Category: Feature

Feature stories use the full-width page template.

Signage a nod to strange, complicated history of Lawrence’s favorite rock

New signage has gone up next to the Rock on Lawrence’s Main Hall lawn, noting the big boulder’s ties to campus dating back to 1895.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The Rock, a 2-ton boulder resting peacefully on a stretch of lawn near the northwest corner of Main Hall, has finally had its long, strange history commemorated by Lawrence University.

Newly installed signage provides a nod to the 4,700-pound piece of granite that has been tolerated but rarely celebrated by the university that has been its home — mostly — since members of the Class of 1895 first hauled it to campus 124 years ago.

As campus traditions go, this is one that has had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the school. The Rock — not to be confused with a certain Hollywood celebrity of the same nickname — has been the subject of pranks, fraternity feuds and deep mysteries through the decades. It was returned to campus in the spring of 2018 after having gone missing for 20 years.

Now it’s home, and there’s nothing but love. Thus, the new signage recently placed next to the Rock:

“Members of the Class of 1895 found this boulder on a geology field trip in New London, WI, and brought it to campus to serve as the senior class gift. In the years since, the Rock has been painted, buried, moved around, and even removed from campus. After a 20-year stay on the Nickel family farm (Michael Nickel ’02, Adam Nickel ’03), it was returned to its original placement in front of Main Hall in spring 2018.”

The Rock, now painted green with the white lettering of the Class of 2019, has a history that started out combative, if all in good fun. Consider this dispatch in The Lawrentian in July 1895:

“Tuesday afternoon was Class Day and the big boulder of the Class of ’95 made its debut in college history. Somehow the seniors had an idea that the giddy juniors would not allow it to become a landmark on the campus and they watched all night till the day of its dedication, lest some festive ’96er should come along and carry the pebble off and throw it in the river.”

That would set a tone that would become part of the Rock’s tradition, one of mostly harmless rivalry and midnight escapades stretching across more than 100 years, frequently chronicled by The Lawrentian and sometimes The Post-Crescent.

Among the highlights:

With concerns the pranks had gotten out of hand, the Rock was moved to a mostly out-of-the-way spot near the Fox River in 1939; it would be returned to the Main Hall green by ambitious students three years later.

It would go missing in 1964, finally retrieved in 1983 (it had been buried behind Plantz Hall by members of the Class of 1967, so, technically, it was still on campus).

And it would once again disappear in 1998, discovered 20 years later by students Sarah Axtell ’17 and Jon Hanrahan ’16, who had launched an entertaining, Serial-style podcast in hopes of solving the mystery of the Rock’s whereabouts.

In between all of that, the Rock was at the center of some much-chronicled campus rivalries and shenanigans that included students hiring towing companies to move the rock around campus in the dark of night, tossing it into the Fox River on multiple occasions, placing it in cement, and building a papier-mache replica that would appear one morning in 1957 on the roof of the former Stephenson Hall.

As the location of the Rock became a competition among fraternities, there was an unwritten rule that said wherever the rock was located on the morning of homecoming, that is where it would stay for the rest of the school year.

The 1998 disappearance came not long after the Phi Delta Theta and Delta Tau Delta fraternities had a bit of a public showdown, one that involved a front-end loader and required the dean of students to negotiate a compromise as local media looked on.

The engraving of Class of '95 can clearly be seen on the Rock, which sits on the Main Hall lawn. The rock is painted green with Class of 2019 in white.
A paint job by the Class of 2019 does not obscure the engraving from the Class of ’95 (that’s 1895) on the Rock, which sits on the Main Hall lawn with newly installed signage commemorating its history.

A search and a podcast

The Rock was then mostly forgotten for nearly two decades until Axtell and Hanrahan launched their No Stone Unturned podcast in 2016.

“Sarah and I were real dorks about Lawrence history,” Hanrahan said.

Their sleuthing eventually took them to a farm in Calumet County where the rock was found behind an old barn, the carved Class of ’95 in plain sight. It turns out there were a lot of complicated emotions tied to the Rock and how it ended up on that farm.

Lawrence and the Nickel family would eventually reach agreement that the Rock should return to the Main Hall green. It came home in 2018.

The ongoing fascination with the big boulder speaks to college students’ need to feel connected to their school’s history, said Hanrahan, who now works as an associate producer for New York Public Radio. He points to other schools with similar objects that have served as traditions that tie together generations of students — Rutgers’ cannon, Carnegie Mellon’s fence painting, and Northwestern’s own version of an oft-painted rock.

“There’s definitely that element of college students wanting and needing that quirky sense of identity,” Hanrahan said.

The podcast not only gave Hanrahan and Axtell the chance to fixate on Lawrence history — “This project was one of the first real moments when I fell in love with archives,” Hanrahan said — it also provided an opportunity to connect with alumni in a meaningful way.

“We got a sense of what life was like at Lawrence, especially in the ’90s, which was when the disappearance occurred,” Hanrahan said. “… We got a taste of life in the ’60s when the Rock disappeared then. That was very, very different from what life was like in the ’90s, which was also very different from what life is like in the 2010s.”   

An uneasy history

Erin Dix ’08, the university’s archivist over the past nine years, said the many Rock-related pranks left some past university administrators uneasy. That’s why the new signage is notable.

“The administration at Lawrence has not always embraced the disruptive elements of the Rock’s tradition,” she said. “In 1939, college officials moved the Rock to the tennis courts at the bottom of the Drew Street hill to try to discourage the constant pranks. But students managed to hoist it back up the hill three years later. During the Rock’s most recent absence, I often heard the theory that the administration had purposefully removed it from campus.” (It had not.)

“My favorite anecdote about the Rock comes from a Post-Crescent article published when it was being exhumed from the parking lot behind Plantz Hall in 1983,” Dix said. “‘Richard Warch, president of the university, was there, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from his sack lunch during the noon-hour event. “What a great day for Lawrence University,” he said with mock enthusiasm as a big P.G. Miron crane lifted the rock from the ground.’”

Hanrahan believes that kind of history should be celebrated. Students today should be aware of the school’s deep history and the student experiences that preceded them, even if it’s just a goofy old rock. That it has Class of ’95 carved into it is reason enough to acknowledge that connection, he said.

“That’s not 1995, that’s 1895, this unimaginably distant group of people,” Hanrahan said. “And it has these classes from the 1930s carved on the side as well. So, it’s a rock and it’s obviously this old geological artifact, but it broadcasts its oldness and it’s Lawrenceness right there on the side. It’s hard to look at it and not think of a Lawrence from 100 years ago.”

New signage now accompanies the Rock on the Main Hall lawn.

Axtell, now working in New York City for Accomplice the Show, an immersive theater company, applauds the university for formally recognizing the history of the Rock, calling it an important connection between generations of students.

“I don’t think the university can always take an official stance on some of the goofy things that have happened in the past, but I think the university should be proud of the ingenuity and creativity of its students,” she said.

“It gives people a reason to connect back to the history of the place. People need to pay more attention to the history of the areas around them, for better or worse.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

From Houdini to Ferber, 6 things you should know about Appleton

Photo of the signage in Houdini Plaza.
Houdini Plaza, named for Harry Houdini, is at the center of Appleton’s downtown.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Like any city, Appleton has its own claims to fame, whether it’s an actor from here who made it big or an innovation in technology that has its roots here in this community. 

