Messages From the District 35 Trio

Holiday Greetings District 35 Toastmasters,

December is an extra busy time of the year for many of us. The holidays that occur in this month and lead into the New Year are filled with opportunities to spend time with colleagues, friends, and family. I wish you the most memorable of holidays and happiness in the New Year!

As many of you know, my other avocation is music, and December for me is filled with many rehearsals and concerts in addition to the standing commitments I have to my family, Toastmasters, the District, my clubs, and my professional career. 

Music now has been part of more of my life than the time it’s not been. I’ve sung in choirs since kindergarten and played in bands since the fifth grade. One important item always emphasized to me by all the music teachers and conductors I’ve worked with over the years is the idea of working together as an ensemble. One of my mentors, who happens to be one of my former music teachers, always said simply, “The Answer is Together.”  He believed firmly that no matter our skills or abilities, in coming together as individuals to form an ensemble we are always greater than the sum of our parts.

Toastmasters and music have a lot in common for me. Working to improve my musicianship, and my public speaking skills are items of focus for me personally. However, both are not things I do alone as I have learned the value of ensemble. Toastmasters, like music is much more rewarding, enjoyable, and impactful with others. Each week, I look forward to my club meetings as opportunities to connect, coach, mentor, and learn with others, just like I use music to connect, coach, teach, and learn with others. In my experience, as with a music ensemble, when our club members are working together, our clubs become greater than the sum of their individual parts.

As we head into the New Year, I encourage each of you to take time to connect with others; connect with your family, friends, professional colleagues, and your fellow Toastmasters.  Imagine the impact to the world if more of us focused on the idea that “The Answer is Together.” 

Toastmasters, if we work together, and we continue to be solution focused, we can bring the gift of Toastmasters to more people across Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. Because…Together as Toastmasters, we are All Stronger.

We got a new dog this last week – and that meant a trip to the pet store.

When we walked into the store we’d loved a year ago, something was different. The store itself was largely the same – but the people weren’t nearly as friendly. Even though we were the only ones in the store, we weren’t greeted. Nobody offered to help us. It felt like they didn’t care if we were there or not.

Have you ever had an experience like that? If so, did it make you excited to do business with that store? Probably not.

And yet many stores get this wrong all the time. They focus on price, proximity, and product, thinking that’s what makes the ultimate difference.

But we were previous loyal customers. We’d never bought from them because they were the cheapest, the closest, or had “the best products.” We bought from them because every time we went in, they had smart, knowledgeable people that were excited to see us and help us find exactly what we needed for our dog.

This is the sine qua non for small retail businesses; they need to care. Once they meet the “caring” criteria, then low prices, being in our neighborhood, and product can start to matter – but not before.

I think there’s a lesson in there for Toastmasters clubs. First and foremost, club success isn’t about price, proximity, or product – it’s about creating a caring club, committed to cultivating community and connections. If people know that you care, and that they’re not just on your team – you’re on theirs too, that’s a strong foundation for success.

I would encourage you to let that thinking permeate every aspect of your club’s thinking and culture. You may need members, but those potential members need your club just as much – you just have to show them.

When you publicize your club, what’s your focus? Is it about how your club is having an open house, or is it about how much value people will get by attending?

When people come to your meeting, do you focus on the details of the Toastmasters program? Or do you focus on dialogically discovering your guests’ goals, and then showing your guests how to achieve them?

When you’re pushing for distinguished, do you talk about how the club needs another Level 3? Or do you gently challenge your members to pick up the pace just a bit and hit that milestone for their benefit?

You probably know by now that I’m a big fan of “taking your next step.” It’s not about perfection; it’s about persistent progress. Along those lines, what can your club do in the coming year (and ideally in the next few weeks!) to help its communities – both within and without – reach their personal development goals?

It’s hard to believe we’re almost halfway through a Toastmasters year! I hope you’re working toward your communication and leadership goals and supporting your fellow club members; but let’s face it, daylight is shrinking, the cold is creeping in and some days it’s just hard to get out of bed. And with holidays, it feels like your time is even further split up!

Here are some options that just might help get us through the season around the solstice: 

  1. Take care of you. You can’t serve from an empty pitcher. If you need a few hours to regear, take it. For some of us, it might just be binge-watching a few episodes of The Great British Bake-Off, others might just need a cheat day from fitness and calorie goals, but a quick reset may be just what you need to come back alert and ready.

Sometimes, though, the quick fix doesn’t help. After binging an entire season of Outlander, you might be able to tell that you need something else. Go deeper. Passive rest – that cocooning with media, hiding under a blanket fort – only goes so far.

Take it up a notch. Schedule a break outdoors. Take a walk outside, during the day, in full spectrum light.  Grab a friend to reconnect. Make one small improvement to your surroundings. (I just cleaned out my deep freezer.) Sometimes, that movement and effort at something different can knock the rust out of your gearbox.

If you’re still not feeling up to snuff, it could be time to consider a bigger issue! Make sure you’re taking your vitamins and any prescriptions, but also check with your doctor especially if it’s time for that annual checkup. Get adequate sleep, lower the alcohol intake (Sorry, DJAB) and minimized processed foods.

  1. Reconnect! There’s a reason cultures around the world have celebrations during the dead of winter: Bringing people together can re-energize and refocus us (and there are no crops in the field). Whether it’s huge family gatherings or a few one-on-one coffee klatches, get together with people who are important to you and even some new contacts. Share your past year and your plans for 2024. Invite friends to attend your Toastmasters meeting to watch you give a speech, or Toastmaster the whole meeting. In your club, connect with members you’ve known a while and new members and see how you can support one another in the next year. Mentoring ahead of speeches, helping with HPL committees, even supporting officers with leading the club can all help you maintain these connections into the new year.
  2. Focus on ’24! What do you want in the new year? Are you considering going for that promotion or new job? Are you stepping up at church or a service organization? Are you planning trips to exotic places? (ah, Sheboygan!) Remember that Toastmasters can help you reach those goals, and as you’re working through, these are great speech topics. Most Pathways speeches allow for almost unlimited subjects, so pick a project and develop your new skills. If you are working toward your Distinguished Toastmaster award, reach out to District leadership for opportunities to mentor, coach, and sponsor clubs. Grab a new 2024 calendar and plan out how you will attack your goals. Then, grab your club calendar and schedule speeches, roles, and projects!

The next year is going to be a time for change for many. Keeping those connections to friends and club members, planning to be prepared, and making sure you’re taking care of yourself can all be ways to face the new year with optimism and confidence.

From The Diary of the Immediate Past District Director

Photo of Jennifer Kibicho
Jennifer Kibicho, DTM - Immediate Past District Director

Dear District 35 Toastmasters,

Hope that this message finds you well, and that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your family and friends.

This is the second in a series of reflective articles where I detail the lessons learned in District leadership that have proven valuable in my personal and professional lives. In the October 2023 edition, I covered a trait that distinguishes an effective leader from others—the need to perfect the act of taking initiative, following up with individuals to ensure that the work gets done and, more importantly, following through on commitments in order to be credible. 

In this edition, I will share two different events in two different contexts that I had visions for, and the lessons I learned from them. First is the District 35 Platinum Anniversary celebrations last year; second, a Research Workshop at the Cooperative University of Kenya (CUK) that was held early in November.

District 35 Platinum Anniversary Celebration on November 19, 2022: I was privileged to be the District Director during a key milestone event in our history—the 70th Anniversary of becoming a District. To mark that occasion, we had a celebration anniversary on November 19, 2022 at the Brookfield Conference Center. The preparation for the anniversary celebration was a major defining moment for me because it taught me the importance of purposeful delegation and having the right team. Many of you might not know this, but the planning for the event did not happen in a committee, instead it was singlehandedly conducted by one dedicated Toastmaster, our then District Administration Manager Jan Flatoff. Another very instrumental person to the success of the Platinum Anniversary Celebration was my mentor, Rhonda Williams, DTM. Without Rhonda’s encouragement and mentorship, and Jan’s practical help with logistics for the Anniversary Celebration, it is unlikely that the vision would have been realized. Other individuals came along to support that vision, including the then D35 Public Relations Manager Kathrine Yets, clubs in Northern Division led by then Division Director, Brandon Birrenkott, and Area Directors Cole Monroe and Richard Bryans who mobilized their members to financially support the anniversary celebration. What I learned in the process is that sometimes it just takes a few trusted individuals with a heart for serving others.

