Thursday, October 10, 2019

New Officers for 2019-2020

Left to right:  Ruth Wood, Bonnie Jones-Witthuhn, Gail Possley, Tom Possley, Patty Hulne, and Don Leake
The October meeting of the River Falls Area Retired Educators' Association began the terms for our new officers.

Gail Possley is the unit's new president.  Gail has been a member of WREA since 2008 and a members of RFAreaREA since 2014 after moving from the Wisconsin Rapids area to Baldwin.  She received her undergraduate in speech therapy at UW-Stevens Point, later received a Master's degree from UWSP, and also earned certification as a reading specialist.  She began her teaching career in Johnsburg, Illinois. She spent most of her career as a speech therapist and a reading specialist in the Pittsville School District.  Gail has previously served as our unit's secretary.

Bonnie Jones-Witthuhn assumes the vice president's role.  Bonnie taught English for 15 years at Prescott High School, her third career!  She spent 20 years before that as a United Church of Christ pastor. She began her professional life as a social worker.  Bonnie is now involved in a number of community activities.  She was the moving force behind and serves as the board chair of Among Friends--a social respite program for individuals with dementia and their caregivers.  That led her to a position on the Pierce County Human Services Board and to an appointment on the state of Wisconsin Department of Health advisory committee on aging.  She also serves as the pastoral care minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church in River Falls.

Tom Possley continues his service to our unit by assuming a new role as treasurer and retaining his position as legislative representative locally and statewide in WREA.  He also has a special connection to our new president (Gail is his wife!).  Tom was a longtime resident of Wisconsin Rapids and a business education teachers in the Pittsville School District. He and Gail were members of the Wisconsin Rapids WREA unit before moving to Baldwin and joining our local unit in 2014.

Patty Hulne assumes her new duties as secretary.  Patty has been a member of RFAreaREA since 2015.  Patty and her husband Roger (our president for the past three years) are natives of North Dakota.  They moved to Wisconsin 28 years ago, first to Shell Lake where Roger spent 9 years as superintendent of schools there and then to Prescott, where he was superintendent for 13 years.  Patty spent many years running the household and raising their six children.  She ran a licensed daycare in her home for 15 years. She then worked at Brown College in Mendota Heights in a variety of roles--as a student account representative, a default manager, and as a corporate employee for Brown.  Patty has an associate's degree in accounting from WITC in Rice Lake.  She and Roger are also the proud grandparents of four grandchildren.

Ruth Wood will be one of our unit's programming co-chairs.  Ruth retired from UW-River Falls, where she was a professor English Education and literature.  In that position, she taught English Education techniques and composition theory and also supervised student teachers in both Wisconsin and Minnesota school districts.  She also taught course in international literature, American literature, and composition.  Ruth got her Master's degree at Bowling Green University and taught high school English in Robbinsdale for many years before entering the Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota.  Ruth now serves on the Pierce County Board and on several county committees, including health, aging, and WestCAP. Ruth has previously served as our unit's vice president and programming chair.

Don Leake will also serve as programming co-chair.  Don retired from UW-River Falls, where he taught in the Math Department for many years.  A native of Missouri, Don earned his BS and MS from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and DSc from Washington University.  Don met his wife Ann as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Congo.  He and Ann then re-upped with the Peace Corps, spending a year in Sierra Leone in 2016-17.  They returned to River Falls for a year and then were off to Morocco during 2018-2019 where Ann taught English and Don enjoyed exploring the country and culture.

Laura Zlogar and Marylin Plansky will lead membership initiatives.  If you would like to join them in this endeavor, please contact them.  We need to make sure that retired teachers, support staff, and administrators know who we are and what we are about.  We especially need to make some inroads in area school districts to increase membership from our public schools.  Contact or if you would like to help with ideas, writing letters or postcards, making phone calls, or coming up with new ideas to get our message out.

Monday, July 15, 2019

June Welcome to Summer

It has become a tradition at River Falls Area REA to kick off the summer with a little celebration at our June meeting.  This year programming chair Larry Harred arranged for our group to gather at Swinging Bridge Brewery in downtown River Falls, a relatively new microbrewery with a great selection of beers and appetizers.

