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Congress should get back to work, too

October 10, 2013

I don’t care if you’re a Republican. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat.
I do not care if you call yourself a conservative or a liberal.
I don’t even care if you are a card-carrying union member or a bootstrapping capitalist.
Here’s what I do care about: work.

Going paperless good, but not be-all

October 10, 2013

Most people focus on announcements of new technology.
The release of the latest iPhone captures headlines and draws crowds of shoppers to wait, in vigil, around the nearest big-box electronics store.

Recent Community columnists
Music to die for: Composing a soundtrack for my exodus
October 03, 2013
Some months ago my musician daughter asked me what music I want played during my last rites. Complex factors go into questions like that, to say nothing about answering them. My children, like their mother, tend to anticipate life’s obstacles and the bends in the road.Another factor of course is my age. After all, I am in my 87th year. The tendency of my children to be realistic about life’s cycle is reasonable enough. As a result I am giving some thought to this matter, though it is not easy.
Richard Soutar: long forgotten Lake Geneva legend
October 03, 2013

All of the kids who grew up in Lake Geneva during the late 1940s and early 1950s were aware of two “crazy houses” in Lake Geneva. One was the former Oakwood Sanitarium, a once-imposing large red brick building located on the north side of east Main Street on “Catholic Hill,” more or less where the Havenwood Apartments are today. The Oakwood Sanitarium had once been a prestigious institution where wealthy Chicagoans housed (perhaps “incarcerated” is a better verb) their “mentally challenged” sons and daughters. Long abandoned, it was in the 1940s and 1950s a derelict building, with all of its windows broken, surrounded by high grass and volunteer trees. Lake Geneva kids visited it frequently, but it was a very scary place, supposedly inhabited by the ghosts of inmates who had been “imprisoned” within its walls.
The second “crazy house” was located on the north side of Geneva Street (1017 Geneva St.) roughly where an apartment building is located today. This building, abandoned since 1943, was in the process of becoming derelict. It looked like a stone Scottish castle, which it had been designed to resemble, with a very high pointed turret looming over its second floor. The yard around it was covered with high grass and volunteer saplings. The building seemed to be surrounded by woods. Much like the Oakwood Sanitarium, the “castle” on Geneva Street was thought by local kids to be haunted. Rumors had it that the reclusive woman who had owned it (she had died in 1949) lived in the “castle” as a ghost. On Halloween nights, local kids dared each other to go near the “castle,” at the risk of their lives.
The “crazy house” castle had been built as the 19th century became the 20th century by Richard Soutar, the subject of this article. His second wife, Laura Soutar, was the reclusive woman who lived in the “castle” until six years before her death in 1949. Few in Lake Geneva today will recognize the name Richard Soutar, which is understandable because he died in 1931, 82 years ago. But in 1931, the year of his death, almost everyone in Lake Geneva knew who he was. He was famous and he had, by the time of his death, already become a legend. Indeed most of the tradesmen in Lake Geneva — carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, bricklayers, painters, and laborers — had worked for him at one time or another. To see Soutar’s legacy today, one need only go on the U.S. mailboat, the Walworth, as it delivers mail to piers on Geneva Lake. His legacy is evidenced by many of the large mansions that ring the lake’s shores.
Soutar had been born in Perth, Scotland, on Sept. 1, 1861. As a young man he had studied European architecture and building construction, and became an apprentice architect and builder. At the age of 20, in 1881, he emigrated from Scotland to the United States. After spending a few months in Chicago, he was drawn to Lake Geneva by the challenge of designing and building mansions for wealthy Chicagoans who had purchased land on Geneva Lake’s shore to serve as their summer estates.

The first mansion on Geneva Lake that the young Soutar built was George Sturges’s home. During the ensuing three decades, Soutar would build the summer mansions of J.H. Moore (Loramoor), Tracy Drake, H.M. Byllesby, H.H. Porter, Hubbard Carpenter, Edward Swift, A.C. Bartlett, L.E. Meyer and Homer Stillwell, among many others. He remodeled the mansion of William Wrigley Jr. (the father of Philip Knight Wrigley) and built the conservatory on the Wrigley estate.
Perhaps the three most well-known buildings that Soutar constructed were the Lake Geneva Country Club, the Otto Young mansion (Stone Manor) and the Ceylon Court mansion of Frank Chandler, which Soutar had reassembled after it had been brought by train to Lake Geneva from Chicago, where it had served as the Ceylon exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) on Chicago’s Midway Plaisance adjacent to the University of Chicago.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Soutar had become one of the most well-known architects, designers and builders in the United States. When he built his “Scottish castle” on Geneva Street at the turn of the 20th century, Soutar emulated many of the mansions that he had built on Geneva Lake, especially Otto Young’s Stone Manor. He used superb building materials, including beautifully crafted stone masonry, the finest plumbing fixtures and exquisite woodwork, using wood of the highest quality. His “castle” on Geneva Street featured large, ornate fireplaces. Largely self-taught, Soutar drew upon the expertise that he had developed building mansions for wealthy Chicagoans on the shores of Geneva Lake when he designed and built his own personal “castle” on Geneva Street. The “castle” resembled the Sturges home still extant in Sturwood.
Soutar married his first wife, Katherine, in Lawrencekirk, Scotland, on Aug. 14, 1885. She came to the United States and to Lake Geneva in September 1886. Unfortunately, she contracted tuberculosis and died in October 1894 at the young age of 33. She left three small sons, aged 4 ½, 6 ½, and 8, Douglas, Richard and Forest Soutar. Soutar eventually married a second time. His second wife, Laura Cullen, had been born in Linn Township in 1867. She outlived Soutar by 18 years, dying at the age of 82 at Lakeland Hospital in December 1949. An illness had confined her to Lakeland Hospital for the previous six years, during which her “castle” on Geneva Street had become derelict. It was demolished in the 1960s, as was the Oakwood Sanitarium.
Soutar was truly one of Lake Geneva’s most distinguished residents. During the late 1920s, he became increasingly ill with heart problems. On Christmas eve in 1931, at 8:30 p.m., while listening to children serenade him with Christmas carols in front of his Geneva Street castle, he passed away. The last carol that he had requested the children to sing was “O Holy Night,” which appears on his tombstone in Oak Hill Cemetery. His funeral procession to Oak Hill on Sunday, Dec. 27, 1931, was reported to have been the largest funeral procession to Oak Hill that Lake Geneva residents had ever seen. With the passage of time, however, even legends fade into oblivion. But Soutar clearly deserves being rescued from misty obscurity.
(Much appreciation to Muriel Malsch, whose mother Mary Rahn Malsch had cared for Laura Soutar, for sharing her information on Richard Soutar with me.)

Celebrities in the Bay
September 26, 2013

Morgan Freeman. Albert Einstein. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Need your shingles replaced? Call Harrison Ford. Hard to believe, but all the afore mentioned celebrities have visited, lived or worked in Williams Bay.

Even harder to believe, is that you really COULD call Harrison Ford in the early 1960’s to do handyman work around your home! The REAL Harrison Ford!

Down memory lane when television was brand new
September 19, 2013
What evil lurks in the hearts of men?“The Shadow knows!”Television was a marvel, to be sure, but not everyone could afford it. And, like my father, not everyone was convinced that the technology was reliable enough to justify such a large investment.
Catching up on historical places, people, giving thanks
September 19, 2013
The once-magnificent Victorian house had been built in the late 1850s or in the 1860s. In 1869, the Rev. C. A. Williams opened a boarding school for young boys in the house. It was the male counterpart of the Geneva Seminary for Young Ladies that was then located in today’s Seminary Park. The school run by Rev. Williams operated until 1875, when ill health compelled him to close it. Rev. Williams died in August 1885. ...subscribers>>
Don't forget manufacturing
September 19, 2013

With the summer season coming to a close these annual questions come forward -—along with others. 1. How was the season for the hospitality and retail businesses? 2. Did we have more or fewer visitors and what do we do differently for next year to improve? 3. What do we do in the future for parking? 4. How can we bring more locals downtown to shop? All important things to consider! ...subscribers>>

Sidebars: The softer side of the county budget
September 12, 2013

Of all of the holidays, Labor Day has become my least favorite.
It is the weekend before I present the annual budget to the county board and, as a result, usually involves a weekend of labor as I place the finishing touches on next year’s spending plan.
With most of the budget decisions made, my task is to summarize all of the numbers into a narrative that explains changes that are being proposed for the upcoming year.
This narrative, which is called the budget transmittal letter, has grown in size over the years. It took me just six pages to describe the 2002 budget, the first one I prepared for the county. The 2013 letter was 22 pages long. I am sure I could be more concise, but the county budget is large.
Even at its current length, I am only able to highlight major themes and significant changes. At one level, my Labor Day labor is self-imposed. There is no legal requirement for the letter.
On the other hand, I don’t think it is fair to our county board members to simply drop off a stack of “green bar” computer printouts on their desk and expect them to make sense of all of the numbers.
The letter gives them a head start on the two-month process that follows, which culminates in adoption of the budget on Nov. 12. I try to make the letter as reader-friendly as possible.
There are limits, however, to just how exciting I can make portions of the budget appear; the 30-year amortization schedule of our OPEB obligation comes to mind.
One tradition that grew out of my frustration with some of this very technical writing was to introduce “sidebar” articles to the budget.
These articles describe individuals or events that may not even be related to the budget. The sidebars gave me a much-needed break from writing about all of the numbers and hopefully provided the same respite for those readers courageous enough to make it through the whole document.
According to my archives, I first started adding the sidebars in 2006. Since then, I have used them to highlight outstanding employees, community leaders and important events in the history of the county.
This year’s sidebars are a tribute to citizens who help govern the county by serving on our many committees, boards and commissions. Six of those citizen members were gracious enough to be interviewed by my administrative assistant, Tammy Werblow, who did an outstanding job writing this year’s stories.
One of the risks of taking on a project like this is that space will only permit a small group to be included. There is always the chance that someone who was not chosen will be offended.
I probably should have been more worried about this, but I really didn’t give the selection process much thought.
Given the high quality of the people we have serving in these roles, I picked the first six citizens that came to mind.
I also know that those who weren’t chosen are not the kind of folks who hold a grudge.
They work for nothing, or almost nothing, and are motivated to make the county a better place to live, not to be in the public spotlight. Citizen committee members highlighted in this year’s budget letter include:

Tom Cotter
A long-time resident of East Troy and a retired educator, Tom has served on the Civil Service Board for 18 years.
That board plays an important role in the selection and promotion of deputies.

Ella Pious
In her ninth decade of life, Ella has been a faithful member of our Health & Human Services Board for 22 years.

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.

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.
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.

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