For incoming Lawrence students trying to get the lay of the land when it comes to a new home, here are six curious tidbits about Appleton history that may surprise you.

Appleton was the childhood home of Harry Houdini

This amazes a lot of people, but there’s no trick to it. Houdini, or Erik Weisz, was born in Budapest in 1874. His family settled in Appleton in 1878, where they lived for four years until his father lost his job and they moved to Milwaukee. Despite the move, Houdini considered Appleton to be his boyhood home. Houdini Plaza, the community space in the center of downtown, is named for the famed escape artist. The History Museum at the Castle, just down the street, has an extensive Houdini exhibit. There’s a Houdini Elementary School in town. You can eat at the Houdini’s Escape Gastropub, and each fall you can run in the Houdini 10K race. So, yea, Houdini is here.

Willem Dafoe got his start in Appleton

You might recognize Willem Dafoe from Platoon (1986), Spider-Man (2002) and The Florida Project (2017). Did you know the four-time Academy Award nominee was born in Appleton in 1955? He was William then. Early in his teenage years, he began acting in Appleton’s Attic Theatre. He was Billy then. When he was kicked out of Appleton East High School (that’s another story) he fulfilled his graduation requirements by taking a class at Lawrence.

Appleton is the home of the oldest coeducational college in Wisconsin

Here’s some history that involves Lawrence. Did you know Appleton has been making strides in gender equality since the time of its founding? Lawrence University was chartered in 1847 and has admitted women since the first day of classes on Nov. 12, 1849, making it the oldest coed college in Wisconsin.

Sen. Joe McCarthy grew up in the Appleton area

Here’s a refresher from history class: Sen. Joseph McCarthy achieved notoriety in the 1950s when he accused members of the U.S. government (and others) of communist activity, contributing to the collective panic that marked the Cold War era. Before that, the senator was Joe from Appleton. Well, Grand Chute, actually. He was at one time the manager at an Appleton grocery store. He later earned his law degree at Marquette University, was elected to a circuit court judgeship and eventually was elected to the Senate, all before becoming one of the most reviled politicians in U.S. history. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Appleton.

Appleton had the first hydroelectric power station

In 1882, Appleton paper manufacturer H.F. Rogers needed a source to power his paper plant. Inspired by Thomas Edison’s designs for a steam power station in New York, Rogers commissioned the first hydroelectric power station to be built. It came to fruition along the Fox River, generating enough power to run his plant, his home, and a nearby building. The Hearthstone House Museum in Appleton is now open to the public, marking that historic contribution to the modern power grid.

Appleton gave us author Edna Ferber

The Pulitzer Prize winner was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1885, moving with her family to Appleton when she was 12. She started her writing career here in Appleton, working as a reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent at age 17. She nurtured her love of writing and reporting, leading her to eventually write iconic novels such as So Big (1924) and Showboat (1926). She’s often mentioned among the greatest novelists of her generation.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Cheesehead or cheese curd? A guide to talking the talk in Wisconsin

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21 and Awa Badiane ’21

With three-quarters of Lawrence University students coming from out of state — or, in some cases, out of the country — there can be a learning curve on all things Wisconsin. Getting to know Wisconsin is an important part of adjusting to life at Lawrence.

With that in mind, we’ve created this quick and handy Wisconsin vocabulary guide for our out-of-state newcomers who are getting ready to make this their home away from home for the next nine months.

Isabella is a born-and-raised Wisconsinite. Awa hails from New York City and has been busy learning this Wisconsin lingo for the past two years. We’re here to be your tour guide through Wisconsin vocabulary. There are other phrases to explore, but we cut it off at our favorite 15. There will not be a test.

1. Cheesehead (cheez-hed): Refers to a person from Wisconsin, especially a Packers fan. Also refers to the foam cheese wedge-shaped hat worn by fans at Packers games. It’s a fashion thing. You’ll get used to it.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “All the cheeseheads were cheering when the Packers scored the touchdown.”

2. Brat Fest (braht-fest): This is an annual three-day festival held in Madison that celebrates Wisconsin heritage by dishing out hundreds of thousands of brats to hungry festival-goers. We highlight the festival because it so nobly honors the state’s love affair with its favorite sausage meat. Billed as the world’s largest bratwurst festival, it comes around again in late May, should you be thinking about a road trip.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “I ate five brats at Brat Fest last year and I can’t wait to go again this year!”

3. Sconnie (skah-nee): Referring to a person who hails from Wisconsin. It’s a term embraced by some, derided by others. People can be seen proudly sporting “Sconnie” T-shirts; the term signifies pride in being from Wisconsin.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “I’ve lived in Madison my whole life. I’m proud to be a Sconnie!”

4. “Squeaky” cheese curds (skwee-kee cheez kurds): The “squeak” is the sound you’ll hear when you bite into fresh cheese curds. This is exactly what you want to hear; squeakiness indicates freshness. It’s an acquired taste.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “The cheese curds I got from the farmer’s market are really squeaky. It’s going to be a good day.”

5. Deep-fried cheese curds (deep frahyd cheez kurds): A Wisconsin staple food. Cheese curds, ideally squeaky and fresh, are breaded and deep-fried and served as an appetizer. Best when they’re not too greasy. No fried cheese curds are exactly alike; they’re served at a variety of eating establishments that have their own particular claim to cheese curd goodness.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “The deep-fried cheese curds at this bar are the best in town.”

6. Supper club (suh-per klub): A traditional family-owned eating establishment. Only open for supper. But it’s more than a meal. It’s a social engagement. You’ll spend some time in the bar (not optional) before you’re shown to your table. Typical fare includes fish fry, prime rib, a salad bar, cheese and crackers, a relish tray and cocktails. Supper clubs can be found throughout the Midwest, but the tradition lives on most strongly in Wisconsin. They differ from location to location, but all come with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “This is the supper club my grandma went to all the time in the ’60s. We still go every Sunday for prime rib.”

7. Stop-and-go lights: A reference you’ll sometimes hear from Wisconsin motorists as they approach traffic lights because, well, you stop and then you go. Used interchangeably with stop lights.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “Take a right up here at the stop-and-go light.”

8. Bubbler (buh-blur): A Wisconsin term for a water fountain. This one’s a classic. Wisconsinites take pride in it. Residents of neighboring states tend to mock it. You’ll get used to it.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “I filled my water bottle at the bubbler in the hallway.”

9. Friday night fish fry (frahy-dey nahyt fish frahy): This is more of a way of life than a vocabulary quirk. It’s a traditional Wisconsin dinner — usually cod, perch, haddock or walleye, fried and served with lemon wedges and tartar sauce. Accompanied by a slew of sides: coleslaw, potatoes in numerous forms, and bread and butter. Sometimes it’s all you can eat. Can be enjoyed at a variety of eating establishments, especially supper clubs. You also might find a fish fry in the basement of a church. And always, of course, on Friday.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “I’m still so full from that Friday night fish fry last night.”

