Joel L. Baugrud
Jennifer L. Bianchetti
Bernard “Ben” Chaput
Matthew B. Ellefson
Patrick James Finnane-York
Thomas “Butch” Farrey
Gerald P. “Jerry” Gutkowski
Timothy Richard Klade
Michael Roy Krutsch
Donald E. Richards
Richard V. Spaar
Mark L. Spangler
Delores A. Stevens
John Edward Terry
Bert P. Weeks Jr.
Franklin Middle School English teacher Jesse Ramirez entered his fifth year as an educator in the Janesville School District—one of several minority teachers in the district who attended college and returned to teach in Janesville as part of a local scholarship program.
Ramirez, now 29, got his first teaching job at Franklin, where he remains today.
In the last five years, he remembers one student who inspired him greatly: A Spanish-speaking boy who Ramirez said learned English fearlessly, exuding confidence despite the fact he sometimes had trouble expressing himself in his new language.
Ramirez, who is Latino, attended UW-Rock County and UW-Whitewater and earned a teaching degree with the help of the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship, a nonprofit award administered through the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.
He was among the first to earn the scholarship, a $5,000 annual stipend given to select minority students in the Janesville School District who agree to teach in Janesville after graduation. In the decade the program has run, eight people who received the scholarship have gone on to teach in Janesville; six of them continue to teach here.
The purpose of the program, the scholarship’s advisory board members say, is to bolster the number of educators of color in the school district. The ultimate goal, advisory board President Tammy Huth said, is to have a percentage of minority teachers that matches the percentage of the minority student population.
There’s a long way to go before that might happen. The district has six teachers who have come to the district through the scholarship program, and only about 2% of teachers in the district are considered part of an ethnic or cultural minority.
The district’s overall student body of just under 10,000 students was 28% minority last year, according to state Department of Public Instruction data. That proportion is up from about 12% in 2006, and that growth has come at a time when overall enrollment has declined.
Ramirez said he believes the effect of him being in a classroom, particularly teaching English and language arts to English language learners, has made a difference.
He referred to the English-learning student he said was unafraid despite his lack of command of the language. Ramirez said the boy’s fearlessness stemmed from a cultural shift in a classroom that had a Latino teacher.
“He (the student) felt welcome and secure and safe enough to be able to present his ideas, to be confident and know that his ideas were more important than whether he had perfect enunciation or an accent,” Ramirez said.
On Tuesday, Ramirez was a speaker at a benefit dinner to raise money for the scholarship he received on his way to his teaching career in his hometown.
Visiting the dinner and also speaking there was state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who runs the Department of Public Instruction. Stanford Taylor, who was named to the post by Gov. Tony Evers in January, is the first black person in state history to hold that job.
Stanford Taylor, whose background in public education includes years in Madison’s public school system, said the state’s schools are in need of minority teachers who can better connect with students of different ethnicities and cultures.
Many smaller cities and towns throughout the state, including Janesville, have had difficulties—a “problem,” Stanford Taylor called it—attracting and retaining teachers and administrators of color, she said.
Stanford Taylor said the Madison school system for years had a difficult time hiring and retaining teachers of color. She said locally and regionally, there have been economic barriers to black students and other minority students attending college.
And while some school districts for a time focused on recruiting teachers of color from the South, Stanford Taylor said those teachers sometimes didn’t stay long, often because of the culture shock of moving to the predominantly white Midwest and also because of the colder weather.
Now, she said, districts are trying to generate diversity by growing their own minority teaching staff and identifying minority students who might want to teach someday.
“What I’m seeing right now is a resurgence of efforts. And it’s efforts on the part of many districts and universities, the number of entities that have their hand in the ‘grow-your-own’ programs that people are creating,” Stanford Taylor said.
“A number of districts are looking at maybe some of the educational assistance and (showing) others that they have in their school that they have the potential to become educators. (The districts) are seeing funding for those programs, so they’re removing some of those barriers for folks to become educators.”
In Janesville, seven students are now in various stages of earning a teaching degree through the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship.
If all those students graduate and are hired into the Janesville School District and if the district is able to retain the same number of minority teachers it has now, the proportion of minority teachers in the district would nearly double.
Stanford Taylor said recent research shows that having teachers whose culture or ethnicity more closely meshes with minority students can help address a gap in achievement—including higher dropout rates— between minority students and their white counterparts.
In Janesville, the dropout rate for high school students who are white was about 1.5% last year, according to DPI data. By comparison, the dropout rate last year for black students in the district was about 5.5%.
She said the research shows if a student has had an experience with an educator of color by third grade, “their likelihood of graduating increases 15% to 17%” and that if a student has had more than one such teacher by third grade, “it increases by something like 35%.”
President Donald Trump’s former envoy to Ukraine said he wasn’t initially aware of attempts to prod that country into investigating Joe Biden but came to realize that the anti-corruption efforts being demanded by the administration meant probes involving the former vice president.
Kurt Volker, who until recently was the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, testified to the House committee conducting an impeachment inquiry that he wasn’t involved in key discussions and meetings that touched on Biden and his son’s participation on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings.
“I did not know that President Trump or others had raised Vice President Biden with the Ukrainians, or had conflated the investigation of possible Ukrainian corruption, with investigation of the former vice president,” Volker said. “In hindsight, I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company, ‘Burisma,’ as equivalent to investigating former Vice President Biden.”
Volker testified with former National Security Council official Tim Morrison, who was on the July call that has become central to the investigation of the president being led by House Democrats.
Morrison said Ukraine is on the front line facing Russian aggression and deserves the full, bipartisan support of the U.S. He said he worried at the time of Trump’s July 25 call that a disclosure of its contents would have a negative effect in Washington and on support for Ukraine.
“My fears have been realized,” Morrison said.
Three days of hearings this week will provide lawmakers and the public with testimony from nine witnesses who have firsthand accounts of events surrounding the question of whether Trump and his allies tried to leverage U.S. aid and a White House visit for Zelenskiy in exchange for Ukraine opening investigations involving Biden, which would benefit the president politically.
Earlier Tuesday, a decorated U.S Army officer who works at the White House and a State Department official both said Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s leader was an unusual and inappropriate attempt to get another nation to launch a politically motivated investigation.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said the Trump-Zelenskiy call so alarmed him that he reported it through the administration’s legal channels.
“Without hesitation, I knew that I had to report this to the White House counsel,” Vindman testified.
Jennifer Williams, a State Department employee assigned to Vice President Mike Pence’s office, said she found Trump’s conversation unusual “because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”
Volker is a crucial witness for Democrats and Republicans in the impeachment inquiry. He is a career government foreign policy official who was recruited early in the Trump administration to handle Ukraine policy.
But he also became one of three officials—along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland—delegated by some in the White House to conduct a back-channel effort on Ukraine that also involved Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
Volker’s testimony offered details for both sides to latch onto. Republicans will be encouraged that he said he had no knowledge of the idea to release aid in exchange for a promise to investigate the Biden family and the events of 2016.
Yet Volker also denied a central Republican talking point of the impeachment inquiry, arguing that there was no merit to claims that Biden did anything wrong in relation to Ukraine and its former prosecutor.
“I’ve known former Vice President Biden for some time,” Volker said. “I know how he respects the duties of higher office” and he would not operate outside of U.S. interests.
He could provoke some incredulity, though, with his contention that he never drew a link between demands that Ukraine investigate Burisma and concerns about the Biden family, even though Giuliani at one point mentioned the allegations against the former vice president.
That came at a July 19 meeting, when Volker said Giuliani raised “the conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden would have been influenced in his duties as vice president by money paid to his son.” He said he rejected that notion.
He said he had been unaware that Trump mentioned Biden on his call with Zelenskiy until the White House released a rough transcript of the call Sept. 25. During the call, Trump instead made reference to a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election and asked Zelenskiy to “look into” whether Biden stopped an anti-corruption investigation of Burisma.
Morrison testified that he was disappointed by Trump’s conversation with Zelenskiy, though not because he thought the president had done anything illegal.
Asking a foreign leader to investigate a domestic political rival is “not what we recommended to the president to discuss,” Morrison said. “I was hoping for a more full-throated statement of support from the president” for Ukraine.
Morrison said he asked for the call record to be moved to a highly classified system, primarily because he was concerned about the political fallout if it leaked.
Morrison also indicated that there was a trade being sought by the administration in dealing with Ukraine.
He said Sondland, a Trump donor who had a direct line to the president, told him Sept. 1 he had advised a Ukrainian official that the release of nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being linked to an announcement by Ukraine of a commitment to investigate Biden and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Then, Morrison said Sondland told him Sept. 7 that Trump had said that Zelenskiy, specifically, would have to make that announcement himself.
Sondland said “there was no quid pro quo but President Zelenskiy had to make the statement and he had to want to do it,” according to Morrison.
The House inquiry so far hasn’t caused any significant swing in public opinion about whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office, nor has it so far broken a solid wall of support for the president among GOP lawmakers. Yet the live coverage and constant drumbeat of revelations could damage the president politically as he campaigns for re-election in 2020 with already low approval ratings.
Throughout the day, Republicans attacked the process and the witnesses as prejudiced against the president.
“The Democrats have called a parade of government officials who don’t like President Trump’s Ukraine policy, even though they all acknowledge he provided Ukraine with lethal military aid after the Obama administration refused to do so,” Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said.
“They don’t seem to understand that the president alone is constitutionally vested with the authority to set the policy. The American people elect a president, not an interagency consensus,” he said.
Jerry Rasmussen was not the inspiration for “the most interesting man in the world” beer ads, but he could have been.
Not bad for a kid from Janesville, the son of Elmer, who worked at General Motors, and Esther, who worked at Parker Pen.
Along the way in his 84 years, he also managed to attend the Woodstock music festival, be director of a museum and write Christian inspirational books.
Rasmussen sat down for an interview when he visited his hometown this summer.
He recalled attending UW-Madison in the mid-1950s, when he worked in the primate laboratory, testing rhesus monkeys. Researchers placed a white rat with each monkey. Nearly all the monkeys killed the rats.
