Madison’s voices of resilience

Everything we love about this city has been affected by this virus.
Ray Mawst painting a mural that says "This Too Shall Pass"
Photo by Patrick Stutz

We are townies, transplants, immigrants, farmers, scientists, public servants, entrepreneurs, day care providers, doctors and cooks. We live in apartments and condominiums, homes small and large, in Sun Prairie, Dane, Verona and McFarland. But together we are the faces of Madison, and despite all our flaws, it’s a special place to be. Remarkably, collectively we are today the people around whom John Nolen planned a model city in 1910, and the character of our population remains “somewhat unusual,” with “traditions … in civic matters that are of value to the New World.” And it is indeed a new world, and we are drawing on that reservoir of “high civic spirit” to survive a global pandemic that is challenging every city.

How are we doing? How is Madison doing? It’s a legitimate question to ask when our ability to survive and recover from a frighteningly infectious disease is so dependent on how we function as “a large human settlement,” which is one way to describe a city. It’s a question the entire team here at Madison Magazine asked when we recognized the June issue would not be the issue we planned at the beginning of the year.

Everything we love about this city has been affected by this virus. At the same time every challenge with which we were struggling to be an even better Madison is now viewed through a very different lens. We’ve had to rethink our orientation to the places, the assets and the amenities that we so value; walks and bike rides, markets and restaurants, galleries and shops, and most of all the gatherings. Several years ago a study of Madison found convening to be one of our marketable strengths. Madison is a place to come together. We love gatherings and we’re good at them. And now we measure the success of our collective response to a pandemic in empty streets, deserted terraces and public spaces gone silent.

Likewise our fledgling but unstoppable efforts to be a more fair, just and inclusive city go on with the recognition that COVID-19’s impacts on the population of Madison, as elsewhere, are as disparate as our schools, our incomes and our access to the means of response and recovery. How is Madison living through a pandemic? For the most part we are staying smart and apart. We’re plumbing our reserves of creativity, resourcefulness, patience and good humor. Most of all we’re looking for ways large and small to help each other.

That’s the “high civic spirit” Nolan so valued. That spirit is found in a wealth of leaders, heroes and everyday citizens doing extraordinary things. You’re going to hear from some of them in the pages that follow. While wonderful examples of resilience, wisdom, determination and dedication, they are but a sample of the many people of Madison who have stepped up. We could have asked many dozens more to share their stories. But as individuals, the voices we chose represent the arts, business, health care and public safety professionals — civic leaders and community activists with a sense of mission and purpose — in our midst. Collectively they are the heart of a community in which we find strength and hope.

I have long been enamored of the concept of sister cities. I find them inviting and stimulating. It occurs to me, as we find our way through the first true global pandemic of a 21st-century technological world, that every city on the globe is now a sister city in ways we could scarcely imagine. I have a deep connection to cities. It’ll be interesting to see how our view of them changes by what we have experienced. Some luster has been lost in the tension between density and safe distance. More likely, this too shall pass. And we will reflect on Madison managing in ways many cities couldn’t, responding in ways many cities didn’t and emerging in better shape than other cities will. We’re Madison. Here’s how we did it. –Neil Heinen

A frontline caregiver stays the course
By Dr. Amanda Preimesberger

Dr. Amanda Preimesberger (right) with her husband, Casey Preimesberger

Photo by Errin Hiltbrand

Photo by Errin Hiltbrand

Life was hectic before COVID-19 for Dr. Amanda Preimesberger, her firefighter husband and their four kids. But Preimesberger’s objective as a family physician has remained the same — beating fate at its own game. Click here to read more.

A leader answers the call
By Joe Parisi

Joe Parisi standing in front of a building

Photo by Sharon Vanorny

Action, encouragement, compassion and trust are only a few of the hallmarks of effective leadership. And Dane County Executive Joe Parisi says during a time of crisis, it requires all of the above. Click here to read more.

An artist exposes art’s value
By Jenie Gao

Jenie Gao in front of art

Photo by Latasia Dhami

This shutdown could result in a ‘local, cultural renaissance,’ says Jenie Gao, but basic needs for a side-stepped sector need to come first. Click here to read more.

A nonprofit founder envisions a new path
By Lisa Peyton-Caire

Lisa Peyton Caire in front of a sign

Photo courtesy of Lisa-Peyton-Caire

The shift from crisis to recovery could present an opportunity to disrupt disparities. Click here to read more.

An editor fights for local journalism
By Judith Davidoff

Judith Davidoff in front of a red background

Photo by Carolyn Fath

The tough decision to shutter Isthmus sparked a rallying cry to save the alt-weekly. Click here to read more.

While the world shelters in place, these individuals are problem-solving, raising money, community-building and in some cases risking their lives to provide essential services and relief.

