For Valentine’s Day: Madison’s Power Couples Share Secrets for Success in Work, Leadership & Love


    To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we reached out to several of Madison’s power couples — couples who both have important, public and very busy jobs and positions in the community — and asked how they support each other and keep their romance alive. Their answers are honest, heartwarming, humorous and romantic. Enjoy!

    Michael Johnson, President & CEO, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, and Toya W. Johnson, Director-Community Impact, United Way of Dane County

    With all the demands on your time, how do you support each other’s work? Prayer is the foundation of our support for one another. We also ensure that the kids are taken care of (for example, which one of us will serve as taxi driver for each of the kids and his/her activities, etc.). We have a rule not to discuss work at home because that is our family’s personal space. However, when delicate challenges arise, we provide constructive counsel and encouragement to one another. It is important for us both to attend each others events and be that spiritual, emotional and physical supportive cheerleader.  

    What makes you most proud of your partner? Michael:  I am proud of how Toya balances work and family time.  She never complains about what she has to do, she just does it.  She also doesn’t hesitate to tell me what she thinks I should be doing. What I like most about Toya is that she has a good sense of humor and a refreshingly positive outlook on life. She always sees the best in me and in others. That’s a gift that not many people have.    

    Toya: I am proud of the leadership that Mike has shown not only here in Madison, but in other states and previous places that we’ve lived and had the opportunity to serve. He has a huge heart and always strives to do the right thing.  He is a visionary who inspires others.  A notable quote by John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”  This is what I see in Mike. 

    Given your busy jobs, how do you keep the romance alive? WHIPS AND STICKS!!!!  LOL!  

    On a more serious note, date nights have been something that have kept not only our romance alive, but our friendship strong after 15 years of marriage. When we go to visit our families in Chicago, we are usually able to get away without the kids and spend some quality time just the two of us.  We will attend a concert, a movie, a play, dinner, etc.  In order for the marriage to last, you have to continue to date as we did when we were just boyfriend and girlfriend.  What you start, you have to keep up.  I guess that’s why Toya has always been the real boss. LOL!

    Kyle Richmond, Vice Chair, Madison Food Policy Council, President, Friends of Silverwood Park, and former Dane County Supervisor, and Ken Monteleone, Owner, Fromagination and downtown Madison Business Improvement District Board member, and 

    With all the demands on your time, how do you support each other’s work? Ken:  As a small business owner, my work can pull me in a million directions.  Kyle is my voice of reason and the inner voice that helps me slow down and enjoy life’s simple pleasures, like taking our dog for a walk, hiking, taking a road trip, or having friends over for dinner.  He exposes me to things and to doing things I would not do on my own.

    Kyle: I now work for Ken’s business, so that’s daily…but our general work intersects in the areas of local food, food policy, and Madison and Dane County community involvement. Ken puts up with my frequent meetings at night, and has been very encouraging about my public work. He gives me suggestions…and often listens to me loudly complain, which is a great service!  

    What makes you most proud of your partner? Ken:  I love Kyle’s passion for public service, helping make our community a special place. I enjoy meeting people in local government that are working with Kyle, doing amazing things in our community.  I admire his ability to bring people together for causes that benefit the greater good and help to make to ensure our community has a sustainable future.   I love the way he cares for his 92-year-old mother and our dog Mabel.

    Kyle: Ken is hard-working, determined and dedicated, but also generous, and knows how to make people feel welcome and cared about. He’s a rabid supporter of the underdogs in our society, which I admire a lot.  He’s also very nice to his mom…which is always an important marker for me.

    Given your busy jobs, how do you keep the romance alive? Ken:  By taking time to disconnect from all my devices and enjoy each other’s company without distractions.

    Kyle: We struggle with this at times, but try to set aside time just to be together, and especially to travel together, which allows us to leave work and worries behind and explore the world.  Ken is a curious Gemini, so he’s often up for whatever presents itself…it’s our romance with the unexplored world!

    Joe Maldonado, Community Impact Director – Academic Success at United Way of Dane County, and Mariam Maldonado, Outreach and Intake Manager, Workforce Development at Urban League of Greater Madison

    With all the demands on your time, how do you support each other’s work? Joe: We’re very honest with one another: our own energy levels, our ‘growth areas’, our needs. If I have a big idea, Mariam will make sure I’m not overestimating my capacity. She’ll ask me questions about the details. And she will often tell me what I don’t want to hear. I’ll follow her advice about 60 percent of the time. And when I don’t, she’ll be ready to bail me out, and give me the “I told you so” look. Mariam is also an incredibly empathetic person who teaches me how to treat other people better and understand their needs.

    Mariam: Joe was my informal editor when I was in college and I kept him on after graduation :). He’s an amazing writer. I’ve spent many a night having him break up my run on sentences and forcing him to read it out loud at the end. He also holds me down and gives me an incredible amount of confidence — and I am very confident as it is! He hypes me up—to our kids, to the outside world, and to me when I have self-doubts and try to talk myself out of big projects. He’s spoken things into my life years ago that are just now happening.

    What makes you most proud of your partner? Mariam: Joe is a workhorse. I don’t have to motivate him to do anything, he does it. Work, fundraising, advocacy, furthering his own education, mentoring are all things he cares about and moves on without prompt. He puts his all into it and goes. When he’s finished with a project, he takes a break and gets back at it. His dedication to building our kids is one of the few things that get a break.

    Joe: Mariam doesn’t see limitations. She’ll make a bold statement. “I’m going to do this by this time.” I’ll have no idea how she will make it happen, but it will come to fruition. She knows how to mobilize others. A family function, a work event, an item drive for the Dominican Republic, a renovation to the house. She will have a team put together that is as efficient and in synch as a military operation. It’s how she was raised: loyalty and cooperation. It’s an integral part of who she is.

    Given your busy jobs, how do you keep the romance alive? For the sake of modesty, we’ll keep it brief. We are each others’ accountability partners and we do a very good job of it. 🙂

    Judith Davidoff, Editor of Isthmus, and Rhonda Lanford, Dane County Circuit Court Judge

    With the demands on your time, how do you support each other’s work? Fortunately, we are both very interested in each other’s work, and always take time to listen, ask questions, and help when we are able. We also recognize when the other is under a lot of stress at work, and take up the slack for each other at home, from cooking to dog walking and everything in between.

    What makes you most proud of your partner? Judith: Rhonda is smart, funny and genuine. I admire how she treats people fairly, and approaches everything with a positive attitude. I also love that she embraces her lowbrow tastes as much as her highbrow ones. She has also overcome many obstacles in her life to get where she is today, and I am very proud of her success.

    Rhonda: I really admire Judy’s intelligence. She makes me critically think about everything, and she asks questions that engage me and help me focus my thoughts and ideas. She is very kind and has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. She also makes me laugh — a lot!

    Given your busy jobs, how do you keep the romance alive? Lavish gifts and time apart.    

    Seriously, we always find time for each other, no matter what is going on.  After 11 years together, we are tuned into each other and know how to make each other laugh.

    Marie Justice, Filmmaker, TV Show Host, Anti-Racism Strategist, and Johnny Justice, Social Justice Filmmaker/Entrepreneur, Anti-Racism Strategist

    With all the demands on your time how do you support each other’s work? Marie: Balance and communication are key, and we’re comfortable with our weaknesses.

    What I mean by that is I know there are areas that I am not as skilled as Johnny is and I’m more than happy for him to take the reins in that particular area–and vice versa. It allows us not to become overwhelmed and it feels good knowing all I have to do is lend my support and he will succeed.

    I love seeing it happen too, it’s empowering and exciting to watch. We also communicate these things quite well between each other– it’s almost like playing a sport; without communication things fall apart quickly.

    Johnny: To put it plainly; there’s no competition or blame game. Marie doesn’t ask me to cook a thing in our house (besides scrambled eggs … I’m a total failure in the kitchen). If I’m working on a video project for a client she happily makes every meal and looks after the kids, so and I can stow away in my room and work on the project. On the other hand, she hates editing (putting videos together) and she refuses to fold laundry. If you need to know how to fold a fitted sheet…I’m your man!

    To reiterate what Marie said, we’re happy to support each other’s strengths in any way we can. It’s better for the team as a whole and we’re able to succeed.

    Now when she is off filming for Discover Wisconsin (the show she hosts) Dad takes over all duties…a little junk food never hurt anybody, right?!

    What makes you most proud of your partner? Marie: I’ve known Johnny since we were teens. He has faced so much adversity (losing his mom at 15 years old on Christmas Eve and the murder of his identical twin brother not long after). Quite honestly based on everything that he has been through he shouldn’t be sitting where he is right now.

    I am brimming with pride when I watch him achieve the goals that he sets out to do. He discovered his talent, his passion for life, and he is living out his dreams and sharing it to help others. That makes me beyond proud, there simply isn’t a word that can describe it well enough.

    Johnny: She is the ultimate team player. I’m in awe of all the roles she can play. One minute she is a mother, next she is the shoulder to cry on for family and friends.

    As my wife and partner she is so thoughtful and giving. What I love the most is she is willing to take risks, she understands that you will never have success in life if you don’t go for it and give it all you got. Also, she is great at figuring out what mistakes we make and learning from them to make our team stronger.

    Given your busy jobs, how do you keep the romance alive? Marie: One of the things that brought us together back in the day is we had similar interests, and luckily we are both super low-key still to this day. We love food, good movies and working out, plus we’re both homebodies. So it’s super simple for us to steal away for a romantic evening right in our own home, which we take advantage of quite often.

    Johnny: Yeah, it goes something like: One of Marie’s amazing home-cooked meals, then burn it off at the gym…come home put the kids in bed, talk a little business, THEN…Netflix and…well you know the rest! Ha!

    Dan Plummer, Annual Giving Manager, Wisconsin Union at UW-Madison, and Mark Koehn, Anchor/Reporter at WISC-TV 3.

    With all the demands on your time, how do you support each other’s work? Mark: Dan has to put in a lot of after hours for events. I try to attend most, but of those I can’t, I’m on dog duty.

    Dan: I take an interest in his day to day and try to watch his work on TV when I can.

    Both: We know not every work event is vitally important, but when it is, we let each other know.

    What makes you most proud of your partner? Mark: I am continually impress on how good he is at his job. He’s always surprising his co-workers and myself, at how high he continues to set the bar. Plus he takes the puppy out early in the morning.

    Dan: His loyalty and support of me in all situations. There’s a reason Mark is an award winning journalist, because he’s amazing at his job.

    Given your busy jobs, how do you keep the romance alive? Mark: He makes me laugh out loud everyday.  He challenges my b.s. and he tolerates my cooking. I can’t imagine life without him.

    Dan: Well, going on a cruise once a year helps, but it’s the day to day, the grind, that we’re both good at together. It’s a team effort.

    If you’re married or in a relationship, take a moment today to tell your partner how proud you are of their work and how you plan on supporting them! Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Special thanks to Patrick Farabaugh of Our Lives Magazine for assisting us in getting in touch with some of our power couples.