“It was pretty gross,” he recalled.
One monkey accepted the rat as a baby, he recalled. Sometime later, Rasmussen saw a news article and realized that same monkey was named Able and flew into outer space and back on a 1959 NASA mission.
Able is now stuffed and part of an exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum.
Rasmussen got a master’s degree in geology from UW-Madison in 1958 and in 1960 went to New York City’s Columbia University to work on a doctorate.
That’s where he answered a job ad posted on a bulletin board and ended up on the iceberg, about 800 miles north of Point Barrow, Alaska.
Various scientists in the 12-person crew were studying things such as plankton and underwater sound transmission. Among his jobs was to plot the iceberg’s changing location.
Things did not go well at Columbia, which he found to be less than inspiring, at least in his area of study.
“That’s when I discovered Greenwich Village and folk music,” he said.
It was 1960, before the folk scene became well-known nationally.
While he found the city cold and alienating, The Village was something else.
“Wow, I feel like home,’” he recalled thinking.
The Greenwich Village folk scene launched musicians. This included Bob Dylan and many others who were well-known at the time but not so much now, such as Dave Van Ronk, who encouraged Rasmussen to get up and perform at his first open mic.
Until that time, he had been too shy to play even for his parents. He was astonished when people clapped.
“Everybody was treated as if they were great. That’s an atmosphere I’ve never seen again,” he said.
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, another famous name, once sat down and told Rasmussen how much he liked his music. For years, Rasmussen received Christmas cards from Noel Stookey, the “Paul” from Peter, Paul and Mary.
He heard Arlo Guthrie perform at age 15, and he recalls Dylan and Johnny Cash performing together.
He now plays in a jazz combo and, despite his folk roots, thinks of himself as a lover of rockabilly and other early rock. He would break out “Blue Suede Shoes” when performing at folk fests, even though folk and rock/pop performers were artistically opposed to each other in the early days.
In 1964, Rasmussen moved to Connecticut, where he worked at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. He became its director in 1970.
He attended the Woodstock music festival in 1969. He still has the tickets.
His wife was pregnant with twins at the time, and an early birth was a worry. He remembers enjoying The Who and Country Joe and the Fish, but the crowd bothered him, food had run out, and he wanted to get home to his wife. He and a friend left early. They had parked and walked for miles to get there. He still doesn’t know how they found the car.
He has been married three times, the last time to Ruth, for 20 years. She died two years ago. Ruth was one of the members of the all-black church he joined.
In a recent post, he wrote about how he got the gospel gig. He had attended a Lutheran church in Stamford, Connecticut, for many years when the gospel group from the Baptist church across the street needed a place to rehearse.
Rasmussen became friends with the music director and a fan of the church’s men’s chorus, attending performances for a year before the director invited him to join.
He also eventually joined the church, becoming the only white member. He felt welcomed and formed friendships. He joined the church’s committee for the sick and shut-ins. He invited Ruth for coffee to learn more about it, and they never got around to talking about the committee.
He talks about Ruth as a soulmate. They didn’t have much in common, but the marriage worked.
“The thing that makes a marriage great is love. It’s not common interests,” he said.
Rasmussen has a girlfriend now.
“I think Ruth is tickled pink because she wants me to be happy,” he said.
Rasmussen’s musical efforts include songs inspired by growing up in Janesville.
One, called “Silver Queen,” recalls the barge of that name that hosted dances as it traveled up and down the Rock River.
Rasmussen imagined two dancers, a young woman and a man who was about to go off to World War II.
She writes him letters every day “until he answered her no more/Now in a front room window, there hangs a faded star/And the Silver Queen lies empty on the shore.”
In “Ships on the Prairie,” written for Janesville’s 150th anniversary, he sketches the city’s history. The song dropped on his 1989 album but could have been about more recent events:
“There’s talk out on the prairie now you never heard before,/
“There’s rumors that the plants are shutting down./
“And the sons whose fathers’ fathers came here long ago/
“Can’t find a job and have to leave the town./
“And the railroad yard stands empty now that once was filled with life/
“And the cotton mill will never roll again/
“And they boarded up the windows over at the power plant/
“And the old men go out fishing on the dam.”
Other Janesville-inspired songs mention old houses with porch swings, playing along the river and skating in the moonlight.
Today, he can’t seem to stop writing, regularly posting blog-like personal stories of humor and philosophy for friends on Facebook.
He keeps busy enough to make a man half his age jealous. He’s working on his sixth CD, “Still Jerry After All These Years.”
He never intended to make money by making music, and “so far, so good,” he said jokingly.
“I’m still excited by life,” he said. “I’ve had a wonderful life, and I’ve not sought attention. I’ve never tried to be anybody but myself.”
Rasmussen has been relatively lucky with his health, but that changed in summer 2018. He thought he might die.
After four months of tests and two stents in his heart, he pulled through. He said the brush with death deepened his faith.
“Now when I get up in the morning, I say, ‘OK, God, what are we going to do today?’”