Use the hashtag #MeetMadison on Twitter or Instagram to introduce Isthmus readers to someone you know (or just met) who helps tell Madison’s story.
Stacey Kulow is a comedian who began standup at the suggestion of her boyfriend, Bryan Morris. Kulow, 26, first performed improv while in college, landing a spot with Madison’s Atlas Improv after winning a competition in 2008. She remains a member alongside Morris, who won first place in Madison’s Funniest Comic Competition in 2012.
“Standup can fail easily because it’s jokes you wrote,” Kulow says. “But improv is a little more forgiving, and you get to do it with a team of your friends.”
— Tom Van Wyhe
Madison is the place where Annette Miller “learned how to be a grownup.”
Miller moved from the Twin Cities in 1988 to attend UW-Madison. Since graduating in 1992, she’s worked for the state, as an aide to former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and now for Madison Gas & Electric. She’s also raising three kids here with her husband.
“I’ve been fortunate,” says Miller, 44. “I’ve had great employment opportunities, and my kids have thrived here.”
Her job for the mayor, as a liaison to neighborhoods, helped Miller get to know the city up close. “It was my job to take the pulse of what was going on,” she says.
One of Miller’s best experiences was working with the Allied Drive neighborhood, addressing problems relating to crime, poverty and development.
“I enjoyed that because there’s a perception that low-income neighborhoods are dangerous and the people who live in those neighborhoods don’t care,” she says. “Even being a person of color myself, I think I had some of those thoughts.”
She learned, however, that “there were a lot of people who cared, and they were really just looking for support.”
Miller’s work at MG&E is an offshoot of her work for the city. Her job is to reach out to minority groups, non-English speakers, seniors and low-income individuals.
“I came to MG&E to figure out how we can serve those customer groups,” she says. “My question is, do they know about energy, do they know about the environment, do they know how to manage their bills?”
Those who frequent Jordan’s Big 10 Pub have likely seen the sculpted physique of bartender and server Derrick Walker. From a banner in the bar, you learn that Walker, 23, won the Hottest Man in Madison competition.
Walker has a criminal justice degree from Madison College and would like to become a police officer. As a bartender, he’s met a lot of cops, and he believes the connections he’s made will help him reach his goal.
Walker’s passion for police work dates to his childhood. He saw the good police officers can do.
“One of the most vivid memories from my childhood is a cop telling us that everything was going to be okay, because things weren’t always great in my foster home. I just wanted to be a cop ever since then.”
— Ted Porath
Jae Bock Chung is probably one of the few men in Madison who can both put you in a lot of pain and help relieve it.
Chung, 75, has spent much of his time in Madison running two businesses: the Madison Tae Kwon Do School and the Internal Medicine and Pain Clinic.
His career started in Seoul, South Korea, where he studied Oriental medicine at DongYangMedicalCollege and Tae Kwon Do at the Chung Do Kwon Institute. He then received an invitation from a doctor at UW Hospital to come to Madison.
Since he moved here in 1966, Chung has received numerous honors in both of his careers. He is a ninth-degree black belt and has earned the title Grand Master. He is also the president of the National Tae Kwon Do Association.
“I believe I teach people one of the highest-quality values: I make people leaders,” he says. “I also make people healthier and help them live better lives.”
— Chris Benzine
Meghan Randolph has learned a lot from being a cat. A character in the Broadway smash Cats, that is.
“I hated doing the same show over and over and over,” says Randolph, 30, who was part of the show’s North American tour from 2004-05. “It began to feel like a chore, and that kind of broke my heart.”
But the experience wasn’t all negative. It helped her decide what she did want to do for a career.
“I started to realize I was more interested in creating opportunities for other people than battling thousands of actors for jobs in New York, only to get the job and end up dissatisfied creatively,” she says.
Before long, Randolph packed her bags and moved to Wisconsin, where she founded Music Theatre of Madison, a troupe that aims to present musicals local actors and audiences probably haven’t experienced. Though MTM’s productions can be dark and challenging, Randolph makes a point of finding the humor that lies beneath the surface.