CUK Research Workshop on November 1, 2023: As I mentioned in the October 2023 Newsletter edition, I am in Kenya on my one-year Sabbatical leave, which includes a three-month fellowship at a local public university. As part of the fellowship, I organized a full-day Research Workshop with the theme of Creative Design Thinking to enhance Creativity in Research.

Both events were motivated by personal visions, the first as the District Director during the year when our District turned 70 years; the second on a professional level as part of my three-month Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship at CUK. For both events, I had to use my communication and leadership skills to ensure not only that the events took place, but that they were successful. I had to sell my vision to key stakeholders, many of whom were not as enthusiastic about the events as I was. Secondly, I had to use networking and personal connections to reach out and recruit both presenters and participants. After both events, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, with a feeling that all the work—both physical and mental/emotional—was worth every bit of time and effort expended.

Because the events were held in different countries, and as a matter of fact, different cultures, I learned valuable lessons. Even though I am Kenyan by birth and have lived overseas for more than half my life, I certainly was not familiar with the culture. I needed a trusted person to help translate the culture. For instance, I had no idea that just because people registered and confirmed attendance, it does not guarantee they will show up for your event. For the CUK event, I was very thrilled and amazed when I had massive registration within 24 hours of opening up registration. Indeed, I had to turn down more than half of the people that registered for fear of running over the budget. Come the day of the event, only half of the people who registered and “confirmed” attendance showed up! Well, that presented a dilemma for me since I had paid with the expectation of full attendance! Because of Toastmasters leadership experience, I did not miss a beat. I simply invited those who were turned down to come and have free food so that nothing was wasted. And after the workshop, I invited whoever was interested to stay on and debrief! A group of six graduate students stayed an extra two hours debating at length, and we had the best of times! As a matter of fact, we have formed a core group of very motivated and excited students that has already met four times since November 1! What could have been a very disappointing day turned out to be a pivotal point in my academic career. Because of follow-up and persistence, I now have two core groups formed, and have developed networks with a second University in Kenya where I will be meeting with the leadership soon to discuss possibilities of conducting a similar workshop in their University. As I reflect on that Workshop, I am so grateful for the communication and leadership training received during my nine years of investment in Toastmasters.

Reflections on the lessons from the two events:

  • Both events started with an idea and a dream. Between the time when the idea was envisioned and the day of the event, there were many opportunities to give up and quit, especially during times I was not getting the support I needed. But the vision and dream kept me focused and persistent because I understood the importance of each event—our milestone celebration of 70 years as a District was a once-in-a- lifetime event, and the CUK research workshop marked a milestone event of my brief three-month fellowship. The workshop was an optional requirement for my fellowship yet an essential part of my commitment to the University to mentor graduate students and junior faculty. The vision to celebrate a major accomplishment and acknowledge the people who had contributed to it was greater than the opposition I received from some who saw things differently.

  • Being flexible and adaptable. Had I focused on the workshop turnout, I would have totally missed the six very motivated graduate students who cherished the opportunity presented at the workshop. On the day of the workshop, I was so excited I could not sleep. l kept thinking of possibilities and opportunities that were presented at the workshop. The lesson I learned was to always see and celebrate those who show up.

Toastmasters is definitely a safe space where leaders are made. I would encourage you to take every opportunity to become a better version of yourself—to craft and master the skills that will prove priceless in your personal and professional lives. Consider taking the next step—which for some might be club leadership or District leadership at a higher level. For others, it might be helping with an upcoming club contest or with your club’s Open House. Say yes to possibility by saying yes to new, challenging, and uncomfortable leadership roles. I have said several times and will say it again—Toastmasters has yielded dividends in real terms that I could never have imagined.

My invitation to you is to take your next step of leadership at the earliest opportunity to serve!

Toastmasters After Hours

On Saturday, November 4, members of the DJAB and Menomonee Falls Toastmasters clubs met at the Richfield Historical Society and Nature Park for the second annual Luminary Walk. Unlike in 2022, this evening was moonlit, dry, and comfortable, setting the perfect stage for a nice hike. The Society had set up hundreds of candles along both a short and long path through the beautiful park. 

