For the past five years, Anne Ballentine has been a welcomed visitor in thousands of Wisconsin homes as a news reporter and co-anchor for WTMJ-TV, Channel 4, the state's highest-rated station. "In this field, I guess that qualifies me as a 'veteran,'" she said, smiling pleasantly. "There are others in this market who have certainly been here a lot longer; the nature of the industry is pretty transient."
Though Anne is a familiar face to her extensive viewing audience, most viewers don't realize that the slim arm resting naturally on her desk is a startlingly realistic prosthesis. Not that the young professional has gone to any lengths to conceal her disability. Quite to the contrary.
One of the station's lead reporters, Anne goes out on assignments Monday through Wednesday, presenting her stories either live or on tape during the evening newscasts. On weekends, she co-anchors several evening news programs. Thursdays and Fridays are days off filled with family, community, and social activities.
"I usually cover the big story of the day breaking news or I can suggest stories. I really enjoy issue reporting and the occasional feature story. Features are refreshing, especially when a lot of breaking stories are tragic fires, and that sort of thing."
Regardless of the assignment, Anne handles her reporting and news anchor duties in a professional manner. Milwaukee is the Ohio native's third TV anchoring and reporting position in a major television market. Previously, she was one of the main Monday-through-Friday anchors for a station in Bakersfield, California. Earlier internships took her to Boston and Dayton, Ohio. Her career moves have been coordinated with those of her husband, Jeff, a Spanish teacher presently employed in suburban Hartland, Wisconsin.
"We take turns. My first job was in Lawrence, Kansas I followed Jeff to graduate school at the University of Kansas, and he's followed me since then. It works. A couple of times, we haven't moved because he's wanted to stay where we were," she added.
The couple met when they were students at De Pauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. Anne majored in communications, with a minor in business administration, earning her degree in 1986. At age 33, she is highly successful in her chosen field, yet she remains warm and unassuming. She appears confident, relaxed and contented in all of her roles particularly that of mother. Jeff and Anne are parents to Tyler, 7, Ryan, 4, and Erika, 2. Tyler is in first grade, while the younger children attend preschool at a Milwaukee area church.
Her kids, according to Anne, find nothing unusual in the fact that their mom is a high-profile TV personality, nor do they find it the least bit remarkable that she wears a prosthetic arm. Even Anne, pretty and slender as a model, notes that her congenitally missing left forearm has largely been a "non-issue" in both her career and her life.
"Was I nervous in front of the cameras at the start of my career? Absolutely! But probably no more so than anybody else. What helped, though, is that I did a lot of public speaking earlier in life.
"I was on the team in school and competed for several years in a category called "Original Oratory" in which you wrote a 10-minute speech and then delivered it," she explained.
"After 12 years, there are very few jitters. There may be a slight panic when I get to a scene and there's only a minute or so to prepare before going on camera. I can't say it never happens," she confessed. "But it's more likely a case of pressure than nerves."
Anne is equally at ease with her limb difference and prosthetic use.
"I'm the second child in our family. My older sister was born with severe cerebral palsy due to injury during the birth process. We grew up together and were very close.
"In comparison to her, my parents considered me to be the able-bodied child," she noted simply. "They encouraged me to do everything I could. But I was also realistic. I played the trumpet not the flute."
Anne considers having a left limb that ends only two inches below her elbow to be just a part of life. "I grew up boating and was water skiing at age eight. I got my first prosthesis at 10 months a mitt hand and my first hook at a year and a half. The only time I didn't wear my arm was for swimming," she related.
A firm believer in outfitting a child with a prosthesis as soon as possible, Anne explained, "If they're not used to one, they won't wear it later on. I think if a child is going to benefit from a prosthesis, it's better to wear it right from the beginning."
Anne's current arm was made by certified prosthetist Dennis Farrell of Milwaukee.
"He's wonderful very thorough! And doesn't the hand look great," she said, extending her arm proudly.
The prosthesis fits snugly around her residual limb, giving her full use of the elbow. She alternates wearing the cosmetic hand with a traditional hook terminal device when bike riding or using an exercise machine. Often at home, she goes without the prosthesis.
"And then I'm always losing it. Inevitably, we're late and it's time to go, and I have the kids helping me look for it," she laughed.
At age 16, Anne tried a myoelectric prosthesis, wearing it for six years until she grew tired of its weight.
"It just became too cumbersome. But what I liked is that it didn't have the harness system that I'd worn before. I've tried a suction prosthesis, but it didn't work with the shape of my arm. This one fits snugly, and I've worn it ever since."
Her biggest complaint and it's a significant one for a person in the public eye is that the cosmetic glove stains too readily. Besides the usual food and chemical hazards, she's found that new clothing, particularly in dark, vibrant colors, can smudge her hand.
"Now I have those types of things dry cleaned before wearing them," she noted.
But that's about it for inconvenience as far as Anne Ballentine is concerned. In fact, that's what she considers her limb difference a minor inconvenience that's had relatively little impact on her life.
"I don't believe it was ever an issue in my career. I think the rest of me has had to be at a certain skill level to succeed maybe I've had to work a little harder to be natural. But I usually find that most people are unaware of my arm, or if they are, they don't mention it."
Early last fall, Anne was interviewed by a Milwaukee newspaper columnist. The resulting article spurred a number of requests to appear before groups and speak about her disability. Hesitating slightly, Anne explained her mixed reaction to such fanfare focused mainly on her arm.
"In Bakersfield, I did some speaking to school children about it, and I considered that a plus on a personal level," she said thoughtfully. "I don't have any problem talking to others about my limb difference because I've always had a very positive experience."
Recently, she was asked to meet with the mother of a newborn who had the same type of congenital limb difference. Anne is eagerly looking forward to reassuring the parents that their child will be just fine.
"Why else are we in this world if not to help each other," she said sincerely.
She is less enthusiastic, however, about the possibility of her disability becoming a major focus since it has never taken such a role in her life.
"For a while after the article appeared, I felt that my arm was getting far too much attention and taking up way too much time," Anne remarked only partly in jest. "I have a husband and three kids a job other responsibilities My arm just isn't that big of a deal! Occasionally, wearing a prosthesis even comes in quite handy.
"We were at a barbecue one time and the host forgot the tongs for the corn on the cob. I reached right into the boiling water and pulled out the ears it saved the day," she chuckled in recollection.
With that, Milwaukee's prime time television figure reached for her coat and hurried off to a scheduled parent-teacher conference at her son's preschool.
"I can't be late," she apologized. "They only give you so much time."