competing for this group," Upchurch notes.

Upchurch, who also chairs the Governorís Council on Tourism, says most Milwaukeeans donít fully understand the significance of tourism to the local economy. According to a state report, tourism accounted for $1.6 billion in direct spending in Milwaukee County in 2012, "and it ripples through the economy at almost $2.9 billion," Upchurch says.

Tourism also accounts for nearly 30,000 full-time jobs in the area, which Upchurch says is his "biggest thrill."

"When you see the streets full of people, restaurants full, hotels full, big lines to get into the art museum, it gives great vitality to the city," Upchurch says. "At the end of the day, you know youíre having an impact on peoplesí lives."

 

Madeline Lubar - Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

An interest in art led Madeline Kelly Lubar to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design board of trustees in 2006.

"I knew nothing about higher education," she admits. Nonetheless, she immediately began making an impact. "There wasnít enough buzz around town about MIAD," Lubar says. "I saw that MIAD needed to be better known in our own community."

She and husband David Lubar initiated the signature fundraising event for the arts school, Creative Fusion. "We raised over $300,000 that first year," she says. "Thatís real money for this small school" where 97 percent of the schoolís 700 students receive financial aid.

As her involvement with the school grew so did her emotional commitment. "Iím increasingly impressed by how hard the staff, faculty and management work to serve the students," she says. "Itís very moving and touching to see the lengths people will go to make the student experience a good one."

And once they graduate, MIAD students stick around, Lubar says, noting that 80 percent of grads stay in the Milwaukee region and find work at places like Harley-Davidson, Kohlís Corp. and GE Healthcare, among dozens of other businesses. "We donít have a brain drain problem. Our creatives continue to contribute to our community."

Lubar is now board chair and works closely with MIAD President Neil Hoffman to bring ideas to fruition, continuing to raise MIADís profile and also to deepen the educational experience for art and design students.

The MIAD Creativity Series, founded by the Lubars, brings in nationally known artists for programming with students and the public. Thereís also a new residence hall being built on the Third Ward campus and a new initiative with Marquette University to develop a joint industrial design/engineering program.

The volunteer experience has been a rich one for Lubar. "What I did not expect was to just fall in love," she says. "It is so fun to walk in that door. There is always something different, always fresh. Itís a really enjoyable place to be."

(Lubar, photographed with a 1967 first edition Excalibur, part of the Brooks @ 20 exhibit at MIAD.)

 

Jean Segura - Milwaukee Brewers

When he was just 18 or 19 years old, a coach in the Los Angeles Angels organization told Jean Segura to keep playing hard. "You might be in the big leagues soon," he says.

After playing in just one major league game for the Angels, Segura was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2012 Zach Greinke deal.

Since then Segura has not only proven heís major-league caliber but a Major League All Star. As the Brewersí starting shortstop in 2013, the 23-year-old Segura posted ridiculous numbers, finishing second in the National League for triples, second in stolen bases, eighth in hits and averaging well over .300 in hitting for most of the season, ending the season at .294. His defense, too, was a nonstop highlight reel as he displayed great range and quickness in the field.

In 2012 he played in the All-Stars Futures Game; in 2013 he was an MLB All Star. "With everything, Iím trying to do the best I can," the soft-spoken Segura says.

His love of baseball hasnít changed since he was a boy growing up in the Dominican Republic where he would round up the guys for a game. Even if they didnít have a baseball he still found a way to play by wrapping up a makeshift ball. "I always had that energy," he says.

He admits it wasnít too long ago that he was just a kid; thatís one of the reasons he has joined teammate Martin Maldonado in a Telemundo television show, "Devolviendo Con Amor," which means
"Giving Back, With Love."

Producer Debra Lopez says itís a way for the Latin-born players to leave a legacy. "(They) love the opportunity of giving back to the Latin community here in Milwaukee by sharing some of their personal thoughts, private moments and, most importantly, offering advice to the younger generation," she says.

Segura acknowledges advice from a pro athlete can have a big impact on a young person, and he hopes his doing-his-best approach to life will inspire others.

 

Matt Rinka - Rinka Chung Architecture

For as long as he can remember, Matt Rinka wanted to be an architect. He grew up outside of Oconomowoc in a passive solar house built into the hillside. The design ensured that the house would be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. "I knew then that I wanted to design buildings of some sort," he says. "I also went to Europe with my parents a couple of times and was influenced by the houses and spaces that I saw there."

Now, Rinkaís firm, Rinka Chung Architecture, is designing buildings that are defining the city itself. He and his team designed the 30-story The Moderne, a high-rise building that was honored with an Award of Merit in ENRís Midwest Project of the Year competition. Rinka Chung also will design the planned, The Couture, on the cityís lakefront, which will feature hotel rooms, apartments and retail space.

"Iím excited about how itís progressing and it can be such a huge plus for the community," he says. "A strong downtown is only going to bode well for the rest of the region. Within the next five years, I think we have a chance to change the perception of how Milwaukee is viewed nationally."

Rinka, who moved back to Milwaukee after working in Seattle and New York, says his passion for sociology and his love of the city inspire his work.

"Architecture is such a huge part of the way we develop or donít develop as a society," he says. "Iíve always been interested in how people live. How we design will impact the way the space is (utilized)Thatís a fun part of what we do."

 

 


This story ran in the November 2013 issue of: