PROFILE MINDY WINKLER Entertainer makes learning lessons ‘fun’Former kids’ club host and current traffic reporter juggles career, family and growing musical company
Fans of the 1980s comedy show “In Living Color” will remember the Headleys, whose family members were “lazy” if they didn’t hold multiple jobs.
By that score, Mindy Winkler certainly can’t be called a slacker.
As the on-air traffic reporter for several local FM and AM radio stations, Winkler works a split shift keeping us informed of traffic snarls coming to and from home. In between, she cares for her 3-year-old son, Garrett, and also manages and performs with Mindy and the Fun Co., a group she founded in 2002 that combines singing, dancing and comedy skits that entertain and educate children.
Winkler started Fun Co. after her job as Commander KC for WTTV-Channel 4’s Kids Club ended when the station was sold to Chicago-based Tribune Broadcasting. She loved performing for kids and started calling some of the principals and teachers she had visited as Commander KC.
“I asked them, ‘What if I came and wasn’t Commander KC and added a few characters?’ Winkler asked. “The reaction was overwhelmingly positive.”
The Fun Co. currently consists of five local performers and a sound technician-all of whom have full-time jobs. Two other members-one of them Winkler’s brother Ben-perform with the company when they have bookings in the Chicago area. Her husband, John, builds backdrops and props, mom Robyn handles the bookkeeping and performs as Recycle Robyn, and other family members pitch in wherever needed.
The group travels to schools with all the necessary equipment, including a sound system, professional backdrop and interactive props. The fee for a typical area performance is about $700. That figure rises to about $1,200 for out-of-state shows.
Winkler, 36, handles the creative work developing new lyrics set to familiar tunes like “Stayin’ Alive” and “YMCA.” She also writes the comedy skits and does the choreography. Most shows are geared toward kids ages 6 to 12, but recently she started working with middle-schoolers.
“When I grew up, the convocations I remember the most were those that had music,” Winkler said. “Kids today can recite an entire Eminem song, but they can’t tell you what four times four is.”
She puts lyrics to songs about staying in school, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and how to build self-esteem, among other topics. Each show is 45 minutes long. Teachers and principals complete evaluation forms that help Winkler revise or create new presentations.
Jan Koeniger, principal of Valley Grove Elementary School in Anderson, has booked Winkler’s company three times-the last time bringing all fifth-graders in Madison County together at Anderson’s Wigwam gymnasium. She says the messages the company presents in songs are those the children “really need to hear.”
“Many times kids have been presented the same messages before, but they hear it in a different way” when it’s set to music, Koeniger said. “I see kids in the hallway or they might be in trouble, and I refer back to Mindy and the Fun Co. They remember a lot of the material based on songs. It’s a very good teaching tool well after they’ve left.”
Music with a message
Fun Co. performs about four times a month-“pretty good, given we all have full-time jobs,” Winkler said. Her goal is to increase that number. She offers a discount if a school books more than one performance per day or refers another school nearby that books a show.
Winkler handles all of the marketing and has found great success using direct mailings and the Web site, www.schoolshows.com, which she joined for an annual fee of $96. From the site, she has received inquiries from throughout the Midwest-including 50 requests from Illinois schools.
What Winkler dreams of, she says, is making Mindy and the Fun Co. available to Indiana schools regardless of whether they have the funds to pay. That will require finding sponsors to cover the costs.
Winkler’s parents bankrolled the $12,000 startup cost and have been reimbursed as revenue grows. Each member of the company receives a small stipend to cover his time. The company recently turned a small profit for the first time.
So how does this wife, mother and career woman balance everything? With lots of support from her husband, family and friends, Winkler says. Her mom and father-in-law share watching Garrett while Winkler works.
“Fortunately, when I’m working, Garrett is generally sleeping,” Winkler said. “I feel fortunate to have the best of both worlds. I get to spend the middle part of the day with him to do fun things like a stay-at-home mom, and I get to do what I love.”
Because the Fun Co. is part-time, Winkler fits in making calls, doing creative work and performing during her off-air time.
Wendy Carroll, a co-worker and on-air personality at several local radio stations, says she knows the Fun Co. is becoming more successful because she fills in for Mindy on traffic when she’s gone. “I’ve been filling in a lot,” she said.
Winkler has loved performing since her Ball State days. She earned a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications in 1993 and a master’s degree in communications sciences in 1999.
The Anderson native is an avid bowler who has been bowling since she was 5. She participates in city, state and national tournaments. Her stats include a high game of 263 and a series high of 669, scores she rolled at Woodland Bowl when she was pregnant.
From 1998 to 2000, Winkler was a member of the Indianapolis Colts cheerleading squad-but getting on the team didn’t come easily.
“I tried out three times,” she said. “The first time I made it through a couple of cuts and …the second time, I made it to the very last cut. It made me appreciate it so much more because I had to work so hard to get there.”