Meg Kulikowski’21
April 11, 2024

Breaking Down Barriers

Rick Rose’88 found his voice at Beloit, and in his wide-ranging career as a producer, business owner, podcaster, talent agent, and activist, he’s used it to speak up for others.

As Dane County board supervisor, Rose’s efforts led to the county becoming the nation’s first healthcare sanctuary for transgender youth — while he juggled his media director position at his family’s Wisconsin-based media company.

The activist

Rick Rose’s mission to support the queer community catalyzed at a New York City theater internship through a Beloit connection in the late 1980s, when the city was in the throes of the HIV/AIDs crisis.

“I was living and breathing in a community that was dying,” Rose says. Working at New Dramatists, a center for up-and-coming playwrights, he helped the casting director assign roles, and wherever he turned, actors, set designers, directors, and friends were contracting HIV/AIDS.

“One day, I was going to a friend’s funeral and later in the day went to the hospital and held the hands of a friend who had just died — my friend Brian and my friend John in one day. I knew something had to be done.”

Growing up in a small northern Wisconsin town, Rose had heard of HIV, but had not seen the disease up close. Entering Beloit as a closeted gay man, he began to identify his liberal political leanings and find his people on campus, including a number of gay allies.

“I heard news stories of HIV and that it was a gay man’s disease, and I was deeply worried, but I wasn’t really out to the world yet,” he says. “When I went to New York, my truth came out. My nature was to live in a big municipality, where people helped people and where people were out and transparent about their lives, the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

When he returned to campus after his internship, Annie Dyson, the wife of college President Roger Hull, had started an HIV task force, and Rose jumped at the chance to join. His classroom studies revolved around political theatre productions in the 1970s. He later helped stage “As Is,” a then-popular HIV/AIDS statement play, in Richardson Auditorium.

Rick Rose speaking about opioid recovery settlements at the state capitol in 2023. Rose speaking about opioid recovery settlements at the state capitol in 2023.Since that experience, Rose has continued his activism — and expanded its scope. Following graduation, he moved to Los Angeles and wrote legal contracts at Warner Bros. He created a panel called Women in Television, asking actors who were portraying women with HIV/AIDS on the screen to interview women at UCLA living with the disease in an attempt to tell their stories more accurately and respectfully. In 1990, just two years after graduating from Beloit, he became the executive director of the AIDS Mastery Foundation in Los Angeles, advocating for those living with AIDS and their loved ones through workshops and community support.

“This is a common theme for me: breaking down boundaries, rules, systems,” he says. “That’s how we get political change.”

When he moved back to the Midwest six years ago, he became a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for children who enter the foster system or homeless shelters. His work advocating for children in the court system has been eye-opening.

“If you can make a difference in one person’s life, you’ve made the world a better place,” he says, “but there’s a need to change policy and advocate for all kids.” In April 2022, he decided to run for Dane County public office.

“I was convinced to run by Michele Ritt, a Dane County board supervisor. I’d volunteered with her at a cancer foundation function and she told me, ‘You need to be an elected official. You can make a difference.’ She mentored me through the election process.”

Since then, Rose and Ritt have collaborated in Youth in Governance, a program through the University of Wisconsin Extension, to mentor high schoolers interested in local politics. He also collaborated with fellow Beloit graduate and now close friend, Andi Patilliet’16, who worked for Rose at Discover Mediaworks, his family’s business, and created the graphics for his campaign.

“Once I started [as Dane County board supervisor], it was learning rules and decorum and etiquette and how to work them to my advantage,” he says. “It was also understanding where the state has rights and where the county has rights. How do local rights tie into the bigger picture? What can we change and what can’t we change?”

Rose’s role allows him to sit in hearings, talk to constituents, and develop larger-scale solutions. Last summer’s resolution designating Dane County as a sanctuary for transgender healthcare, which he helped craft, made Dane the first U.S. county to do so.

Rick Rose with friends and supporters after announcing his bid for re-election to the Dane County Board. Rose with friends and supporters after announcing his bid for re-election to the Dane County Board.“I remember going to the office that day. We were getting emails and phone calls every five minutes registering support and non-support. You see the things you may align on and the things you may be fighting against. Everyone has a voice, and you can dissect the issues and try to bring people together and gain consensus.”

Rose announced last December he is running for re-election in Dane’s District 16 in April, and he has higher aspirations. “I have my eye on running for the chair of the board [in the future] and am looking at options in the November general election, bringing my experiences in Dane County to the state level,” he says.

The leader

Rose is also passionate about his day job. He began his career in legal affairs at Warner Bros. in Los Angeles, not long after his public service began. He worked on the first contract for famous twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olson while they were on “Full House,” and on contracts for other minors and music composers, to protect their money and property.

In 1992, in the midst of a lucrative writing career, Rose returned home to Wisconsin to help transition the leadership of his father’s company, Discover Mediaworks, following his father’s illness. Rose joined his brother and sister in the company as executive vice president.

Rick Rose and Stephanie Klett Rose with “Discover Wisconsin” co-host and classmate Stephanie Klett’89.For nearly a decade, he oversaw production on “Discover Wisconsin,” a travel tourism TV series, which he co-hosted with fellow Beloiter Stephanie Klett’89 and that is still on air today. Discover Mediaworks also produces two other shows: “Into the Outdoors,” a children’s educational show on PBS that Rose co-created 20 years ago, and a YouTube series called “Boondock Nation” documenting two young snowmobilers and their travels out west.

“My number-one priority was to come home and support my family,” Rose says. “Number two was to pick up where my dad left off. My brother was working in sales and my sister in production, and my dad was hosting the show, so it was natural for me to step in. I remember there was one show where he had already shot the opening for the episode with Stephanie, and I did the closing. That’s how we announced to the audience that my dad had passed.”

The storyteller

Erica Daniels and Rick Rose While Rose was a talent agent, Beloit College's current Chief of Staff Erica Daniels was named Miss Beloit in 2002.Rose left Discover Mediaworks for some years to try on many new hats: casino manager, editor of a 50s+ queer website, sales and community engagement manager at a daily newspaper, beauty pageant trainer and coach, ghost tour creator, and podcaster.

But six years ago, he returned to the family company. His role in hiring 40 new staff members helped his family weather the COVID storm, and it also got him back to the thing he loves most: connecting with people and telling their stories.

“Good storytelling is about people and sharing the human spirit,” he says. “That’s how I approach everything, whether it’s travel tourism or two kids on a snowmobile or kids exploring the outdoors together.”

As digital media director, Rose has also helped the TV tourism company transition to a digital-first platform, creating “Uniquely Wisconsin,” a series of nine-minute digital shorts about cultural cornerstones, businesses, and people in all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

“It goes into the core of what defines a community,” Rose says. “It’s exciting to meet with county officials and residents to discover what makes Rock County what it is or Dane County what it is. I’m always excited about launching new series. It’s fun when you’re in that beginning process: What will the graphics look like? What are the brand colors? What is the story we want to tell? Whose voice is telling the story? It’s exciting to look at a new way to make a story.”

Along the way, he’s worked on a few passion projects, but none as important to him as a short film, “Will,” that he created and filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana, about marriage equality.

“Discover Mediaworks has sponsored the Beloit International Film Festival for three or four years now,” Rose says. “I entered ‘Will’ in the Wisconsin Filmmaker category and won an award. That was really heartwarming to come back to Beloit and be received that way, in a city that has so much meaning for me.”

Rose has thought long and hard about his varied careers and about storytelling, the throughline that ties them all together. He sees the next chapter of his life as a continuation of using those stories — and his own — to make a positive impact on his community.

“All of us are storytellers in one way or another.”

“Beloit helped me appreciate that everyone has a story and value and something to contribute. My message has always been that the tools don’t matter; the story matters. If you want to express yourself through the written word or through film or at a public policy meeting, go for it. Don’t be limited by technology or finances or means. Don’t let anyone or anything tell you that you can’t.”

Also In This Issue

  • In Remembrance: Jane Karr Threinen’56


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