Sue Pezanoski and Tony Browne

“…and when we find ourselves in the place just right / We will be in the valley of love and delight.” This line from an old Shaker hymn sums it up for Riverwest couple Sue Pezanoski and Tony Browne. It’s hard to imagine Sue and Tony living anywhere else but right here. They love living so close to the river. After a dozen or so years living in other parts of the city, they felt like they were “coming home” when they moved into their Riverwest bungalow in 2001. They were very deliberate about raising their two children in a multi-cultural community. Both Ali, now 24, and Peter, age 20, did well in nearby public schools: Elm, Roosevelt and Rufus King. Ali is now in Hong Kong doing research on a Fullbright scholarship; Peter is at the University of Minnesota working on a degree in Visual Arts. Both Ali and Peter speak of being shaped by the progressive spirit of the place where they grew up, the place where their parents chose to settle. Tony and Sue met as students at UWM. A graduate of Marquette High School, Tony got his degree in journalism. The writing skills he developed in college he now uses to do computer programming with Metavante, a Milwaukee-based multi-media firm. Sue studied art. After a brief stint as art educator at the Milwaukee Art Museum, she signed on with MPS. In 2002, one year after moving to Riverwest, she landed the job of her dreams: she became the art teacher at La Escuela Fratney. She knows of “no other school where the neighborhood and families so clearly reflect our global diversity. And I can walk to work!” She sees it as her professional responsibility “to make visible the cultural richness of our neighborhood and our families.” She’s done this in numerous ways. She constantly tries to integrate social studies, literature and social action into her art curriculum. So her students do not just make leaf art in October and turkeys in November and snowflakes in December. Not at all. They decorate grocery bags for Outpost Natural Foods, they design holiday cards for Hunger Task Force, they create altars for a Day of the Dead display on the south side, they paint murals to decorate the chain-link fence that surrounds the school yard. She and her students were invited to create two murals underneath the James E. Groppi Memorial Bridge in commemoration of the fair housing marches in 1967. They were also invited to participate in the “Art in the Garden” event at Villa Terrace. The art that Sue Pezanoski-Browne’s students do is not just art for the refrigerator. It has something to say about the world we live in. Her face lights up when she talks about the current project where her students are creating three panels inspired by the Milwaukee River. Using a variety of media from clay to paint to written words, her students will address the importance of safe drinking water and the vital place ofwater in our global environment. Tony is excited about working with Fratney children this season too, but his focus is on basketball, not murals. When Sue started at the school as art teacher, Tony offered his services as basketball coach. Drawing on his experience in high school leagues, he has a very clearly defined philosophy about children’s sports. All his players have to try everything, know all the positions. He makes no distinction between boys and girls, between big kids and smaller ones. He is not out to produce stars but wants everyone to get a chance to play. His strategy seems to be paying off. Last year his third grade squad was undefeated, as is this year’s team so far. Tony had more kids trying out in the fall than he had slots to offer. They practiced hard to begin the season with the MPS Recreation League in early December. From now until March, Tony will spend every Saturday morning coaching his two teams and urging his players to do their very best. He’s encouraged that there’s a great turnout of parents and grandparents to cheer the kids on. Maybe the word for Sue and Tony in Riverwest is symbiosis. They and their children feel they have thrived by living in this neighborhood. At the same time, the neighborhood has thrived because of their dedication to children and their considerable skills. The diverse culture of Riverwest has enhanced the lives of the Pezanoski-Brownes while they in turn have enhanced the culture of Riverwest. It’s too flowery to talk of “the valley of love and delight” but it’s not too flowery to say that Sue and Tony have indeed found themselves “in the place just right.”