“We love subject matter you wouldn’t immediately think of for a musical because the boundaries for what is acceptable are changing,” Randolph says. “When written and performed well, a great musical can be more than just entertaining. It can motivate people to learn.”
– Jessica Steinhoff
Lenny Gertken lived with his fiancée, Michelle, until three years ago when she died of cirrhosis of the liver. Since then, he sleeps anywhere he can, typically outside around the Capitol Square.
While hawking copies of Street Pulse on a recent cloudy Saturday afternoon on State Street, Gertken, 47, says the past few years have been tough. He would love to have a place to live but says the money he earns selling Street Pulse, a newspaper produced by homeless individuals, is not enough to pay rent.
Gertken’s eyes light up as a man wearing black sunglasses and a Green Bay Packers hat approaches. It’s Dale Bourgeois, a former homeless man who now visits his friend Gertken frequently.
Bourgeois says he found a permanent residence in Middleton through Porchlight, which provides essential resources to homeless people in Madison.
But Gertken has not been so lucky. His thick Carhartt jacket is his best defense against the cold winter nights. He says the shelters in Madison have too many problems with bugs, so he would rather take his chances outside. But that, too, has its problems.
Gertken says he has been approached by intoxicated young adults during the night.
“Get kicked on the foot, you don’t move, and all you here is zip,” Gertken says. “And they pee on you.”
Despite the hardships, Gertken says he is blessed to have his friend Dale, who visits him almost every day.
— Franco LaTona
In college, Camden Hargrove was afraid of being picked on and couldn’t concentrate in class. He was also afraid to answer questions in class for fear that his classmates would hear his voice and realize he was actually a girl.
Hargrove, 23, is transgender. He had a hard time making his own transition and wanted to help others like him. Now a senior, he also is the event and program coordinator at the LGBT Campus Center.
“I love working at the LGBT center because I help make campus a fun and inclusive place for LGBT students,” he says.
Hargrove helps plan the UW-Madison Drag Spectacular, Rainbow Graduation and Queer Prom. He says these events allow people to feel like they belong somewhere, with people who accept them.
— Jessica Chatham
Managing State Street’s late-night pizza joint Pizza di Roma has given Figo Akcay a unique skill: deciphering the slurred orders of drunken college kids.
“I want to make them happy, so when they wake up in the morning they don’t have a stomach ache,” Akcay says.
Akcay emigrated from Turkey 12 years ago and found a job right away making pizza. He had never worked in a restaurant before and didn’t speak much English, but he heard from a friend that Pizza di Roma was hiring.
“It’s like college here. I’d say I learned everything at Pizza Di Roma,” Akcay says.
He says his coworkers are like family. They eat pizza together during breaks and grab drinks with the owner after work. But because bar time is work time, his days sometimes end around 4 a.m.
As the rowdy regular crowd stumbles in, Akcay tries to ensure that things run smoothly. “I see so many customers who are normal during the day time,” he says. “But nighttime they are so funny and dizzy. Sometimes they cut lines and don’t want to wait.”
— Sarah Neubauer
If you happen to stroll into one of downtown Madison’s fancier student housing buildings in the earliest hours of the day, chances are you’ll cross paths with Antoine Smith.
Smith, 23, a student at Madison College, moonlights as the concierge of Lucky Apartments on University Avenue between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. every weeknight.
Despite the building’s proximity to the UW campus and the downtown bar scene, things usually remain pretty quiet under Smith’s watch.
“It’s always boring,” he says. “Sometimes on Thursdays when I work, someone will throw up and I have to clean it, but nothing crazy.”
Smith hopes to eventually transfer to the UW to study kinesiology and become a personal trainer. Outside of work and class — and when he’s not sleeping during the day — he’s an avid exerciser.
Occasionally, he says, a homeless person will walk inside to warm up in the foyer. Usually he’ll give them a cup of hot chocolate.