10. The Pack (th uh pak): Referring to the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin’s NFL football team. This, too, is a lifestyle thing among Wisconsinites. The cheesehead headwear is optional, but full-throated fandom is encouraged.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “We’re rooting for The Pack tonight. Go Pack, go!”

11. TYME machine (ty-m muh-sheen): A reference to an ATM machine that to a newcomer makes absolutely no sense. But there’s history here. TYME was a specific brand of ATM machines local to Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The name at some point expanded in usage in Wisconsin to include all ATM machines. The acronym stands for “Take Your Money Everywhere.” The TYME brand went away a decade ago, but its usage in the Wisconsin vocab continues.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “I have to go to the TYME machine to get some cash.”

12. Sausage race (saw-sij rey-s): Referring to the race of sausage mascots that takes place at Milwaukee Brewers’ home games at Miller Park. The five participants — Brat, Italian, Chorizo, Hot Dog and Polish — sprint along the track around the baseball field. Again, this is more Wisconsin tradition than a vocabulary quirk. But, still, it’s a sausage race.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “I rooted for the Chorizo in the sausage race at last night’s game.”

13. “Aw jeez!” (aw jeez): Exclamatory remark expressing regret, sympathy or excitement. Usually punctuated by a very strong Wisconsin accent. Its multiple uses make it a go-to in almost any situation.

  • Use in a sentence, please: Person 1: “Aw jeez, who ate the last cheese curd? Person 2: “Aw jeez! I ate it, I’m sorry.”

14. “Uff-da!” (oof-duh): Exclamatory remark expressing amazement, exasperation or relief.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “Did you see that Packers game yesterday? Uff-da!”

15. “Or no?” (er-no): An utterance placed at the end of a question or an invitation to present the option to decline. The sound tends to blend into the rest of the sentence, functioning more as a habitual articulation than a question.

  • Use in a sentence, please: “Did you enjoy this Wisconsin vocabulary guide, or no?”

Isabella Mariani ’21 and Awa Badiane ’21 are student writers in the Communications office.

Music is everywhere as Mile 7 gets rolling; partnerships grow deeper

With a whistle in his mouth, Kenni Ther gestures while leading the Brazilian samba drumming workshop Thursday at Mile of Music.
Kenni Ther ’16 leads the Brazilian samba drumming workshop in Houdini Plaza during Thursday’s opening day of Mile of Music.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Kenni Ther ’16 had his young charges hanging on his every word, eyes focused, sticks in hand, a mix of drums and upside-down buckets in play on a gorgeous afternoon in downtown Appleton’s Houdini Plaza.

“I get tired of talking sometimes,” Ther told the gathering of several dozen kids and the adults they brought along for this high-energy teaching session on Brazilian samba drumming. “That’s why I have the drum. I’ll let the drum do the talking for me.”

And, so he did. And the young drummers followed suit as a couple hundred spectators nodded their approval.

A few hundred feet to the east, a crowd overflowed from the patio at Bazil’s Pub as singer-songwriter Christopher Gold played a heartfelt set and shared stories of joy and despair and the wisdom gained from both.

It was the middle of the afternoon. On a Thursday. Welcome to Mile of Music.

The annual four-day all-original music festival kicked off its seventh edition on Thursday, mixing nearly 900 live music sets in 70-plus venues with more than 40 interactive music education workshops, a blend that differentiates this festival from most any other music event on the planet. It continues through Sunday — and, yes, admission is free.

The Music Education Team, supported by a grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, is a full-on Lawrence University juggernaut, led by music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl. It features more than 25 instructors, many of them, like Ther, alumni who developed their musical skills and nurtured their passion for music while students at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Full lineup of Mile 7 music education workshops here.

Meet the Lawrence-led Music Education Team here.

Like the festival itself, the music education workshops have grown in size and scope since first launching in 2013. More than 7,000 people are expected to take part in the hands-on sessions before the finale, a ukulele workshop, brings it to a close on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s great to get out in the community and have people learn music in not a classroom setting,” Ther said after the samba drumming workshop ended. “Sometimes people think you only get to learn music in your private lessons or in a school band or orchestra or choir. No, music is for everybody. Everyone listens to music, so everyone has the right to be their own musician and figure out music on their own.”

Nestor Dominguez ’14 talks to the audience during a mariachi workshop in The Grove, a green space next to Brokaw Hall.
Nestor Dominguez ’14 is joined by Mariachi Jabali as they lead a mariachi workshop Thursday in The Grove, a green space next to Brokaw Hall, during Mile of Music.

A few blocks down College Avenue, on the green space next to Brokaw Hall known as The Grove, Nestor Dominguez ’14 was leading a mariachi band — Mariachi Jabali, featuring students from Appleton North High School — as they introduced the music to a couple hundred onlookers. They ran through a variety of music within the mariachi genre, from jarabe to bolero to ranchera to polka.

“Just get up and wiggle around and come up with a dance,” Dominguez encouraged the crowd as the band showcased the popular jarabe style. “If you’re going to be here with us, you need to get up and dance.”

Then there was bolero, the mariachi music of romance. Dominguez, who plays and teaches mariachi music in Chicago, encouraged the crowd to make and maintain eye contact with the person next to them as the music played.

“Eye contact is so important,” he told them. “Let’s connect as human beings. … I’m not saying you’re going to fall in love with the person next to you, but that would be all right.”

A world of music in our back yard

As the music education offerings at Mile of Music have evolved over the past seven installments, they’ve taken on a more global feel, Brazilian samba drumming and mariachi being part of a festival mix that also includes, among others, Ghanaian drumming and dance, Afro-Cuban singing, and Balinese gamelan. New this year are sessions on Native American music and dances of India.

That’s not by accident. Ramagopal Pertl said the team has purposefully set out to showcase as many cultures and styles as possible, a theme embraced by team members and the audience alike.

“That is really important, especially for the little ones,” said Francisca Hiscocks of Appleton, a native of Spain who attended Thursday’s Brazilian samba drumming session. “Just for their education, to be exposed to something different, that’s important. For me being from a different country, I think this is so great.”

More on the connections between Lawrence, Mile of Music here.

Porky’s Groove Machine returns to Lawrence, Mile of Music. Read more here.

Thel, who teaches music at a middle school in Oshkosh, said cultural variety in the festival’s music education outreach is all about being inclusive and enlightening.

“Maybe hip hop is your thing, that’s great,” he said. “Maybe acoustic guitar playing is your thing, or the ukulele workshop, that’s your thing. Everyone has a specific rhythm in their heart that they can relate and respond to. We’re just trying to help people figure out what that is.”

Mile of Music was drawing rave reviews as it got rolling Thursday. Music could be heard coming from everywhere along and near College Avenue — in bars and coffee shops, in Memorial Chapel, on patios, in alleyways and on green spaces on the Lawrence campus. Even from a camper parked on the Ormsby Hall lawn, home to the Tiny House Listening Lounge, a new venue for this year’s festival.

“I think this is just all really cool,” said Sarah Fischer of Appleton, taking in the festival’s opening day.

Bernard Lilly ’18, who performs as B. Lilly, puts on a songwriting and performance workshop at Copper Rock Coffee Company during Mile of Music.

