Ross Dahlke, a senior at Westfield High School and son of Sharon and Jim Dahlke, has been chosen as one of two Wisconsin students among a total of 104 high school students nationwide that will participate in the 52nd annual US Senate Youth Program in Washington, DC. The honor comes with a $5,000 scholarship and is funded by the Hearst Foundation.
Westfield senior Ross Dahlke headed to Washington, DC
By Kathleen McGwin
March 8-15 will find Westfield Area High School senior Ross Dahlke in Washington, DC participating in the 52nd annual US Senate Youth Program (USSYP) Washington Week. Dahlke was chosen as one of two Wisconsin representatives out of a field of over 100 applicants from the state. One hundred and four high school students in total, two from each state plus Washington, DC and the Department of Defense Education Activity, will spend a week in Washington and receive a $5,000 college scholarship.
Started in 1962 by the United States Senate, the program is completely funded by the Hearst Foundation. The chosen high school students, according to literature of the program are "among the highest achieving in the nation, both academically and through in-depth extracurricular commitments in student politics, community service, athletics and artistic pursuits." Many past participants have gone on to "serve the country in critical leadership positions."
Ross Dahlke, son of Sharon and Jim Dahlke of Westfield, explained the tough application process in a recent interview. According to the Wisconsin USSYP website, the initial large number of applicants in the state this year were first winnowed down to 70, then 50, then 42 applications. Then the short essays were evaluated and further paring down of applications took the number to 29. Long essays were then evaluated based on political knowledge, support of the answer, grammar, syntax, and supporting evidence. That left 10 students with the highest combined scores. Then, telephone interviews were conducted with each student and the final two selections were announced.
"It was pretty strenuous," he said. "Each school in the state is asked to nominate a student and each student fills out an application. There were two essays and an interview. I chose to write on international adoption."
Dahlke's topic is close to his heart because his three brothers were all adopted into the Dahlke family from Russia and the Ukraine. His essay begins, " I was in only in fourth grade when I was exposed to one of the most horrific sights I have ever seen: an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia. I was there with my family to adopt my youngest brother, Nickolas. After the horrible sights of unsanitary practices and children being treated like sheep being herded by dogs, my family and I knew it was our life mission to give as many children living in these conditions a chance at life. In the following years my family adopted a total of three boys from Eastern Europe (Nickolas, Paul and Kevin)."
Asked why he thought that he was successful in his bid to be chosen as one of the two students from Wisconsin, Dahlke said that his political experience was important. The senior has been one of the youth representatives on the Marquette County Board of Supervisors as well as a Badger State representative. He has also recently joined Marquette County Teen Court and has visited the capitol in Madison many times. He has worked in the Marquette County Clerk's office researching ordinances as well as committee minutes for background on financial policy questions.
Dahlke calls County Clerk Gary Sorensen one of his mentors who helped him along the way and also credits his English teacher Sherry Cujak and forensics coach Nicole Kopach with helping him hone his communications skills.
While the young man's support system and family have aided him on this journey, his own hard work and superior skills are what produced the standout resumé and application/interview results. Dahlke worked as a sales representative for Prairie Nursery one summer before becoming a Marketing Specialist for Harmony Specialty Dairy Foods in Stratford, Wisconsin, a position he still holds. He managed a farmer’s market team of six sales people and is responsible for inventory management as well as a growth in sales for this company.
He's been incredibly successful in forensics, earning 1st place in regional and state competitions in a number of categories and was in the top 10 in the statewide math test. The senior is secretary/treasurer of the National Honor Society as well as student council class president and captain of the soccer team. And that doesn't even tell the full story of this promising young man's hard work and diligence.
"I'm also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do," he said. "I think the process of working through the steps of earning that and setting short term and long term goals has really helped me."
His upcoming week in Washington will be filled with meetings and experiences that immerse the students in US Capitol activities. They will be met at the airport by an elite group of US military officers who have been chosen to be mentors during the week-long event. Their schedule includes involvement in the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. They will meet with the Senate Co-Chairs, the Senate parliamentarian and historian, as well as a Justice of the Supreme Court, officials from the Departments of State and Defense, a foreign ambassador as well as the President of the United States.
"Of course, meeting the President will be a highlight," said Dahlke. "But meeting with the other students will also be very special. We already have a Face Book group and have had dialogue on many issues. Everyone brings their own viewpoint and knowledge and it's so great to have dialogue, not just talking points. We're very diverse yet cohesive and I expect I'll maintain contact with some of them into the future."
Ross Dahlke is headed to Washington, DC in March, but after graduation in June, he'll be headed to either the University of Chicago or UW Madison. He'll study political science, economics and communications. Dahlke said, "I anticipate I will go into political communications with an emphasis in speech writing. Working behind the scenes in politics can be very effective in making positive change."
What is it that this young man would like to see change? "It's essential for the new generational society to have an increased knowledge of financial institutions and investments. A lot of problems can be curbed if people understand how financial institutions work. If the public is more knowledgeable about world events, stock holders can have an influence and if general citizenry can have a bigger slice of the investment pie, if you know how to put your money where, then everyone can grow with the company."
Dahlke will be leaving Marquette County once he heads off to college, but he's very specific about his feelings and attachment to his home. "I want to be sure people understand my gratitude to the community," he said. "The support in our communities is wonderful. Some people don't think much of small, rural communities, but I wouldn't give up my experiences for any other community. I've gotten so much support in so many ways over the past 17 years. The community has invested in me and I want to show the same support. I want to give them a return on their investment."
No criminal charges to be filed against former Highway Commissioner Rhinehart
The Green Lake County District Attorney, Kyle Sargent, who served as special prosecutor in the Department of Criminal Investigations case against former Marquette County Highway Commissioner Brendon Rhinehart, has found that there were not any viable criminal charges to proceed with.
According to a letter sent on February 10th to Marquette County District Attorney Chad Hendee, the letter states: “There are several allegations made against Mr. Rhinehart in this matter. First and foremost, the allegation that he sold obsolete items owned by the highway department, and retained the money for himself. Although the sales have been established by the various parties who purchased these items, there is no evidence to establish where the money went after Mr. Rhinehart stated he turned it over to his staff for accounting, or placed it in the safe. Although having been the last person to admit to seeing this money does raise suspicion, it does not establish anywhere near the amount of evidence necessary to prove a criminal charge of theft.
“There are also allegations that he used county property for the benefit of another, without the approval of his committee. Specifically, 10 tons of gravel for a driveway along CTH N. This was done without the Highway Committee’s approval. However, after this was discovered the Committee submitted a bill to the individual who was benefited, only later to throw that bill out. In addition, the total amount of loss was approximately $180.00. Given the small amount, and the subsequent actions of the Committee, there is no reason to pursue this matter in the context of a criminal violation.
“There are also allegations regarding the budget shortfall by the Highway Department. Frankly, I find nothing criminal in this situation. This was simply poor managerial skills and a lack of budget oversight by Mr. Rhinehart. There is no evidence to indicate that he had converted any of this money to his own use or to the use of any other person.
“Again, thank you for the opportunity to assist you on this matter. If you have questions please contact me. In addition, as always, if law enforcement of anyone else develops any further information with respect to these or any other issues pertaining to this case, I would be happy to review the case again while considering any new evidence.”
Rhinehart was removed from his position as Highway Commissioner last year after an administrative investigation led to a hearing in which the county board voted to remove him.
According to County Board Chairman Paul Wade, the criminal investigation was part of the due process of the investigation into a nearly $1 million budget shortfall in the Highway Department budget last year.
Rhinehart currently has an active claim against the county as a result of his dismissal.