“It’s cold out, so I usually let them warm up for like five, 10 minutes, and then they usually just leave,” he says. “It’s not too bad.”
— Elliot Hughes
When the weather gets nice, Madison residents may come across Eddie the Italian sitting outside of State Street Brats, cracking jokes to those who pass by. Eddie is about three feet tall with bulging green eyes, a large nose and rosy cheeks.
Eddie is one of the many puppets brought to life by ventriloquist Neil Skinner. For Skinner, ventriloquism has been a life-long passion.
“I saw the Johnny Carson show when I was really little, and I actually thought the puppet was real,” says Skinner “I was so taken in by it. I just had to have a puppet.”
Skinner got that puppet in kindergarten. He grew up and went to the Fred Maher School of Ventriloquism in Littleton, Colo.
For Skinner, the best part of being a ventriloquist is making people happy.
“I do a lot of slapstick, maybe a one-liner or a joke,” he says. “Even if they don’t participate, they always smile as they walk by.”
— Jenny Ingish
Leah Kolb began working part-time as a curatorial assistant at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art while pursuing her master’s degree at the UW. Soon she was promoted to associate curator.
“It’s a really small organization, and so everyone in the office works really closely together,” says Kolb, 29, who was born and raised in Madison. “And everyone is just so amazingly nice and hardworking. I can’t imagine working for another organization.”
As an associate curator, Kolb conducts research, organizes exhibitions, contacts artists and lenders, and writes exhibition narratives and press releases.
“Modern and contemporary art can be really challenging,” she says, “but I think because of the intellectual curiosity that kind of defines Madison, it’s a much more receptive community to this kind of artwork.”
— Mollie Olsem
According to Dr. Louis Heitke, it’s not the same at all. Heitke, 60, began his practice in Mount Horeb, opting for the kind of small-town atmosphere he knew from his childhood in Portage. But patients he met at a part-time gig at the downtown MATC didn’t want to drive all the way out to the country. So he moved his practice here in the 1980s, finally settling into a cozy building at 122 E. Johnson St.
Heitke loves getting to know the Madisonians who pass through this building. He develops personal relationships with patients and their kids, and even their kids’ kids. “The clientele is intelligent,” he says, “and into things that are very interesting. They’re eclectic in terms of the range of their opinions. There’s a liberal tilt, of course, but there are also scattered conservatives.”
Heitke strikes you as the kind of dentist who would take pleasure in this eclectic crew, no matter what their views. He has a sense of humor and a curiosity about people that goes well beyond the usual doctor/patient small talk.
Why did Heitke choose to be a dentist in the first place? The inspiration came from his father-in-law, a dentist in Lancaster who seemed happy with his life. “He said there was nothing he’d rather do than be a dentist. It was odd for me, at that time, to find somebody who was contented.”
— Dean Robbins
As this year’s unusually cold and snowy winter extended into spring, at least one Madisonian didn’t mind. Carrie Riddle, 48, drives a plow for the city’s streets department and is as cheerful as can be about the recent snow flurries.
“I need the snow and this overtime to survive the year,” she says. “Because [otherwise] I will be out with the homeless that I help every night.”
Riddle, who grew up in Madison, has been a city snowplow driver for 14 years. She got her start by enrolling in a program through Madison Area Technical College that aimed to get women into jobs traditionally reserved for men.
“I don’t make nearly as much as I would in the private sector,” she says. But, she adds, “The fact that I wouldn’t get laid off was key for me because of my children. Plus, I get to work outside.”
Riddle says that no two days are the same when she’s out on the streets. “The tricky part in this town is the way people park,” she says. “It really is.”
Her strangest workplace stories include sliding backwards down a hill onto East Washington Avenue during rush hour and being attacked by someone with a snow blower after plowing the person’s driveway.
“It gets pretty interesting,” she says with a laugh.
— Ryan Hill
When Peter Boettcher graduates from UW-Madison this fall, he will have a degree in geological engineering. But he is as proud of another achievement: creating the Nic Cage Fan Club of Madison, of America, now a registered student organization.
“We thought that we could… share with everyone else our love for Nic Cage and hope that other people would jump on board and realize how great he is,” says Boettcher, who has now seen 60 of Cage’s 73 movies.
Boettcher says he became aware of Cage’s acting skills after watching the film Face/Off starring Cage and John Travolta. From there, the Wisconsin Rapids native began to seek out more of the actor’s films.
“I feel like he puts way more into his acting performances than other actors do,” Boettcher says.
— Spencer Smith
Amid flickering neon lights and the bings of gambling machines at Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison, executive manager Dave Abangan seems cool and collected. A member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, Abangan is still adjusting to this position, which he took in December.
“I like the challenge and learning new things,” he says. “I was in marketing before, and now I’m looking at the entire operation.”
The casino hosts about 8,500 daily visitors. Abangan also oversees about 300 employees. A big part of managing people is being responsible for workplace morale and environment, he says.
“I want to try and make things as fun for our employees as possible.”
Abangan, 42, studied digital media and journalism at UW-Whitewater and worked for the Ho-Chunk nation as the editor of the tribal paper. He moved to Madison about 13 years ago to work at the casino.
When he’s not at work, Abangan likes to spend time with his 14-month-old daughter. He runs a 5K about once a month and is also a cyclist. Abangan and the casino will take part in Madison’s Tour de Cure, a bike ride fundraiser for diabetes, a cause that’s close to his heart.
“The American Diabetes Association is an important organization for us to support since [diabetes] affects so many tribal members, so many Ho-Chunk people,” says Abangan. “My father was affected by that, so there’s a personal reason why I’m involved as well.”
— Nora G. Hertel
While the rest of the city is fast asleep in the early hours of the morning, Kristina Stanley of the Baker’s Window has already begun her workday.
Stanley, 29, arrives hours in advance of the 7 a.m. opening time to begin preparing fresh products for her customers. “It’s one of my favorite parts about the job,” she says. “The drive or the bike ride to work is really peaceful. I can just come in and crank the music really loud, not have to worry about customers yet. I really get in the zone.”
Stanley finds inspiration for her recipes from the generations of bakers who have come before her, but also likes to also make each recipe her own. One such recipe is her signature scone.
“Scones are like my babies,” she says. “I’ll find that I go to other places and have their scones, and they aren’t quite how I want them to be. They are one of those things that are really easy to make, but also really easy to mess up.”
— Nick Daniels
As a sports reporter for FOX Sports Wisconsin, Jesse Temple pretty much gets to call his own shots.
“Nobody really sends me [on assignments]. I say ‘Hey, this is what I’d like to do,’” says Temple, 28. “It’s kind of fun to explore new towns.”
Temple moved to Wisconsin just 18 months ago.
“I didn’t know anything about Madison when I got here,” he says. “But people love Badgers’ sports, so if that’s what you do for a living, it’s nice that people are really passionate about what you cover.”
He’s hoping this isn’t his last stop, however. He wants Madison to be a journalism stepping-stone for something greater.
“My goal, since I started, has been to figure a way to become a national writer,” he says. “So I’m still waiting and hoping that happens.”
Until then, though, he’ll keep enjoying what he has in Madison. “The one thing that I can honestly say is I totally love this job, and I know that a lot of people can’t say that.”
— Sean Zak
Nevin Franke grew up rockhounding out West and cut his first rock when he was only 7 years old. His father, Burnie, started Burnie’s Rock Shop in 1962, the year Franke was born.
He met his wife, Sonali, at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, and the two have been running Burnie’s for the past nine years. Burnie is turning 90 this year and remains involved at the shop.
“It’s always been a family business, so everybody who’s worked here has been just like family,” says Franke. “Most of the people who work here, we’d be more than happy to spend our spare time with.”
— Kate Northey