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

Ukraine President Appeals for More US Support

Speaking before Congress ahead of meeting with President Obama, Petro Poroshenko urges lawmakers to back Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy More

Photogallery Global Audience Watches as Scots Go to the Polls

People were almost equally divided over a vote for independence, watched closely by Britain's allies, investors and restive regions at home and abroad More

China to Invest $20B in India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high-profile visit 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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid