A Conversation With Our 2022 Betty Award Winners!

Milwaukee Magazine’s fourth annual Betty Awards, named for our late publisher Betty Quadracci, honor extraordinary women doing great work in Milwaukee. 


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Betty Quadracci

When Betty Quadracci died in 2013, she left behind an indelible legacy. As publisher of Milwaukee Magazine for almost three decades, she was an indefatigable champion of the city. She and her husband, Harry, were community leaders, philanthropists and great supporters of the arts. We launched the Betty Awards in 2019 to honor her memory by recognizing remarkable women continuing her legacy in Milwaukee. 

This year’s honorees exemplify Betty’s tenacious spirit, relentless drive and constant generosity. Their extraordinary achievements cover many fields, from health care to the arts to community activism. Milwaukee Magazine Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Carole Nicksin sat down with the awardees for a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion in September.

Here is an edited version of that conversation:


Meet the Bettys: 

RISKTAKER

Kelsey Kaufmann

Photo by Aliza Baran

BRIDGE-BUILDER

Dominique Samari

Photo by Aliza Baran

STANDOUT SISTER

Dana World-Patterson

Photo by Aliza Baran

ARTS ADVOCATE

Dinorah Márquez

Photo y Aliza Baran

GROUNDBREAKER

Suzan Fete

Photo by Aliza Baran

TENACIOUS B

Renée Anderson

Photo by Aliza Baran

QUADRACCI FAMILY AWARD

Julie Tolan

Photo by Aliza Baran

Bettys Roundtable 2022; Photo by Aliza Baran

Roundtable: 

CAROLE NICKSIN: I would like to start with a question about Betty. Julie, you’re the only person here who actually knew Betty. Can you say a few words about her?

JULIE TOLAN: I was 19 when I met Betty. She was a force. I think that there is no question that Betty made anyone she knew better. For me, [these awards] are such a beautiful representation of her. She was very good to me. In times that were the darkest, I would get a call from her that was short and sweet – “Go get ’em, girl.” I knew that she cared and that she was there fighting in my corner.

CN: Thanks, Julie. I love hearing those stories. OK, let’s jump right in. What does it mean to be a woman in 2022?

SUZAN FETE: I think about it all the time. A lot of difficult things are happening in our society and our politics. As much as it’s a challenging time, I also think it’s a wonderful time of opportunity. We’re talking about things we’ve never talked about before. That there can be people who identify differently, that the idea of gender is changing and that creates opportunities for people.

When [Renaissance Theaterworks] started, oh my God, there were all the [negative] things you always hear. But what’s great is when I see young women coming up now, and they hear those stories, they can’t believe it. “Someone actually said that to you?” And I’m like, “Every day. For years.” When I see that, I have such hope for the future. They don’t doubt themselves like I doubted myself.

KELSEY KAUFMANN: I started playing in bands when I was in middle school, and the gender disparities were immediately very evident. It was a bunch of boys, and then there was me and a couple other folks. 

So when I started organizing shows, I was really conscientious of representation. There are so few spaces that recognize the expansive nature of gender. For me, it’s really important to have spaces where people feel seen and safe and welcomed and affirmed. 

Dana World-Patterson; Photo by Aliza Baran

DANA WORLD-PATTERSON: I think about womanhood every single day. I’ve had the pleasure of serving women and girls for over 30 years. I know that I stand on the shoulders of many. I often think about my mom who was my first influencer to see the world. I have the opportunity to impart that to other women and girls, as I do the work around human trafficking. I’m constantly thinking about how I can do more. Every day, I’m thinking about how to pull my own shoulders back in a space that can be difficult. I’ve been saying this for maybe the past three months: To whom much is given, much is required. 

DOMINIQUE SAMARI: When you mentioned your mother, I was thinking about my mother. She came up in her career during the ’70s and ’80s in a completely male-dominated sector. I remember seeing her on the weekends when she was draped in pure femininity, and then seeing her during the weekday when she put on this armor of maleness: the suit, the shoulder pads. She looked like a different person. The leadership paradigm at that point was so male-dominated. Now I feel like we are starting to shift to a place where women can show up fully as themselves. How we think about leadership is starting to completely shift. The skills around empathy, the skills around inclusion – those are all feminine leadership skills. I feel like we’re starting, as a society, to really lift those up and prioritize those in a new leadership paradigm. I feel really fortunate to be at this time, where I can lean into the gifts that are inherent to me and they’re going to be validated and appreciated.

DINORAH MÁRQUEZ: We can’t forget that there are spaces where that’s not necessarily true. I am also blessed to work with young women, and what I really enjoy is that you begin as their mentor, their teacher, their guide, and then you see that “aha” moment, where they’re like, “This is my birthright.” They’re arriving at that moment much earlier than people my age would have arrived, and it’s really beautiful. I’m very inspired by the younger generations. That’s what makes this moment hopeful for me, even though politically we know we have less rights than we did. 

RENÉE ANDERSON: I started work on my 22nd birthday with 20 people in public accounting: three women and 17 men. I was used to it. I expected nothing different. This is just how I had to behave – shoulder pads and a suit – in order to establish myself as a serious person. I certainly felt it with clients, the men who would not take you seriously. It is powerful to see the younger generation who are so confident. 

CN: Dana, you work to help other women. What inspired your path?

DWP: Working with women and girls around human trafficking has become a love and a joy. When I was asked by the city to chair the Human Trafficking Task Force of Greater Milwaukee, just having the mic gave me amazing strength to stand for those that are vulnerable. 

I was in a meeting last night, and a gentleman called the women “prostitutes.” Immediately something just came up [in me]. I said, “Lift your words.” I said it matters because if you consider someone low, whatever you do comes from the space of lowness. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. 

This space of being a leader is humbling, but every day, you have to put on that armor. And I give myself permission to move in this space. It’s not just for me – it’s for the 23 million women and girls counted worldwide as being sex trafficked. The atrocities against women and girls and throughout the LGBT community are horrific. And I get to stand in that space to say there’s hope.

Bettys Roundtable 2022; Photo by Aliza Baran

CN:  Kelsey, what inspires your work?

KK: I think Dana makes an extraordinary point with permission-giving to yourself and others. At a young age, I was fortunate, through the DIY music scene, to see people take the agency to make the spaces they desire. That was phenomenally empowering and illuminating. To echo what you said – do what you can with the space that you have. 

I think playfulness gets overlooked in these conversations. The world sucks, and we need places to find joy, and that’s what inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing. 

CN:  Suzan, what led you to the theater?

SF:  I was inspired by the idea of telling stories. Stories are what create culture. And they give us a language to discuss anything. Often, in our society and throughout the world, there’s a discrepancy in whose story gets told. And it’s always been important to me to look for, and to tell, the stories that you don’t always get to hear.

CN: Dominique, can you tell us about Kin? What inspired it?

DS: In 2018, I decided to explore how people create a sense of belonging in such a segregated city like Milwaukee. I’m not originally from Milwaukee, so I had struggled with the segregation, and I wanted to know how people are dealing with this.  

I was going to talk to 12 people over the course of 12 months. It turned out that I talked to 72 people over the course of 10 months. I really heard from people, “I want it to be different, but what am I supposed to do?” [Then] the pandemic hit, and I was at home and had more time. I started matching participants. I raised a little bit of money and was able to build Kin. Kin is an online platform. We match [two] people across differences, typically across race. They have five conversations where they deepen their understanding and relationship, and then for the sixth conversation, they co-create a conversation guide with questions they have about race. Kin is my love offering to the city – it’s free, anyone can use it. It’s my best effort at trying to connect folks. 

CN: Julie, let’s talk a bit about your path. You were the director of the YMCA. Now you run your own business with your husband.

JT: The Y came to me because they were going through transition. The Y had been around for over 155 years at that point. I really saw the need to try to help and make it better. I didn’t know the half of it. Nobody hired me and said, “Hey, we’re going to have to go through bankruptcy in about a year.” The organization was really falling in on itself. It had cut its budget to balance its budget for several years. It didn’t re-imagine; it didn’t change. That chapter was enormously traumatic for me. There is a very serious thing that we’re still not honest about in society. Where does courage come from? It’s really women. It’s not that there aren’t wonderful men leading. There are, but wouldn’t we be in a lot better world if more women were leading in bigger, more important, influential roles? There’s no question. But there’s such a resistance to it. And my Y journey, sweet Lord. If I were a man, very different. My career really was damaged from that time. If I was a man, I would have been a hero. “He saved the Y.”

My whole thing is courage, a little bit of truth to power. The dirty secret is that women are the ones who are good at that, in a way that we desperately need more of.

Milwaukee Magazine’s 2022 Bettys; Photo by Aliza Baran

CN: Dinorah, can you talk a bit about how you interweave teaching music with cultural heritage?

DM: I was born in Mexico, and I was a child immigrant to the United States. I was not in a family that appreciated the power of women. I was not allowed to start kindergarten because they didn’t want to waste the money, whereas my brother could start school two years before I could. When you’re an immigrant, moving to this country is like Oz. Everything’s going to be great, and the money grows on trees. Well actually, just the opposite happens. You arrive and everything that was difficult in your family gets worse because life here is difficult, especially as an immigrant, as a person of color.

I didn’t speak the language, but I got a violin in my hands and I played the heck out of that thing. It gave me a voice and it gave me a sense of understanding the power of the arts, the power of music. I came to Northwestern University for school, and then I just felt the need to go back to my home and reconnect to who I really was. I was able to work in the small village that my ancestors come from, to revive the violin traditions of the town, which were dying off. I joined up with a friend, and he and I started teaching young girls and boys. When I first went out on the streets to do this, the old men were not happy. To the extent that one of them literally hit me on the street! 

Fast forward to [moving to Milwaukee]. I was given the opportunity to start [the Latino Arts Strings Program] over at the United Community Center. I wanted to give our students what I received, the ability to play music at a very high level. And we need to explore our music, even back to pre-Columbian music. Yes, we get our chops from the European training and classical music training, but our students also come out and explore their [culture’s] music. We play mariachi music, which is extremely male-dominated. I just took a 28-piece mariachi group to a competition in New Mexico. Twenty-five of them are young women, and they got the highest score in their category. It’s another way for our young women to say, “I embody what is possible.” 

My hope is that that transfers to whatever they want to do. 

CN: Renée, tell us about the person-centered philosophy of care you’ve implemented at Saint John’s. 

RA: [Traditional] long-term care is based on a hospital model. The hospital model of care is designed around being efficient. You end up with buildings with long corridors with doors on either side, and in the morning, the first thing you do is go to the first room, get the resident up, get them cleaned and dressed, wheel them to the dining room and get them at a table because that’s efficient. Well, guess what? We’re all unique individuals. And most of us don’t want to get up at 6 a.m. when we’re retired, let alone eat the same breakfast at the same table with the same people every dang day. So the person-centered philosophy of care really involves the residents in the decision-making about their lives. It sounds simplistic but it’s just not the way housing and long-term care for older adults has historically been run. It’s a difficult concept to apply, but it’s wildly important to the dignity and respect of the people you’re serving. Starting in 1999, we analyzed our behaviors and practices to recreate policy and process and retrain employees. One obvious example is those double-line corridors. We, in the last project on our campus, tore down a building that was built in 1979 and rebuilt it so that the rooms are around the outside and the amenities are in the center. So when someone walks out of their room they see activity, they see other residents, they smell food cooking. It enables their desire to go participate, and it enhances their connections, it gives them joy.

Milwaukee Magazine’s 2022 Bettys; Photo by Aliza Baran

CN: Was there a pivotal moment in your life that allowed you to see more potential in yourself? 

KK: I think I’m still making it up as I go. I think a lot of folks pretend they know what they’re doing in a public-facing way, when the reality is we’re all just doing the best we can with the information we have. 

SF: When I first came to Milwaukee, I was doing some acting at the Boulevard Theatre, and I had the crazy idea that I might want to direct. I asked Mark Bucher, the artistic director, and he said, OK. I directed a scene, and I started thinking, this might be the thing that I’m really meant to do. But if he hadn’t given me the opportunity, I never would have done it.

DM: For me, it’s those few moments that serve to remind me of who I am and why I do what I do. Some are positive, some are negative. My orchestra teacher in high school, I mentioned that I wanted to go off to study at Northwestern, and his comment was, “You people never go anywhere.” And that was a boost. I was like, “I’ll show you, you people.” 

DS: I feel like there’s not been a pivotal moment, but it’s been a combination of two things. The first thing for me has been self-reflection. The second thing is having mentors, friends and family along the way who are like, “You’re amazing.” Even when I couldn’t necessarily see it or fully believe it, their belief in me was strong enough for me to latch on to. 

Earlier we were talking about that male leadership approach. I think that comes from a place of seeing a thing and saying that that’s the way it is, as opposed to being curious about it. I feel like this [younger] generation is the questioning generation. They question all the things – and thank God. 

SF: When we talk about that, it’s like, my God, I didn’t have that kind of courage when I was younger. I feel really great that we’re in good hands with wonderful young women.

CN: If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

DS: To not spend so much time trying to fit in. To realize that my superpower is being my unique self. 

SF: You know more than you think. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because you’re going to make them anyway. It’s better to do something spectacularly wrong than to stay in middle ground forever.

KK: What I tell a lot of young people is that you can get into all the spaces you don’t think you can. People will open doors for you. So often young people underestimate their influence and their own agency. 

DWP: I would tell my 13-year-old self to challenge the fear and keep moving. Don’t let it stop you. I loved science, and I was telling myself that I wanted to be a doctor. But I didn’t let anyone know what I was thinking. I didn’t voice that this was something that I wanted so that I could create an opportunity for someone to help me. I just allowed fear to stop me in that space. I would say, “Go, girl. Just ask.” With an open hand, you can receive. 

DM: Keep trusting your intuition. It’s so strong. I think as women, we have that, and we all know those moments when we didn’t trust our gut and it didn’t go so well. 

DWP: A 13-year-old moving with that sense of confidence, wow, she’s changing the world. 

DM: I think that’s why there’s so much pullback on [women’s] rights now. It’s become evident that, given the opportunity, women can rule the world and do a really good job at it. 

DWP: There’s enough space for everyone to be great. My greatness takes nothing away from you – it should enhance you.

DS: It’s a mindset shift. If you get better, I get better. 

RA: Trust your gut and be who you are. 


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s November issue.

Find it on newsstands or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.