Future-focused 20-something leaders from northeast Wisconsin bring out the best in others
Story by Lee Marie Reinsch, New North B2B editor
Uber-hailing non car-owning snowflakes? Phone addicts unable to socialize with actual people? Basement dwellers who prefer League of Legends to outdoor oxygen? No, no, and no. New North B2B’s fourth annual 3 Under 30 honorees blast the Millennial stereotype-machine to smithereens. They garden and woodwork, they transform ugly spaces into vibrant havens, they kick soccer balls around and are math wizards. They not only get outside, they relish the open air and thrive on community contact. We’ve selected three 20-somethings who not only are heading for achievement, they’re already there. These 3 Under 30 recipients for 2017 knock our collective socks off and serve as inspirations to people of any age.
Who’d have thought a minor change like getting a job closer to home could lead to a Tudor house remodel, improved family relationships, more community involvement and a better-groomed garden?
Many people would use it as an excuse to sleep-in longer.
“Having moved back to Oshkosh, I’m able to fit even more things in without the travel time,” said Kristopher Ulrich, director of marketing and communications for Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. “The past three years, it was an hour off my day,” he said, depending on road conditions.
He’s referring to the three years he spent commuting with his former job as executive director of newVoices choir in Appleton. Ulrich started with OACF in late April and says it’s been a good transition.
“I’ve been looking for a way to bring things I’ve learned in the nonprofit sector back to Oshkosh,” he said. “I think my lifelong Oshkosh residency and passion for the community help tie it all together.”
He said his love for the area superseded pursuit of work in larger cities.
“I was taught that you should go out into the world, learn great skills and bring what you’ve learned back to your community,” he said. “This is home, all my family is here. The older I get, the more I really love being close to my folks and grandparents.”
Ulrich is active with – and the youngest member of – Neenah Rotary Club and received its “40 Under 40” scholarship to attend its regional convention. He’s a graduate of the inaugural Nonprofit Leadership Initiative, which is a partnership of Fox Valley-area nonprofits, schools and businesses committed to bettering nonprofits. He’s working on his MBA at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, with an emphasis in medical administration.
“He’s bright, he’s articulate, he’s creative, he’s a big supporter of the Oshkosh Area School District and the arts overall and quality of life,” said Barbara Herzog, a friend and vice president of the Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education. “He’s not afraid to speak up and share his opinion, and it’s more than just sharing emotion, it’s based on facts or things that have an objective base to them.”
Ulrich served on the 2016 Oshkosh School District referendum committee, the steering committee for Propel Oshkosh – the community’s young professionals organization – and on the boards of directors for Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra and Neenah Rotary. He’s passionate about Rotary.
“Professionally, it’s connected me with a vast array of leaders within our community and throughout the whole state, truly,” he said. “Personally, I’ve made lifelong friends who value service above self, as the Rotary motto suggests.”
Another passion: music. Even before he directed newVoices Choir, he and his wife, choral director at Oshkosh North High School, were involved with Oshkosh Choraliers and Oshkosh Chamber Singers.
“We’re both musical people,” he said. In college he belonged to a touring choir that went to Europe.
Ulrich led a program at First Congregational Church in Oshkosh that pairs monthly noontime concerts with meals for seniors.
“This has been one of the most successful outreach projects we have done at First Congregational Church,” said fellow church member and community leader Dave Elbing.
Through newVoices, Ulrich partnered with dementia-care organizations and the Sexual Assault Crisis Center to provide concerts to raise money for those causes and worked with newVoices to register voters for the 2016 election.
He also secured a $40,000 grant from US Venture to provide four years of collaborative masterworks between Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and newVoices.
“Those areas are not ones that I, at least, typically associate with a regional choir, but I really was impressed with the direction that newVoices took under his leadership,” said Herzog.
Herzog cited his 1,300-square-foot garden and his woodworking abilities as examples of his well-roundedness. “He’s a Renaissance man,” she said.
Ulrich turned the basement of their 1936 Tudor Revival into a wood shop, and to date has built a pergola, 8-foot garden arch and gate, and refinished their kitchen cabinets. He also makes how-to videos of the DIY home projects for social media.
“Woodworking is something I was happy to be exposed to in the Oshkosh Area School District as a middle schooler, and I took to it,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich credits his education at Luther College in Decorah, Ia., with instilling in him the desire for a range of interests.
“It’s a liberal arts college, and the philosophies there encouraged people to be well-rounded and have diverse interests, because diverse interests provide multiple perspectives on life and with dealing with community issues,” he said. Not to mention the mental-health benefits of de-stressing at the end of the day.
“We don’t really sit around and watch TV. We’re part of the generation that never got a phone line and never got cable, so I do my fun hobbies,” he said. “You make the time for things that are important.”
He credits his musical involvement with his social mobility. “Much of the direction I’ve taken with my life has come from conversations and relationships I’ve had through music.”
Ulrich is getting his bearings with his new job but eventually would like to be involved with city government, possibly as a volunteer or as an elected official.
“These are ambitious goals as I look toward my late 30s and early 40s. It’s fun to speculate. I’m really passionate about making sure everything that I’ve learned goes to benefit Oshkosh.”
Art is the answer
Come up with a problem, and Matt Bero will probably come up with an offbeat idea to solve it. Got empty storefronts in your downtown area? Enter The Mouvre (pronounced ‘move’), a series of pop-up galleries designed to attract positive attention and exposure to unoccupied downtown real estate while giving artists an outlet. Kind of like home staging – only with commercial spaces and more creativity.
Got a lack of public art? Enter Lookup Art. That’s Bero’s rolling mural service and devotion to transforming ugly walls into places of wonder. Lookup Art has evolved into Bero’s fulltime gig, Design Bero.
Or how about a new library auditorium that needs a community introduction? Enter Stacks & Steeples, a music series showcasing local musicians and bands with Green Bay roots.
Are your city’s artists and white-collar administrators living in two entirely separate worlds? Enter Catalyst, a colossal multi-media arts party last year in downtown Green Bay pulling community leaders and creatives together and establishing lasting alliances.
“There’s a lot of creative, talented, talented people in the greater Green Bay area that are entirely untapped, busy with their day jobs, or don’t have that little nudge to push them further to take a step to create something they might not normally create or always wanted to do,” Bero said. “If I create the platform that can solve some of these problems, I can entice them to do these things they’d like to do, and that’s really fulfilling for me.”
On Broadway, Inc. Executive Director Brian Johnson called Bero a difference maker, a creator and a visionary.
“He’s on every organization’s short list when recruiting people who know how to change a community and impact the overall quality of life for the people who live there,” Johnson said of Bero.
Last year, Bero made headlines and TV news with the bigger-than-life-size mural he created called “Morty the Moose” on Olde Main Street in Green Bay as part of the Art on Main program. Morty became an instant star, and positive attention was lavished upon an area that might have been forgotten. A year later, food trucks still set up in the area on the first Thursday of the month in summer for “Lunch with Morty.”
Bero received the Greater Green Bay Chamber’s 2017 Young Professional of the Year Award, chosen among a host of nominees from its Current young professionals group.
His idea for the Mouvre gallery project won a $1,100 micro grant from the Young Professionals Support of Urban Projects (S.O.U.P.) contest last fall.
The inspiration of the name for Mouvre came from the Louvre museum in Paris, and as a traveling pop-up gallery, it’s in motion. It moves.
“The whole idea behind this was two-fold: bringing people through these spaces that are often empty for years on end, and cleaning them up,” Bero said. “It’s using empty spaces in a way that reframes how people view them, as well as brings an economic factor on spaces in the downtown area.”
The initiative would yield an immediate boost to the downtown area, Bero said, because ‘For Sale’ or ‘For Lease’ signs don’t do much for anyone except those in the market for a commercial spot.
“I had the idea that we could use these spaces as a realtor might, taking people through them and – because it’s not permanent, it’s a pop-up gallery – people can visualize what could go there, especially if they’re not the type of folks who can go into a space and see the potential,” he said.
One of Mouvre’s case studies demonstrated that with a few hundred dollars, a broom and some paint, a space could be turned around.
“Another part of Mouvre is we leave the space much better than we found it,” Bero said. “Oftentimes floors haven’t been swept or there are holes in walls. I work toward making it a livable space, whether it’s a broom, wiping it down, or painting, it creates extra incentive for the property that creates the venue for the event.”
He did three Mouvre events in the downtown Broadway district in the past year. Each of the three had a different theme: bicycle, graffiti and pizza – the latter simply because “I’m a pizza fanatic.”
“We had drinks there, neat stuff to look at, and a neat group of people that came together,” he said. It included pizza art by different artists and, of course, pizza.
The Catalyst art party last year on a vacant floor of the refurbished Watermark building in downtown Green Bay used many of the same ideas of Mouvre but on a larger scale. Bero and a team from Appleton launched a second iteration of Catalyst at a College Avenue space earlier this August during the 2017 Mile of Music. Smaller than the original Catalyst, the attraction was a hybrid between it and Mouvre.
“Sponsoring Mouvre is a good opportunity for businesses to say ‘Hey, we support the creative things going on down here,’ and it’s good for people to see who the sponsor is because they have a captive audience,” Bero said. “All companies are interested in attracting the same talent. It’s a fight for talent at this point, and Mouvre can reframe the approach, show community involvement and support for the arts … so when they want to attract talent from out of or around the state, they can say we support cool things like this.”
Bero is the type of person city leaders have in mind when they talk about the need to attract talent, said On Broadway’s Johnson.
“He brings a fresh perspective to the way he solves challenges, he doesn’t take no for an answer and his perseverance always allows him to find a way,” Johnson said. “He’s resourceful and mobilizes people who are inspired by a passion for what can be versus the status quo.”
Eye on the goal
In soccer, the key to success is a cohesive team, each member playing their assigned roles. Players should trust their teammates to carry out the strategy, be confident they’ll pick up each other’s passes, and depend on them to keep the ball out of the opponent’s possession.
Osng Kwon (first name pronounced O-sun), actuarial supervisor with Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co. in Neenah, is one of those team players, according to the team’s captain, Dylan Place, vice president of actuarial services.
“Without Osng, the time it takes to do our job at the office would be much longer,” Place said. “Osng is obsessed with automation and accuracy – both tremendous strengths for an actuary.”
Kwon’s teamwork and leadership helped him move into his current position as an actuarial supervisor after two years as an actuarial analyst with Jewelers Mutual, according to Place.
Kwon said his team at Jewelers Mutual is pretty tight knit, and its members think as a unit.
“We’re very supportive of each other … we do a lot of trading off of work,” Kwon said of his team. “I relate it to soccer: If I were to just hand a piece of work to someone in the same department … they already know the thought process I have, so they’re able to pick it up real quickly,” he said. “We’re able to work very fluidly.”
Kwon goes beyond the expected for the benefit of the team, according to Place.
“Osng will take small projects and move them forward several steps more than anticipated,” Place said. “He also has a knack for seeing the potential to leverage results for certain projects to address other needs, demonstrating his creative problem-solving skills.”
He has developed reporting tools and new metrics that track how well the business is performing and how sales are doing. That’s contributed to helping Jewelers Mutual better deliver its services to customers, according to Place. Place said Kwon is very driven and hardworking but easy to get along with. And his personality?
“He has one, which is a rarity for actuaries,” Place said, adding that Kwon sometimes accuses him of telling dad jokes.
Kwon is forwarding the ball toward the goal both for his own objectives as well as those of the team. He’s working toward an associateship in the Casualty Actuarial Society, a national professional organization which works to advance actuarial science through education and research. To do so, one must pass seven exams, six of which Kwon has passed thus far. He studies a lot.
Kwon, who grew up in Kimberly and is of Korean heritage, said he’s among the first of 35 generations of his family to go to college. He said he hopes to one day serve as a good role model to kids by encouraging them to study math.
“My parents didn’t go to college. I was the first,” he said. “They didn’t have an opportunity to go to college and get a good job. They always said ‘Study hard, study hard. Eat well, make sure you’re healthy, study hard.’ That’s been the motto.”
Kwon lived and breathed it growing up, he said. “I despised doing homework and coming in early on weekends. But it pays off,” he said. “You won’t learn if you’re not out of your comfort zone.”
The same goes for academics and tests: “I didn’t pass the actuarial exams on my first try. Some of them I failed. If you just quit out, then you’re not pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. You’re never going to pass.”
He credits his own mentors with turning him on to actuarial science.
As a kid, Kwon excelled in math, but didn’t know what one could do with a math degree other than teach or be an engineer. He enrolled in math in college figuring he’d end up in engineering.
“That’s what I thought math people did,” he said. “I didn’t know actuaries existed.”
Halfway through his freshman year at University of Minnesota, he found out what actuaries did. Some of his mentors were actuaries who veered into academics.
“That’s when I got interested in actuarial science,” he said. “I looked up to them. That’s my inspiration.”
Fortunately, transitioning from engineering to actuarial science went smoothly, since he was taking many of the same math courses already.
Once he’s passed that seventh exam for his associateship in the Casualty Actuarial Society, Kwon expects to have more time to get involved in community work – specifically working with kids in sports and mathematics.
Kwon said he’d like to coach youth soccer or track, having played soccer in high school and college. He tutored math and coached youth soccer, as well.
“My goal is to get involved with sports or academics – math, tutoring math in the school setting, or for ACT preparation for older kids in high school, ” he said. “That’s on my horizon.”
Until then, he will study hard, eat well, make sure he’s healthy … and keep his eye on the ball.