That's What She Said

Episode 57: Visiting with Deb Frank Feinen and Julia Rietz of Champaign, IL and their story, “A Mayor & A State’s Attorney Walk Onto a Stage”

two women sit on barstools on a stage

Some special guests joined our hosts Kerry and Jenette to share a sneak peek into the women behind the titles. Mayor Deb Frank Feinen and State’s Attorney Julia Rietz share some career highlights and struggles, as well as how they find solace and support in friendship, as evidenced by the story they shared onstage in “That’s What She Said” 2019 in Champaign, Illinois.

ANNOUNCER 00:00 Raising women’s voices. One story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.

[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]


JENETTE JURCZYK 00:28 This is an extra special episode of The She Said Project Podcast! I am so excited to jump right in the deep waters. You know who I am, Jenette Jurczyk, National Director.
JENETTE 00:37 Kerry Rossow… What’s up? What’s happening? Blahdee-blahdee-blah. Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? Let’s do this? Okay. [laughing]

KERRY ROSSOW 00:42 Blahdee-blahdee-blah. Blahdee-blahdee-blah. Yep, let’s go. Let’s go, yep. I’m ready all day.

JENETTE 00:44 So normally on our podcast, we invite individual women who’ve been on The She Said Stage to come yack it up with us, check in, listen to those amazing stories one more time—but today is super extra special because we have a duet of ladies who’ve appeared on our stage. So we have two guests with us today. Very special! Friends, friends of The She Said Project, friends of the community, friends to each other. Of course, I am talking about our (Champaign) mayor, Deb Feinen, and our (Champaign County) State’s Attorney, Julia Rietz. Hello, and welcome. We’re so excited to have you guys in the WILL studio with us today.

JULIA RIETZ 01:22 Well, thank you so much for inviting us to be sitting here with you guys in person. Always fantastic.

JENETTE 01:29 I know..wait! I don’t know that there are six feet between us. So, hold on… let’s scootch back.

DEB FRANK FEINEN 01:32 I don’t think there needs to be anymore. Right?

KERRY 01:34 Yeah, I’m six feet tall and we’re in a little room. So ...

JULIA 01:37 If you would lay down between us, Kerry, that will, you will be our measuring stick?

KERRY 01:42 Yeah, yeah, it just took a turn. It’s getting weird in here.

JENETTE 01:45 This is one of the episodes where I wish we did the podcast on camera for like YouTube, or whatever. Because first of all, if our audience could see, we are practically dancing with excitement, like if I could stand up and holler, I would, but…

KERRY 02:00 If I could throw out a hip, I would. Yeah. No. I’m so excited because… well, for so many reasons. But one of the things that we never want to do is we don’t want to just put women on that we’ve already heard the story. They’re on the speaker circuit. They’re like, ‘Oh, yep, I’ve heard, you know, a form of this story before.’ And Deb and Julia were two women that I admired and loved and.. was hesitant, because I thought this is going to be work for you—just more work—and asking you to be vulnerable so that people can see you in a ‘girlfriend light’ and not see you in the roles that you typically are in. I really wanted people to see you as the girlfriends you are to each other. But how everybody else in your friendship circle sees you. Was it easy? Or was it a challenge, to sort of drop that and just be girlfriends?

DEB 02:47 Well, I think it’s always, I think.. maybe we..

KERRY 02:51 [stern teacher voice] We’re not gonna bring that up you two!

JULIA 02:51 The beer helped!

DEB 02:51 The beer helped! Yeah. [laughing]

DEB 02:54 But I was gonna say I think we’re both very cognizant, and I don’t want to speak for Julia, of the roles that we play in the community, right? And so, you know, I am careful on social media and in the public eye, because I want to respect the role of mayor and the community that I am serving. And so letting down that guard a little bit to be just a human and not the mayor was challenging and made us a little vulnerable.

JULIA 03:27 Yeah, and honestly, I don’t know that we did that so much,

JULIA 03:31 To be honest. I mean, first of all, we struggled trying to even come up with what we were going to talk about. You kept saying, “Tell us about that time when…” We didn’t really have a ‘that time when something scandalous happened’ because of… because of, you know, of who we are. I think it wasn’t until like a week or two before the actual show… [all laughing] (Sorry, Jenette!) that we really came up with what we were gonna say and we kind of took it upon ourselves to be the introduction to the concept, but not so much about telling a real in depth story to this day, and certainly then when we were getting to know the other ladies in our group who have become now really lifelong friends, we’re all..

DEB 03:31 Yeah, right…

KERRY 04:15 WOW! That’s what she said! [everyone laughing, borderline chaos]

DEB 04:15 For sure.

JULIA 04:15 ...really really close to each other. Some of them just really exposed themselves and their stories… [explosive laughter]

JENETTE 04:16 You’re in the wrong crowd!

JULIA 04:16 ...told very personal stories about their history or what was going on in their lives in the moment. And I was so impressed and you know, and sort of jealous In a way

DEB 04:42 Yes, for sure.

JULIA 04:43 of them. Being able to do that. I mean, we all have stuff, I’ve got stuff but I’m again, not going to be, you know, putting it out there…

DEB 04:49 Well, and there are times where… because I’ve gone to other shows and I’ve gone to shows elsewhere because you’re now the “National Director”... right? So you get to go other places! And there are times where I hear other women’s stories and I think I wish I had had the courage to be a little more vulnerable or open, but then again, because of the roles we play in the community, I’m not sure that works. Maybe you’ll have to have us back when we both retire to ...

KERRY 05:23 Done.

JENETTE 05:23 “The Next Chapter.” Here’s what I want to say though, I’ll pretend I wasn’t sweating bullets in the weeks leading up to the show, where we hadn’t really solidified the content of your story. But I’m listening to you talk about how you couldn’t tell stories. But you did. You found it. You found a vulnerability in being real humans on a stage where you knew there was this pretense of who you are in the community, but what you two are is you are women of integrity, and at no point did we ever want you to lose that or break that integrity. But you found vulnerable moments, you found pieces of stories that, that got you emotional, got the audience emotional, made us laugh with your closing line. And I feel like we should just share the story because I’m going to give it all away if I’m not careful.

KERRY 06:11 [aside] (Like me in college.) Let’s just go to the tape. [laughter]

JENETTE 06:13 [all laughing] The name of your sex tape was WHAT?

KERRY 06:17 “Giving It All Away!”

JULIA 06:17 [whispering] What is happening? What is happening here?

JENETTE 06:18 Okay…

KERRY 06:21 Truthfully told, that was actually what my college was more like, but [laughs] I’m a big talker.

JENETTE 06:26 “What Is Happening Here?”

KERRY 06:28 [laughing] Yes! Sorry, Jenette.

JENETTE 06:29 It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. Fake it till you make it, Kerry Rossow.

JENETTE 06:32 Alright. We’re going to edit some of that out, yeah? Just take a note that we’re going to have to do some editing here. Okay. But what we are going to do is we’re going to allow our listeners in on what we’re talking about. We’re going to play the performance from the actual show. Deb and Julia appeared on stage in 2019, in our flagship community of Champaign Urbana in That’s What She Said, so take a listen to their story, entitled, “A Mayor and a State’s Attorney, Walk Into a Bar…” oh, no, “A Mayor and a State’s Attorney Walk Onto a Stage.”

KERRY 06:32 Alright.

DEB 07:05 “With a Beer.”

JENETTE 07:06 With a beer.

JULIA 07:07 Two beers! [Kerry laughing]

JENETTE 07:08 Here you go. Enjoy.

(Originally recorded on March 2, 2019 at the Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL.)

JULIA 07:09
Madam Mayor.

DEB 07:11 Madam State’s Attorney.

JULIA 07:12 Well, here we are on stage at That’s What She Said. [applause, laughter] It is much bigger than I thought it would be.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 07:22 [shouting] That’s what she said! [sounding a lot like Kerry Rossow!] [laughter]

JULIA 07:27 Kerry Rossow’s mind is in the gutter! [laughter continues]

DEB 07:30 And we’re surrounded by these amazing women.

JULIA 07:33 Amazing women!