More photos of the 2019 Music Education Team workshops here.

Cool, indeed. And the opportunity to bang a drum, get a lesson in songwriting, or learn about Native American flute playing while you’re here, well, that’s a bonus that is music to the ears of anyone who cherishes the connections between the festival, the community and Lawrence.

“We all agreed from the beginning that this wasn’t the type of festival that was ogling celebrity, it was craft focused,” said Cory Chisel, the Appleton-raised singer-songwriter who co-founded the festival with marketing executive Dave Willems. “It was like, here are innovative, exciting songwriters from around the world, and I wanted to bring all those people to Appleton specifically because of the specialness of this place and the music that was inside of us and the talent level we have inside of us here.”

It isn’t just about listening to and discovering new music, although that is a huge focus of the festival. It’s also about participating in the music-making, connecting the community with the music, Chisel said. Hence, the launch and growth of the Music Education Team. The partnership with Lawrence for that piece was as important as anything else in establishing the festival as one of the bright lights of the Midwest music scene.

“Mile of Music was about that connection,” Chisel said. “And Lawrence has been deepening and strengthening that community relationship.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Porky’s finds its goofy, funky groove in return to Lawrence, Mile of Music

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

What does a hot dog, a squid, and a red Power Ranger have in common?

Well, they are the stage personas for three of the seven members of Porky’s Groove Machine, a high-energy funk band known for mixing big musical talents with randomly odd costumes and a heavy dose of silliness.

The Minneapolis-based band, which got its start on the Lawrence University campus and is comprised completely of Lawrence alumni, is bringing its love of music and fun back to Appleton for the annual Mile of Music festival Aug. 1-4. The band will be performing on stage (details below) and for the fifth year in a row will be part of the Music Education Team presenting immersive musical experiences throughout the downtown festival.

Mile of Music, Lawrence have deep ties. See more here.

Fresh off the release of a new album, Hello, My Name Is, Porky’s Groove Machine continues to build a strong fan base across the Midwest, all while dressed in incredibly random costumes.

Matt Lowe ’14, Marshall Yoes ’14, Eli Edelman ’14, Nick Allen ’14, Luke Rivard ’15, Ilan Blanck ’16 and Shasta Tresan ’17 all got their start with the band while students at Lawrence. They bonded via the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, started out playing campus parties and have maintained a close association with the school and Appleton even though they’ve all settled nearly 300 miles away in the Twin Cities.

“We were just hanging out, getting really excited about music through the Conservatory,” Allen said of the band’s start-up. “And we wanted to play. So, we just got together to jam a little bit and then, like, make up some songs.”

Eight years later, Porky’s is a thing.

We caught up with the band earlier this summer when they returned to downtown Appleton to play the weekly Heid Music Summer Concert Series in Houdini Plaza.  

Porky's Groove Machine, wearing wildly random costumes, perform on stage at Houdini Plaza.
The wildly random costumes have long been part of the show for Porky’s Groove Machine. It started when they were Lawrence students, playing campus parties. Here they perform earlier this summer in Houdini Plaza in downtown Appleton.

Goofy from the start 

The group initially formed in 2011 while all the original members of the band were students at Lawrence. What started as a cover band playing campus parties quickly evolved. Since then, the band has grown in size and outreach, rotated in new members (all Lawrentians) and wrote a ton of music, some of which is featured on Hello, My Name Is, an album released in March.

The band has grown a lot from those early days at Lawrence, but it was at Lawrence where the foundation for spreading funk and silliness was set.

The campus environment, where people were learning and challenging themselves but also having a good time, set the wheels in motion. It turns out things don’t always have to be so serious. Sure, a classical music education was part of the process, but improvisation was always encouraged and a sense of humor was embraced.

“I feel like just having gone to Lawrence and just having been in this funny environment, you know what I mean, where these particularly funny things happen, there’s already a common ground for a sort of goofiness,” Blanck said.

The band took that goofiness and supercharged it on stage. They’ve come to be known for their creative stage personas. When performing at parties on campus in those early days, they would dress to fit the theme of the party. It carried over from there, and soon fans were connecting to the random weirdness of the band’s costumes.

Blanck said he remembers that a-ha moment when he realized the costumes had become an important part of their identity as a band.

“I remember we played a show once and people tweeted at us,” Blanck said. “Someone we didn’t know was like ‘#powerranger, #squid , #hotdogtrombone, so confused but I’m so happy,’ and it was like, I guess those are alive now, and then from there on everyone started looking for it, kind of digging into it a little more.”  

Ilan Blanck wears a red Power Ranger suit while performing at Houdini Plaza.
Ilan Blanck ’16 wears the red Power Ranger suit with pride. The costumes, he said, are part of the fun and help make the band accessible.

Porky’s takes off

Porky’s became a well-known group on campus, performing at events ranging from an Earth Day celebration to a Yule Ball. And as the on-campus following grew, they started to become recognizable off campus as well, performing at bars and clubs in downtown Appleton and elsewhere in the Fox Valley.

“I remember our first off-campus show was at Déjà vu Martini Lounge,” Allen said. 

As band members graduated, many began settling in the Twin Cities. Eventually, all who stayed with the band landed there. And while they all have day jobs, many of them music related, they began dedicating more and more time to Porky’s. In 2018, they played nearly 70 shows. The band became a registered LLC in the state of Minnesota, and Porky’s, if it wasn’t before, was now a full-on passion that was commanding much of their free time. 

“We all ended up moving to Minneapolis to make Porky’s happen, so it’s a serious component of how we are making decisions in our lives,” Yoes said. 

Making music 

As Porky’s has become that serious — yet still goofy — endeavor, the music the band performs has shifted and evolved. What started as a mostly cover band with only one or two original tracks is now a band producing mostly original music. They have released three EPs and two albums to date.  

“When we first started, when we played these gigs at the bars downtown, we’d play a four-hour show, and you know we would have to fill all this time, so we played a bunch of covers and we jammed them out for 15 or 20 minutes each,” Lowe said.

“And then our originals would be like, ‘Hey, everybody, we finally wrote a song.’ We’d have one song to show off.  Now it’s more like we’ll do an all-original set and then we’ll put in two or three covers.”

The humor behind their stage personas also shows up in their homegrown lyrics. With songs like “Don’t Put Love in the Granola” or “The (Not Quite a) Ball of Trombone,” the group embraces the silliness. 

“We hear from people who see our show who maybe don’t get a big dose of goofy in their lives,” Allen said. “We often hear from people who are like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before, but thank you.’

“So, that always inspires me and makes me feel good to come up with something that’s going to connect with someone and give them a sort of absurdity or silliness or some kind of release that they need.” 

Beyond a band  

Porky’s Groove Machine members also apply this concept of releasing people’s silly side when they teach music workshops. And they do a lot of workshops, mostly geared toward children, spreading the joy of music-making.

“We get questions from students, like why do you wear your costumes, why do you look like that, or why are you running around and yelling?” Rivard said.

“And our whole perspective is, well, you know, rather than approaching music in a very studious and very hard to reach place, we want to make it as comfortable and as inviting to students as possible. That allows us to get students to improvise and to write music on the spot because they feel comfortable. They know that no matter what they do, they’re not going to look dumber than we do.”