Sagashus Levingston
Ph.D., single mother of six children and founder and CEO of Infamous MothersSagashus Levingston
What has it been like navigating this pandemic as a mother?
Prior to the pandemic, I was homeschooling four of my children and running my online company. In those regards, COVID-19 didn’t affect our family much. What it did affect was our ability to connect with people outside of our homes. I have elderly parents that my children cannot see or touch right now. They live in Chicago. My dad has dementia and my mom depends on us to help her with him. But because we are strict followers of social distancing, being there isn’t an option. Another challenge we face as a family is one of my children is confined to Chicago with my parents. He was there on a weekend visit before COVID-19 hit. And as a result of it, has been forced to stay there because his sister — my daughter — is immunocompromised. She has Crohn’s disease, and we couldn’t take any risk. In a way, this pandemic has made me feel like I’ve had to choose between my children. I know they don’t see it that way, and I shouldn’t see it that way, but sometimes, that’s what it feels like. Finally, my children are very active and deeply connected to their friends. Those bonds are so important to them. And I see some of my six children struggling without hugging and engaging their friends in sports.

Francesco Mangano
Chef and owner of Osteria Papavero
Did you ever imagine you’d be plating your beautiful Italian dinners in to-go containers?
The situation was not something that anyone could have predicted or foreseen, but it’s also true that my grandparents — on both sides of my Italian family — got to cook, live and work through World War II, so I guess they might have experienced something probably more traumatic than this. The situation is obviously odd, especially when it comes to putting all the carefully daily-prepped food in a paper box, but at the end of the day the food we’re making today for our customers is the same food we were making a month ago. The most difficult part has been the lack of support and/or outright unwillingness to help coming from the government, the financial institutions and the insurance companies. They’re the very institutions that should be caring about a restaurant staying in business. I’m motivated by the fact that we built a well-loved neighborhood restaurant over the years, and so many people support us and want to see us come through this still operating, whenever that might be. And I’m motivated by the fact that I have employees who are patiently waiting to resume work ASAP. There’s always a silver lining on the horizon.

Fabiola Hamdan
Supervisor for the Dane County Immigration Affairs Office
What assistance have you been asked to provide by the Madison-area immigrant community, and how have you been able to help?
[Among several other needs], the Immigration Affairs office of Dane County, or DCIA, is collaborating with the Latino Consortium for Action, or LCA, to aid undocumented Dane County individuals, families, and small business owners — who are not eligible for public benefits — through the Emergency Relief Fund for COVID-19. To date, the LCA has received more than 2,000 applicants. DCIA continues to work closely with the Immigration Enforcement Response Team in cases of emergency during this Safer at Home order. The response team is working with local law enforcement to clarify misinformation. The hope is to bring some peace of mind to folks fearful of leaving their homes during this time.

Michael Johnson
President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County
In your efforts to serve your community throughout this crisis, how important has it been to remain positive?
I always try to stay positive, but this pandemic challenged my spirit, challenged our region and challenged our country. Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” I keep a positive spirit by living up to that quote and by helping to raise millions of dollars to help those impacted by COVID-19, I tried to stay positive by partnering with others to provide thousands of meals to kids and their families. I’ve tried to stay positive by working with donors to lend a helping hand to those in need while placing smiles on people’s faces during these challenging times.

Ayzia Folstrom
Fourth grade teacher at Our Lady Queen of Peace School
What has this experience been like for you these past few weeks?
As a teacher who never even considered online teaching, I know now how much I appreciate my time spent with students. There are always days that feel long and frustrating, but as I reflect on my years teaching, I wish I’d never taken a day, a hug or a “good morning” for granted.

Sarah Gray
News director of News 3 Now
You’ve had to flip your office upside down in order to share vitally important news with the community while also keeping your staff safe. How have you balanced those two efforts?
It’s such a delicate balance. Throughout my time in news, there’s never been a story that continues to change this quickly. With the fire hose of information coming at us, it’s never been more important to sift through the data and the opinions so we can bring our viewers the facts they need to stay safe. But at the same time, I recognize we’re no good when our team isn’t healthy. I think if you asked a newsroom two months ago if it was possible to do our jobs from home, we all would have laughed at you. But here we are, anchoring shows, writing newscasts, writing web stories, even reporting, completely from home. The sheer amount of technological innovation and MacGyvering we’ve seen in newsrooms across the country over the past month is incredible. It’s not easy. It takes more time, more energy, more communication. But our team has risen to each challenge. Our goal right now is to stay healthy enough to continue to do our jobs to the best of our ability.

Tim Metcalfe
President and co-owner of Metcalfe’s MarketTim Metcalfe in his store with cleaning supplies
You’ve been at the front doors of your grocery store counting guests and sanitizing surfaces. What made you decide to join the on-the-ground effort with your employees?
What leaders do and don’t do really matters, especially in a crisis. Uncertainty always moves toward certainty, and the only way to really know what’s happening is to be in the trenches. There are so many things that all have to work in unison perfectly to make a grocery store work … what I’m so proud of is just the professionalism of every member of our team, and the pride they all had in being here for the community. Serving with this group right now is one of the proudest moments of my life.

Jill Statz
Fifth grade math and science teacher at Waunakee Intermediate School
Would you say you were prepared for something like this?
I don’t think any of us were truly prepared. I am thankful that our district worked quickly and effectively with our families to ensure each student was equipped with a Chromebook prior to March 30. I think we (teachers, students and families) are all doing the best that we can. … There are so many great learning opportunities out there for kids to learn through technology, but there is no replacement for the positive interactions that take place between the students and myself while we are in the classroom. That interaction is truly why I teach!

Angela Trudell Vasquez
Madison poet laureateAngela Trudell Vasquez
In what ways do you think poetry can help those dealing with stress, pain and heartache right now?
Poetry and writing are integral to my daily living practice. I come to the page in joy, in grief, when I want to know what I am thinking or feeling. It is a muscle I flex daily, a full immersion. Whether I am cooking while listening to a poetry podcast or a virtual reading on my laptop with the camera off, I am always a poet. And I have work to do even during a pandemic as the Madison Poet Laureate. Glorious work with the Bus Lines Poetry contest, and the Poem a Day project in partnership with the library that I have curated. Art speaks across the ages. I find poetry, music, yoga, dance and being out in nature to be healing. On April 4 I hosted a virtual reading for national poetry month. There were eight of us all from Wisconsin, and 120 people tuned in! That’s community — that’s love.

Carrie Hemming
Police officer of 25 years, licensed paramedic, firefighter and registered nurseCarrie Hemming standing in front of an american flag
Did you ever imagine you would be doing what you’re doing right now as a member of the COVID-19 Task Force?
I was asked to join the COVID-19 Task Force for the Madison Police Department because of my medical and hazmat knowledge. I am part of an amazing team of people with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise who have come together to allow local officers to stay as healthy as possible while continuing to provide vital services to Madison’s residents and visitors. I never imagined I would be using my nursing license for this and working as a nurse for Madison Police. I guess it’s about being in the right place at the right time with people who are determined to continue doing what we do: Protect the public, no matter what.

Tim Bruer
Founder and executive director of Energy Services Inc.
Your company has connected with more than 20,000 households and will have provided $7 million in emergency assistance grants to those most at risk of needing heat and electricity during this crisis. What has inspired you to keep doing the work you’re doing?
I was brought up as a young child with a tremendous sense of responsibility to give back to the community. This is especially true of those less fortunate. My grandfather always told me you never want to leave this world being thought of as a tourist. Giving back was something instilled in all of us. There is not a day that goes by that we do not see on a large scale the impact of our organization’s efforts. This is particularly true of those with the highest risk who are simply victims of poverty. For them, having heat or keeping the power on — basic necessities — have become an unaffordable luxury. On a personal level, to be able to have such a tremendous impact on their quality of life and keep them safely in their homes is so fulfilling and motivating. Without question, watching the development and impact of this organization’s dedicated board and staff is also incredibly rewarding.

Jordan Rouse
Delivery driver for EatStreet since 2016
What has been the most eye-opening experience in your job during this crisis?
Being on the Beltline or West Johnson Street at 5:30 p.m. on a weekday and having there be no traffic. That, and being at different restaurants and seeing them all wear masks and gloves, and calling out orders — it definitely has the vibe of the restaurant staff being surgeons in an operating room. I’ve also experienced a ton of kindness. People are super grateful that we’re able to continue delivering, and they let me know in the delivery notes or when I text them to let them know their order has been delivered.

Robert Pierce
Farmer, market director of the South Madison Farmers’ Market and executive director of Neighborhood Food SolutionsRobert Pierce at the market
How would you describe the importance of locally grown food that’s accessible to all, especially during a pandemic?
Good food — it’s the most important thing. Right now, real food, healthy food is what people need to get through this. The organic farmers and the farmers who are doing fresh markets are just as important of a job for us right now. … This is not a time to gauge, this is a time to help. The prices should be fair enough for everybody. [Don’t] just try to make money because you can’t do what you usually do. That’s not right.

Ray Mawst

Ray Mawst painting a mural that says "This Too Shall Pass"

Photo by Patrick Stutz

What inspired you to create the “This Too Shall Pass” mural?
I was inspired to create this mural as a response to the fear and uncertainty that COVID-19 has thrust upon us all. Realizing that this virus was going to impact our lives in such a monumental way, I wanted to create a piece of large-scale artwork that could bring on a sense of comfort to the viewer. I initially was going to paint the phrase, “It won’t be like this forever,” but after talking to my studio mate, Brian Kehoe, who helped paint the wall, we decided to choose a more succinct phrase that still got to the point: This Too Shall Pass. Last year, we had the opportunity to paint a mural on Monona Drive as part of the Momentum Urban Arts Fest. So, when I had the idea of painting this message on a large wall, I reached out to James Gubbins from Momentum Art Tech based in Monona. I told him about my plan to paint an uplifting, colorful and positive message to try to spread some optimism during these dark times, and he was excited to help me get on a wall. For the time being, this mural is up at 4509 Monona Drive. Driving around town, the streets are more desolate than ever and there seems to be a dark cloud hovering above us all. My hope is that this colorful mural will cut through the dark and brighten the day of whoever views it.