DEB 07:34 Women who are here to tell their stories.

JULIA 07:36 You know, I am just in awe of all of these women and of the women who have come before us over the past five years to tell their stories. I have laughed. I have cried.

JULIA 07:39 Was it better than Cats?

JULIA 07:41 It was better than Cats. [audience laughter] Honestly, though, I’ve been overwhelmed by the courage it takes for people to come and share their stories from this stage. So, what stories are we are going to tell?

DEB 08:01 Hmm…

JULIA 08:02 You know, Kerry’s probably Facebook Live-ing this right now. It’s going to be all over the place, social media. So, hmmm. How about that time when you…?

DEB 08:13 [interrupting] No, no! But that time when you…?

JULIA 08:16 [interjecting] Oh, no, no, no! We’re not talking about that!

DEB 08:18 How about a demonstration about how you celebrate your birthday? [whoops from audience]

JULIA 08:24 Hmmm? Do you really think that they want to hear my really bad karaoke version of Redneck Women? Yes. [audience cheering] No.

DEB 08:33 Oh, I do! [laughing]

JULIA 08:34 That, that requires a few shots of liquid courage. [Deb laughing] And anyway, that Facebook-thing so?

DEB 08:43 Well, the truth is that we’ve known each other for more than 25 years, and there really aren’t any scandals between us.

JULIA 08:50 Between us…

DEB 08:52 But sometimes I can’t go to the grocery store without someone mistaking me for you.

JULIA 08:57 You know, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I was the mayor, I would make a really nice donation to your re-election campaign. [cheers, Julia whoops] [Deb laughing]

JULIA 09:11 Seriously, though, I agree. The Netflix version of our relationship would probably be pretty boring: Two women who mutually respect each other, get along like each other, in local government in a Midwest college town. I don’t know that that’s really binge-worthy material.

DEB 09:29 Probably not. But unfortunately, in today’s world, it’s probably a unique story.

JULIA 09:30 Yeah, true, unfortunately.

DEB 09:31 But seriously, isn’t the point of She Said that every woman has a story to tell and some are every day and some are tragic, and some are about the wonderful women who have supported us along the way. I know I’ve been surrounded by many women who’ve influenced my life.

JULIA 09:56 Great idea. Instead of talking about ourselves, let’s talk about them!

DEB 10:00 Sounds good. So, you know, I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m a real townie.

JULIA 10:05 So, living here 25 years doesn’t make me a townie?

DEB 10:09 Nope! [chuckle] But maybe an honorary one. You know, my mom isn’t a real townie either, and she was circuit clerk for 25 years.

JULIA 10:19 So was she a tiger mom?

DEB 10:21 Well, kind of. You know, when I was three or four, my family lived in married student housing, and I went to the co-op nursery school. And we used to ride the bus from our apartment to the school—not because we couldn’t walk, but because I loved to ride the bus. [whoop in audience] Sounds like some MTD people here. And so we got to know the bus driver, who of course, loved me,

JULIA 10:51 Of course

DEB 10:52 And told my mom that I was precocious, and I chatted with him. And so one day, I asked my mom if I could ride the bus by myself.

JULIA 11:02 When you were four?

DEB 11:03 When I was four. And my mom who thought that it was important to raise very, very, um, fierce girls, like Erin Tarr would say…

JULIA 11:17 Erin Tarr!

DEB 11:16 Decided that I should ride the bus by myself. And she arranged with the bus driver for me to get on. I paid him and she ran like crazy to the school so she’d be there to help me get off. And I rode the bus by myself. And I am convinced that without that push towards independence, and so many more along the way growing up, that I wouldn’t be Mayor today. [applause] And she’s in the audience. [applause and cheers]

JULIA 11:53 Well, when I was four, my mother falsified my birth certificate [Deb laughing] to beat the December 1st deadline so that I could go to kindergarten a year early. [audience laughing] For six years, I thought my birthday was in November instead of January. [audience laughing] On the plus side, the year I figured that out (when I changed schools and had to re-enroll,) I had two birthdays. [laughing] And I can tell that story now because the statute of limitations has long passed. [laughter] But I do always think about how different my life would be if my mother had not committed a major felony in order to [laughter] get me out of the house a year early.

DEB 12:46 So seriously, though, is this where you thought you’d end up?

JULIA 12:50 Oh, not even close. When I was young, I thought I would be a diplomat living in Europe with my boyfriend who I had met when I was a foreign exchange student in Switzerland. [laughing] That - one - did - not - work out. But, we are Facebook friends.

DEB 13:10 So this is a real story?

JULIA 13:13 True story. Not fake news.

DEB 13:15 Okay.

JULIA 13:17 Seriously, though, when you and I met as young lawyers, I was married, I had a child, I had a job and I was really focused on the day-to-day things that you focus on when you’re a young person. Life seemed pretty simple. Ever since then, the world has changed. My daughter Alice is 23 now and so many things have changed during her lifetime. I remember when she was about five. We went on a trip to Florida. And we were flying. It was shortly after September 11. And we were in the airport and we got pulled aside and she had to take off her tiny little white Keds so that they could be checked for explosives. I was angry. And it was at that moment that I really realized that the world wasn’t as safe as I thought it was.

DEB 14:06 Yeah, 25 years ago, I was sure that I knew who I was. And I knew what I believed. It was all black or white, very little shades of gray.

JULIA 14:16 Have things changed for you?

DEB 14:19 Yep. Today, I think I’m a very different person. I’m changed by my life in public service and all the amazing people that I’ve met who are different from me. 25 years ago, I would have firmly told you that I believed in the Second Amendment and that every law abiding citizen had the right to carry a gun. And after holding a mom whose child has been shot to death, and comforting a church full of distraught teenagers the same age as my own daughter, I can tell you without a doubt that I have changed. [applause]

JULIA 15:00 Unfortunately, in my job, I’ve learned that lesson too many times over the past 25 years.

DEB 15:07 Yeah, can you tell us some of the people who’ve had that impact on your life?

JULIA 15:11 I have always been in awe of the strength of women dealing with crisis. They have definitely shaped me in the decisions that I make. When I was in private practice. I had a client whose child was taken from her and was in DCFS custody. She hung signs all over her house that said, the baby is all that matters. She worked every day to solve her problems so that she could get her child back. She definitely affected how I view those cases when I’m on the other side as a prosecutor.

JULIA 15:42 I have worked with, met with, sat with, mothers who have lost their children to gun violence, to drunk drivers. And also with the mothers whose children have caused those deaths. They were all grieving. They were all trying to find some strength to go forward. They were all trying to do that, and many of them with compassion for each other and understanding of what the other had lost.

JULIA 16:08 There is always, I think, beauty and tragedy. I sent a 19 year old to prison for beating a 3 year old to death. Absolute tragedy. But I have had the honor of seeing two wonderful women take that three year old’s little sister, who was also abused, adopt her and raise her into a beautiful, joyful young woman. I call her the silver lining in a very dark cloud. And we are Facebook friends.

DEB 16:40 Of course, you are. [applause]

JULIA 16:45 So tell me about some of the people who have stood out for you and your legal career.

DEB 16:49 Well, I’ve often seen our community come together in crisis. Do you remember Retha Crawford?

JULIA 16:55 Wasn’t she the homeless lady who lived on University Avenue?

DEB 16:59 She did and I also remember that she would be near Booker T Washington School. My sister remembers that when she would walk through the playground, the teachers would gather the students and run them inside to keep them safe. And she lived in our community with what I thought were no mental health services and absolutely nobody caring for her.

JULIA 17:24 Were there actually people caring for her?

DEB 17:26 There were I got asked to be the lawyer in her guardianship case. And I found out that there were women that were bringing her food on the street, and there was a woman who had unlocked her door and left it open so Ms. Retha could come inside and sleep if she wanted to. Together with them, I was able to obtain a guardianship and Ms. Retha then moved to assisted living, where she was cared for off the streets and provided mental health services. [applause]

JULIA 18:00 That is an example of what an amazing community we live in. So many strong women, so many amazing stories. For me though, the two most important women in my life are my daughters. Local politics can be pretty hard on a family. You grew up with your mother in politics. So you know that and now your daughters are sharing the same experience.