The workshops that are part of Mile of Music are among their favorites. Through working with the festival’s Music Education Team, led by Lawrence music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl, the group has been able to share that love of music in Appleton. It’s one of the things that has inspired them to create workshops of their own where they are able to teach students improvisation, music fundamentals, and thinking outside the box.  

Staying Connected  

Being able to teach music as a band and perform several times a year in the Appleton area has given the members the opportunity to stay tight with Lawrence, the Conservatory in particular.

“We are back here all the time, seeing the dean and our teachers,” Lowe said. “We performed at the Lawrence Academy camp (two summers ago), and we’re working with the Mile of Music Education Team, which is deeply linked with the Lawrence Conservatory.” 

For Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory, the success of the Porky’s band speaks to the commitment and joy each of the band members finds in music. And their willingness to give back through Mile of Music and other music workshops is a great reflection on Lawrence and the mission of the Conservatory.

“I have had the great pleasure and privilege of working closely with almost every member of Porky’s,” Pertl said. “In particular, Matt Lowe and Nick Allen took didgeridoo lessons with me for their entire four years at Lawrence.”

Don’t let the goofball costumes fool you. The music that Porky’s is creating is stellar. That it’s mixed with energy and fun, and delivered with a full heart, all the better.

“I love that Porky’s seamlessly combines high-level musicianship, a sense of humor, and a deep commitment to music education,” Pertl said. 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office. 

Where to see Porky’s at Mile of Music

Friday, Aug. 2: 9:30 p.m. at Deja Vu Martini Lounge, 519 W. College Ave., Appleton

Saturday, Aug. 3: 7:40 p.m. at Emmett’s Bar and Grill, 139 N. Richmond St., Appleton

Saturday, Aug. 3: 10 p.m. on the Mile of Music bus.

Deep connections: Lawrence, Mile of Music in sync from the start

Leila Ramagopal Pertl participates in a sing-along at an earlier Mile of Music festival.
Leila Ramagopal Pertl, a music education instructor at Lawrence University, has been the leader of Mile of Music’s Music Education Team from the start.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

There has been a special blend of music in the air in Appleton each August since Mile of Music was founded in 2013.

From the debut six years ago through the upcoming seventh edition, Lawrence University has been tightly connected to the all-original music festival every step of the way, most notably by leading the robust music education component, but also providing performance spaces and counting its alumni among the performing artists.

Mile of Music returns for Mile 7 Aug. 1-4, with 900 performances taking place in 70 venues along a mile stretch of College Avenue in the city’s downtown. Nearly 50 music education workshops will be included, organized by the Music Education Team (MET), allowing festival-goers to get interactive instruction in diverse forms of music and dance.

I talked with Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, and Leila Ramagopal Pertl, a Lawrence instructor in music education and the festival’s music education curator, about the five deepest ties between Lawrence and Mile of Music.

1. Lawrence’s fingerprints have been on Mile of Music from the start

In the spring of 2013, Mile of Music co-founders Dave Willems and Cory Chisel approached Brian Pertl with a vision of using the new festival as a way to support music education in the community. Pertl referred them to Ramagopal Pertl, whose passion for music education led her to the motto, “Music is a birthright.”

She suggested the new festival incorporate hands-on music-making workshops, an idea that proved to be brilliant. The music education component was a hit from the get-go, and has grown far more robust in the six years since that debut. It has solidified Mile of Music’s reputation as a special community learning experience.

“It’s what sets this festival apart from probably any other festival in the world, that there’s this priority on allowing people in the community to learn,” Ramagopal Pertl said.

2. Music Education Team has a Lawrentian vibe

The Music Education Team is responsible for organizing and leading the Mile’s music education workshops, which give festival guests the opportunity to discover their musical selves through a variety of music and dance instruction. It continues this year courtesy of a grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

The MET is made up of professional artists and educators with a knack for engaging a crowd. The team is heavy on Lawrence participation, from music faculty to alumni to students; the latter can receive class credit for participating.

See the music education workshop schedule here.

The seven members of Porky’s Groove Machine, all Lawrence alumni, are a big part of the MET. The Minneapolis-based funk band, also a popular festival performer, has been returning for the festival for five years, in large part because of the opportunity to engage with people in the workshops. Each of the band members — Matt Lowe ’14, Marshall Yoes ’14, Eli Edelman ’14, Nick Allen ’14, Luke Rivard ’15, Ilan Blanck ’16 and Shasta Tresan ’17 — are tied in to music education on some level, making the music workshops they do here and elsewhere a natural extension of their passions.

“Mile of Music is what really prompted us to think, ‘Oh, we can do this as a group together,’” Lowe said. “I would attribute that to Brian Pertl and his wife, Leila, who are the star music educators of the world. They taught us a lot of what we know and how to do things, and we’re definitely inspired by them.”

Other alums also are returning to lead workshops, Corey Torres ’12 and Bernard Lilly ’18 among them.

Porky’s Groove Machine keeps the funk rolling. See more here.

Meet the full Music Education Team here.

The festival’s workshops range from mariachi, hip-hop and samba to Afro-Cuban drumming, P-bone funk and Balinese angklung.

Last year, the 25-member Music Education Team led nearly 50 music education events that were attended by more than 7,000 festival-goers. By the end of this year’s festival, more than 25,000 people will have participated in the interactive events since they were launched during Mile 1.

Ramagopal Pertl said connecting people to the music — as participants, not just passive listeners — has proven to be a draw.

“It’s really important for people to come and feel what it’s like to make music in collaboration with other people around you,” she said. “Not only are you probably rediscovering something that was yours to begin with, but you have a greater understanding of why artists on the Mile play music. That was important for us here on the MET.”

Ilan Blanck, a member of Porky's Groove Machine, teaches at a guitar workshop during an earlier Mile of Music.
Ilan Blanck ’16, here teaching a guitar workshop at an earlier Mile of Music, will return with Porky’s Groove Machine to both teach at workshops and perform. The band members have been part of Mile of Music for the last five years.

3. Lawrence alumni on stage at Mile of Music

Lawrence alumni have graced the Mile of Music stages since the festival’s founding. Porky’s Groove Machine is coming back to the Mile this year in full costume to put on a funk-inspired show, and Lilly, performing as B. Lilly, will showcase his signature blend of R&B, jazz, hip-hop and gospel, in addition to leading a songwriting and performance workshop.

Both have been popular draws at previous Mile of Music festivals. Both also return to Appleton frequently to perform, their fan bases helping to establish this as a second home.

The Mile of Music performance schedule has just been released. See it here.

Porky’s will perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at Deja Vu Martini Lounge, 519 W. College Ave., and 7:40 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 at Emmett’s Bar and Grill, 139 N. Richmond St. They’ll also be performing on the Mile of Music bus at 10 p.m. Saturday.

B. Lilly will perform at 7:40 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at Fox River House, 211 S. Walnut St., and 6:40 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 at OB’s Brau Haus, 523 W. College Ave. He’ll also be on the Mile of Music bus at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

For more on B. Lilly, Porky’s Groove Machine and other Mile of Music performers, including a chance to sample their music, visit here.

Lawrence Memorial Chapel is seen during an earlier Mile of Music performance.
Memorial Chapel is among the spaces on the Lawrence campus again hosting Mile of Music performances. Stansbury Theater and Harper Hall also will be utilized for performances or music education workshops, as will outdoor green spaces near the Conservatory.

4. Lawrence venues anchor the east end of the Mile

State-of-the-art performance facilities and beautiful green spaces make the Lawrence campus a great place to host music events.

Each year, Lawrence provides Mile of Music with venues for concerts and music education workshops. These include Stansbury Theater and Memorial Chapel, the latter being one of the festival’s main stages where artists from around the country enjoy resonant sound quality and intimate performance experiences.

Memorial Chapel, one of the festival’s Main Stages, will host more than 25 performances between Thursday and Saturday, including start-your-day medleys featuring three artists each at noon Thursday, 11:30 a.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. Some of the notables scheduled for the chapel stage include Dan Rodriguez with The Talbott Brothers (6:45 p.m. Friday), King Cardinal (8:40 p.m. Friday), a combo of Tanya Gallagher, Paul Childers, Megan Slankard and Bascom Hill (6:30 p.m. Saturday) and Hugh Masterson (8 p.m. Saturday).

Harper Hall and outdoor green spaces such as The Grove and the Conservatory Green often host music education events on the east end of the Mile.

Mile of Music’s interactive workshops draw festival-goers of all ages. An estimated 7,000 people took part in the workshops during last year’s four-day festival.

5. Bonding over shared philosophies of community engagement

Lawrence and Mile of Music both emphasize community, a connection that has brought success since their partnership began in 2013. As part of that, the Music Education Team has put an emphasis on diversity, sharing instruments and music from across cultures in interactive, intimate settings.

“Our MET team has a deep commitment to celebrating the diversity of cultures and music-making that exists right here in our community,” Pertl said.

For the first time this year, Mile of Music will represent Native American and Asian-Indian music with workshops on Native American flute and dances of India.

Mile of Music is all about using music to create community. And Lawrence’s work in creating a close-knit community on campus has extended to its partnership with Mile of Music.

“Lawrence’s commitment to building community through music and music education perfectly aligns with the mission of Mile of Music,” Pertl said. “The seven-year partnership between Mile and Lawrence has helped redefine Appleton as a city that deeply values art, music and music education.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office. Awa Badiane ’21 contributed to this report.

Collaboration keys research into invasive weevils along Lake Michigan shoreline

Weevils crawl on a Pitcher's Thistle plant in Door County.
Weevils are seen on a Pitcher’s thistle plant in Door County.
(Photo: Jakub Nowak ’20)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

If you’ve ever taken a summer walk in picturesque Whitefish Dunes State Park in Door County, perhaps you’ve admired the incredible Pitcher’s thistle, an endangered flowering plant found on the sand dunes of the Great Lakes shores.

If you’ve taken a closer look, maybe you’ve spotted the invasive weevils that threaten the rare plant’s survival.

Lawrence University Assistant Professor of Biology Alyssa Hakes has been studying this plant-insect relationship since she heard about it in 2013. For a few weeks each summer, Hakes and a group of students conduct field work at Whitefish Dunes State Park, located 10 miles south of Björklunden, Lawrence’s Door County satellite campus. Their goal for each trip is to measure weevil distribution and behavior and assess its damage on the plants.

This year, Hakes wanted to create decoy Pitcher’s thistles to use as weevil traps to test their attraction to the visual cues of the plant. To put her plan in motion, she received the help of biology major Harsimran (Hari) Kalsi ’21, who created impressive 3D-printed decoys of the Pitcher’s thistle as an independent study project.

Harsimran (Hari) Kalsi ’21

Hakes had received a recommendation to work with Kalsi from David Hall, assistant professor of chemistry, and Angela Vanden Elzen, the reference and learning technologies librarian and assistant professor who oversees the Makerspace wing of the Seeley G. Mudd Library.

In his freshman year, Kalsi received 3D printing training from Vanden Elzen. He has since done 3D printing projects for Hall, designing and printing virus structures.

“Hari had the experience I needed in a collaborator,” says Hakes. “I had never worked with a 3D printer before, so I needed Hari and Angela’s help and expertise for everything.”

Kalsi was enthusiastic about taking his 3D printing experience to a new level.

“I was excited because I could use my skills to make a difference and potentially save a living organism on the verge of extinction,” he says. “I’m a huge proponent of translational science research and this is a great example of recognizing a problem in the world and designing an intervention to study and fix it.”

Field work in Door County

The weevils (Larinus carlinae) were introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s to control area populations of weedy thistles. However, it turns out that no thistle, even an endangered one, can avoid the weevils’ destruction.

The Pitcher’s thistle dies after flowering, so it only has one chance to reproduce. But the weevil comes along during egg-laying season and pierces the flower with its snout and lays her eggs within. The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the seeds, destroying the plant’s only chance to reproduce. That’s trouble for the Pitcher’s thistle species and for the ecosystem.

“It is one of the only flowering plants on the sand dunes, making it an important nectar resource to bees and butterflies,” Hakes notes.

A photo of pitcher's thistle on the dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Pitcher’s thistle is an important part of the ecosystem in dunes along the Great Lakes. (Photo: Jakub Nowak)

The weevils must be tracked and studied in their interactions with the Pitcher’s thistle in order to solve this problem. How do they choose a plant to lay their eggs in? How do they move about the dune landscape?

To find out, Hakes and her team use the mark-recapture method. This involves catching weevils and marking their backs with multicolored dots (Hakes calls these “weevil makeovers”) in order to track and identify them when they reappear in the wild. Here’s where Kalsi’s decoy plants come into play.

The faux Pitcher’s thistles are designed to trap weevils for study. They are coated in a sticky spray to snag the insect as they land to lay their eggs in the bud. The ability to manipulate the placement of the decoys makes them helpful in understanding how the weevils choose their host plant.

“This summer we tested whether weevils were attracted to our 3D-printed traps,” Hakes says. “Some traps were near real plants, and others were not. Our preliminary data on the mark-recapture study suggest that the traps are potentially more effective near real plants.”

Alyssa Hakes

She’s already setting goals for future field work based on this summer’s success with the decoys.

“We caught a few this summer. Ultimately, it would be great to use them to trap evil weevils en masse. The prototype will need to be improved if it is to be an effective tool in the future.”

Since the appearance of the decoys can be manipulated, she also hopes to use them to assess the weevil’s preferences for bud size, bud number, color and scent in the future. The possibilities are endless. Luckily, Kalsi says, “the decoys are easy to print, economically feasible and easy to transport and deploy in the field.”

In the end, the collaboration between professor and student, and ecology and tech, indicates a bright future in research.

“I love how projects like this help students and faculty collaborate across the campus and think creatively about solving problems,” says Hakes. “It’s been such a fun way to combine art and science.”

And the benefits go both ways. Kalsi’s 3D printing work has rewarded him as a student.

“I think the research I conducted with Alyssa supplements my educational path at some level,” he says. “Being a biology major who tends to focus on the molecular side of things, it was nice to work on an ecology-oriented project.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

From bees to goats to Flex Farm, LU students lead sustainability efforts

Valeria Nunez '22 stands beside the newly installed Flex Farm in Andrew Commons.
Valeria Nunez ’22 helped bring the Flex Farm hydroponic growing system to Lawrence’s Andrew Commons. The first planting is happening this week.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

It’s been the summer of sustainability on the Lawrence University campus, with students front and center in making change happen.

The goats that have taken up temporary residence in the SLUG garden are just one piece of a much bigger puzzle.

So is the ongoing bee advocacy work that has resulted in Lawrence being certified by the Bee Campus USA program, only the second Wisconsin campus to earn that designation.

Now comes the installation of Lawrence’s first Flex Farm, a hydroponic growing system set up last week by Fork Farms in Andrew Commons. The first planting in the indoor growing container — basil and leaf lettuce — is taking place this week.

The three projects are the very visible fruits of ongoing efforts to make Lawrence a more environmentally friendly campus, efforts that gained momentum when the Sustainable Lawrence initiative was launched two years ago, funded by a grant to transform the campus into a living laboratory of sustainability.

Many of the efforts are student-driven, supported by a Student Sustainability Fund that allows students access to project-based grants, overseen by a Sustainability Steering Committee.

“The goal of Lawrence’s sustainability initiative is to make students, staff and faculty aware of places where they can make more sustainable decisions and then challenge them to then make those decisions in their everyday lives,” said Project Specialist/Sustainability Coordinator Kelsey McCormick, co-chair of the sustainability committee. “It’s encouraging to see students applying their knowledge and challenging Lawrence to rethink its own processes and decisions.”

Floreal Crubaugh '20 holds a goat in the SLUG garden.
Floreal Crubaugh ’20 sought and received funding to bring 10 goats into the SLUG garden this summer to help control troublesome weeds. The goats are here through Friday.

Among those students are Valeria Nunez ’22 and Marion Hermitanio ’21, who secured funding through a sustainability grant to bring the Flex Farm to campus.

Students will operate the year-round Flex Farm, with an assist from Bon Appetit, the company that manages the commons. It’s expected that 50 percent of the foods grown will be served to students and the other half will be donated to a local food pantry. The hydroponic system will produce about 25 pounds of greens in each 23-day cycle.

Nunez and Hermitanio, along with members of the Bon Appetit staff, are getting the initial training on the Flex Farm. When fall term arrives, Nunez and Hermitanio will organize a student volunteer program, in conjunction with the school’s Committee on Community Service and Engagement (CCSE), to run the Flex Farm and coordinate the community outreach.

“We both believe that any changes you can make to be more eco friendly can make a huge difference,” Nunez said of her partnership on the project with Hermitanio.

“We were talking a lot about hunger and how not everyone gets access to fresh, nutritious foods. We saw the Flex Farm as an opportunity to address the food crisis locally by providing these nutritious foods to people in the Appleton area who need it.”

‘It’s a learning curve’

Lawrence students have their fingerprints on all sorts of other sustainability projects this summer.

Floreal Crubaugh ’20 tapped into the Student Sustainability Fund and sought permission from the City of Appleton to bring in goats to help control an overgrowth of weeds in the SLUG garden.

For more on the goats working weed control, see here.

“It’s a learning curve for all of us,” Crubaugh said of using the goats to control the weeds on the east end of the garden. “I’m hoping it’s something we can repeat. Hopefully it won’t get to this point again where it’s so unmanageable. Hopefully, with a combination of just weed mitigation and having this mowed down by goats once in a while we can control it. My end goal is to turn it into a wildflower pollination garden and not just a weed bed.”

Elsewhere in SLUG this summer, Phoebe Eisenbeis ’21 is working on a volunteer program that brings area children into the garden to learn about sustainable agriculture. Amos Egleston ’20 is working with a contractor to fix the drip irrigation system, and Cas Burr ’20 is heading a project to replace the hoop house.

On the bee front, Allegra Taylor ’20 and Claire Zimmerman ’20 are working with biology professor Israel Del Toro on the Appleton Pollinator Project, part of the bee advocacy efforts that recently resulted in Lawrence earning a Bee Campus USA designation from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

For more on Lawrence’s bee advocacy work, see here.

And Jessica Robyns ’20 is taking the lead on a pollinator garden and grounds survey at Lawrence’s Bjorklunden property in Door County.

Students come to these projects with deep passions, McCormick said. The Student Sustainability Fund allows them opportunities to put those passions into action.

“Student projects play an important role in helping Lawrence achieve its sustainability goals,” McCormick said. “These projects are often based on the strong interests or research questions from students, and therefore result in deep exploration of a particular topic.”

Sustainability grants average about $2,500 per project, McCormick said. A faculty or staff advisor is assigned to each project to provide oversight, and all grant requests must go through the Sustainability Steering Committee.

“All sustainability grant recipients are also required to complete a final reflection for their project, to inform the Lawrence community what they have learned from the project and what the lasting effects to campus will be,” McCormick said.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Goats called in for weed control, and, yes, we put a “Goat Cam” on a goat named Blu

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

APPLETON – Goats are busy working the garden. We’ve got the “Goat Cam” footage to prove it.

Ten goats — two Nigerian dwarf goats and eight fainting goats — have settled into the SLUG garden on the Lawrence University campus, and for the next week will continue to devour unwanted thistle and burdock weeds.

The goats — supplied by Steve Anderson of Mount Morris, owner of the newly launched Goat Busters farm — arrived last Tuesday after Lawrence biology major and SLUG garden manager Floreal Crubaugh ’20 put out a call for rented goats.

“I was looking for more sustainable ways to control the weeds than applying herbicides, and more efficient ways than pulling them up manually,” Crubaugh said.

We attached a GoPro camera — our “Goat Cam” — to the back of one of the goats. We let Blu show us the work in progress on a Monday morning in the garden. Be warned: the footage is adorable and may steal a large chunk of your day.

The SLUG (Sustainable Lawrence University Garden), a student-run nonprofit enterprise that uses sustainable agricultural methods to nurture a honeybee apiary, a fruit tree orchard, a vegetable garden and a hoop house, has been a fixture on the Lawrence campus for nearly two decades.

But the use of goats is a first.

Crubaugh went in search of goat rentals after successfully seeking monies through a Lawrence sustainability grant. The thistle and burdock weeds on the east end of the garden had gotten unmanageable, and the student volunteers couldn’t keep up, she said.

“I thought, what if we got some goats in here and they basically do the work for us, all while providing a lot of benefits for the garden, like fertilizer and digesting the seeds?” she said. “It was a really impossible project to take care of as humans, so we turned to goats.”

Lawrence senior Floreal Crubaugh holds one of the goats in the SLUG garden.
Floreal Crubaugh ’20 holds one of the goats in Lawrence’s SLUG garden. Crubaugh, the garden manager, brought in goats to help control troublesome weeds that have overgrown a portion of the student-run garden.

See more photos of the goats in the SLUG garden here.

More on sustainability efforts at Lawrence here.

