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board member Q&A

Get to know Bush Foundation Board member Irv Weiser

Can you share about your career and volunteer work?  

I went to law school in New York and came to Minneapolis in 1973 to work as an associate for Dorsey & Whitney, where I worked for 12 years. Later I left the practice of law and became president and CEO of RBC Dain Rauscher. I did a lot of volunteering for a couple reasons. One, I had the desire to give back. The other, frankly, is it was fun. You get a window into a broader community. During my tenure on the Bush Foundation Board, I have met people I don’t think I ever would have met otherwise.

Where were you born?

My parents were Holocaust survivors, and I was born in a refugee camp just outside of Munich in 1947. I lived there for two years before we moved to Buffalo, N.Y. There were a lot of different ways that parents and children dealt with the war. It was just something we never asked in our family. I think I was 21 the first time that I learned anything about my dad’s experiences in the war, and he told me everything since. I videotaped my father telling his life story, which was a great thing to do because he died 10 years after I did it.

What accomplishments and awards are you most proud of?

I get Father’s Day cards from my daughters that say I’m a great dad, and I get them every year. My wife and I have been married 46 years, and we have two adopted daughters from Korea.

Who has influenced your life the most?

My father. I think sometimes it takes a long time to realize what you learned from your parents. But I think my father was a very hard-working man. He worked six days a week, three nights a week. He always put family above everything else.

What is your favorite quote?

My father had a quote he used to tell us. “If I’m not for myself, who will be? If I’m only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?” That has always guided my life. I’ve always believed you have to take responsibility for yourself but you have to hold the door open for others in front of you.

Alec Soth (BF’08) hit the streets, literally, with his latest social-media-meets-art-meets-experimental-education venture known as the Winnebago Workshop. Named for the vehicle he traveled in, Soth’s idea was to visit groups of creative young people, gather their stories, and later return to that place to present live, public events using the material gathered.


Archibald and  Edyth Bush
Archibald and Edyth Bush

Jennifer Alstad is a 2015 honoree of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s Diversity in Business Award. Individuals are selected for outstanding contributions and exceptional business leadership. Alstad co-founded bswing, a Minneapolis-based product design and digital marketing firm in 1997.

Stephanie Andrews was selected to be a 2016 Presidio Institute Fellow. The Presidio Institute fosters collaboration among cross sector leaders to make meaningful impact in the world. As an Institute Fellow, Stephanie will build her practice of leadership through coaching calls, in-person retreats and online learning courses.

Carly Bad Heart Bull was named a 2015 Aspen Scholar, a group of 300 national and global leaders recognized for their work, accomplishments and ability to transform ideas into action. As a special guest at the Aspen Ideas Festival, she participated in a week’s worth of cross-sector discussions, panels and workshops.

Justin Christy was selected to participate in the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute. Organized by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, the Institute is a yearlong leadership program that offers community-serving leaders from all sectors the opportunity for renewal and reflection.

Mandy Ellerton was selected to be part of the Twin Cities cohort for the Young American Leaders Program. The group of 10 local leaders will join national peers in a program at Harvard to build skills in working across sectors to address civic challenges.

Dr. Eric Jolly stepped in to his new role as president of the Minnesota Philanthropy Partners in 2015. Minnesota Philanthropy Partners is the umbrella organization that comprises The Saint Paul Foundation, Minnesota Community Foundation, F.R. Bigelow Foundation, Mardag Foundation and other charitable groups across the state.

June Noronha received a Life Membership to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators during its 67th Annual Conference & Expo. Life Membership recognizes career achievements in advancing the goals of the association and of international education and exchange. Noronha has spent decades advocating for educational equity, intercultural learning and human rights issues.

Jaime Pinkham was chosen to serve on the leadership council of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ Center for Indian Country Development. Launched in 2015, the CICD will help restore economic prosperity for tribes across the region; Pinkham and the leadership council will advise and assist with the CICD’s strategy and priorities.

Dameun Strange was one of three artists to receive the 2015 Minnesota Emerging Composers Award (MECA). The award engages Minnesota-based artists and supports them in their creative endeavors. Strange will collaborate with Venessa Fuentes to compose “Mother King,” an opera about Alberta Williams King, activist and mother of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Two of Nancy Weidler’s watercolor paintings were selected for the Edina Art Center Members Juried Art Show.

After six years of service in the White House, Jodi Gillette (BF’02) resigned from her position as President Barack Obama’s special assistant for Native American affairs to pursue a new opportunity. In May 2015 she accepted a position as policy advisor at Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry, LLP, a Washington D.C. law firm devoted to representing Native American interests.