DEB 18:23 They are. They tell me that they have never watched a fourth of July parade, they’ve always walked in them. [laughter]

JULIA 18:32 Mine are seasoned parade veterans as well. They have patiently (or not so patiently) listened to me talk to people in grocery stores or be talked at by people in grocery stores. They have handled all of the burdens of growing up and handled the good and bad decisions that we make as their parents. They have done that with amazing strength and wisdom. They are two amazing, beautiful young women. And I hope that they’ve learned a little bit of that from me.

DEB 19:07 I’m sure they did. And like your daughters, mine have grown up with a mom in the spotlight. We talk a lot about being kind and that what you do matters. And that lesson was really brought home four years ago when I was running for mayor the first time and my oldest, who was 13 at the time, was out knocking on doors with a friend down the street from where I was and she went up to the door and she knocked on the door and the woman opened the door and took the brochure from my daughter’s hand, looked into my daughter’s eyes and said, “I’ll never vote for that bitch. She was mean to me in high school!” [laughter] And then she slammed the door in my daughter’s face. [laughter continues]

JULIA 19:53 Do you know who she was? What is it that you did to her?

DEB 19:58 I don’t know. But we’re probably Facebook Friends, or she’s probably in the audience tonight. [laughs]

JULIA 20:06 No one’s standing up. [Deb laughs]

DEB 20:10 But my daughters, I think, did really learn from that lesson, the impact that what we do matters and that we do have an impact on the people around us.

JULIA 20:20 Well, these past 25 years have been an amazing experience. And I am lucky to call you my friend.

JULIA 20:27 People asked me all the time, if you could change something in your life or do something differently, what would you do? And I always say, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I wouldn’t change a thing. Because if I changed anything, then I wouldn’t have the life that I have today. I wouldn’t have the family that I have today, I wouldn’t have the amazing job that I have, I wouldn’t have the friends who surround me.

JULIA 20:50 So if you could change anything, what would you do differently?

DEB 20:57 I wouldn’t have been such a bitch to that girl in high school. [applause and laughter]


KERRY 21:05 Okay, so I thought we had promised that we weren’t going to talk about the beer. So I have some rules for the show: like no F bombs, no drinking before or during the show. And these two riffraff hid some beer behind pillows right out of the gates. So when you’re saying,  ‘Maybe we didn’t really present as girlfriends,’ I think everybody right then… any preconceived ideas they had had of ‘Seriously, I thought this was supposed to be a fun night, and we have our mayor and State’s Attorney opening? This is gonna get crazy!’ And then you guys pulled those out? And it was… I mean, hello, you ended the show with Redneck Woman? I mean, come on!

JULIA 21:39 I did what? [laughing, chaos]

DEB 21:41 Julia!

JULIA 21:43 I don’t know what you’re talking about…

KERRY 21:44 I have video!

JENETTE 21:45 We have proof. We have proof.

JULIA 21:47 And actually, I have continued that performance since then. And it gets better and better every time. So I thank you, my family and friends, thank you for really making that a part of my repertoire.

JENETTE 22:00 I think Deb had something to do with that, though. You called her out on her birthday performance…

DEB 22:06 Now, I think maybe.. could have been.

KERRY 22:09 I think that’s true. I think that’s true. And I think that… I loved that part of it. Because that was everything that I’d hoped you guys would do. One, that people would see you in a different light, and two, that you did open and set the tone. It doesn’t matter what you do, you can be super serious, have a job that is really weighing on you. Or you can be a stay at home mom, or you can just be like, whatever. But we’re gonna have fun tonight. And that set the tone and then you closed it out. I mean, it was just Well,

JULIA 22:35 I think also in politics, there are rules, right? And so when I’m out at an event, and where people are taking pictures, I consciously or subconsciously, if I have a glass of wine in my hand, I put it down or

DEB 22:50 For sure, yeah.

JULIA 22:52 And so I think that that decision was also kind of to, to break some of those rules for women in politics or in the public eye and just say, ‘You know what, we can walk up to this table and with a beer in our hand and sit down and, and not be the mayor and the state’s attorney’ in that really.. horrible..

DEB 23:16 We are over 21!

JULIA 23:18 Right.

JENETTE 23:19 You are the Liquor Commissioner.

JULIA 23:21 So yeah, so you’re right. You know, I mean, I think you’re right, we did want to kind of break that, that that barrier

JENETTE 23:28 And you did. You set a tone of…

JULIA 23:30 Even if it upset..

JENETTE 23:31 Well, I don’t know why you thought I would be upset but there was this big hush hush, “Don’t tell Jenette! Don’t tell Jenette!” “We’re gonna get into so much trouble.” Like, this is Junior High all over again…

DEB 23:41 We were passing them out to other people, I mean, it wasn’t like anybody was, like, wasted on stage. But you know, we were just, you know,

KERRY 23:49 It was funny

JENETTE 23:50 But it opened the show with that atmosphere of “This is real people.” Like, this is our moment. We’re just gonna we’re just gonna get real. And that’s exactly what you did. It was like, you’re just, we’re human.

JULIA 24:02 Well, and I think again, really. Yes, we were, we were hiding backstage from ‘mom.’ [Kerry laughs] No, because we didn’t we all didn’t want to get in trouble. But again, you know, I want to thank you both really…

DEB 24:14 For sure.

JULIA 24:1 for creating this, this friendship group that we have and that continues to, you know, to be part of our lives. I mean, we run into each other in the community. We all take a selfie and send it to each other, “Look, I saw!” You know, we text each other. We send pictures, we…

JENETTE 24:33 [with Deb] We perform each others’ weddings!

DEB 24:33 [with Jenette] We perform each others’ weddings!

JENETTE 24:37 I bear witness

DEB 24:38 Yeah.

JENETTE 24:39 Julia married Monica Samii

JULIA 24:42 Which was such an amazing honor. So to be able to be a part of these other amazing women’s lives is such a gift. And we owe that to you two.

DEB 24:52 And I would say, I was skeptical going in and Jenette knows this, Kerry’s nodding yes. First of all, I was skeptical that I could be vulnerable enough with a group of strangers to just be Deb, right? Like I have a group of close friends where that’s true for me, you guys are part of that. But again, because of the roles we play in the community, it can be hard to let that guard down. And I thought there is no way in the amount of time of us getting together on stage and putting on the show that I’m going to have new best friends out of this deal. And it happened despite me being skeptical. And they are delightful, amazing women that I am so lucky to have in my lives, and everybody has each other’s backs in so many different ways. There’s the group chat, whatever you need will rally behind you. But it’s also the individual like Monica having you do her wedding or, you know, whatever it may be…

JULIA 25:53 Mary (Mahaffey) walking in the parade…

DEB 25:54 Mary walking in the parade, Mary dropping off food at my house all the time, because she’s amazing. And we all help each other in ways that you just don’t even know or see. It’s a lifelong friendship that was born out of one night on stage.

JENETTE 26:12 You have a very special cast, I agree with you. But to echo what you’re saying, you’re right, Kerry invented the formula. And I don’t know that that was so intentional but it evolved as this formula that when you put a group of women together, you create the safe space, and you get rid of all the small talk and all the surface stuff, you go right for the story, you go right for the real stuff, the bond happens very quickly, in a way that you don’t get in everyday life. And I’ve I’ve, I’m honored to say I’ve seen it happen again, and again, and again. So this formula is working. And I just, I have the extreme honor to keep polishing it and keep trying it again and again and allowing for women to come together in this way. And it is just, it’s just the honor of my life. I cannot even explain how much this mission means to me.

KERRY 27:01 And how fun it is to watch those friendships and seeing those things play out either in person or on social media, especially on the ‘bigger’ stage right now. Again, I mean, we say this every year, every election, like Oh, it’s so divisive right now. But I really, really feel like now is a difficult time. And I think of how different each cast is, you know, we really try hard to have a cast that is diverse. And that isn’t just a reflection of our peer group or our friends, that it’s a diverse group. And in every show I also (some people know this) I always tried to put someone in the cast that I have a visceral reaction to. And so sometimes there are people like, “It’s me, right? I’m.. you didn’t like me?” Because I think I’m like (It was. It was you.) But no, because I think proving to ourselves that just because you have this stereotype of someone, whether Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, black, white, whatever the differences are that keep us from connecting. If you take all of that off the table, and put a bunch of women in a group, I really feel like that group of women will come out like this group you’re describing.

