News / USA

Hometown Hero Teaches Students Sky is not the Limit

Astronaut Jeffrey Williams' rise inspires others in small town

Winter, Wisconsin proudly proclaims astronaut Jeffrey Williams as one of its own
Winter, Wisconsin proudly proclaims astronaut Jeffrey Williams as one of its own

Multimedia

Audio

Just about everybody in Winter, Wisconsin knows about their local boy who made good.

Col. Jeffrey Williams has logged more days in space than almost any other American. The International Space Station, where the astronaut spent a great deal of time, is a long way from his small, rural hometown.

Population: 344

Even in the middle of the day, Main Street in the small north woods town is pretty quiet. There are no traffic jams, not even any traffic lights. The population of 344 people triples in the summer, when tourists flock to the area for what's considered some of the best walleye and muskie fishing in the region.

Jeffrey Williams performs a spacewalk outside the station during the STS-101 shuttle mission in May of 2000.
Jeffrey Williams performs a spacewalk outside the station during the STS-101 shuttle mission in May of 2000.

Realtor Bob Biller has lived here his entire 69 years. He says Winter is a special place surrounded by farms, pine trees and lakes. It's got a bank, a post office, and a co-op store.

"We call it Winter's Wal-Mart. They have a variety of just about anything you want there," he says.

Hometown boy

Winter also has one thing most towns, big or small, don't have: its own astronaut.

Williams has logged more days in space than all but three other American astronauts. He just returned from his second stay onboard the International Space Station. He was Expedition 22 commander for half of the six-month-long mission.

Astronaut Jeffrey Williams
Astronaut Jeffrey Williams

Almost everyone at Winter School, from grades 1 through 12, knows him. This is the school Williams graduated from 34 years ago.

Nick Stengel was Williams' technology teacher back then. He tells today's students, who come from Winter and the surrounding communities, that no matter how humble their upbringing, their expectations should be limitless.

"When I've got kids who say to me, 'Hey, I come from Winter. I can't do this, I can't do that. We're such a small school.' I say there are people who come out of this school, I give Jeff as an example," says Stengel. "They've been very successful and you can do the same."

Inspiring others

Like the other 336 students at Winter School, 11th grader Keela Strouf is proud that an astronaut attended her school.

"It makes me want to work harder and get something really good out of everything you do because the fact that we had an astronaut come from our little school just makes me want to go harder and reach all my goals."

Students and teachers at Winter School, Williams' alma mater, were able to question the astronaut during a NASA International Space Station downlink in January as he orbited the planet.
Students and teachers at Winter School, Williams' alma mater, were able to question the astronaut during a NASA International Space Station downlink in January as he orbited the planet.

The really cool thing, as she puts it, is that she and other students got to ask Williams questions during a NASA International Space Station downlink in January as he orbited the planet.

"It was crazy," says Keela. "I mean like, just the experience of getting to do that is just like beyond anything I'd get to do. You don't expect that. It was really cool though."

Senior Ryan Sajdera also participated in the space chat. He learned that astronauts use springs and pulleys to weigh objects in zero gravity.

"It was kind of neat knowing that they're not even on this Earth and you're talking to them," he says. "I don't know. It's a cool experience."

Sajdera is one of 28 students in Winter School's graduating class. "Everybody says Winter's small, nothing comes out of here but we've got one of the few [astronauts] came out of Winter, so that's something to be proud of," he said.

Reaching for the stars

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden hopes to get youngsters from all walks of life interested in space travel.

"That's my challenge. When the President offered me this job, he gave me one instruction and one instruction only. It was to find a way for NASA to inspire young people," says Bolden. "So that's my challenge and we're working hard on it. You know Jeff represents every kid's dream around the world, not just in the U.S. So, it's a special story."

In addition to his talk with Winter School, Williams held several other Q&A's with classrooms during his two International Space Station missions. He says it's his way to share the unique experience.

"Hopefully we do bring inspiration to people to look past their horizons and be inspired to go beyond where otherwise they would go," says Williams.

So people like Ryan Sajdera might decide that someday, they'd like to be a space scientist and visit the Moon or Mars.

"Exactly," says Ryan. "I mean, coming from a small school, if you want to do something, go for it. That's what Jeff Williams really conveys for our school."

As a reminder that the sky is not the limit, the Winter Chamber of Commerce posted a sign on Highway 70, the main road into town.

It reads, "Welcome to Winter, Hometown of Jeffrey Williams, Astronaut."

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs