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All government is local, some more local than others

September 05, 2013
Within our American democracy, the source of the government's authority is the consent of the people to be governed. This form of government also allows for direct citizen involvement in a number of ways, and is perhaps most evident at the local level. While the spotlight often shines on state and federal issues, it is perhaps issues occurring at the local level that have the most impact on peoples' lives.
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Snapshots: Archiving life in bits and pieces

September 05, 2013

Editor’s Note: Gordon Ammon, a longtime lakes area resident, has written a book entitled “Snapshots: The Cold War and Eisenhower Years in Williams Bay 1947-1961.” The Regional News is publishing excerpts. “Snapshots” is available for $45 by contacting Ammon at gordonammon@yahoo.com. A DVD is included. The book is reproduced on an order-by-order basis.

Our life’s journey is archived by the mind in pieces and parts; and it is these fragments that we use to reconstruct the story of who we are. It’s a little like having a camera with a limited amount of film.
We go on vacation, have a birthday, get married. Through it all, we click the shutter at one moment or another, for reasons that we think are important, or perhaps just serendipitous. At the end, all we have are a few fleeting glimpses of what happened, frozen frame by frame. Whether this is for good or ill, it becomes the only record we have.
One roll after another, each making up a page or two of memories, finally creating the album we come to think of as our life. That’s what this book is. One journey recollected, not fully but only in snapshots, from a pre-schooler whose world was called home to a high school senior graduating into a far wider universe.:::
The picture here is one of overarching national and international affairs, placed next to what it was like growing up in a small village; as a child, an adolescent and finally one who must come to terms with adulthood.
The overall emphasis is on the contrast between youthful innocence and the deeper understanding of an emerging maturity.
The small and naive set against the larger, almost incomprehensible forces that not only spin the world around, but over which so few have any say or can claim to have had any participation in forming. It marks the struggle of trying to understand what meaning a small corner of middle America might represent in the context of something called the “Cold War.”
This is one life, from the age of four years, largely oblivious to post World War II America, to that of a young man trying to grasp the torch that had been passed to his generation by a charismatic young president.
“It won’t be long now ... we’re almost there.” It was like listening to a bell ringing, mom measuring the hour on the first chime and dad noting our location on the next.
This news rang out, back and forth during the trip from Kenmore Street in Chicago to our new home in Williams Bay. I cannot remember just how often, but it was surely more than once or twice. I was only four and a half, so it was hard to keep track.
The day was cold, rainy and dismal gray. Early spring in Wisconsin. It was April 1947. The clouds were thick, mottled clumps that left no room for the sky. What trees there were looked like streaks of charcoal smudged against a soggy canvas.
I was nestled in the back seat of our 1941 Chevy Deluxe, on the driver’s side. I called it a “two door,” which my dad always hastened to point out was a four door. Our car was navy blue, in the sunlight. Today, it was very nearly black.
I didn’t fully understand what moving meant. There was talk about going to school. And lots of chatter about furniture and a real home, where you didn’t have to fold the bed out of the wall or share the bathroom with three other renters. Dad was full of hope and talked on about his new business. I guessed it was all right. I only knew that we were someplace different than from where we had been and that I was hungry.
My eyes narrowed against the drizzle streaming across my window. At the time I thought it looked like a race, with one wet shape chasing the next, in endless succession. It was not easy to see. I had to lift my chin up and squint to get a peak of what “almost there” was like.
My first glimpse of the lake was a disappointment. Mom and dad had tried to tell me about it. Boats, swimming, sea gulls and piers, fishing and how autumn painted the trees at season’s end. But all I could make out was a kind of black ribbon alongside the car, first zigging toward us, then darting and zagging away. I do remember the ribbon being broken here and there by little shanties.
To my not quite 5-year-old eyes, they looked like outhouses. I had seen one of these at the farm where my grandparents lived. Try as I might, and I did try very hard, I really couldn’t see any lake. If there was one, I’d have to find it later, when those lumpy, sodden clouds dried up. For now, the lake was hiding in the slithery shadow at the shore’s edge.
Away from the lake, out the window on the other side of our car, dad said, “Look, there’s the depot.” His voice was a little more excited as he tried to describe the big trains that came and left this place. I was disappointed again. No steam engine burst from the grayness. The tracks were silent. And the station house was little more than dark, shadowy edges, with shapes so soft I could only guess at what I was supposed to see.
Maybe it was just as well. This day had begun very early. I did not even have time to say goodbye to my “best friend.” I did not know it then, but I would never see Eddie Freeman again and I would not return to Kenmore Street for 50 years.
“We’re almost there, now,” dad remarked, without the need for Mom to mention anything about time.
We eased our way up a bit of a hill and I saw buildings gathered in a sort of square. The truck that followed us carried everything we owned. These things would make our house into a home. My Uncle Arnie guided the truck into the little driveway next to where we would live until 1949. Our lodgings were upstairs.
Later, I found out that the downstairs was called the Summer Drug Store. My Mom and I stayed in the car while my dad and uncle went about the task of unloading the truck. It was so very quiet, as though a damp blanket had been tossed over our little hamlet.
No cars, no bustle, no other people. This was Sunday. Saturday had been for getting ready to go.
Today we were moving.
On Monday my dad would go to work at his gas station. Over the next 25 years he would offer ”Dino Power,” “Flite Fuel” and “Eager Beaver Service,” all intended to compete with “platformate” and those asking, “Sir, can I fill it with De-Icer?” At about 24 cents the gallon.
After awhile, and it didn’t seem long, when my dad gave mom the right signal, I was taken by the hand and led to the doorway. I looked up what seemed like a mile-long stairway. Step by step we went. All the way to the top.
From there we found our way to the kitchen at the back of our little place. In Chicago, my mom had cooked on a gas burner in a pantry. Nearby was a small room. It was to be mine. To my utter delight, mom and dad had gotten me a surprise, a childsized table and chairs. Dad had placed these next to the window.
On Kenmore Street we had but one look at the outside and it was the alleyway behind our building. Here, at the lake, we had many windows and I actually had one of my own. I could sit and look out at a big white house just next door, trees and so much I could only wonder at. I was sure this “new world” was not going to be at all like my neighborhood in the city.
I could hear my mom rustling about in the kitchen. I got hungrier by the minute as she announced, “Lunch will be ready soon.”
Time passed quickly I was completely absorbed by what I saw and even more by my unseen imaginings. What I will never forget is that bowl of hot chicken soup. I can still see the wisps of steam curling above it and the tasty promise of its aroma.
My tummy growled in anticipation. I savored every spoonful. I’ve eaten in many places since, both in and out of country, but no other repast ever satisfied me as deeply as that bowl of soup.
Somehow I knew it wouldn’t be long now and I’d get to understand where Williams Bay was, what the lake was like and how growing up in small town America was different from living in Chicago.