A member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Gillette provided apt representation for Native communities during her White House tenure. Her work with the Obama administration began in 2009 when she served as an associate director of intergovernmental affairs. One year later, she transitioned into the role of deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, and in 2012, she became Obama’s special assistant for Native American Affairs.

Gillette was an integral part of the administration’s focus on Indian Country. In addition to providing insight and advice on behalf of Native communities, Gillette helped develop the annual White House Tribal Conference. Additionally, she played a role in the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization in 2013, providing more support to tribal police, prosecutors and courts.

Minnesota author David Treuer (BF’03) uses his fiction and nonfiction writing to debunk stereotypes about Native American people. The son of an Austrian Holocaust survivor and a tribal court judge, Treuer’s work often includes stories of his youth, growing up on the Leech Lake Ojibwe Reservation.

Treuer has been a guest at several national events. He was a guest author at the Institute of American Indian Arts’ 2016 Winter Writers Festival in Santa Fe, N.M., an annual event that features readings from notable authors as well as showcases students’ work. Additionally, Treuer spoke about his nonfiction book “Rez Life,” at a school in Le Sueur, Minn.

Treuer has a doctorate in anthropology and has earned fellowships from the Bush Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation. His work has appeared in Esquire, The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Fellowship: Five Years Out

Andrea Jenkins applied for a Bush Fellowship because she wanted to improve the ways in which transgender people were seen in the Twin Cities. In other words, she saw an opportunity to directly influence and lead change in her community.

“There was a deep need in the transgender community to build a leadership development program that was specifically targeting transgender people,” she says. Through that work and with the support of the Bush Foundation, Jenkins has developed herself into a national leader around transgender issues.

In her five years since becoming a Bush Fellow, Jenkins has spoken at various conferences, including the Trans Ohio Conference in 2013, and the Gender Odyssey conference in 2015—where she was a keynote speaker alongside fellow transgender activist and nationally acclaimed writer Kate Bornstein—and many more.

Jenkins is an accomplished poet, writer and performer who uses her art as a vehicle for transgender inclusion and equity. “My art is my advocacy, and my advocacy is my art,” Jenkins explains. “I really believe that art can have an impact on social change.”

Most recently, Jenkins has been integral in the Transgender Oral History Project, which is part of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota. The project comprises interviews with nearly 200 sources sharing their experiences as transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

“It’s the pinnacle of documenting and then offering those stories to the broader community,” Jenkins says, adding that the Fellowship has been a vital part of that sharing.

You might say Jenkins’s work is the culmination of a lifetime deeply rooted in achieving complete acceptance and integration of transgender people, and you’d be right.

“That’s the real reason why I do this work,” she says. “We have to create awareness, understanding, empathy, acceptance and inclusion of transgender and gender non-conforming people fully and wholly.”

When Beth Zemsky (BF’00) began advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equity in 1980, she had no idea how much momentum the cause would gather over the years.

OutFront Minnesota, an LGBTQ advocacy group, awarded Zemsky the esteemed Legacy Award at its annual gala in 2015. The distinction is reserved for an individual who demonstrates longstanding commitment to LGBTQ rights in Minnesota.

Zemsky’s advocacy includes work at OutFront Minnesota as the founding director of the University of Minnesota GLBTA Programs Office, as an adjunct instructor at the University of Minnesota, and on the National LGBTQ Task Force Board. Zemsky also consults with Twin Cities businesses and organizations in intercultural organization development.

Zemsky helps clients—big and small, nonprofit and government, education and faith-based—tap into their true potential and become what she describes as “interculturally competent” workplaces. Some of her clients include United Way, Best Buy Corp., the YWCA and the Bush Foundation. Her approach helps these organizations connect overarching strategies to their existing diversity, ultimately accomplishing goals more efficiently and effectively.

Under the direction of mother-daughter team Ranee Ramaswamy (BF’96) and Aparna Ramaswamy (BF’02), Ragamala Dance Co.’s work explores the dynamic tension between the ancestral and the contemporary.

As choreographers and performers, Ranee and Aparna create dance landscapes that dwell in opposition—secular and spiritual life, inner and outer worlds, human and natural concerns, rhythm and stillness—to find the transcendence that lies in between.

For the past 30 years, Ranee and Aparna have created their own specific sub-genre that combines a contemporary Western aesthetic with an Indian ethos. And they are heralded worldwide, receiving high praise from The New York Times and The Huffington Post, as well as countless awards and special honors, the most recent of which is the 2016 Joyce Award.
The company’s work has been commissioned by the Walker Art Center, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, the Krannert Center for Performing Arts at the University of Illinois, the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), and Opening Nights Performing Arts at Florida State University.

The Red Lake Nation is unique among reservations that share geography with Minnesota, and a new book by historian and author Anton Treuer (BF’08) tells the story. Treuer obtained access to archives and gathered oral histories directly from elders that cover more than four centuries in “Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe.”

The book, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in the fall of 2015, chronicles tribal efforts to retain its reservation lands, governance and cultural identity throughout history. Today, Red Lake is home to the highest number of Ojibwe-speaking people in Minnesota. Formerly the executive director of Bemidji State
University’s American Indian Resource Center, Treuer only recently returned to his true passion: teaching. He says that in addition to working directly with students on campus, he also looks forward to participating in the university’s outreach to engage students—including those in elementary, middle and high schools—across the broader region.
Treuer’s engaging stories resonate with students of all ages. “There will be a lot of people who will tell you to spread your wings, but I encourage you to explore your roots,” he often tells youth. “We have 10,000 years of history in this place and continue to make history. Our culture, the way we look at the world, our language, our connection to this land, is who we are.”

People have continually turned to Brandon Jones (BF’13) throughout his life. When he discovered his love for all things psychology and sociology, his career path practically chose him, he says.

After growing up with what Jones describes as “trauma and drama,” he now uses his experiences to propel his work as a mental health practitioner with the city of Minneapolis. The heart of Jones’s work centers on African American families, particularly adolescent males.

Jones sees a void in positive messages aimed at African American males. He uses his passion for writing and public speaking to fill that void with podcasts, articles and other content through the Jegna Institute—an online platform he created prior to his Fellowship but that took off during that journey.

Jones drew inspiration from traditional African culture and language to name his website. The word “Jegna” is a term of distinction he finds deeply powerful. Through content that sheds light on mental health issues, healthy masculinity and trauma care in the black community, Jones inspires others to become a Jegna—the best version of themselves and an inspiring leader to those around them.

Living in a state with some of the nation’s lowest energy costs can lead to waste and a negative impact on the environment. Malini Srivastava (BF’14), an architect and North Dakota State University professor, has long recognized the state’s potential to dramatically change this trend.

She is part of eFargo, a cross-sector collaborative team competing in the Georgetown University Energy Prize. The national competition challenges a select number of cities to rethink their energy use and, over a two-year span, pilot creative strategies to increase efficiency.

Srivastava’s work with the City of Fargo, Cass County Electric Cooperative and Xcel Energy is on a mission to cut citywide energy use by 5 percent between 2014 and 2016. By educating residents, rallying government support, and constructing and renovating energy-efficient buildings, she is leading a groundbreaking movement for a greener state.

As founder and artistic director of Minneapolis-based VocalEssence, Philip Brunelle (BF’75) is constantly creating new ways to wow an audience.

He garnered much-deserved national media attention in 2015 when his leading choral ensemble was asked to perform “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” alongside The Rolling Stones when they performed at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Choir members rang out the song’s melody while Brunelle directed them from the stage.

Arthur Amiotte (BF’80) celebrated his decades-long career earlier this year with a traveling exhibit that included stops at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, S.D., and the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, S.D.

Inspired by a mix of historic pictures and his great grandfather’s drawings, “Transformation and Continuity of Lakota Culture: The Collages of Arthur Amiotte, 1988-2014” displayed dozens of his most recent collages. The painter, author and educator wanted to tell his family’s history on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The recipient of a Bush Enduring Vision Award and a 2002 Bush Artist Fellowship, the South Dakota artist has shown his work in more than 100 regional, national and international galleries including the Smithsonian.

Adriana Abariotes (BF’14) is executive director of the Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation program, one of the partners involved with 2700 University Avenue, a groundbreaking mixed income housing development. The $54 million project, located at the corner of University and Emerald avenues in Saint Paul, Minn., will feature community spaces, public art installation and 3,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. According to Abariotes, “The 2700 University partnership has demonstrated a new replicable approach that leverages public investment and traditional multifamily financing.”

Rebuilder Dave Archambault II (Cohort 1) was featured on the cover of City Magazine’s September/October 2015 issue in a story about how his leadership as the 45th Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe led to a number of notable accomplishments, particularly for Native youth. Archambault and tribal citizens hosted an historic 2014 visit from President Obama and the First Lady. That visit led to a first-of-its-kind White House convening that brought 875 Native youths from across the country, Michelle Obama and Cabinet members together.

Justin Beaulieu
Justin Beaulieu

Justin Beaulieu The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development named Rebuilder Justin Beaulieu (Cohort 2) one of their 2015 “Native American 40 under 40.” Beaulieu, a citizen of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, was nominated by members of his community based on his leadership, initiative and dedication.

Frank Big Bear (BF’08) of Duluth, Minn., won two fellowships in 2015. He was named a USA Knight Foundation Fellow by United States Artists, a grantmaking and arts advocacy group. The prestigious honor includes $50,000 in unrestricted funds through USA, and an additional $5,000 through the Knight Foundation to lead a community engagement project. He also received a 2015 Native Arts & Culture Foundation Artist Fellowship to support future art endeavors now that he has shifted from drawing to collage-making and painting.

Jacquie Berglund (BF’14) is behind a growing Minneapolis-based social entrepreneurship movement. Finnegans—the nonprofit brewery she founded in 2000—announced in 2015 that it would be an integral part of a seven-story, 148-room hotel development. The one-of-a-kind “Brewtel” project will house the Finnegans micro-brewery, an event space and a new social-impact “Finnovation Lab” that will serve as a business incubator for social entrepreneur start-ups.

Kevin Brooks
Kevin Brooks

Kevin Brooks (BF’13) received North Dakota State University’s 2015 Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Faculty Service Award. Brooks offered the $5,000 award as a fundraising match to launch the Refugee Consortium of North Dakota. As a newly established network of advocacy organizations, the Consortium is dedicated to supporting the Fargo-Moorhead refugee community through citizenship classes, youth programs and other resources. In September 2015, the consortium hosted a Welcome Week to recognize refugees’ community contributions and encourage integration in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Poet and painter Alvaro Cardona-Hine (BF’78) celebrated two accomplishments in 2015. He showcased his latest series of paintings, “Dream Cities,” in his Cardona-Hine Gallery in Truchas, N.M.; and he received the New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award for his contributions to the local poetry community.

DeAnna Cummings
DeAnna Cummings

DeAnna Cummings (BF’07 and current Board member), executive director of Juxtaposition Arts, oversaw a major renovation project in north Minneapolis. The new space, Juxtaposition’s fourth such project, is home to the Community Design Studio and a “maker space” where local youth work with artists, architects, landscape architects, planners and organizers on a variety of creative projects for clients.

In 2015 Vincent Delaney (BF’03) debuted his play “The Art of Bad Men” in Seattle. The piece taps the insight Delaney gained from interviews with American World War II prison guards and their prisoners of war, telling the story of a group of German prisoners.

Jim Denomie
Jim Denomie

Jim Denomie (BF’08) garnered national and international attention for his vivid paintings. The artist, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe, won a Regional Artist Fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation; he was also the first artist to show work in a new studio gallery space in Germany.

The Huffington Post recently featured Karen Diver (BF’02) in a series of articles highlighting the “people and issues that will shape the world in the next decade.” Diver implemented policies benefiting both the economy and the environment as chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. In November 2015, President Obama appointed her special assistant to the president for Native American affairs.

Makram El-Amin (BF’14), an imam at Masjid An-Nur in north Minneapolis, met with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she spoke in Minneapolis in December 2015. El-Amin was among a handful of Muslim and Somali community leaders who met with Clinton to discuss their concerns about rising tensions surrounding international terrorist attacks.

In Morris, Minn., one of Stevens County Commissioner Jeanne Ennen’s (BF’13) dreams has become a reality. Ennen used her Fellowship to develop Raising Up Stearns Stevens County Kinship, or RUSC Kinship, a nonprofit youth mentorship program. The program is an affiliate of Kinship, the regional mentoring organization with a network of 36 affiliates located in the upper Midwest.

Elizabeth Glidden
Elizabeth Glidden

Elizabeth Glidden (BF’13) traveled to Brazil in August of 2015 to study the impact of the country’s racial inequality reduction laws. Glidden, who serves as vice president of the Minneapolis City Council, is leading efforts to address racial disparities in the city.

Esperanza Guerrero-Anderson (BF’88) was one of eight individuals named to Minnesota Women Business Owner’s Hall of Fame by Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal for her founding of Guerrero-Anderson, Inc.

Richard Iron Cloud (BF’14, Cohort 1) first swam the icy waters between Alcatraz Island and San Francisco in 2003 as part of the inaugural PATHSTAR Alcatraz Swim Week. The weeklong event, which promotes healthy lifestyles for Native Americans, just concluded its 13th swim with 13 participants from across several generations and numerous Native communities.

Richard Iron Cloud

Kevin Kling (BF’03), one of the notable storytelling voices behind National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and famed Minnesota artist, performed at the 10th anniversary of the Edge Center for the Arts in Bigfork, Minn.

Megan Laudenschlager (BF’14) created Strengthen ND, a nonprofit with an objective of helping other nonprofits in western North Dakota succeed. The organization was profiled in the Minot Daily News, which led to national attention from The Washington Times.

Bryan Nelson (BF’97) was named a 2015 Exceptional Master Leader by The ChildCare Exchange, an advocacy group that supports early childhood education professionals worldwide. Nelson, executive director of MenTeach, joined a cohort of nearly 50 peers for his efforts to increase awareness that men make great teachers.

Maureen Ramirez

Maureen Ramirez (BF’14) is director of policy and research for Growth & Justice, a Saint Paul, Minn.-based advocacy organization. In 2015, Minnesota was one of 19 states without a goal to increase postsecondary attainment. Because of Ramirez’s leadership, Growth & Justice helped Gov. Mark Dayton set a goal during the 2015 legislative session to have 70 percent of residents obtain postsecondary degrees by 2025.

We note with sadness the 2015 death of Sharon Rice Vaughan (BF’79). Prior to her Fellowship, she was part of a group that established Women’s Advocates. In 1974, the group converted a Saint Paul, Minn., home into the nation’s first domestic violence shelter—a shelter that continues to serve victims today. Rice Vaughan spent her career creating places where women and children could be safe from domestic violence.

Lori Saroya
Lori Saroya

Lori Saroya (BF’14) co-founded and is former executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). Her civil rights activism and leadership at CAIR-MN were honored in 2015 by Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison.

In late 2015, the Bill Simenson Quintet debuted at The Nicollet, a south Minneapolis cafe. Composer and teacher Bill Simenson (BF’99) was on the trumpet, Nathan Hanson on saxophone, David Martin on guitar, Chris Bates on bass and JT Bates on drums. The quintet played many of Simenson’s original compositions.

Saint Paul, Minn.-based poet Richard Solly (BF’95) passed away in May 2015. His poetry, which often reflected difficult personal themes, can be found in various books such as “From Where the Rivers Come,” published by Holy Cow! Press in 2006. He most recently worked as senior acquisitions editor of publishing at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

In July 2015 Rebuilder Sam Strong (Cohort 1) ran 200 miles to support, encourage and celebrate sobriety as part of the 19th Annual Anishinabe Spirit Run. The four-day run, Strong’s seventh consecutive, included up to 50 other runners. The group began in Redby, Minn., and ended at the Fond du Lac Mash-ka-wisen Powwow Grounds in Sawyer, Minn., for the 36th annual Celebration of Sobriety Powwow.

Barton Sutter (BF’89) spent the past five years writing a collection of 150 haiku about his nature walks near Chester Creek in Duluth, Minn. Nodin Press published “Chester Creek
Ravine,” which features artwork by Cecilia Lieder, in 2015. His May book release was celebrated at Duluth Congregational Church and included Scandinavian music by his brother Ross Sutter.

Ryan Taylor
Ryan Taylor

President Obama appointed Ryan Taylor (BF’13) to serve as North Dakota state director for rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Taylor, a fourth generation rancher, used his Fellowship to learn how Norway’s economy could impact North Dakota as it harnesses its notable energy boom.

Bush Medical Fellow Patricia Walker (BF’95) was named president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Founded in 1903, it is the largest international scientific organization of its kind, focusing on reducing tropical infectious diseases and improving global health.

David Whitesock
David Whitesock

In a 2015 Pollen profile, David Whitesock (BF’15) shared his personal story of addiction recovery and how it led to his work helping others overcome the same illness. Whitesock is the addiction informatics officer for Face It TOGETHER Sioux Falls, an organization that received a 2014 Bush Prize for its highly collaborative, community-based approach to solving addiction (see story).


Cranial Sacral Therapy art by Carolyn Swiszcz
Cranial Sacral Therapy
Carolyn Swiszcz

The Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority have partnered with consulting group Sports & The Arts to curate a visual art collection for the new U. S. Bank Stadium. The Minneapolis stadium will showcase original art commissioned by over three dozen area artists including Bush Fellows David Rathman (BF’92), Peyton Scott Russell (BF’12) and Carolyn Swiszcz (BF’02).

Rathman, whose work has been featured from the Twin Cities to Milan, Italy, primarily creates watercolor and oil paintings on paper and canvas. Many of his scenes depict interpretations of Wild West cowboys, junkyard cars, football players and more. 

Tumbling Text by Peyton Scott Russell
Tumbling Text by Peyton Scott Russell

Russell’s graffiti art can be found in public and private spaces across the United States. As a community advocate and teacher, he works to broaden the public’s understanding and appreciation of graffiti art.

Taking the overlooked bits of everyday life, Swiszcz gives new and interesting life to places like corporate office buildings, strip malls and churches. Her bright combination of painting and printmaking has put the Minnesota-based artist on the map.