We enjoyed popcorn, apples, hot chocolate, apple cider, maple cotton candy, and other treats. During the walk, there was a lot of chat, laughs, and occasional stops to retrieve an adventurous child, little red wagon, or inquisitive dog. Last year’s bonfire was so popular that this year, there were two fires warming both human and canine guests. Many of the pioneer buildings were open, allowing guests to step back into the 1800s for a few minutes. Following the Luminary Walk, members of both clubs went out for a post-hike dinner at a local restaurant (and huge supporter of the Richfield Historical Society).

Has your club found an event that brought a couple of clubs together? Share your idea with us. Your fun event might be just the idea other clubs were looking for!

Relationships Built Through Toastmasters

by Susan Brushafer

He owns three laptops. He has been a Toastmaster since 1997 and is a member of five clubs in five Districts. He has started five clubs. During summer 2023, he attended 15 TLI sessions, presenting at many. He has visited over 900 Toastmasters clubs virtually, and 427 Toastmasters clubs in person. Who is this well-traveled, urbane individual?

It’s my pleasure to introduce fellow DJAB club member, Todd Gatien. Many of you reading this article are nodding your heads and smiling at the statistics I shared, already knowing that I was describing Todd. He probably has at some point been a visitor to your club.

Having heard about Todd’s ‘travels’, I had to satisfy my curiosity and pique yours by talking to him about his VTTM  (Virtual Traveling Toastmaster) status.

Todd’s association with Toastmasters started with his participation in a Speechcraft at his home club, Dollard Club #3021 in District #61. How did the collection of travel statistics begin? On a visit to his grandparents, who lived in Ontario, Todd found himself bored with cribbage games and decided to look for some Toastmasters clubs to visit. During one week, he visited 12 clubs…in person! Following a 1996 visit to Ireland and England with his girlfriend, she joined the Beaconsfield Toastmasters Club in Quebec, and Todd in Dollard. Shortly, they were both holding officers’ roles.

Todd has a plethora of stories surrounding his club visits. He described that some of his visits included “weird clubs”, like his ‘machine gun welcome’ at the door of a church, (…pausing so that you can visualize…), gavel clubs, a C-Suite club where members paid $1,000 per year membership, and others.

Todd has achieved other impressive visit goals, such as: five in-person club visits in one day; and a type of Zoom-a-Thon in December 2020 where he and other Toastmasters visited 14 clubs around the world in 24 hours. These visits included a virtual hand-off of a gavel from one club to another. These Toastmasters then followed former International President Richard Peck on his world tour. What a great way to learn cultures and customs!

I asked Todd to share some words of Toastmasters wisdom to encourage all Toastmasters to visit other clubs. He shared, “A club is like a pond. If there is no little stream going into the pond, it will die. A stream brings materials and fish. Your pond needs to dribble into other ponds to see what is going on in those ponds. Visit clubs, bring back good ideas, grow your connections and friends. You’ll always have help with contests, TLIs and other resources.”

Thank you to Todd for sharing his story, especially as 2023 evolves into 2024. Grow your club’s pond through visits to other clubs!

Susan Brushafer

Celebrating Club Events

Yes, Your Club Can Have a Successful Hybrid Holiday Party

In the ages before a virus changed the world and made us realize a reality that included more options for Toastmasters meetings besides in person, Generally Speaking Toastmasters had a tradition of having two parties, one at the end of the Calendar year and one at the end of the Toastmasters year. There, we celebrate our accomplishments, our successes, and have fun.

In the pre-virus ages, those meetings would all happen at a restaurant, in a casual atmosphere, where we would dine in delectable decadence while doing activities like Table Topics and swearing in the next Toastmasters year’s officers.

When the world started opening back up, we tried doing a hybrid meeting at a restaurant to continue the holiday tradition. We ran into a problem where the people participating remotely would end up being on a speakerphone, missing the camaraderie and celebratory event. That quickly became an untenable situation. We want all our members to feel valued and included in the event, ensuring they have a good experience. A speakerphone in a restaurant, listening to others eat, didn’t do that.

The solution came from one of the members of the club: set up a Secret Santa idea for food to be delivered to the meeting. There is a roughly $30 limit for the food with delivery price (though that can be changed and set by the members as to what they deem appropriate).

How this Secret Santa works is easy:  one member has created a Google form to gather the data from the club members about their location, contact information, food preferences, and if they want to participate. Once the data is collected in the form, the person who created the form is responsible for randomly assigning people to each other.  An email is sent to club members about who they get to surprise with a delicious dinner.