Crubaugh, Anderson and LU officials first sought permission from the City of Appleton to allow for the goats. They were granted a special exemption for three weeks.

Anderson installed a temporary fence last Monday, then delivered the goats the following day.

“With the university always being progressive and thinking ahead, I think this is going to encourage the city and the county to take goats more seriously,” Anderson said. “Invasive plants are a widespread problem, whether it’s these weeds or buckthorn or whatever the issue is.”

It’s the first time he’s rented out the goats, something he wants to do more of in the future.

Anderson, who initially got the 10 goats this spring to help tackle a growing buckthorn problem on his family’s 30-plus acres in Waushara County, said he hopes to expand his goat herd and eventually connect with cities and counties to help control weed and invasive plant issues in parks and along hiking trails.

“They eat the seeds,” Anderson said of the goats. “That’s one of the biggest advantages of the goats is that they digest the seeds. The birds just spread it. But goats will actually digest it, so there’s no new growth.”

Steve Anderson, operator of Goat Busters, holds one of the goats in the SLUG garden.
Steve Anderson operates Goat Busters out of Mount Morris. He delivered 10 goats to the SLUG garden at Lawrence. They’ll remain in the garden through July 19.

Visitors are welcome to check out the goats and the work going on in the SLUG garden, located at the base of the hill just off of Lawe Street. Most of the goats are fairly shy. But a couple are outwardly social and are happy to greet visitors to the garden.

Crubaugh, who can be found tending the garden most days during the summer, hopes her work in SLUG will set the table for career opportunities in the sustainability field after she graduates.

“This is a good way to get a taste of that,” she said.

The senior from Bloomington, Illinois, had worked with goats while helping relatives who operate a cattle ranch in Montana. She saw the sustainability benefits first hand.

“I’d go out there during my summers as a kid and help bottle feed the orphan goats, and I’d watch the goats just move across the fields like a sundial, just mowing everything down,” she said. “That’s where this idea sort of originated for me.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

A pioneer with Posse 1, Mei Xian Gong takes on new role as a Lawrence trustee

Mei Xian Gong ’11

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Mei Xian Gong ’11 was a trailblazer when she arrived on the Lawrence University campus in the fall of 2007, a member of the school’s first group of Posse Foundation scholars.

A dozen years later, she’s blazing a new trail as the first of the Posse alumni to be elected to Lawrence’s Board of Trustees. She joins the board as a Recent Graduate Trustee, a three-year term for an alum within two to 10 years of graduation.

It was in the fall of 2007 that Lawrence welcomed its first group of 10 Posse scholarship students after forming a partnership with the New York-based Posse Foundation. The nonprofit organization assesses and develops students from diverse backgrounds who show leadership potential.

For a story on newly elected trustees, click here.

For more on the Posse Foundation, click here.

Gong tapped into her leadership skills as an undergraduate, serving on the Lawrence University Alumni Association Board of Directors and as a member of the LUAA Connecting to Campus Committee.

Now a market manager for Mettler-Toledo in Columbus, Ohio, Gong called her Lawrence experience a “major force” in her development and wants to pay it forward as a trustee.

“I want to have a better understanding of Lawrentians at different points of their journey, from alumni to current students and future Lawrentians,” Gong said. “I am sure much has changed since I was last on Main Hall green, so I hope I can learn from our current students on how we can continue to nurture them.”

Gong majored in chemistry and interdisciplinary chemistry/biology at Lawrence, later earning an MBA at Ohio State University. She has been with Mettler-Toledo since 2016, and has stayed involved with Lawrence in various alumni volunteer roles over the past eight years.

Posse experience

Lawrence is one of more than 50 colleges and universities that partner with the Posse Foundation, nearly double the number of partner schools since Lawrence and Posse first linked arms in 2006.

Gong was selected as part of the debut Lawrence group — known on campus as Posse 1 — and she says she continues to lean on her Lawrence and Posse experiences to this day.

“I still remember the moment when I internalized who I want to be,” she said. “It was the summer of 2007, before we started freshman year at Lawrence, when my Posse was tasked to complete an activity together in New York City. We had a guideline, with minimal directions, an envelope to open when we completed the task, and many ideas for what we can do.

“After a long discussion, we finally decided to take the ferry to Staten Island and go clean up a nearby beach. We had a common goal and yet still went through the different stages of group development. … My Posse members were young leaders with different backgrounds, experiences, and thoughts. Yet, still, I was shocked that we went through the forming, storming, norming, and performing stages when completing this as a team. … We acknowledged what role we took, and shared what role we would want in the future. I wanted to take on a more adaptable role, be what the group may need at different times, and chose ‘trailblazer.’

“Many of my Posse memories are like this … open discussions in safe spaces where I learned more about who I was and who I want to be. I learned from my Posse, relied on them to help me grow and take risks, and welcomed the person I was becoming.

“This continued at Lawrence and throughout my four years there.”

Gong said much of what she learned at Lawrence came well beyond the classroom. She got involved in alumni relations and worked as a class agent, which gave her opportunities to connect with faculty and administrators in a different capacity and gave her insights into the importance of campus finances, alumni connections and university stewardship.

“I would not be who I am today if I did not have the Posse plus Lawrence experience,” Gong said. “The Lawrence bubble is a thriving environment where we had many opportunities and mentors to guide us as we took risks, stepping a bit outside of our comfort zone.”

For the Posse Foundation, seeing one of its scholars appointed to the trustee position is testament to the strong bonds between the program and Lawrence.

“We are so proud of Mei,” said Posse Foundation Founder and President Deborah Bial. “As a Lawrence Posse alumna, she exemplifies leadership of the highest standard. Her professional expertise combined with her commitment to giving back make her an invaluable member of our community. We are thrilled for her and grateful to President Burstein and his fantastic team for our 13-year partnership, which has allowed us to serve so many dynamic students.”

From NYC to Lawrence

Born in Guangzhou, China, Gong came to the United States with her family in 1998. She grew up in Manhattan, and, with parents who spoke little English, she assumed certain leadership and outreach roles in her family. She would become the first member of her family to attend college.

Then a senior at Millennium High School, Gong said the Posse scholarship opened new doors for her. She chose Lawrence as one of her preferred schools in part because of the small student-to-faculty ratio.

“I really like the small environment, so I picked Lawrence as one my top choices,” she said.

The Posse Foundation puts an emphasis on diversity and the benefits that come when diversity is celebrated and nurtured. Being part of a Posse group — particularly as a member of the first Posse class at Lawrence — provides insights and tools that she and other Posse students can take into their post-college careers as they build and encourage positive workplace relationships, Gong said.

“I think it definitely makes it smoother as we go to work in different organizations,” she said.

The ongoing connections with Lawrence, even before her appointment as a trustee, have continued to be significant and beneficial.

Gong praised Cal Husmann, Lawrence’s vice president for alumni and development, and his staff for their efforts to stay connected with Lawrentians after they leave campus.

“He takes a vested interest in the student’s world,” she said of Husmann. “That’s really helpful, especially early in our careers when there are so many changes in our lives. He continued to reach out and show interest in my growth. That helped me feel confident in my abilities, knowing there is someone back at Lawrence who cares about my development.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu