Your college degree is in agriculture — what led you to that field of study?
I always had an interest in agriculture and gardening. It turned out to be a great experience and it was helpful to know, when I was working in northern Wisconsin, how much milk a cow should give every year and how much a large egg weighs versus a small egg, and all about soil science. It was a great education.
What was it like reporting the news in northern Wisconsin?
I worked initially up in Eagle River, when it was still pretty quiet in the winter, but the weekly paper I worked for was owned by a couple of brothers who were great mentors to me. And when the fish were biting, you just quit work for the day and went fishing, so that was enjoyable.
What made you come back to Milwaukee?
Being from Milwaukee, I always thought I would come back at some point, and I did. I helped Dan Meyer start what is now BizTimes, and Carol and I got married in 1994. She’s a Pius girl and I went to Marquette High School, and we had the same group of friends in high school — and still do. She and I were friends, but nothing ever seemed to come of it until about 28, 29 years ago when we said, “Why aren’t we married to each other?”
In a nutshell, what is the Catholic Professionals Forum all about?
It’s a monthly business networking meeting with a great breakfast and great speakers who range from people in business to people from community organizations to religious people. I’m just one of several volunteers who make it happen. It started out when four parishes, including ours, had business networking groups. At some point somebody said, “Why don’t we get together so we can meet more people?” We started in 2014, and eventually we opened it up to the public. Now we have a database of about 750 people.
Do you have to be Catholic to attend?
We surprisingly get a number of non-Catholics who attend our meetings on a monthly or occasional basis. We have people who attend from many different ministries and many different roles.
Of all the amazing speakers that the Catholic Professionals Forum has hosted, can you think of one or two who really stick out in your mind, and why?
Three people come to mind immediately — one was Jim Klisch, one of the founders of Lakefront Brewery, and he talked about using beer as a tool for evangelizing youth. They have this Blessing of the Bock every year, and he really sees that as a way to expose young people to Catholicism and hopefully bring them back. When Dcn. Steve Przedpelski from Franciscan Peacemakers spoke, you could have heard a pin drop in the room as he talked about women caught in sex trafficking and other abusive situations, and how Franciscan Peacemakers ministers to them. And then Stacey Walthers Naffah is the fourth-generation president of Wm K. Walthers, which is based in Milwaukee and is the largest distributor of model train items in the world. She went through a tremendous challenge with her daughter’s health situation and she talked about how her faith really sustained her through all of that. A lot of tears were shed that day in the meeting. Our speakers seem to value this opportunity to talk about how their faith sustains them in their business life.
Do you have any hobbies?
I’m one of those people who likes to be outside — no matter the weather. So my hobbies are outdoor things — gardening, bicycling, walking and hiking — but also genealogy. My wife and her sisters make a lot of pasta sauce, so I try to grow what I can to contribute to that effort. My kids got me a “Niles Biergarten” sign for the backyard, and we take advantage of that pretty often with friends and family.
What are you most looking forward to this Advent?
We live in a very busy world, so I always look forward to Advent’s call to slow down and prepare. I’m not always successful at that, but at least I’m aware of what we are preparing for — the incarnation of God. It’s an incredible story. One of the ways I prepare for it is the little blue books that we hand out at church. It really forces you to stop and get ready as much as you can.