JULIA 28:05 Oh, absolutely. And I can say, when I initially got the list, I was kind of apprehensive, like, I don’t know if I can be vulnerable in front of that person.

DEB 28:13 Me too.

JULIA 28:14 There were many parking lot conversations that really got me over that. And it opened me up.

DEB 28:20 And I think that people forget that there are real humans connected. I always talk about it’s sort of the ‘Jennifer Aniston on the cover of People’ syndrome, right? So you’re standing in line at the checkout line and you’re like, ‘man, her lipstick’s ugly,’ ‘Look at that haircut, right?’ ‘She doesn’t seem like a real person.’

JENETTE 28:41 This platform gets to create an opportunity to make those connections for people here again and again and again. And as we grow in new communities to open up minds and open up hearts, and open up perspective, so that we can all connect deeper as women because what Kerry created in this community, I just watched—the women in this community were so hungry, to have something like this to call their own, to hold on to, to experience together, we had to keep it going. And it is growing because again, the formula there’s there’s some power there there’s some magic there that make women feel something

KERRY 29:23 Well and going back to what Julia was saying earlier on, I can get up and tell jokes or crack vagina one liners all day long, but I cannot get up and tell like my deepest darkest stuff. So when I see these women being brave enough to do it, it serves something for me too, like I might be the Vagina Talker, but that those pieces also serve me.

JULIA 29:45 Kerry Rossow, Vagina Talker… [laughing]

JENETTE 29:46 Every episode, every episode.. [Kerry laughing] she finds a way to.. squeeze it in…

JULIA 29:51 But I will say though, even though I personally may have been uncomfortable standing up on the stage and telling something very personal about myself, I was able to have those conversations with that group of ladies and particularly even those conversations with, with women that I didn’t think I would be able to be that open with for, you know, when I came into it. So, again, I might not have shared everything on the stage other than my, you know, ability to lip sync. [laughter]

JENETTE 30:26 Light up a room!

JULIA 30:28 But I have had the opportunity to share parts of myself, of my life, with other women in a way that I’m comfortable doing because of this show.

DEB 30:40 And I would say, even though Julia and I have been friends for a very long time, the experience made us closer.

JULIA 30:49 Absolutely.

DEB 30:49 And it was, I mean, it was the before times, right? I mean, the timing of that as we went into 2020. And the amount of work we did together over the course of the last two years, having that base of trusting each other, not only were we vulnerable, I suppose, for an audience, but to go on stage together, and know we had each other’s back, we weren’t gonna embarrass each other, we recognized what we’re doing out there, set the stage for us, as we did a lot of really hard work in the last couple of years.

JENETTE 31:29 Yeah, that’s true trust building trust. True team building.

JULIA 31:32 And I think it’s the timing in the belief that we were the show of the before times, really, and then being isolated. And, you know, I think that I think that enhanced our group’s friendship,

DEB 31:49 For sure.

JULIA 31:49 and connection. But I completely agree. You and I, Deb and I, were on a daily basis, communicating with each other. With Julie Pryde, another one of your She Said ladies,,

KERRY 32:05 Hm-mmm.

JULIA 32:06 making decisions that affected the, you know, the health and safety of this community. Sometimes they were not popular decisions. They were difficult decisions,

DEB 32:17 Sometimes they were? [laughter]

JULIA 32:17 but, but I mean, I always said, you know, what, if at the end, somebody said, You didn’t have to do all of that, I would say, that’s great, because you’re alive, and we can have this conversation.

JENETTE 32:29 Right.

JULIA 32:30 And so that relationship was key, absolutely to, to getting us through that time.

DEB 32:36 And we trusted each other. So I mean, and again, we were friends before that, but the trust was there to really do it and to support each other. So we had the official conversations about, you know, What rules do we need to impose? And how are we going to enforce them? But then we had the, you know, six o’clock in the morning, because we’re both early morning people, you know, like, how are you today? And, you know, how are you handling all of this? And, you know, what’s your life like kinds of discussions to…

JENETTE 33:11 Because you needed that. you needed someone who understood what it was like to be you on that side. I want to share that Kerry and I both have gotten the feedback after you two appeared on stage that we heard people say, Oh, my gosh, I never knew that Deb was so funny. I never knew, you know, some of the things that they had been through or that they’d been friends or, and that was exactly what we had hoped for, that our community would see you as real people, real women, real experiences. You know, you have daughters, you have daughters. What kind of feedback did you get from the community or from your family, about what you shared that night?

DEB 33:52 You know, I think people enjoyed the show. It wasn’t so much about us, right? They were there as we talked about so many women being so vulnerable that I think that was the highlight. But certainly, it was funny, my… I had a good group of friends who came. We’ve always come to the shows together. So they came without me to watch. And a couple of them knew the story, but not all of them. And they were pretty surprised by it. And I think delighted that we were able to do something so fun and to just be who we are and not have to be a state’s attorney and Mayor. How about you?

JULIA 34:37 I.. I just keep going back to the, the friend group and the relationships that we’ve created. You know, my husband knows I say, you know, I’ve got a, I’ve got a She Said thing, you know, I’m going to do this or

JENETTE 34:54 Code, it’s code!

JULIA 34:56 and it’s truly a part of my life. Besides the constant requests to, you know, belt out a few lyrics, of Redneck Women…

JENETTE 35:06 Julia’s in the house!

KERRY 35:07 Get her a mic!

DEB 35:08 I will admit that if I am either having a good day or a really hard day that I will put on the music from the show and it’s, you know, three or four songs, right? But I’ve got my she said playlist and I’m, like, you know dancing in my bedroom while I’m getting dressed or in the shower. And that gives me whatever I need for the day because I feel connected to everybody.

JENETTE 35:42 And I, you’re right, we keep developing The She Said Soundtrack. It’s happening. We’re… there’s going to be something more official at some point. But music is so powerful and such a part of it. And we end a lot of our shows with music, but it just, it really connects everyone at the end of the day. But I have had so much fun watching your friend group and bearing witness to the relationships and the jokes and the support and the loves. It’s really magical. So I want to thank you for all of it.

JULIA 36:14 Ending the show with This Is Me was, was beautiful. First of all, you had Monica and Estella singing it which was just amazing

DEB 36:26 and the wonderful Katie Flynn…

JULIA 36:28 So for me that song, when I’m on my way to work, and I’m getting ready for a rough day. I will put that song on. And if you are like in the car next to me you will think I’m completely insane. Because I am just belting it out with the hands and the whole thing you know, and the fist pumps and I’m just.. so that song is really an amazing anthem to get me going in a positive direction. So thank you again, so many things to thank you for

JENETTE 37:04 Well, I’m thanking you guys, This Is Me. I mean it really symbolizes you’re a woman alone on the stage. This is my story. This is me. That’s what we do at That’s What She Said.

JENETTE 37:14 So, I hate to do this. But that is all the time that we have to chat with our dear friends Deb and Julia from the 2019 show, That’s What She Said in Champaign Urbana. Kerry, I love being back in the studio. This is magical. We were on Zoom for a while but we kept it going and that’s what’s important is we have some work to do. We have a lot of women out there that we want to empower with your story and with their stories. And we’re just going to keep doing what we do here at The She Said Project. Thank you for listening.

DEB 37:44 And we’re proud of you.

KERRY 37:46
Aww, thanks guys. Over and out.


ANNOUNCER 37:52 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to

This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.

[music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]

Some special guests joined our hosts to share a sneak peek into the women behind the titles. Mayor Deb Frank Feinen and State's Attorney Julia Rietz share some career highlights and struggles, as well as how they find solace and support in friendship, as evidenced by the story they shared onstage in "That's What She Said" 2019 in Champaign, IL.  

The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at