Roger Hulne holds a check facsimile presented to our unit at the District III meeting in May.  The more than $54,000 amount on the check represents the dollar value of all the hours our members have contributed through volunteering in a variety of venues:  4H, public libraries, public schools, nonprofit organizations, and other activities. WREA units across the state devote significant time and effort to make the lives of people in Wisconsin better.  The service of our members didn't end with their retirement as teachers, support staff, or administrators.  We continue to make a difference in our state.

Larry Harred, Jeanette Potts, and Glenn Potts enjoy conversation and the ambiance of the Swinging Bridge Brewery.
Ruth Wood, Marylin Plansky, Kathleen Drecktrah, and Karen Brohaugh chat before they part ways for the summer.

Member Anne B. Anderson Obituary

Longtime River Falls Area Retired Educators' Association member Anne B. Anderson passed away May 13, 2019 at age 92.

While Anne has not attended meetings for the past several years, she has been a reliable member, keeping up her local and state dues and contributing to our scholarship fund regularly.

The River Falls Journal reports that Anne was born in Minneapolis and grew up there as well as Bemidji and Waseca.  After marrying Phil Anderson in 1944, the couple moved to River Falls where Anne completed a Bachelor's degree (and later a Master's) at UW-River Falls.  She taught in the River Falls School District from the early 1960s until her retirement.

Upon her retirement, Anne enjoyed travel, bridge, music, politics, and her grandchildren.  She is survived by her three children, five grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

June 2019 Newsletter

From Board of Directors:  Does RFArea Retired Educators’ Association Continue or Should We Disband?

RFAREA Members:

We have a big decision to make.  

The good news is that we have volunteers for officer positions for next year.  But we have not yet elected officers because, at the time of the May meeting, our nominating committee had not found enough volunteers to fill these positions.  As a result, the board and members attending the May meeting discussed the possibility of dissolving our local WREA unit, RFArea Retired Educators’ Association. Thus, it seems that our group needs to decide what RFArea’s future will look like.

Volunteers for officer positions include Gail Possley for president, Bonnie Jones-Witthuhn for vice president, and Tom Possley for both treasurer and legislative chair.  Patty Hulne has agreed to serve as secretary if no one else comes forward. Laura Zlogar is willing to continue as newsletter editor. Larry Harred, Ruth Wood, and Don Leake might be willing to do some work on programming.  Tony Pedriana will continue to coordinate scholarships. We thank them all.

We can vote on officers at our September meeting.  But we still need volunteers for a number of jobs, including the membership committee and program committee.

We also need to discuss whether there are solutions to our organization’s ongoing problems: 1) the same people, again and again, do most of the organization’s work, and it is hard to fill officer positions; 2) though we have 40 or so members, usually fewer than half that many attend our meetings; 3) we have difficulty attracting new members.

Next September’s meeting will be the last one at which the current officers will serve.  That meeting will give us an opportunity to discuss our fate, vote on new officers if we decide to remain active, or discuss what to do with the money in the treasury if we decide to disband.

Right now, however, we need to know what the membership thinks about this issue.  We have a social meeting on June 13 at 3:30 PM at the Swinging Bridge Brewery in River Falls, and perhaps we can discuss the issue informally then.  But please give this matter some serious thought so that you can offer your input at the September meeting, volunteer to give some of your time to RFAREA, or share your thoughts with a member of the board before next fall.

We want this to be a decision that involves all of us.


President’s Corner— Looking Back and Ahead

By Roger Hulne

The September Meeting will be my last as RFAreaREA President.  I have enjoyed my three years as President.  Bernie asked me to serve as President after my first year of retirement. I am glad I said yes.  I have met many wonderful people and made friendships while we worked together.  I am pleased we have provided scholarships to deserving students, supported the backpack program and the area food shelf, provided WRS informational sessions, and supported education while ensuring our WRS pension remains secure.

I want to recognize Laura Zlogar who has been the backbone of our organization as Treasurer, Membership Chair as well as putting together our newsletter.  A special thanks goes out to Gail Possley for serving as Secretary and volunteering to help wherever needed. Thanks for Jane Harred by serving as Vice President and taking over for me while I was gone in May.  Larry Harred has done a wonderful job with our interesting programs.  Tony Pedriana has always followed through with our scholarship program.  Special thanks for Bernie Brohaugh and Marylin Plansky for their hours of work on the board and helping whenever needed.  I am sure I have missed some people and want to thank all who have made our organization work.

I will continue to be active in RFAreaREA as Past President.  I applaud and support our new slate of officers to be approved in September: Gail Possley President, Bonnie Jones Withuhn Vice President, Tom Possley Treasurer, Patricia Hulne Secretary, and Larry Harred, Don Leake, and Ruth Wood programming committee.  We need the involvement of all of our members to be successful; the future of our organization depends on it.  

RFAreaREA-Sponsored WRS Presentation a Success


Vice President Jane Harred addresses
attendees at the May retirement meeting.
On May 8, at the River Falls High School library, RFAREA hosted an informational seminar on preparing for retirement.  Earl Jewett, WREA member and retiree from the Fond du Lac public schools, gave some 50 attendees help in understanding the Wisconsin Retirement System and the process of retiring.

After the presentation, many attendees stopped to say that they found it extremely useful and to express appreciation for our efforts in sponsoring it.

We had a lot of help making the event successful.  Thanks to Roger Hulne and Jane Harred for organizing it; to Laura Zlogar and Roger for publicizing the event; to Bonnie Jones-Witthuhn, Ruth Wood, Tom Possley, Karen Brohaugh, and Marylin Plansky for providing refreshments; to Bernie and Karen Brohaugh for accepting and cataloguing pre-registrations; to Bonnie, Tom, Marylin, Bernie, Laura, Jane, and Larry Harred for helping at the event; and to Jeanette Potts, Kathleen Drecktrah, and Ruth Wood for volunteering to provide a little extra help if needed.

Annual Scholarships Awarded

Our scholarship committee has chosen the recipients of the two $500 scholarships that RFAREA gives annually to area high school students.  Sara Nagel worked as a volunteer mentor to younger students.  She was a Student Council representative, a member of the National Honor Society, and ran Cross Country.
Elizabeth Wacker was active in Forensics, tutored younger students, and was a member of the Power Lifting Team.  She, too, was a member of the National Honor Society.  Both recipients are from New Richmond, and both had extensive experience as community volunteers.  Tom Possley made the presentations to Sara and Elizabeth at New Richmond High School’s award ceremony.

Tony Pedriana, chair of the scholarship committee, and volunteers Cheryl Maplethorpe, Glenn Potts, and Jane Harred selected the recipients from among some 25 applicants.  In reviewing the applications, Tony and the others considered the responses applicants made to questions regarding their chosen academic fields, likely careers, and leadership abilities as well as their GPAs and AP courses.  
A couple years ago, we opted for a “Bakeless Bake Sale” rather than a literal bake sale to support our scholarship program.  Each year RFArea REA invites high schools seniors in our district to apply for two $500 academic scholarships.  Districts are divided into two groups, making students in those districts eligible every other year.

Tony Pedriana chairs our Scholarship Committee and has been working with this year’s eligible schools to encourage students to apply.  The committee will be reading applications and awarding scholarships during April.

With the snowstorm in April, our scholarship campaign got a little derailed.  But you can still contribute to our scholarship fund since scholarships are not actually distributed until next January. Please be generous and send your contributions to the scholarship fund to RFArea REA at 729 River Ridge Ct, River Falls, WI 54022.

RFArea REA Donates to the River Falls Food Pantry

The RFAreaREA Board agreed that we would collect money and/or food contributions for the local Food Pantry at our May meeting.  As we have mentioned before, Pierce County has a significant number of residents who face food insecurity each month.  Our Education Outreach activity this year, contribution to the Food Backpack Program, addressed some of this need.  We would now like to do more and to contribute to the local food bank.

You can still contribute to this endeavor.  With the school year coming to an end, many children will be missing the meals and weekend backpacks.  Food insecurity in our community is very real, and the food pantry fills a serious need. You have time to send your contribution to RFAreaREA at 729 River Ridge Ct, River Falls 54022.  Make sure to designate the food pantry on your check—and do it soon!

WREA District III Spring Meeting

By Tom Possley

The District III meeting was held on Thursday, May 9 at Greenwood Hills Golf Course in Wausau.  I represented  our unit at the meeting. Lynne Kagelmann, District III Director, was presiding.

Executive Director Diane Wilcenski reported several key facts about WREA:

·       WREA members had over $7 million in volunteer hours.
·       RFAReaREA contributed 2,265 hours, worth $54,360.
·       A big gala is planned for 2026 for the 75th anniversary of WREA.
·       The state’s education budget is presenting major conflicts between the governor and legislature.
·       Our local also earned a $75 voucher to be used toward signing up for the state convention or next year’s district meeting. That was earned for signing up 4 new members.

We then broke into groups to discuss four things: A possible name change for the WREA to get more members, an increase in dues to make up for losses due to membership decreases, how to get new members, and how to strengthen your local.

The Foundation Challenge Award went to a charter school in Marathon that conducted a study in climate change.

The afternoon was devoted to an introduction to the new website for WREA and reports that will be sent to each local about members.

The packets for retirees were delivered to New Richmond. That was the only school in our district that replied to the state WREA as to the number of possible retirees.

Meeting Minutes—April and May

Mother Nature won in April with a nasty snowstorm causing us to cancel our monthly meeting.  Guest speaker and RFAreaREA member Bonnie Jones-Witthuhn rescheduled her presentation to the May meeting.

Before Bonnie’s presentation, the Board met to review the May 8th WRS informational meeting and to discuss the serious matter of RFAreaREA’s continued existence.  While we finally got volunteers to fill the roster of unit officers, we see that we are simply shuffling the same people into different slots. We haven’t solved the problems of other members assuming leadership roles and diminishing numbers of active members.  At the general meeting, all those in attendance agreed to bring the matter to the full membership.

Bonnie Jones-Witthuhn, Director of Among Friends, a local social respite program for those with memory loss and their caregivers, provided an introduction to the program—the only one in all of Pierce County.  Many of RFAreaREA members volunteer at Among Friends—Julie Persico, Kathleen Drecktrah, Jane and Larry Harred, Ruth Wood, and Laura Zlogar.

For those with memory loss, social interaction is crucial.  Research has shown that regular social activities help to slow memory loss.  Among Friends provides meaningful activities for its participants—chair yoga, music, games that promote physical movement, art activities, and others. It might just be a quiet conversation, it might be sanding a birdhouse or polishing horse tackle, it might be planting herbs, or it might be petting a visiting dog.  All help to provide stimulus and memories. 

Just as important is the time that Among Friends affords caregivers to replenish themselves, allowing them an opportunity to have lunch with friends, take a walk, get that dentist appointment or haircut, or any of the small things that often don’t get done given the responsibilities they have to care for their loved ones.

Among Friends is available on Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the First Congregational Church in River Falls.  If you would like to visit, please drop by.  If you would like to volunteer, please contact Bonnie.  You can find information about the program at

Education News

The Joint Finance Committee (12 Republicans, 4 Democrats) approved an K-12 education budget that funds only one-third of the governor’s request of $1.4 billion.  The governor’s plan included sparsity aid for rural districts and a move towards restoring the cuts to public education that Scott Walker and the Republican legislature have implemented over the past decade. The governor requested $600 million for special education. Republicans offered $50 million, an 83% cut from the governor’s proposal.

After 8 years of UW System cuts totaling over $1 billion, Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee rejected the governor’s proposal for the UW System.  Rep. Chris Taylor points out that a new report “puts Wisconsin among the state with the largest decline in higher education spending between 2013 and 2018.  Only Mississippi, West Virginia, and Oklahoma saw larger declines.”  Governor Evers’ proposal of $127 million in new investments was reduced to $45 million—and only for projects that the JFC approves.  Republicans refused to fund a tuition freeze for the fourth consecutive budget. Evers’ plan was to compensate campuses for the lost revenue with $50.4 million in general purpose revenue.  Evers also wanted $45 million over the next two years for student success and attainment and $10 million to create a new nurse educators program to address the state’s nursing shortage. He also proposed an environmental education program at UW-Stevens Point covered by $500,000 in conservation fund dollars.  All of these proposals were rejected. The committee approved $70 million less over the biennium for UW System than Evers proposed, which does not even keep up with the rate of inflation.

A new study finds—not surprisingly—that Wisconsin lags behind other Midwestern states in attracting highly educated workers.  The Wisconsin Policy Forum reports that, based on 2017 data, “20% of Wisconsin natives ages 31 to 40 who moved away from the state were highly educated,” defined as having earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Only 10% of those born elsewhere and moved to the state were highly educated (Channel 3000 31 May 2019).

The skilled worker gap in Wisconsin is the eighth highest in the country while Illinois and Minnesota gained educated workers.

Despite such data, state legislators refuse to invest in education at sufficient levels to narrow this gap and to make our state economy competitive.

Other State News

The budget committee has rejected Governor Evers’ clean water initiatives intended to reduce pollution from farms and industry.  The committee cut $43 million from Evers’ “year of clean drinking water” programs to reduce pollution in state lakes, streams, and drinking water.  In 2018, 101 manure spills were reported across the state, making more than 10 million gallons spilled over the last 12 years.

The budget committee also rejected the governor’s request to create a Natural Resources Science Bureau and to regulate “concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) regulation.”  According to some sources, the latter is a win for the factory farms polluting ground water across the state.

Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin, according to an independent actuarial firm, would lower premiums on the individual health insurance market between 7 and 11 percent.  While Republicans claim covering 82,00 more people would increase insurance prices, the actuarial firm found that 25,000 to 30,000 people would shift from the marketplace to Medicaid if the requirements were moved from 100% to 138% of poverty. 

America’s Health Rankings placed Wisconsin first in the nation in 2018 for excessive drinking, which is defined as either binge drinking (4 or more drinks for women, five or more for men on one occasion in the past 30 days) or chronic drinking (having 8 or more drinks for women, 15 or more for men per week). Consumption of this much alcohol regularly comes at a high price.  A 2012 study estimated that it cost the state more than $6.8 billion--$418 million from vehicle crashes, $649 million from criminal justice, $749 million from health care, $90 million from other costs, and $4.9 from lost productivity (Kyla Calvert Mason, Wisconsin Public Radio 20 May 2019).

Farmers in Wisconsin are facing a tough spring with all the wet weather we have had.  Wisconsin Public Radio reports that only 46% of state’s corn acres have been planted, two weeks behind the five-year average of 82% planted at this point in the season.  May 31 is the federal crop insurance deadline, which means that many of the remaining corn acres won’t be planted at all this year.  Dairy will also be affected since it depends on corn for cattle feed.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that in 2014, Wisconsin had 10,000 farms and that in the past five years we have lost almost a quarter of them.  The pace of farm losses is accelerating, with 302 lost already this year (16 May 2019).

Market Watch Lauds Wisconsin Retirement System

The national publication Market Watch featured the Wisconsin Retirement System in a May 6, 2019 article.  “Wisconsin by the numbers is among the five best funded systems in the country, but what sets it apart even further is just how thoughtful the state has been on paying what has come due, and in laying out policies that plan for the future. In that regard, it’s good as it gets for a state-run public pension system,” says Greg Mennis of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Contrast Wisconsin’s system to that of Illinois, Connecticut, and New Jersey, whose funds will not meet the needs of their retirees due to the states’ failure to make contributions and overly optimistic expected returns.

Market Watch states:  “The assets in Wisconsin’s public pension plan amounted to $104 billion in 2017, leaving it 100% funded, a record it has roughly kept since 2004.  In other words, the current value of the plan’s investments could pay down nearly all of the retirement benefits of its members. This compares with the average funding level of 73 for the year across all states.”

WRS is a bargain for the state. In 2016, it spent 2.13% of the state budget on public pension in comparison to 4.74% contribution rate of other states.  Part of its success is also the shared risk all of us in the system face, a model now being adopted by several other states.

The problem with other public pensions is the state government’s failure to make payments into the pension fund.  Wisconsin has largely avoided that mistake.  However, in 1987, Governor Tommy Thompson raided WRS. It took a decade and a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the state to return the money to the pension fund.

WREA, WRS, and Membership

By Laura Zlogar

Wisconsin Retired Educators’ Association (WREA) is the only organization in the state whose primary focus is safeguarding our pensions as well as standing up for public education and other issues that affect retirees’ quality of life.

Retirees who remember Governor Thompson’s raid of our pension funds are getting to be fewer and fewer. They recall vividly the fears they had about their retirement security. They faced the prospect of a future they were promised being taken from them.

Today’s retirees, if they know anything at all about the crisis of 1987, don’t seem to care much. They assume that all of that danger is ancient history and that someone is surely taking care of our pension funds and that we can plan our vacation trips, maintain our cabins up north, and can be assured that our checks will automatically be deposited into our bank accounts without worry.

But we can no longer assume that things will be as they have always been.  We are seeing on a daily basis that norms, principles, and good faith practices by institutions and individuals are being overturned and ignored at every turn.  Supreme Court decisions, such as Brown vs. the Board of Education, that have been accepted as established law are now on such shaky ground that nominees for lifetime judicial appointments won’t wager an opinion on whether they are open to the legal reestablishment of separate and unequal—“racial apartheid”—education in this country. Truths that we thought the Founding Fathers carved in the stones of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers seem to be nothing more than chimeras disappearing in the political winds.

A 1997 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that returned our money to our pension might not be a guaranteed precedent.  It does not mean that another governor, another state legislature, and another state supreme court can’t reverse course and gut WRS again.

What is to prevent such an event from happening?  Vigilance, plain and simple—the vigilance of thousands of people watching legislators’ actions in Madison.  Our WREA representatives can only do so much, however, and they need the authority gained from the membership as well as active state and local participation of retired members of the WRS pension system.

What can you do? 
1.     Renew your membership both to WREA and to your local unit to show your support of our organization’s purpose and activity.

2.     Contact everyone you know who is a WRS annuitant and urge them to join and participate in both our state organization and local units. 

A local membership chair cannot do all the work herself or himself.  Even a committee can only do so much.  YOU KNOW OTHERS. You worked with them, have coffee with them, belong to their book clubs, see them at church, or at other civic groups.  We all know that personal contacts work best.  We need you to invite the people you know or to contact your district or school to find out who has retired recently and to ask them—perhaps more than once—to attend a meeting.

3.     Talk about WREA and RFAreaREA to your friends and acquaintances.  So many people don’t even know about us, even if they attended our retirement meetings at the high school. Talk to them about the importance of protecting their pensions and the education system to which they devoted their careers.

Too many people seem to be satisfied to let others carry their load, to watch others fight their battles for them, and then to enjoy the bounty and security of others’ efforts.  Belonging to WREA and to our local unit and actively participating in both is your commitment to join the fray, to stand up for what you have earned and committed yourself to over the course of your working life.

Just as important is your willingness to step up and play an active role in the state and local organizations.  This newsletter began with the serious question of whether our local unit will even continue to exist.  If standing up for your pension and for the children, young people, teachers, and administrators in Wisconsin public education is important, raise your hand to assume a committee chair or assignment, to volunteer in local initiatives, and to be counted as someone who didn’t just stand by passively when action was required.

In a unit on the Holocaust I used to teach in a UW-River Falls senior humanities capstone course, one essay seemed to move students so much that several wrote to me years later asking for a copy of it—Cynthia Ozick’s “Of Christian Heroism.”  She describes the categories of people caught up in the horrors of World War II: the victims, the murderers, and the bystanders.  Ozick maintains that we cannot imagine ourselves as members of either of the first two categories, but we may be able to identify with the bystanders, “the ordinary human article,” as she calls them:  “The bystander stays home, safe enough if compliant enough. The bystander cannot be charged with taking part in any evil act; the bystander only watches as the evil proceeds.”

While I am not proposing that we are in a similar situation as described by Ozick, she makes a point about the indifference of bystanders that has stuck with me since I first read this essay: 

Can it be that indifference, ostensibly passive, harbors an unsuspected robustness?  The act of turning toward—with a club—is an act of brutality; but the act of turning away, however empty-handed and harmlessly, remains nevertheless an act.  The whole truth may be that the idea of human passivity is nothing but the illusion of wistful mortals; and that waking into the exigencies of our own time—whichever way we turn, toward or away—implies action.  To be born is to be compelled to act.

It seems like a good time to act in whatever context you feel appropriate.  I hope action in support of WREA and RFAreaREA is part of your plan.