Recent Community columnists
When light actually hides the big picture
August 29, 2013

Driving northwest from Chicago toward Lake Geneva, as we begin to cross farmland, I notice domes of light pop up on the horizon.
I soon learned that these are artificial light emissions rising up from villages and towns and shopping and industrial areas.
These light domes are what astronomers call light pollution, and they increasingly make the sky seem to glow while interfering with man’s ability to see the stars clearly.
Scientists now know that some 50 percent of the light on earth seen from space is wasted energy, serving no purpose, accidentally spilling upward. An estimated one and a half billion dollars a year of such wasted light energy is emitted skyward from the U.S. alone. Now, some two-thirds of the night sky around our globe is clouded by such man-made light pollution.
One of the often over-looked dimensions of conservation in our natural habitat is man’s wasteful and damaging pollution of the night sky with unneeded and easily attenuated man-made light.
This is one aspect of atmospheric pollution we can readily control.
Way too many of our street lights, security lights and shopping lights, from major cities like Chicago to small towns like Lake Geneva are robbing our people, young and old, of seeing the wonders of the night sky.
The Milky Way, the massive galaxy of which the Earth is a part, is invisible to most people in cities and even small towns. Most of the starry sky is invisible, because of modern light pollution.
When the University of Chicago opened Yerkes Observatory, the world’s first astrophysical laboratory and still home to the largest conventional telescope ever created, on the shores of Lake Geneva in the tiny village of Williams Bay, it was because there was little to no light pollution.
The village, some 85 miles from Chicago, had yet to be electrified in 1897 when the famed observatory opened, and the large lake provided the observatory almost absolute darkness for viewing toward the east, south and west.
Even today, when most modern research telescopes are located on mountain tops in remote unpopulated areas, we were recently able on a clear summer’s night to stand on the lawn outside Yerkes and, prompted by an expert observer, begin with our naked eyes, to make out the Milky Way and other long unseen mysteries of the stellar umbrella.
Having just seen a documentary on light pollution called “The City Dark” on PBS, that talked about the disappearance of details in the night sky for so many people, and even the possibility that too much light at night could contribute to health problems for some, I experienced an “aha” moment about modern society.
Part of the film’s premise is that light pollution was taking away the visual connection to the vastness of the universe among younger generations, and perhaps contributing to a growing self-centeredness.
I wondered if the lack of public and governmental support for a manned space program is partly because we are being increasingly disenfranchised in our relationship to the cosmos.
Have today’s generations begun to believe that our increasingly urban life here on earth, under our expanding localized bubbles of light, is “all there is” for mankind?
Or are we still part of a cosmic continuum that offers endless learnings, exploration and even a relative eternity of succession for our species and life now on Earth?
Pointing our man-made lights downward and lifting our eyes once again to the night sky may “illuminate” the way to fresh possibilities.

The Lake Geneva 'riots' of 1966 and 1967
Another point of view from someone who actually took part
August 22, 2013
I read with interest John Halverson’s article about the 1966 and 1967 summer “riots” in Lake Geneva and noted his appeal for comments about those “riots.” I was a participant in the first of these “riots” and this column is a response to Mr. Halverson’s appeal for recollections of them. My participation in the “riot” was primarily due to my youthful exuberance and “anti-authoritarian” demeanor. First and foremost, those “riots” were completely apolitical. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the anti-Vietnam war movement. They were fueled by beer, and if any theme united the participants, it was a loathing of cops. The cause of the “riots” in Lake Geneva might be ascribed to the nature of the response of the local police force (augmented by deputized citizens) as much as it could be to the boisterous behavior of the participants in the “riots,” as Curtis A. Woods of Lyons and Nick Haviland of Lake Geneva pointed out in their contributions to the recollections of the “riots.” While the overwhelming majority of those who participated in the “riots” were young males from Chicago and the Chicago suburbs, who had come to Lake Geneva to have a good time partying, there were also numerous youthful participants who were year-round residents of Lake Geneva. I was slightly older than most of the participants. I was married and had a two-month-old daughter. On a hot summer day in 1966, as I walked downtown towards the Riviera, I saw that a large crowd had assembled on lower Broad Street. As I got closer I saw that the Lake Geneva Police Department had deputized many local citizens to buttress the police force. I recall Doug Gerber, my Badger High School football coach, and Dan Andresen as being among those who had been deputized. I saw Doug carrying a length of rope that resembled a “hangman’s noose” and Dan carrying what looked to me like a pitchfork. They were in the center of lower Broad Street, bunched together with members of the LG police force and other deputized citizens. I can recall the names of many young local residents who participated in the “riots,” but they will remain anonymous since they, like me, were caught up in the youthful exuberance of the moment. I joined the crowd and as it grew larger and larger, it spilled into the street. The police began to physically shove people back onto the sidewalk. The crowd surged forward many times, but it retreated each time the police shoved against it. Many people in the crowd were passing out cans of beer to anybody who wanted one. There was a drunken party atmosphere, combined with a collective, universal dislike of the cops. That night while I was drinking at Miller’s (now Chuck’s) bar in Fontana, people at the bar told me that a large confrontation with the cops had also occurred in front of the bar earlier in the day. What had happened in Lake Geneva during the summer of 1966 had been a prelude to what would happen in the summer of 1967. Many of the youth who came to Lake Geneva in the summer of 1967 anticipated a rerun of what had happened during the summer of 1966, and they were not disappointed. But the “riots” of 1966 and 1967 were not unique to Lake Geneva. During those summers there were numerous beer-fueled “riots” in resort communities all across the county including in Geneva on the Lake in Ohio, just east of Cleveland. The “riots” were a means by which young people let off pent-up steam, and were fueled by beer. Most were directed against any manifestation of authority. What happened in Lake Geneva in 1966 and 1967 was not, as some contend, exceptional. As the summer of 1968 arrived, the hordes of young males who descended upon Lake Geneva knew that the cops would be waiting in force for them. There was no repeat during the summer of 1968 of the events of the summers of 1966 and 1967. The movement against the war in Vietnam, which had begun in February 1965, did not grow into a truly mass movement until 1967, after which it captured the attention and engaged the involvement of millions of American youth during the ensuing four years. There would be no beer-fueled “riots” in Lake Geneva or in any other venue during the summers of those four years (1968-71). Like Curtis Woods of Lyons, I too would be present at the Dow Chemical anti-war protest in Madison in October of 1967. To have been there was far more significant than participating in a beer-fueled rite (not riot) of summer in Lake Geneva or anywhere else in 1966 or 1967. Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.
Columnist part of public TV's visit to Lake Geneva
August 08, 2013
It was a remarkable several hours.Milwaukee Public Television has come up with a program that examines the innards of Wisconsin communities while maintaining an informality and good humor which seems to help guarantee keeping viewers aboard.This sort of quality usually comes down to one or two personalities.
State tax cuts long overdue
August 08, 2013
In the 1990s, Wisconsin’s economy was humming along, the unemployment rate was low, government spending was moderate, and tax revenue was peaking year after year, generating surpluses for the state.At the time, the governor and legislators were practically tripping over themselves to either spend the extra money quickly, or on occasion, return the money to the taxpayers. Those days seem like ancient history.By 2001, Wisconsin’s economy – much like the rest of the nation – took a turn for the worse when a debilitating recession coupled with horrific terrorist attacks put a stop to any growth in the private sector. ...subscribers>>
