Part II: Bill Horstman: Former Assistant Dean, Stand-up Comic

By: Jed Fudally

This is another installment of a series of stories designed to provide a glimpse into the lives of older adults who are aging successfully. Each story will focus on a different topic of well-being and show how these individuals are excelling in each.

Photos by: Morgan Kaskowski

Our second story focuses on the importance of staying mentally active as we age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build reserves of brain cells and connections. You can even generate new brain cells.

Being mentally active doesn’t mean you have to turn your life upside down. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests starting small, like a daily walk, and then add other small changes, like crossword puzzles.

Bill Horstman is a tall, lean 70 year old with a full head of hair and has no problem staying mentally active.

“I started with Santiago when he came. He gave one plenary address, which is like a state of the university speech, and he felt like he needed more help. He started asking around and someone threw my name out there.”

For the past decade, Horstman has been a writer and contributor to speeches made by Chancellors Carlos Santiago and Michael Lovell

“So I got this phone call from the chancellor and he asked if I would come over. We agreed initially to do one as an experiment. So we did one and he liked it and then he asked me to write his inaugural speech and we agreed to keep going.”

Horstman has worked for the University for many years. He started his career here in his early 20s and worked his way up to working as Assistant Dean for the College of Letters and Science.

“I always knew I liked to write. I had a really good writing teacher in high school; he wasn’t a rules and diagrams kind of guy. That seemed to work well with the way I write. I like to start with a sentence and that leads to another sentence and that leads to a paragraph and that’s what excites me: you don’t know and you discover.”

His position as an assistant dean required a lot of business writing. According to Bill, the transition to speech writing was a challenge but one he enjoyed.

“At the time I had been doing business writing for many years. I had never done performance writing before and it really is a different animal.”

Like the aforementioned Alzheimer’s Association’s suggestion, Horstman is keeping sharp now by practicing a different type of writing.

“Writing something for speech is different. What comes out is like a short one-act play with one person that’s an amalgamation of several people. So you sit out in the audience and when one of my good sentences comes up it really feels good.”

Speech writing isn’t the only type of performance writing Horstman has done. As recently as a few years ago, Horstman was writing and performing his own stand up routine in Chicago.

“Let me start of by saying it can be really painful. The last gig I did was an open mic at The Cubby Bear in Chicago near Wrigley Field. The crowd was about 40 years younger than I was and all drunk. I was doing a political thing and I could feel the attention sway about 30 seconds in and I was up there feeling naked. At first, I was like I’m never doing that again, but it was fun creating the text.”

Horstman says he hasn’t contacted Interim Chancellor Mark Mone yet, but he’s keeping an open mind to the idea of continuing working with the chancellor’s office.

“I don’t think people want to stop doing the parts of their retired job that they really like. I like speech writing so that’s why I’m still involved.”

Although he’s retired, Horstman maintains a busy schedule.

“I feel retired, not in the sense that I’m less active, it’s just a slower pace. I’m retired in that way. I’m not withdrawn from the world, but I’m retired.”

Interested in telling your story about how you are aging successfully? Contact Rachelle Alioto at ralioto@uwm.edu!