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Northwestern Military and Naval Academy

May 29, 2014

Many of the iconic structures on the shores of Geneva Lake are long gone, including, most notably, Ceylon Court, but perhaps foremost among the once prominent, but now gone, icons was the Northwestern Military and Naval Academy. Its legacy still survives, but in Delafield, Wisconsin, west of Milwaukee, where it is a component of the St. Johns Northwestern Military Academy.

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The weird in Williams Bay

May 29, 2014

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” could be said about the weirder side of Williams Bay.


Recent Community columnists
How the White Stockings grew up to be the Cubs
May 22, 2014

The first major league team to call Chicago home was the White Stockings, who began their history in the city in 1871.

Law helps in fight against human trafficking
May 22, 2014

Human trafficking is a dangerous type of criminal activity that lurks in the shadows.

Remembering out Civil War veterans
May 22, 2014

Over the past three years, I have written columns for the Lake Geneva Regional News just before Memorial Day in tribute to Lake Geneva’s veterans of the Civil War.

Birthday sparks thoughts on aging
May 15, 2014

With a birthday this month I can now proclaim: “Four score and seven years ago...”
Let’s face it, I’m overdue to examine elderhood. A look at various impressions of aging may allow useful patterns to emerge.
Some would save the best for last, but not this time.
How could old age be better expressed than this:
“Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?”
That’s Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part II). So we’ll just string together what various minds have expressed over time about aging.
Someone has said wrinkles are the service stripes of life.
I have far more of those than I ever earned in the Navy and the Army.
Ben Franklin stated the basic dilemma of aging: “All would live long, but none would be old.”
Attitude has to be involved. Witness: “If I’d known I was gonna live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Jazz pianist Eubie Blake said that at 100.
Statesman and adviser to presidents Bernard Baruch once said, “To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.” I don’t know how old he was when he said that, but he lived to be 95.
As the 17th century Frenchman La Rochefoucauld declared, “Few people know how to be old.”
On the other hand, “There is many a good time played on an old fiddle.” No one seems to know where that originated.
I wonder how old poet Robert Frost was when he said, “I never dared be radical when young / For fear it would make me conservative when old.”
I relate to both premises, but I’m not sure why.
As playwright Tom Stoppard remarked, “Age is a high price to pay for maturity.”
Another observant Frenchman noted: “The old repeat themselves and the young have nothing to say. The boredom is mutual.”
American critic and poet Malcolm Cowley must have been an elder when he observed: “They tell you that you’ll lose your mind when you grow older. What they don’t tell you is that you won’t miss it very much.”
Quick: We could use a lighter touch: “Senescence begins / And middle age ends, / The day your descendants / Outnumber your friends.” Wouldn’t you know, Ogden Nash, noted for sophisticated whimsy and satire, would have his say.
But truth to tell, “No wise man ever wished to be younger,” so declared English satirist Jonathan Swift.
American Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. seems to have agreed: “To be seventy years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.”
“It is always in season for old men to learn.” That thought echoes through the ages from the Greeks (Aeschylus). And truth to tell, it encourages me to keep going.
The seasons do play into our lives. Autumn helps us appreciate the cycle of life. “How beautifully the leaves grow old. How full of light and colour are their last days.” (John Burroughts)
To make an end to this, the autumn metaphor never seems to fail.
Someone named Sandy Wilson put these lines together: “It’s never too late to have a fling / For autumn is just as nice as spring / And it’s never too late to fall in love.”


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).

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.

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.

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.

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