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Camp Offield: A lost Geneva Lake icon

May 08, 2014

During the early 1950s, I was a member of Boy Scouts Troop 35 in Lake Geneva. I was the assistant patrol leader of Troop 35’s Cochise Patrol (named after the Apache chief).

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When doctors made housecalls

May 08, 2014

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 following is an excerpt. The book 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.

In those days, you called the priest to administer the Last Rites, before you called the doctor.

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Respecting political boundaries here

May 08, 2014

In my last column, I reported on our county board’s organizational meeting that was held last month and the ease with which supervisors chose their leaders.


Recent Community columnists
Kind words about ultimate wordsmith
May 01, 2014
I know it’s spring, but Wednesday was William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, and it seems appropriate to share the following account of a rainy September evening several years ago when my wife and I attended the American Players Theatre near Spring Green to experience “Macbeth.”
That is the play taught in most American high schools which delivers a universally important message. It’s about ambition, fear, conscience and the horrors of having to cover up a serious crime.
Though the play was first produced more than 400 years ago, its relevance today is strikingly scary to think about. The power of “Macbeth”: was not lost on anyone on that September Saturday.
Tucked away in the woods on a hill above the Wisconsin River near Spring Green is the American Players Theatre. If you’ve never been there, descriptions will not suffice.
You have to climb the hill on the winding paths to reach the open-air bowl in which over 1,100 people breathe in the woodsy atmosphere while watching the players breathe out the human drama of great plays.
But this night, a fourth Saturday in September, rain gear was in style. It was one of those misty, damp early autumn evenings. Who would ask for a night better suited to “Macbeth?”
Light rain commenced as the play did. You could see the actor’s breaths in the shafts of floodlights. When Macbeth pronounced his dagger speech, the rain began in earnest. Drops of moisture glistened as they fell from his chin. It never was a drenching downpour, yet APT had produced a night when play and nature conspired convincingly.
Why are we drawn to tragedy? Because when menacing things happen we want to know about them. Newspapers regularly deal in grim and threatening news, and we complain about their being negative. When we choose movies and TV shows, on the other hand, it is often violence and its tragic results that attract us.
In literature, stories would not produce widespread attention if it weren’t for conflict or the threat of harm.
We assume good news but are drawn to bad. The most powerful works of literature are replete with humanity’s problems. These works do not necessarily solve problems as much as produce deep thinking about them. It would be hard to find a work that achieved these ends more thoroughly than Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
And in the woods on a September night, the Bard’s magic elixir worked its wiles. And Mother Nature came up with an appropriate environment.
As plays go, “Macbeth” is grim, dispiriting, cheerless. Set in the drears of Scotland in the dark ages, it is the story of a soldier whose good and noble nature manifests itself immediately. His bravery in battle and loyalty to his king are clear.
In a period when primogeniture (in which a king’s eldest son succeeds him) was not the rule, Macbeth had every reason to believe he had an inside track to kingship. That’s important because he knew ambition, in fact was obsessed by it. So when the elderly king in the ecstatic moments following Macbeth’s two great victories announces that his son will succeed him, a sequence is set in motion leading to the complete disintegration of a human soul.
No, make that two souls. Macbeth is in need of a catalyst, because the good in him makes him hesitate. This comes in the form of Lady Macbeth, who is as determined and ruthless as anyone could be. It is interesting to note we do not learn her female name, which must say something about her nature.
Together, in some of Shakespeare’s richest and most poignant poetry, the two decompose right before our eyes.
“Macbeth” is indeed a gloomy and forbidding play. But as always the Bard manages to make the whole thing into an uplifting human experience. To truly appreciate the fact, you must see the play.
So in a southwest Wisconsin woods of a dreary fall evening, Macbeth plays out his tragic narrative. At time it was almost a marriage of language and nature. Let me explain.
To impress the level of elemental instincts Macbeth has to assume to defend himself, he conveys images of animals, nearly all of them predatory, unpleasant or fierce. Macbeth invokes scorpions, snakes and the “shrieking owl.” There is talk of bear-baiting. And a tiger, vulture and rhinoceros send less than pleasant vibes.
And in the night over the stage of a theatre in the woods, a bat darted over the heads of the players. Its flight seemed timed to accompany Macbeth’s inner turmoil.
And deep into the play and far off in the trees, crickets cranked out their night talk. At least there were no mosquitoes.
What made this “Macbeth” production particularly appealing was clarity, one of APT’s cardinal principles. This was indeed a clarion call. The syllables of the Bard’s blank verse made understanding as easy as listening. Articulation is primary at American Players Theatre.
Some might say Shakespeare could never be easy. This playgoer would counter that life is never easy, and the Bard’s mark, his goal, is life itself. The test of 13 generations can’t be wrong.
That said, all power and prerogative to the sustaining of this Arden adventure on a Wisconsin hillside.

Johnson is a retired Badger High School English teacher.

Leadership fights once were common
April 24, 2014

The newly elected Walworth County Board held its first two meetings of the 2014-2016 term.
Supervisors met on April 15 to fill three leadership positions. Nancy Russell from Lake Geneva was elected board chair.
I lost track of time, but last July, Russell completed her sixth consecutive year as the board’s leader, which represents a record tenure in the position, at least in recent times.
Al Morrison held the previous record, having served three consecutive two-year terms. In 1998, Morrison ran for a second term as chair, breaking away from a fairly long-standing practice of passing the board chairmanship down to the most senior supervisor who had not yet been elected to the position.
In retrospect, I think Morrison had it right when he ended the practice. Chairing the board is a big job and not every supervisor has the time, desire or leadership ability to take on the task. Allowing a chair to serve more than a single term also provides for greater continuity.
Supervisor Rick Stacy, who has represented the East Troy area since 2004, was elected vice chairman. Stacy succeeds Jerry Grant, who recently retired from the board. This will be Stacy’s second stint as vice chair. He previously held the position during the 2006-2008 term. In the final election of the evening, Dave Weber was re-elected to serve as chair of the board’s executive committee. Weber has held that position since 2006, nearly as long as the position has been elected by the full board.
None of the leadership elections were contested this year, which has been the case since 2010. The board’s consensus makes for a far shorter and less dramatic organizational meeting.
Our County Clerk Kim Bushey, who still remembers some of the contentious elections that used to take place, was armed with stacks of ballots just in case. It wasn’t uncommon, prior to 2008, for multiple rounds of balloting to take place before supervisors would choose their leaders.
Having elected their leaders, the board adjourned. A nominating committee, consisting of the board chair, vice chair and executive committee chairman, met the next day to propose committee assignments. Those recommendations were approved by the full board, without dissent, at its April 17 meeting.
With organizational issues out of the way, supervisors got down to business. I always feel sorry for newly-elected board members attending the first business meeting of the new term.
Not having been privy to all of the meetings and discussions that led up to the agenda, it is a bit like walking into the middle of a movie.
Fortunately, the outgoing board did a good job of winding things up so there wasn’t a lot of “heavy lifting” required at the April 17 meeting.
A couple of important items at that meeting included recognizing our volunteers and applying for a grant to keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system.
It has become a board tradition, during National Volunteer Week, to take time to acknowledge the contributions of the hundreds of volunteers who make Walworth County such a great place.
Although our board meeting took place a bit later than Volunteer Week, which was officially designated April 6-12, that didn’t prevent supervisors from passing a resolution honoring all county volunteers and personally recognizing eight volunteers who made extraordinary contributions throughout the year.
Doug Amon and Shirley Blecher assist our Health and Human Services department. Doug delivers Meals on Wheels and Shirley serves as a volunteer guardian.
Two UW-Extension volunteers, Kathy Stefanelli and Sarah Anderson, ensure that our Master Gardeners Program keeps growing.

