Lakeland student turns life into theatre
Lakeland College senior Michelle Fromm expects long-simmering emotions to bubble to the surface this weekend.
"I know I'm going to cry at least once, if not more," she says.
Fromm's tears will represent a jumbled collection of feelings, ranging wildly from joy and pride to deep sadness. Because no matter how many people attend and enjoy her original play, she will think about the one person who won't be there.
"I know my dad would be proud of me," she says softly. "Even with as little of the show that I had finished, he was already talking it up to anyone who would listen."
Fromm's production of "The Writing Desk," a play about the universal human pursuit of love through the ages, will debut Friday night at 7:30 at Lakeland's Bradley Theatre. Additional performances are offered Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Admission to this wholly student-produced and performed play is free for Lakeland College students, faculty and staff. The cost is $3 for all other students and children, and $5 for adults. All proceeds go to the Theatricians, Lakeland's student drama club.
"I think this is a great reflection of what Lakeland College is capable of," Fromm says. "This play was born here and raised here, and now it's going to graduate here. It's really exciting to me. I really like Lakeland College, and so much of Lakeland College is embedded in this project."
Fromm was about a year into writing what would eventually become a 65-page script when she received a phone call on Sept. 28, 2013. Her father and biggest fan, Ron, had passed away suddenly at the age of 52. One of Ron's passions in life was writing mystery plays, and his excitement about Michelle's project inspired her.
"It was really hard on me," Michelle says of her father's death. "I had been going to him for advice, and he was so good about troubleshooting and suggesting different things, or having me take out twists that just didn't work.
"I didn't touch the play for weeks. I just couldn't. But when I finally did go back to it, I had a new energy in me, a new need to push this through to the finish line. I am dedicating this to my father. Actually, I'm dedicating it to both of my fathers: God, and my earthly father who's now in heaven."
"The Writing Desk" is a story about how people from three different eras perceive and pursue that universal need, love. In Fromm's piece, the spirit of the writing desk recounts its view of that quest for love in three eras: 1866, 1922 and 2014. The first year was post-Civil War while the second year represented the Prohibition era and the third year covers the present.
"The story is about what people are going through in order to achieve some sort of love," says Fromm, who will direct the performances. "I tried to get away from society's ideas of love. I think society puts too much stress on romantic love, and not enough on love between friends, sisters, family members."
Fromm, who disliked history until taking a class with Lakeland College professor Rick Dodgson, did hundreds of hours of historical research. She also spent many more hours clacking away at drafts on an old-school manual typewriter before honing the story via more modern word processing. Last summer, she recalls, the play was "like a fulltime job some days; eight hours with a lunch break."
She says it's important to her that the piece is as historically accurate as possible. For example, one character attempts suicide, and Fromm wanted to be sure the method of death this character chose fit the time period.
"Michelle really made this her baby," says Charlie Krebs, Lakeland's associated professor of theatre and speech. "The fact that she wrote it and is now directing it is pretty outstanding."
Some of the topics covered in the roughly 90-minute play are serious. In addition to the suicide attempt, Fromm delves into murder, abortion and arranged marriage.
What started as a senior writing project has blossomed into a production that will include 15 current student cast members and a handful of other students who will contribute in roles ranging from set design to assistant direction to working the spotlight.
"I believe that art forms should not stand alone, so this show carefully incorporates acting and lighting (performance art), set design and costume design (visual art), and of course my writing," she says. "The show is being put on entirely by students, plus two recent Lakeland alumni. We even have a Lakeland art student who is doing the set for internship credit."
Krebs, who gave Fromm advice but took care to let her run the show, has been impressed with his standout student's effort and execution.
"I'm extremely proud of her," Krebs says. "She's very, very talented, and works so well with other people. I just can't say enough good things about Michelle."
Getting "The Writing Desk" off the ground wasn't easy. There were setbacks, like when three cast members quit for various reasons early this semester. Their replacements had to memorize their lines in a week.
"They didn't complain," Fromm says. "I'm so proud of the cast. They have worked so hard. I'm not so great with leadership skills, especially since I'm an introvert. But the students have been so great to work with, and the sense of community they've built around this show is amazing. Everyone has such a passion. I think it will be a great show because of their dedication and hard work."
The Writing Desk
- Assistant Director — Karissa Anderson
- Spotlight — Zach Purser
- Period costumes — Della Janke (alumna)
- The Spirit's costume — Michelle Fromm
- Featured poem — Sean Gilligan
- Set construction — Stagecraft students, Bradley staff
- Set design, finish — Lori Smith
- Script critique, copy editing — Leah Ulatowski
- Support — Lakeland Theatricians
- Critiques, support & advice — Charlie Krebs
Cast — Sara Pfile, Brittany Beckmann, Leah Ulatowski, Katherine Zielsdorf, Elizabeth Plotka, Stephanie Rebek, Skyler Walkowski, Becca Eliott, Chris Callan, Miranda Miller, Andy Kay, Matt Troyer, Greg Heinen (alumnus), Rae Siehs, Irvin Colon
Daniel Eck named Lakeland College's 16th president
Daniel Eck, Lakeland College's interim president for the past 10 months, has been selected as the college's 16th president.
Lakeland's Board of Trustees unanimously voted to name Eck to the position on Saturday, following a unanimous recommendation from the presidential search committee.
Eck, 46, was named interim president in March 2013 following the resignation of Michael Grandillo. Eck came to Lakeland in February 2008 as a special assistant to then Lakeland President Stephen Gould, and he was named senior vice president in September of 2008.
Prior to being named interim president, he led virtually all administrative facets of the college, including finance, strategic planning, institutional research, human resources, information technology, facilities/grounds and international programs.
During his interim presidency, the college developed and adopted five goals as part of its institutional strategic plan, and work is currently underway to meet those goals.
"I am honored that the search committee and the trustees have placed their faith in me to lead this great institution," Eck said. "Lakeland College is a special place that defies easy categorization. We are an educational institution, an employer, a community resource, but most of all we represent the opportunity to do more, and to succeed.
"Regardless, the alumni I've met over the past six years, and the students, faculty and staff, all like to call Lakeland 'home.' That is the one common denominator I've been able to discern in my time here-that feeling of belonging, that sense of place. Everyone associated with Lakeland is committed to the well-being and success of our students, and I am fortunate to be part of that family."
Robert Melzer, chairman of the Lakeland Board of Trustees, said the college is fortunate to hire a leader that provides stability along with a vision that is aligned with that of the trustees.
"Higher education is facing a number of challenges, and how colleges and universities evolve will be important for their continued growth," Melzer said. "Dan has played an important role in helping design the goals of the college's strategic plan. As we come off a very successful 150th anniversary celebration, Dan understands the important next steps that will position Lakeland to deliver quality academic programs for decades to come."
John McFadden, a Lakeland trustee and chair of the Presidential Search Committee, headed a group that included four trustees and two faculty members, which is required by the college's by-laws. "This was a careful process, but we did not conduct a full national search because we believe Dan is the perfect fit for this position," McFadden said. "Dan has demonstrated, during the 10 months of his interim presidency, the ability to lead us. The search committee and the trustees have a great deal of confidence and trust in Dan."
Dr. Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU) congratulated Lakeland on its selection. "Dan Eck is the right person at the right time in the right place," Wegenke said. "Dan knows Lakeland and will advance the college's long tradition of expanding educational opportunity - to low-income students, to first-generation students, to adult learners and to students from Sheboygan to Africa to Japan."
Eck's efforts have had significant impact since his arrival. He managed completion of Lakeland's $3.5 million main campus front entrance project, introduced and led an initiative that captured hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost savings and efficiencies and led the restructuring of several administrative departments.
"I am very pleased with the work we have accomplished at the college over the past 10 months, and I am excited to be leading the continuation of that work in my service to Lakeland's students, alumni and friends," Eck said. "I am confident that we are working with a plan that, with the energy and talents of our faculty and staff, will allow us to continue to evolve and remain competitive, yet stay true to our commitments to the liberal arts and to providing a rigorous, meaningful, educational and developmental experience."
In Eck, Lakeland has a dynamic leader with an eclectic professional background. A graduate of the Indiana University School of Law, he spent several years at a major law firm in Chicago. He then worked for five years in the museum field, serving as associate general counsel at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and deputy director of administration at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan.
Prior to joining Lakeland, he was director of development and external relations at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, and he co-founded M12, a nonprofit that designs and implements public art projects.
He has a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Beloit College and studied at American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Eck lives in Sheboygan with his two children, Gaby, 16, and Sam, 14, and his wife, Christine.
Lakeland grad shares financial knowledge with students
Setting aside enough money to sustain one's lifestyle for six to nine months should precede any attempt at investing, said financial planning expert Bonita Graff during a guest lecture appearance at Lakeland College on Monday morning.
"The first mistake some people make is putting everything they have at risk," said Graff, a founding partner at Provident Financial Consultants in Oshkosh and successful personal wealth planner for almost three decades. "After you set that money aside, the next thing you should do is participate in your employer's 401k. And third, participate in a Roth IRA."
Those were just a few of the investment nuggets offered by Graff, who graduated from Lakeland in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting. She spoke on Monday to about 20 Intermediate Accounting II students.
Graff provided an overview of several different investment vehicles with the students, and she told them more about her role as an investment advisor.
"I can tell you that you will receive the best education at this school," Graff told the class. "Lakeland College is the reason I am who I am."
Graff is a certified public accountant (CPA), a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA), an investment advisor representative and a general securities registered representative who works with individual as well as business clients in all facets of financial planning.
"As financial advisors, we're responsible for helping you through life to retirement, from getting the kids educated to making sure things will be OK if you die," she said. "We have a mantra at our firm, which is that I always work for my clients. Everything we do is based on your best interests. If we follow that, how can we go wrong?"
Graff handed out copies of a pamphlet titled "Investing Essentials" and a one-sheet 20-year "snapshot" of investing ups and downs to the students. She discussed the differences between stocks and bonds, calling the latter the "ballast in your portfolio; they're boring but important." And she called mutual funds "the optimal tool for most investors."
When she was finished with her hour-long guest lecture, Graff received an enthusiastic ovation from the class.
"It's always great when successful Lakeland alumni come back and share their expertise and experiences with our current students," said Brett Killion, Lakeland assistant professor of accounting, whose class Graff visited. "We try to bring the real world into the classroom as often as we can, and Bonnie did a fantastic job relating our textbook material to the students' lives."
Founders' Day Lecture rescheduled
The Founders' Day Lecture "Living Stones: Middle Eastern Christian Presence and Witness in the Midst of Challenge and Change", featuring Dr. Peter E. Makari has been rescheduled for Tuesday Evening, May 6, from 6:30-7:30 PM in the Bradley Fine Arts Center Auditorium. Following the lecture, a reception honoring Dr. Makari will be held in the Laun Center, David and Valerie Black Room, from 7:30-9:00 PM. Reception cost is $10. (Reservations required.) To register online, please visit Lakeland.edu/MissionHouseCenter or contact Colleen Darling at or 920-565-1538.
Lakeland "comes through" for Peace Walk
The Rev. Frederick Trost stepped up to the pulpit, looked out at the nearly 200 people gathered in the Immanuel United Church of Christ, and smiled.
"Fantasic!" he exclaimed. "Lakeland College comes through! And it means a great deal to us."
Half-an-hour earlier, that large throng of people had left campus on foot for Monday's Lakeland College Peace Walk. Members of Lakeland's family and friends from the community braved the cold and came together to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The plan was for this special walk to be candle-lit, but a brisk, sharp wind blew out all but a few people's hand-held flames. Undaunted, the hardy souls marched on, through the teeth of the cold breeze toward the church nearly half-a-mile away.
After the group gathered at Immanuel UCC, Rev. Trost, who marched with Dr. King in the early 1960s in Chicago, spoke passionately about the greatness of King and the important role today's young people play in making this world a better place.
Of King, Trost said: "He was one of the greatest human beings of our lifetime — of many lifetimes."
"Dr. King's dream must not fade."
As he wrapped up his passionate talk, Trost said, "I'm breathless. And I'm glad I'm breathless."
The Rev. Rob Sizemore, Lakeland's chaplain, followed Trost to the pulpit and expressed his pride in the large turnout for Monday's Peace Walk and in the way Lakeland and the UCC embrace and celebrate diversity. Sizemore challenged all Lakeland family members to be kind and to greet all people on campus with "an extravagant welcome."
Then everyone sang the civil rights movement anthem, "We shall overcome," before bundling up and marching back to campus together. There, everyone enjoyed hot chocolate, coffee, cookies and camaraderie.
"It was really wonderful to see this many people gather for such a great reason," said Whitney Diedrich, Lakeland's graduate assistant for community service and the primary organizer of the event. "We are very happy that our students cared so much that they came together and made it such a special evening. It was also special to see so many faculty and staff involved. It was really cool to see everyone mingling. Walking back from the church, I overheard people talking about how much they enjoyed it."