Historian recalls meeting P.K. Wrigley
August 08, 2013
“Hi, Tommy. How’s the boy? He sure is growing up quickly, Tommy. He’s going to be a fine young man.” The slender, tall man in a long-sleeved white shirt, open at the collar, reached into his pocket, as he had done so often before, extracted a shiny dime and handed it to the boy. The man patted the young boy on his head. The boy, elated as usual with the dime that had been given to him, knew that he would soon be able to buy a pack of Spearmint and a pack of Doublemint gum. It was a hot summer day in July 1947. The young boy, his grandfather and the tall, slender man in the open-necked, long-sleeved white shirt were standing next to the American Legion Canteen on Lake Street, which today is Wrigley Drive. The young boy knew that his grandfather and the man who always gave him a dime were the best of friends. He knew that his grandfather, a plumber, had installed the plumbing in the tall, slender man’s lakeshore mansion. He also knew that the man was famous because he owned the company that made the gum that the dime he clutched in his fist would soon buy. ...subscribers>>
How the county budget is built
August 08, 2013
I was relieved to hear at least a few people snickering when I said that I was about to give this year’s “Gipper” speech. “Gipper,” to readers that weren’t alive during either the Knute Rockne or Ronald Reagan eras, refers to George Gipp, a star of the Notre Dame football team about 90 years ago. Gipp, who died of some disease during his senior year in college, was alleged to have had a deathbed conversation with his coach, Knute Rockne, imploring him to invoke his name when things looked bleak for the Fighting Irish, and “win one for the Gipper.” ...subscribers>>
Beware hucksters
July 25, 2013
Beware huckstersSad to say, we are a nation of hucksters. Selling seems to take precedence over people’s privacy and common courtesy. Now advertisers see robots as splendid opportunity. But “robo” calls are offensive, to say nothing about interrupting routines.
Good reading for government buffs
Slow paced, predicable plot, no surprise ending, but interesting none-the-less
July 18, 2013
I will try my best to temper my enthusiasm. The last time I wrote about the county’s “Journal of Proceedings” book I remarked that I looked forward to its annual release as if it were the latest Dan Brown thriller. A few weeks later, during a question and answer session following a presentation I made, an audience member told me that if I really felt that way I should “get a life.”
History of the Greeks in Lake Geneva
June 27, 2013
Much has been written about the Anglo-Saxon Protestants from Vermont and upstate New York and their descendants who dominated Lake Geneva for at least the first century of its existence. Quite a bit has also been written about the Irish immigrants who settled in the “Irish Woods” west of Lake Geneva after they had built the railroad from Chicago to Geneva in 1856. They and their descendants became the largest ethnic minority population in Lake Geneva, and formed the backbone of the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church. Many residents are aware of the first Italian immigrants in Lake Geneva, the Lazzaroni family, who operated a fruit stand on the north side of the 700 block of Main Street during the years following the turn of the 19th century. The Lazzaronis later purchased the Hotel Clair (and the bowling alley beneath it), which is now the “Landmark Center.” The descendants of the Lazzaronis are the Payne family. But few residents are aware of the history of Greeks in Lake Geneva, despite the fact that they have played a key role in the city’s restaurant and tourism business for more than seven decades and a Greek-American is a former mayor of Lake Geneva.The patriarch of the Greek community in Lake Geneva was Peter Pappas. Pappas came to Lake Geneva a decade and a half after the turn of the 19th century as a waiter in the then-new Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Geneva Hotel (alas, demolished 40 years ago). Subsequently he brought his family from Greece to Lake Geneva, and, with his wife Georgia, opened Georgia’s International Café on the west side of the 200 block of Broad Street adjacent to where Lake Geneva’s bus station was once located. The Pappas family was followed by the Millas and later the Chironis families. Louie and Mary Millas arrived in Lake Geneva in the 1930s. They opened Millas’s restaurant, which is today the Olympic restaurant, on the south side of the 700 block of Main Street. Louie and Mary Millas were Spyro “Speedo” Condos’s grandparents. The Chironis family opened Chironis’ restaurant, which is known today as Harry’s, on the south side of the 800 block of Main Street. It is owned by Harry Chironis, the youngest son in the Chironis family.
Rediscover the quiet delight of letters
June 27, 2013
In the 1960’s a lot of people “turned on and tuned out.” Today we are so tuned in, we are “WIFI-ed” and “GPS’d” 24/7. Armed with cellphones, BlackBerrys, iPods, satellite radio and instant messaging, many of us have never been more “connected” ... or so overwhelmed.In the steadily growing chaos we call life — with its never-ending meteor shower of information, commentary and noise — more and more people are rediscovering the quiet delight of sending and receiving cards and letters.Letters help make moments special. Joys are recorded, shared and savored. Problems fade, or at least gain perspective, when they are written down and shared with family or friends by mail. When you sit down to write a friend, you are never alone. ...subscribers>>
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