The lives of our nursing home residents are made brighter through the efforts of sisters Donna Colaianni and Nancy Shields, who organize numerous volunteer craft projects throughout the year. The final honoree was Donna Mahanna, who helps students at our Lakeland School by serving as a volunteer librarian.
Another important item on the board’s April meeting agenda was to consider whether to apply for a Juvenile Justice System improvement grant. The grant would provide up to $25,000 to assist in the development of juvenile justice policy.
The grant has a May 1 deadline and came with little advance notice. Earlier in the month the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee recommended that an application be submitted to expand a youth project that has been showing promising results in East Troy.
For the past year, Walworth County Health and Human Services has been sending one or two social workers to the East Troy municipal court on evenings when juveniles are scheduled to appear. The municipal judge there, Michael Cotter, orders juvenile offenders to meet with the social workers. Participation beyond the initial meeting is voluntary.
Those who continue are screened for drug, alcohol and other behavioral issues. Where appropriate a brief intervention may be conducted or the child may be referred for additional services. By offering services before municipal citations escalate into criminal charges, the goal of the program is to prevent young people from offending and to keep them out of the court system and jails. The grant will permit the pilot project to expand to other municipal courts.
The board’s 2014-2016 term is officially under way. You can see the supervisors in action at their next meeting on May 13 at 6 p.m. in the county’s Government Center or watch the proceedings on the internet at www.co.walworth.wi.us.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.


Memories of growing up at special church
April 17, 2014

The First Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) was the second church established in Lake Geneva.

Lawmakers take action
April 17, 2014

The 2013-14 legislative session has come to a close, ending with many accomplishments and historic moments.

How the county board starts its term
April 10, 2014

The county board’s 2014-2016 term is about to begin.
Three new supervisors will be part of the eleven-member board when it convenes on April 15.

GMs legacy takes a hit
April 10, 2014

The American taxpayer was asked to fund GM’s bankruptcy and restructuring, eventually allowing the company to reassume its position as a competitor in the automotive market place. What none of us knew is that this publicly-funded effort also included subsidizing General Motors’ incompetence.

History of LG YMCA building
April 10, 2014

Nowadays when townspeople and tourists walk west on Main Street, it is hard to imaging that on the corner of Main and Wrigley Drive there was a large, two-story, red brick building that was the YMCA of Lake Geneva. It was designed by Pond and Pond, who also designed the Hull House in Chicago. Richard Souter of Lake Geneva contracted to build the Y for $22,000.
It was unusual for a town the size of Lake Geneva to have so large a building. In the dedication of the Y Leslie Shaw, the Secretary of the United States Treasury, said, “The finest of its kind in all Christendom,” (a little exaggeration). The Y building had meeting rooms, office and a gym with a stage on the first floor, dormitory rooms on the second and a cafeteria in the basement.
During the 20s, 30s and 40s the Y was a “beehive” of activities. The women in the community organized girls clubs. It was a meeting place for many organizations — the Red Cross, the Chamber of Commerce. During the war the Y was a hospitable center for servicemen. Robert McNally, secretary of the Y, reported after the summer of ‘42, 20,000 people used the services of the Y.
Concerts and lectures were held there. Plays were given on the stage in the gym by young people. And adults. The Belfry Players originated there.
The gym was always busy. Men and women volleyball teams were organized. Dr. Hudson coached a basketball team. Police Chief Cusack held boxing lessons for the boys. In the summer the Twilight League played against teams with names like “Slopville Sluggers” and “Weed Pickers.” Familiar names appear as players ... Lasch, Deignan, Brugger, Welker, Ledger.
Summer was a busy time for the cafeteria. There were weekend excursions on the Northwestern Railroad to Lake Geneva. For $2.25 you could spend a day enjoying the lake and eating a chicken dinner at the Y cafeteria. Louise Matteson, great-aunt of Bob and Dick White, managed the cafeteria with the help of Hanna Radke, Adelaide Morehouse and Gertrude Pynn. The line of people waiting to eat at the cafeteria would wind down to the lake.
Times have changed ... the red brick Y is gone but then as now the Y serves the community.


Seeing the stars from Einstein to Sagan
April 03, 2014

The riches of Yerkes: From Albert Einstein to Carl Sagan
Quote: “More than a century ago, Yerkes Observatory was a state-of-the-art astronomical research facility, the best of its kind in the world.”

The valuable wall of religious freedom
April 03, 2014

In the 1960s, a stevedore from San Francisco wrote a book entitled “The True Believer.”
It was an attempt to deal with a question that bedeviled historians since the inception of the Third Reich. What could possibly have led a country like Germany, where so many brilliant scientists, artists, musical composers, writers and great philosophers had once flourished, to tolerate something as abhorrent as Nazism?

Before the railroad
March 20, 2014
John Wayne once hopped on board one of these heading to movie stardom. The best known are frequently thought to be “western,” but the stagecoach was a vital link between communities in Wisconsin long before the railroads arrived. 
A stagecoach is a type of covered wagon for passengers and goods. It is strongly made and generally drawn by four horses. Widely used before the introduction of railway transport, it made regular trips between stages or stations, which were places of rest provided for stagecoach travelers. The term “stage” originally referred to the distance between stations on a route, the coach traveling the entire route in “stages,” but through metonymy it came to apply to the coach. 
A fresh set of horses would be staged at the next station so the coach could continue after a quick stop to re-hitch the new horse team. Under this staging system, the resting, watering and feeding of the spent horses would not delay the coach. In winter, the drivers traded their coaches for sleighs. 
Great buffalo robes and the use of a contrivance known as a “foot stove” protected travelers from wind and cold. The latter device was made of wood and metal combined in such manner that when live coals were placed within, the stove would give off heat for a considerable time. 
Stagecoach service began as road networks were extended from town to town across the state. Numerous stage companies obtained franchises and provided regular service throughout southern Wisconsin and neighboring states. 
Stagecoaches traveled along established roads, including military roads, territorial roads and local roads. As such, the trails, together with the region’s waterways, served as the earliest corridors of travel, communication, trade and warfare. Indian trails often followed earlier trails created by deer and other animals. 
They typically followed easy grades, wound around hills and other obstructions and crossed rivers and streams at shallow crossings. When possible, these trails followed streams and rivers, which provided escape routes and drinking water. In open areas the trails offered views of the surrounding areas so that animals could see if enemies were near. Indians followed these animal routes for the same reasons and European settlers would soon do the same. As the trails became worn from human use, they were marked by Indians for future travelers.
A broken twig served as a pointing finger; a stroke of the axe or blaze on a tree served as a signal to turn in that direction; a sapling bent across the trail was a warning signal; a stick in the mud meant that there was no bottom; and a feather on a bush or located along the side of the trail meant that there were friends ahead or nearby.
Early fur traders, missionaries and explorers made extensive use of the established network of Indian trails. Settlers arriving in the region during the first decades of the 19th century widened many of the trails into roads suitable for ox carts and wagons. 
By 1829, lead miners had blazed several meandering wagon roads through southern Wisconsin for hauling lead to the Mississippi River and Milwaukee for shipment to eastern markets. 
The established Indian trail between Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and Fort Howard (Green Bay) was eventually straightened by settlers and used as a wagon road. Even this improved road was difficult to follow and the trip from Chicago to Green Bay took four days. Although the locations of many of the old trails are known and recorded, remnants of only a few trails remain visible today. 
The first stage service between Milwaukee and Chicago was begun in 1836 by Lathrop and Johnson. 
The stage was an open lumber wagon and the trip took one-and-one-half days, with an overnight stop in Kenosha. Other companies soon followed, providing both passenger and freight transportation. The majority of stage companies had obtained contracts from the federal government for transporting the U.S. mail in addition to passengers and freight.
As the stagecoach system gained popularity, it expanded into all areas of the state. Stagecoach service remained an important secondary link to more remote areas of the state until the late 19th century, when the expanding railroads offered faster and more comfortable travel to extended areas of the state. 
As railroad interests grew, less attention was paid to Wisconsin’s roads.
Learn more about the history of Williams Bay, join the Williams Bay Historical Society. Email Soplanda, society president, at dsoplanda@williamsbayschools.org.

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