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CAMPUS CONNECTION

Campus Connection: Viterbo professor conspires for common good

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'Conspiracy of Goodness'

Tom Thibodeau, left, and Larry Long are pictured at Sound Stration Audio Productions recording episodes of “Conspiracy of Goodness,” which debuts on Labor Day. Both will be special guests at a Viterbo University virtual alumni social event on Sept. 3.

“Conspiracy” might be a dirty word these days, but a new project by Tom Thibodeau, a distinguished professor of servant leadership at Viterbo University, makes clear a conspiracy also can do wonders for the common good.

Thibodeau and co-conspirator Larry Long are launching a new radio show/podcast and video series called “Conspiracy of Goodness” that offers stories and songs on a theme woven together in a way that they hope will inspire listeners and maybe even get them to join in the conspiracy.

“The idea is to strengthen connections, expand communities and create possibilities in working for the greater good every day,” Thibodeau said. “I think what happens is that when you raise up the human spirit, other people can realize what is possible.”

Long, a musician and activist whose career has revolved around community building, was called “a true American troubadour” by author/historian Studs Terkel.

Thibodeau endorses Terkel’s assessment of Long, and he should know. For more than 30 years, Thibodeau has been friends with Long, who in 2001 was honored with the Saint John XXIII Award for Distinguished Service, Viterbo’s highest nonacademic honor.

The roots of the idea for a “Conspiracy of Goodness” show go back 25 years. For several years, Thibodeau and Long teamed up for story/song sessions at a family camp. The roots of the name go back even further, to a small-town in France during World War II.

In a documentary called “Weapons of the Spirit” that came out in 1987 — the same year Long first performed at Viterbo — the filmmaker visits the town of Le Chambon, where the residents saved an estimated 5,000 Jewish people by hiding them from Nazi soldiers. He asks an elderly woman why they did it, and she responded that they were involved in a “conspiracy of goodness.”

So far, Thibodeau and Long have recorded 12 episodes. For each one, they agree on three stories and three songs on a common theme and go into Sound Strations Audio Productions to record with Brett Huus, who also videotapes the proceedings. Each of the episodes is 20-25 minutes, and they will be available for use in audio podcast and video form for a wide variety of audiences.

“They can be used by any business, organization or group of people who would like something uplifting,” Thibodeau said.

For example, Thibodeau noted, the Onalaska School District will share episodes monthly with students and then give them writing prompts based on the shows to help them get thinking more about the greater good.

“Conspiracy of Goodness” will make its debut with a radio broadcast on Viroqua-based WDRT-FM 91.9 starting at 8:30 a.m. on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 7), and it can be streamed worldwide on the Driftless Community Radio website. New episodes of the show will be broadcast on Mondays at 8:30 a.m.

The theme of the debut episode will focus on work, which Thibodeau said is “essential” to everybody. “Work is a gift,” he said. “A job is a privilege and we honor the people who came before us and allow us to have a job today.”

Other themes for the first dozen episodes include what it means to be in a conspiracy of goodness, community, friendships, the land, water, hospitality, wisdom, courage, and mothers, wives and daughters.

Thinking about the “Conspiracy of Goodness” project, Thibodeau is reminded of an ancient Chinese proverb that asserts that the one who plants a tree rarely gets to sit in its shade. In other words, a tree planter is doing something good for future generations.

“We’re just kind of planting these seeds, and that’s what we want people to do,” Thibodeau said. “Just put your bread out on the water, put your nickel down on goodness and see where it takes you.”

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