The 25 Most Influential People in Greater Madison
(page 5 of 5)
Bo Ryan: Classy Coach
His Wisconsin basketball teams have qualified for 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments. They have made two “Elite Eights” and six “Sweet 16s.” But until the 2013-14 season, Bo Ryan’s Badgers had never been to a Final Four.
If not for a late three-pointer by Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison, the Badgers’ magical run would have ended with an appearance in the 2014 National Championship game. The Badgers’ season to remember not only made an endless winter more bearable, it also provided a glimpse of more winning to come, as four of five starters and several emerging young backups return next season. What else would you expect from Ryan, who has won 704 games as a college coach?
Perhaps the best testimony to the kind of program Ryan runs came from John Carroll, the high school coach of highly coveted 2015 recruiting prospect Josh Sharma, a 7-foot center from Northfield, Mass. Sharma is reportedly leaning toward UW, even with schools like national champion Connecticut in the running. “The UW staff told him to take his time and compare to make sure he was comfortable with his decision,” Carroll told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, while also noting that the UW staff hit a home run during their recruiting visit.
In this age of high-pressure recruiting tactics, who wouldn’t want their son to play for a program like that?
Paul Soglin: Revitalizer
Paul Soglin is the 57th mayor of Madison. He was also the Capitol City’s 51st and 54th mayor. In between his mayoral stints, local businessmen and women could be overheard saying, “I wish he’d run for mayor again.”
That’s because a more robust period of economic development unfolds whenever he’s in charge. In this, Soglin’s third stint as mayor of Madison, his priorities include growing the city’s tax base with denser, more sustainable projects that are also notable for their design quality. An improved review process for commercial developments, combined with a more accommodating TIF policy and the addition of Steve Cover, an experienced community planner, have local developers eager to work with the city on well-designed buildings.
Development on East Washington Avenue, including a crown jewel known as the Constellation Building, reflects this approach, but recent activity isn’t only about high-end commercial buildings. Soglin has also advanced the development of bike paths, worked to improve “walkability,” and devoted his administration to eliminating gaps in food provision with public markets and food hubs.
Soglin can’t remain mayor forever, but hopefully his would-be successors can study his governing model closely enough to make businesspeople miss him a little bit less.
Kim Sponem: ‘Cents’ Maker
To Kim Sponem, financial literacy rivals the importance of English literacy, and the president and CEO of Summit Credit Union has devoted much of her professional life to making sense of dollars and cents.
Sponem is a cofounder of STAR CU, located inside the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. It’s a hands-on financial learning credit union and the only credit union in the country chartered for children.
During her tenure, Summit spent $100,000 transforming a room near La Follette High School’s main office into a credit union. Why? The credit union wants children and young adults to have access to financial tips and information, and to establish good savings habits early in life. “Far too often,” Sponem said, “this type of information and experience comes after people get into financial trouble.”
Sponem’s concern also extends to college kids, as she is part of the UW School of Human Ecology’s effort to start a Financial Education Center.
She also has small business owners on her mind, advocating for federal legislation that would enable credit unions to increase their small-business lending. The legislation, known as the Small Business Lending Enhancement Act, would raise an existing cap on credit union business lending from 12.25% to 27.5% of total assets.
Rob Verhelst: Fired-Up Fundraiser
Do you still think one person can’t make a difference? Consider that Rob Verhelst, aka Fireman Rob, is a local firefighter, father, husband, motivational speaker, and endurance athlete. He competes in Ironman events all over the country and concludes the third leg of each triathlon in full firefighter gear, all 50 pounds of it, to raise money for his fellow firefighters.
Watching him cross the finish line, having lugged heavy equipment in a grueling event, can be inspiring to anyone who witnesses it. Imagine an event already considered one of the toughest physical tests that people can put themselves through, only to see Verhelst turn it up a notch or two in fire gear.
Verhelst became inspirational after being inspired by the firefighters who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On that day, he finished a shift at his Madison firehouse and headed straight to Ground Zero in New York. There, he worked with the search and recovery effort for eight days.
Eventually, he began racing in Ironman events, and on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, he partnered with Code 3 for a Cure at the Ironman Wisconsin, and that’s when he first completed the marathon portion in his gear. Since then, he has completed nine distance events to raise money and awareness for Code 3, which provides financial assistance to firefighters who are battling cancer.
Scott Walker: Governator
The merit of our 25th and final Most Influential selection, Gov. Scott Walker, depends on your political perspective.
Is Act 10 an act of political courage that addressed the state’s fiscal woes or an abomination that will slowly but surely erode the quality of public education?
Did revamping the Department of Commerce and creating the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. lay the foundation for stronger economic growth or serve as state government’s vehicle for crony capitalism?
Will the controversial ultrasound bill Walker signed into law result in more women choosing life over abortion or set a precedent for elected officials to mandate whatever medical procedures they deem necessary?
Whatever your perspective, there is no doubting Walker’s recent influence over the entire state of Wisconsin, let alone Dane County. But whether his achievements amount to a lasting legacy or a Pyrrhic victory remains to be seen. We’ll know more on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 4, when his supporters are shouting “Four More Years!” or he’s conceding the election to Democrat Mary Burke.
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