The Fort Atkinson Community Foundation is pleased to announce that Rudy Bushcott, Michael Clish, and Chris Spangler are the 2021 recipients of the Foundation’s Making Fort Special award. The three recipients will be honored at a special awards reception at the Hoard Museum on Thursday, September 9th from 5 to 7 p.m., with an award presentation at 5:30 p.m. Heavy appetizers, beer, wine, and iced tea will be served. Cost to attend is $20, with any additional amount going to support the work of the Foundation. For ticket information or to RSVP, contact Sue Hartwick, the Foundation’s executive director, at (920) 563-3210 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The purpose of the Foundation’s Making Fort Special awards, first presented in 2017, is to draw attention to those people in the Fort Atkinson community who have championed a project or conducted activities that have helped make Fort Atkinson a special place to live.
“Rudy, Chris and Michael have spent most of their adult life helping to make Fort Atkinson a special place to live,” noted Foundation Chairman Michael Bender. “We see Rudy’s influence in the physical fabric of our community while Chris and Michael have helped created the ties that bind, keeping all of us informed and connected through their tireless newspaper and radio work. All three have pushed us toward the vision of the Community Foundation – ‘A Better Fort Atkinson.’”
The three recipients were selected by the Foundation’s Board of Directors from among thirteen names put forward by a nominating committee.
As the assistant city engineer for Fort Atkinson for almost 38 years, Rudy Bushcott had a hand in almost every street and parks project the city tackled, ranging from major projects such as the Riverwalk and bike trail to the planting of trees or placement of artistic pavers. Rudy’s engineering and design ability, his eye for detail, and his dedication to getting it just right made him the invaluable ‘go-to’ person for planning, executing, and finishing a project. The bonus was his calm demeanor and humble personality which endeared him to all the organizations with which he worked as well as to his former colleagues who continue to sing his praises.
Former Parks & Rec Director Scott Lastusky, who worked closely with Rudy on many projects, credited Rudy with joining an elite list of people who have defined, transformed, or added to the visual appeal of Fort Atkinson over the past 50 years. Scott noted that from the design and installation of features on the bike trail and portions of the Riverwalk, to stadium seats, veterans memorials, sculpture installations, innumerable parks and community improvements, and even visual improvements to downtown parking lots, Rudy has helped make Fort Atkinson a more pleasing place to live.
And how he did it was just as notable. As Scott describes, “Behind the scenes, on nights and weekends, during what most people would call “off hours,” Rudy would physically clear brush at the project sites so he could get a better look and to let the staff and volunteers know the project is underway. He never wanted attention for his efforts and is so humble he would literally shuffle off to the side to avoid being in the group photo.” Wanting everything to look just right, “Rudy would use weekend time to trim trees, spread mulch, plant flowers or weed an area if it was falling behind. Although technically retired, he continues to help members of the current city staff make Fort an even better place as the torch is being passed.”
Jeff Woods, former city engineer who worked with Rudy for 25 years, echoed Scott’s comments on Rudy’s tireless work ethic, stating, “When working on a project, Rudy would look at it not only to solve a problem, but also to make the project area better. If there was a way to make it easier for people to use or make it look better, he would put in the extra time to make sure that happened. That included extra hours during the day and on weekends. . . That is the only way he knows how to do things.”
From his perch behind the microphone at local radio station WFAW for 25 years, Michael Clish became the voice of Fort Atkinson. First hired to do the news, Michael quickly moved up to become the news director and also took over as the host of the Morning Magazine show, expanding its format to a full hour. By opening the airwaves to local nonprofit organizations seeking to promote their events, local government officials updating their citizenry, entertainers, political candidates running for office, authors who sparked his interest, and many more interesting characters, Michael kept Fort Atkinson informed and connected.
He was also happy to take his microphone on the road, hosting shows at the county fair, moderating dozens of candidate debates, narrating the annual Christmas parade, and broadcasting military honors on Memorial Day to name just a few of his contributions. He also covered school board and city council meetings, often conducting quick interviews with participants for the next day’s broadcast. After observing Michael for over two decades, Scott Trentadue, who hired Clish in 1995, called him “the backbone of local radio,” noting Michael’s incredible commitment to local news as he would attend community events almost seven days a week for WFAW.
Born in Brockton MA, Clish first came to the Midwest when the Air Force stationed him at a radar station in northern Wisconsin for two years where he worked as a radar repairman and technician. Liking the area, after completing his military service he put his training to work in a variety of electronics jobs in the Twin Cities. In the early 1990s, he attended the Brown Institute in Minneapolis for a one-year broadcast training program. When he took the job at WFAW, he fully expected to eventually move on to a bigger market, but he grew too fond of the little city that had a great library, its own museum, a daily newspaper, a nearby university and a vibe that felt like this was his kind of place.
Noting all of Michael’s efforts, from updating us about election results into the wee hours of the morning to his interviews on Morning Magazine to all the events he narrated for those who couldn’t attend in person, his colleague Ron Stelse stated simply, “Thanks Michael for making radio bigger than life and for keeping us connected as a community.”
Armed with a newly-minted journalism degree from UW-Madison, Chris Spangler arrived in Fort Atkinson in 1978 to take a position as a cub reporter with the Daily Jefferson County Union. Like Michael, she expected it to be a stepping stone onto bigger and better things but every time she got the ‘seven-year itch,’ her bosses had the good sense to promote her – first to news editor and later to managing editor. By then, the large impact she was having in the small community she grew to love kept her on the beat.
From her position at the helm of our local newspaper, Chris spent decades making sure that her readers knew what was going on in our community. And she didn’t do that just from her editor’s desk as she was just as often the reporter on the scene with a camera dangling around her neck. Chris spent years putting in endless hours, early in the morning and late into the night, to make sure she had the story just right. Never one to sit on her laurels, her motto as managing editor was always ‘the next edition will be our best.’
Her long-time colleague and news editor at the Daily Union, Randall Dullum, described Chris as “a dedicated ‘newshound’ and a consummate pro at providing readers throughout Jefferson County all the news they needed to know and then some.” He noted that her high standards and journalistic integrity led her to occasionally push her news staff for more explanation or clarity in their copy, with the extra effort always leading to better stories. Randall also described her as “a true wordsmith, delighting in polishing reporters’ copy to a high gloss,” as well as “a ‘shutterbug’ with a discerning eye for what constitutes an outstanding photo.” He finished by noting, “in her 40-plus years at the Daily Union, Chris managed to carve out quite a legacy.”
As is obvious by Randall’s description, Chris could, and did, do it all. As Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carrie Chisholm put it, “Chris is like the five-member crew of a Sherman tank, in one person. She can strategize, command, drive, and when needed, load and operate the equipment all on her own. And like the tank itself, she is reliable, durable, and created to serve and support.” And the goal of informing the public never wavered. “With the stamina of the Energizer Bunny, Chris Spangler’s focus has always been to stand vigil to the events shaping our community, and to provide access to how those events unfold. Her impact will likely never be accurately measured, but we can be sure during her time at the Daily Union that she fostered civic engagement, mobilized the community around important issues, and attempted to offer a beacon of clarity in a fast-changing world.”