Gary Bersell is ending a nearly 50-year career working with people with disabilities.
Bersell, executive director of KANDU Industries, is retiring at the end of June, ending a 13-year run at the helm of the agency, which offers community and pre-vocational employment opportunities and other services.
Bersell worked as a special education teacher and was the director of special education for the Janesville School District from 1967 to 2000. He was hired as the director of KANDU in 2006.
That year, KANDU’s board president asked Bersell to fill the director vacancy temporarily as the agency searched for a permanent director.
“They originally wanted me for three months. After two months, they said, ‘Will you stay?’ I said ‘Yes.’ I was hooked,” Bersell said.
“After 13 years, I think it’s time. It was a good gig for me. I’m 75.”
Bersell’s retirement, which takes effect June 30, was announced Monday in a news release from the board. Bersell said he’ll continue to work through June to give the board time to vet replacement candidates.
KANDU is launching a national search, according to the release. Bersell said his executive team, which includes six other people, will give the board suggestions about how to move forward “with life after Gary.”
Bersell recalled his first few days at KANDU, which for decades has offered employment for people with developmental disorders and disabilities.
When he first stepped onto the work area floor, he saw something that made him immediately want to stay.
“I saw 10 to 12 students who I’d taught years ago at Parker High School,” Bersell said.
During his tenure as director, Bersell said he ushered in several new programs that expanded KANDU’s services, including daytime services and activities for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Those initially were conceived as a way to give Alzheimer’s caregivers some respite.
Under Bersell’s direction, KANDU also modified some work programs to give longtime employees part-time employment at “table work” so they could continue working and earning paychecks into their later years.
The agency also launched its Guardian Advocate program, under which it can assume corporate guardianship of some clients who are wards of the state to help them make decisions.
Forward Janesville gave Bersell its Diversity Award at its annual awards banquet last month.
Bersell said he and his wife, a former nurse at the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Janesville, worked hard to give their own children a sense of regard for people with disabilities, who sometimes “are not so fortunate.”
“I think my whole involvement with the underprivileged people has been my dream and goal for all my life,” Bersell said. “I guess that’s really what’s most important for me.”
David W. Ames
Pamela Sue Benzel
Ellen M. Brovick
Mary Anne DeLazzer
Glenn “Peter” Elmer
Earl “Bud” Hatlevig
Howard A. Krupke
Ima “Jean” Mates
Richard “Dick” McCarthy
Constance A. Meister
William E. Murphy
Emmy Lou Olson
Charles “C.A.” Quinn
Patricia Ann Reeder
Diane B. Stearns
Lorraine M. Welch
Carol T. Williams
The White House says President Donald Trump will call for optimism and unity in tonight’s State of the Union address, using the moment to attempt a reset after two years of bitter partisanship and deeply personal attacks.
But will anyone buy it?
Skepticism will emanate from both sides of the aisle when Trump enters the House chamber for the primetime address to lawmakers and the nation. Democrats, emboldened after the midterm elections and the recent shutdown fight, see little evidence of a president willing to compromise. And even the president’s staunchest allies know that bipartisan rhetoric read off a teleprompter is usually undermined by scorching tweets and unpredictable policy maneuvers.
Still, the fact that Trump’s advisers feel a need to try a different approach is a tacit acknowledgement that the president’s standing is weakened as he begins his third year in office.
The shutdown left some Republicans frustrated over his insistence on a border wall, something they warned him the new Democratic House majority would not bend on. Trump’s approval rating during the shutdown dipped to 34 percent, down from 42 percent a month earlier, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president would use his address “to call for an end to the politics of resistance, retribution.”
“He’s calling for cooperation,” she said, adding that Trump will point to examples of where this has happened on his watch. Officials said the president is also expected to highlight infrastructure, trade and prescription drug pricing as areas in which the parties could work together.
But Washington’s most recent debate offered few signs of cooperation between Trump and Democrats. Under pressure from conservative backers, Trump refused to sign a government funding bill that did not include money for his long-sought border wall. With hundreds of thousands of Americans missing paychecks, Trump ultimately agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow negotiations on border security to continue.
With the new Feb. 15 funding deadline looming, Trump is expected to use his address to outline his demands, which still include funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He has teased the possibility of declaring a national emergency to secure wall funding if Congress doesn’t act, though it appeared unlikely he would take that step tonight. Advisers have also been reviewing options to secure some funding without making such a declaration.
“You’ll hear the State of the Union, and then you’ll see what happens right after the State of the Union,” Trump told reporters.
The president’s address marks the first time he is speaking before a Congress that is not fully under Republican control. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who won plaudits from Democrats for her hard-line negotiating tactics during the shutdown, will be seated behind the president—a visual reminder of Trump’s political opposition.
In the audience will be several Democrats running to challenge Trump in 2020, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, will deliver the party’s response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become Georgia’s first black governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer previewed Democrats’ message for countering Trump, declaring Monday, “The No. 1 reason the state of the union has such woes is the president.”
While White House officials cautioned that Trump’s remarks were still being finalized, the president was expected to use some of his televised address to showcase a growing economy. Despite the shutdown, the U.S. economy added a robust 304,000 jobs in January, marking 100 straight months of job growth. That’s the longest such period on record.
Trump and his top aides have also hinted he is likely to use the address to announce a major milestone in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Despite the objections of some advisers, Trump announced in December that he was withdrawing U.S. forces in Syria. In a weekend interview with CBS, Trump said efforts to defeat the IS group were “at 99 percent right now. We’ll be at 100.”
U.S. officials say the Islamic State group now controls less than 3.9 square miles of territory in Syria. That’s down from an estimated 155 to 230 square miles that the group held at the end of November before Trump announced the withdrawal, according to two officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Representative revives meetings abandoned by Ryan
Rep. Bryan Steil held his first-ever public listening session in Janesville on Monday morning, showing one major difference from his predecessor as 1st District representative.
Steil’s policy ideas did not offer any stark differences from now-retired Rep. Paul Ryan as Steil spoke to an audience of about 40 in the Janesville City Council Chambers.
But Steil’s open-to-anyone listening session contrasted with Ryan, who stopped holding such “town halls” during his last three years in Congress.
The Janesville stop was one of six—one in each of the district’s counties—that the local Republican started Friday.
Steil stuck with his support of President Donald Trump on a border wall but seemed to differ from the president slightly on climate change.
While Trump has expressed skepticism of climate change theory, Steil said he believes it’s real and that human actions have caused it.
Steil was in line with the president, however, in pointing to other countries as problems. Steil said the Paris climate accord, from which Trump withdrew, failed to hold India and China to account for their air pollution.
After the meeting, Steil said he believes the United States can and should work with China and India to reduce their emissions, even after withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.
Steil calmly listened to a tearful ex-prisoner apologize for his crime and talk about how hard it has been to support his children.
Steil said government should make sure those who have paid their debts to society are able to get jobs and support themselves.
Susan Johnson of Janesville offered Steil a box of green, heart-shaped cookies and asked him to pledge support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Endangered Species Act.
Johnson, a board member of the Green-Rock Audubon Society, said the previous Congress would not reauthorize them.
Steil said he would look into why the laws were not reauthorized and said he’s an “avid outdoorsman” and “a big biker (bicyclist) and cross-country skier.”
Kay Deupree, a former Janesville City Council member and member of the League of Women Voters, asked Steil if he knows the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty and asked how those words jibe with building a wall.
The poem on the statue starts with the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”
Steil did not address the words on the statue, but he said the country needs to “properly secure the southern border” and also fix a “broken immigration system.”
Steil said the border must be secured first so that officials have a good idea of who is entering the country before the system can be fixed.
Deupree asked if Steil’s plan would include “some work with the countries where the people are coming from that we have not been the most responsible in … interacting with.”
Steil said a small number of Central American countries are “becoming quasi-failed states,” where drugs and gangs are causing “significant distress,” pushing people to leave those countries to enter the United States.
Steil said the United States should address those problems, but he didn’t say how
Members of the local Fellowship of Reconciliation asked Steil to support House Resolution 142, which would remove United States support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. Steil said he would look into it.
The session was calm on all sides, and Steil remarked that it was “spectacularly civil and polite and kind of Janesville-like.
“I got cookies,” he added, as people laughed with him. “This like a completely Janesville conversation.”