An example form is below:

Generally Speaking has found this a great way to combine what we enjoyed in the age before March 2020 to the current environment while building camaraderie and keeping everyone involved in the club.

Advertise Your Corporate Club

-by Calvin Hoyord

Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders are not born; they are made. And they are made by hard effort, which is the price we must all pay for success.”

Calvin Hoyord

Organizations wishing to identify and develop strong leaders within their talent base may have an easier time doing so by offering personal and professional development programs within their respective organizations. A good place to start is with the establishment of a Toastmasters Club.

I joined the Sentry Toastmasters club as a new Sentry Insurance associate and immediately felt the impact the program makes in leadership development. Sentry Toastmasters Club President, Dick Hawley, shared with me his recollection of his first role with Sentry as a janitor. He was invited to attend Sentry Toastmasters club in 1981 where he stood out to Sentry leadership and eventually worked his way up the corporate ladder, retiring in 2010 from his role as Human Resources Specialist.

The culture at Sentry centers on building relationships through conversation and establishing trust while working toward shared goals. Sentry’s commitment to customers, associates, and community members alike is, in my opinion, unparalleled.

Which is why I was surprised that our club attendance was lower than anticipated, especially given all the talent housed within the organization and local community. I had expected the Sentry Toastmasters club to be overrun with fellow associates and community members, eager to interact and mingle, to share ideas, and to become a melting pot of ideas and talent. I began to wonder what I could do to encourage participation. I was haunted by the idea that many of my peers may never fully realize their potential as leaders because they’re unaware of the opportunity and value given to them by our Sentry Toastmasters club and Sentry organization.

For many, the idea of public speaking evokes fear, but missing an opportunity to develop and learn from others in an environment as supportive and welcoming as that provided by Sentry Toastmasters club should not be based on something as limiting as fear. 

I began to wonder how I might bridge the gap between fear and a call to share in professional growth and development with my fellow associates. I could see our chapter needed to build awareness of Sentry’s Toastmasters club. Historically, email invitations were sent to associates and community members in the spring and fall of each year with an invitation to join Speechcraft. I thought it would be beneficial to produce a video with testimonials citing the various reasons people decided to join.

I reached out to Sentry’s Marketing team and my vision was immediately met with enthusiasm, further demonstration of the overall commitment to associates and community held throughout Sentry.

Working in collaboration with a talented team of individuals, we were able to capture the wide spectrum of those who have benefitted in life-altering ways through Sentry’s Toastmasters club.

Fall 2023 Speechcrafters

Members have ranged from a confident, well-spoken, professional businesswoman looking to become a motivational speaker to an associate so terrified of speaking in public that she would never have imagined attempting to overcome her fear until she was asked by her niece to officiate a wedding. She stated that she didn’t want her fear to hold her back from participating in something so beautiful. Spoiler alert: she officiated the wedding this summer for her niece and knocked it out of the park!

Other roadblocks we addressed in the video were geographic locations. Since many associates work in one of our more than two dozen offices located throughout the country, it was important to stress participation would also be available online. Although our headquarters is in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, we have associates from as far away as Texas participating in Toastmasters International. We also understand online speaking may be as intimidating as speaking to a live, in-person audience. Our goal within the Sentry Toastmasters club is to provide a safe and supportive environment to work on overcoming every form of stage fright.

With Sentry’s Pete McPartland fully endorsing Sentry’s Toastmasters club, and Sentry’s unwavering commitment to enriching the professional development of Sentry associates, we anticipate welcoming many more into our club.  

The immense value of top leadership endorsing programs like a Toastmasters International Club cannot be overstated or underestimated. A commitment to developing leaders within your organization or community will reap rewards and enrich lives in ways we may not yet be able to fathom, but that will come to light years from now.

Build an enduring legacy of leadership, and you’ll build a foundation for successful years to come.

New Club Mentorship...A Recent Experience

-by Susan Brushafer

In March 2023, Keith Cumiskey and I accepted the roles of ‘Club Mentor’ for the newly chartered Milwaukee Talkies, a Milwaukee Tool corporate club. As new club mentors, we provided guidance and shared real-life knowledge through September.

Both of us have experience as corporate club Toastmasters, so we were familiar with the unique situations a new club goes through as it grows. Being a part of the new club journey was quite rewarding. We participated in each club meeting and Executive Council. We were able to share our combined 40+ years of being Toastmasters in a way that helped the Milwaukee Talkies over some initial rough spots (e.g., with the rollout of Self Pay). We celebrated their successes as agendas filled, meeting roles became easier, and members delivered their ice breaker speeches.

Being a club mentor is a unique leadership role as it comes with no direct authority. Keith and I were guides. We built a great working relationship with the Milwaukee Talkies officers and shared candid guidance and helpful ideas; we suggested options and strategies. We listened to concerns and enjoyed getting a new club’s perspectives. Keith and I hosted a ‘mentor hour’ the day before club meetings, open to any officer or club member. After six months, we felt more like club members than club mentors!

Congratulations to the Milwaukee Talkies Toastmasters Club! You are a great addition to District 35, and Keith and I are proud to have been your mentors and confidantes.

A Toast to Toastmasters


Aaron Womack – Author and Toastmaster

I grew up in a large extended family, so it seemed like since I was old enough to walk, I was always a ring bearer until I graduated to groomsmen. After the wedding there was a reception where someone always gave the toast. Some gave great toasts while all the others, well, let’s just say they may have had a better chance of sounding polished if all those listening had a little something to drink first, including the ring bearer and Pastor. I was told the ones that gave great toasts were Toastmasters.

Imagine my surprise when I attended my first Toastmasters club meeting. I recently retired as an educator after nearly 30 years. I stepped down not to sit down but to switch gears and become a motivational speaker and author. In my pursuit to make myself better, I followed the advice of the great Les Brown. I didn’t know him personally; however, I watched enough of his videos to be considered at a least 5th cousin on my momma, daddy’s side.

I joined the Menomonee Falls Toastmaster’s Club via a conference call as we were coming out of a pandemic. The club offered much more than learning how to give great wedding toasts. I came in with the background knowledge of speaking and authoring two books, Birthing a Dream and Faith Without Hustle is Dead

I met some members who joined just to become better with public speaking, to become better with interacting with co-workers, to become better with breaking out of their shells and a variety of other things. I meet comics, business leaders, pastors, entrepreneurs, and ones that leave the area every winter yet never miss a meeting.

The members are the hardest working group of down-to-earth people I have ever met. They work hard to win the contests they enter and to always represent the club well. I am fortunate enough to have not one but two mentors. Well, technically I have one, but he’s married to a member, which means he has to do what his wife says so one became two, unlike when they were married and two became one.

Sometimes our meeting time of 6:30pm-8pm is not long enough, and we have to head on over to a local pizzeria and watering hole called DeMarinis. Now, I can’t officially say that the meetings taking place are extensions of the Toastmaster’s club meetings, but I have learned to give a better toast, and I’m ready for the next wedding.

Trivia Tribute

-by Rhonda Williams, DTM

Have you ever wondered about why our District newsletter is called The TM Edge? Or maybe you already know…

District 35 has had a newsletter for years. Believe it or not, it used to be mailed to members on a regular basis.

In 2016, some members of the District Executive Committee decided that it needed a name. Public Relations 

Manager Barbara Weisenberger organized a campaign to have members of the District submit suggestions. Then, at the 2016 Spring Conference in Oshkosh, attendees voted. The winner was The TM Edge.

Look at the bottom right-hand section of page 7 (right) of the conference brochure, reminding people to vote.

2023-2024 Second Quarter Triple Crown Awards (Includes New, Additional Level(s) Earned)

  • Barb Sexmith
  • Carla Lenk
  • Charles Elftmann
  • Cindy Laatsch
  • David Hendrickson
  • Jim Kohli
  • Kathy Shine
  • Kristine Pool
  • Susan Brushafer

Thanks For The Feedback

Many Thanks!

Thank you to all Toastmasters who sent us feedback regarding the October edition of the D35 EDGE. We hope everyone enjoyed the content with its focus on clubs and club members. Continue to give us your thoughts. Don’t be shy about contributing articles that are interesting, unusual, and may spark an idea for a fellow club. Please respond wholeheartedly when you’re asked to contribute an article for an upcoming edition. Send feedback and articles to