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Finding a soldier in time for Veterans

November 07, 2013

I went in search of my father this week and came up empty handed.
I was planning a Veterans Day column on my dad, who died when I was 6, and served in both World War I and World War II.
He was born in 1899 and joined the Army for the first time at 19. Family legend says he was so anxious to serve that he gorged himself on bananas to hit the weight limit.
During WWII he enlisted at the age of 42.
I once had a photo of him sitting on a trash can in front of some barracks.
Other pictures I’ve seen of him after he got out of the service, show the damage a lifetime of drinking had done, but everyone looks better in uniform.
I was proud of his service and wanted to say so.
But I was frustrated in my efforts. I tried one idea and then another. Draft after draft was scuttled.
Then, at 2 a.m., this morning, I found myself awake — still searching.
I went through box after box of family letters and photos.
My once clean study was a mess of photos and paperwork, but I was no closer to whatever it was I was searching for.
Finally, I opened a blue box I’d been through before marked “War Letters.”
Mostly they were letters between my mother and father about practical things — what bills to pay, how to turn the gas on and whether to sell their car.
Then I came upon another batch of letters in the box I’d never read before.
The author was someone my father worked with stateside. When my father received the letters, he was already out of the military, home in Sheboygan, working as office manager for the local gas company.
But his friend, his co-worker, had found his way to Europe.
He wrote about the day-to-day, the drudgery and the boredom.
He wrote one letter when he was drunk and apologized for it in the next.
He sent another letter cut up into squares and tried to explain it away as a joke in the next.
Another beseeched my father to track down the man’s wife — who had apparently moved without telling him.
The first letter from France was dated, Aug. 16, 1944 — two months after D-Day.
“When we first landed in France, the night sky was lit up with the flashes of artillery... anti-aircraft of all types opened up at a low flying plane and we could have sworn the tracers in the cross fire were coming right at us ... we hit the ground.”
“You’ve seen Fourth of July fireworks but it can’t compare to that which we seen (sic). Those tracers are real and with every battery on the coast opening up it made the night darkness change into a red glow.”
When the “fireworks” stopped, he wrote, it meant another town had been secured.
“I’ve been in the cities where the big battles have been fought and they are a heap of stone and rubble.”
“Bulldozers work much like snow plows after a storm, clearing the main roads through the towns. No people are in these towns waving to us as we pass … The photographs of civilians greeting our troops are all taken in towns in which there was little or no damage.”
He ended a letter recalling a quieter time when he and his fellow soldiers camped in a clearing surrounded by trees that reminded him of those “back home.”
“Within this enclosure is our orchard. I’ve watched a full moon rising over the treetops and it’s really beautiful.”
“Last night as the shadows blended into darkness and a faint grey (sic) was in the sky, I stood next to our little amplifier attached to a tree. All the rest of the fellas had gone to bed, when “Waltz Time” came on the air. As I listened they played ‘Time Waits For No One.’”
Then he added, “For the first time I started thinking about all the time I’ve been away from home. Time spent without those we love which can never be brought back.”
He signed off by saying, “You’ve heard enough of my ramblings.”
The letter was signed, simply, Herb.
I have no idea what happened to him, whether he made it home or not, whether he ever found his wife, whether my father ever saw him again.
Despite all my digging, all the paper strewn about, my father remains a mystery.
But at least Herb is no longer an unknown soldier.
He came back to life for a few moments early this morning.
I’m glad to have found him and resurrected a few moments of his life.
For Herb and all the others who served their country, this Veterans Day is for you.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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How do you spell that word again?

November 07, 2013

OK. I’m an idiot.
Last week we had a headline about the new chamber of commerce president, which had a subhead that said: “Search group, local business leaders widdled down candidates from 67-1.”
I bounded into the office Wednesday morning in pretty good spirits, thinking we had a really good paper, and looking forward to seeing it hot off the press.
I grabbed a copy and walked into my office, catching sight of reporter Chris Schultz coming in the front door.
Then I heard Chris say:
“No. No! No!”
He’d read the headline, the banner headline across the top of the front page.
“Widdled is not the right word!” he said with passion.
In fact, it’s not a real word at all, at least not one you’d find in a respectable dictionary.
It should have been spelled w-h-i-t-t-l-e-d.
Overhearing this conversation in my office, I quickly plugged “widdle” into Google, hoping our version was an alternative spelling.
It wasn’t.
Had I been walking instead of sitting in horror, that start-of-a-new day bounce in my step would have been gone.
It was my mistake.
Proofread by four other people, but originated by me.
It wasn’t a “typo.” That’s how I really thought it was spelled.
I was especially upset with myself because it was a story about the new head of the chamber. The chamber, of course, is a great link with the business community — the people who pay for the ads that keep our company running.
The chamber had given us its Community Betterment Award this summer so it was theoretically too late to withdraw that honor.
But I wanted to put on a good face for the chamber official I’d be dealing with for the next few years.
Instead, my face is red.
We discussed it at our editorial meeting. Everyone shared the blame for missing it, but that didn’t lessen my momentary self-loathing.
I had an instinct that something was wrong. I always have an instinct. It’s just that I can’t always track it down.
I’d read the story over multiple times before sending it to press because I had this feeling that something was wrong.
I should have been looking up, way up, to those really large letters above the story.
Even my girlfriend, especially my girlfriend, chides me when we make a mistake like that. Being the literate sort herself, with an English degree, she can’t quite figure out how we miss things.
She knows we aren’t dumb, but the newspaper industry is imperfect, so we’re not alone. It’s history in a hurry and sometimes it’s too much in a hurry.
A few years ago, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association had an award called the Red Typeface Award. Papers were expected to enter their most hilarious mistake from the year before.
We won eight awards last year, including being named the best paper of our size in the state, so why not go for another?
But the award was dropped a few years ago. I suspect papers were unwilling to publicly embarrass themselves.
At our meeting, we discussed whether we should run a correction.
We readily run corrections for errors of fact, but not for misspellings.
“Well, let’s see if we get some phone calls,” I said. “I’m hoping there are other people out there as dumb as I am who think it was spelled correctly.”
But I thought it over and wrote this column.
Somehow it hasn’t allayed my guilt.

Halverson is the somewhat flawed editor and general manager of the Regional News.

Recent Commentary
A season to celebrate, a reason for hope
October 31, 2013

Derek Diehl is a builder.
From 2008-2011 the once-proud Williams Bay football team didn’t record a single victory. They haven’t made the post-season since 2003.
Last year, when the Bulldogs beat Kenosha Christian, the victory was minimized by naysayers who said they hadn’t beaten a real high school football team.
Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire used to lineup winnable games in the preseason to build up the team’s confidence. Taking a page out of McGuire’s book, Diehl knew he needed to beat someone to start a winning tradition.
When you’ve lost so much, any W is better than no W.
When the Bulldogs beat Kenosha Christian again to open this season, doubts still lingered.
Then they won their first conference game in five years by burying Johnson Creek 45-20. Then they won another conference game and, for awhile, led the division.
True, Diehl is blessed with a stud quarterback, the 230-pound John Higgins, but it took more than that to build a team and still more to build a tradition.
Higgins carried the load at the beginning of the year, but as the season went on more and more players got their names on the stat sheet.
Diehl’s kick coverage teams have been porous. That may have lost them a few games or at least made them closer than necessary.
But Diehl was playing freshmen on those squads. He had a plan. Give the freshmen experience — even if it was a baptism of fire — and it’ll pay off in years to come.
So why isn’t this column on the sports page?
Because Diehl’s building program is more than just about sports.
There were a few games where he could have blamed the referees or injury or bad luck. Football is an emotional game and it’s difficult not to buy into those emotions.
Diehl refused. He didn’t want his team making excuses, so he didn’t either.
I interviewed him after one emotional game but Diehl measured his words — backing the refs and refusing to point fingers.
A real powder keg exploded a few weeks later when the crowd went nuts on a few calls, but Diehl was man enough — after looking at the film — to acknowledge that those calls were far from clear-cut, even if the fans thought otherwise.
A team of young impressionable kids could easily have caved to negative emotions. But Diehl led and they followed.
He wanted a team of class acts, not whiners.
“We are not only teaching football,” Diehl said at one point. “(We’re) teaching the boys how to be good men.”
The Bulldogs ended up 4-5. A losing season, but three more victories than they had in the previous five years combined.
Even in the last game of the season, after falling behind 22-7 in the third quarter, the Bulldogs fought back and almost pulled it out.
Maybe next year.
At least now there’s reason to look forward instead of behind.
The Badger and Big Foot football teams made the playoffs again this year.
We wish them luck, and I don’t mean to diminish their efforts in any way.
But it’s nice to see that a group of new winners may be on the horizon.
I’d like us to have the challenge of splitting our playoff coverage three ways instead of just two.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

Powder Puff football proves girls like grass stains, too
October 17, 2013
No disrespect to any other sport, but my favorite sport of all-time is Powder Puff football.Put the demeaning title aside for a moment and Powder Puff football is everything I like about sports.Competition.
Watch out: LGRN reporter can legally carry
October 17, 2013
Genoa City Police Chief Joe Balog is serious about firearms training.He’s a former SWAT officer and U.S. Army Paratrooper, and he teaches all sorts of classes on firearm safety and personal defense.
Parking study tells us what we already know
October 10, 2013

If I were to rate the latest Lake Geneva parking study like a movie I’d give it one star — and that would be charitable.
The study premiered publicly at a hearing before the parking commission Monday night.
You can read the story on 1A of today’s Regional News.

Was Seiser right about Lake Geneva parking?
September 26, 2013

Of course, the parking issue would all be solved by getting rid of the city’s tourist trade.

Anyone who moved here since the 1950s ought to recognize that this is a tourist community. There’s no way to keep a pristine community a secret. Since we can’t have it to ourselves, we might as well help fund the city through tapping those visitors.

The role of a newspaper
September 19, 2013
Over the years I’ve tried to train myself not to be nervous, but I clearly was Wednesday night when the Geneva Lake Area Chamber of Commerce presented the paper with its community betterment award.The last time I’d spoken before a large crowd, I’d lost my voice and stood mute for the longest 30 seconds of my life.
First reaction to the parking study
September 12, 2013

We had a short in-house discussion last week on whether our lead headline was editorializing:
“No surprise, city needs more parking,” it said.
We agreed it was like saying, “The sun is a yellow orb.”
To say Lake Geneva needs more parking is a self-evident truth — or so we decided.
I have to admit I had a knee-jerk response when I read that those were the findings of yet another study on the city’s parking:
“Did we need to spend $26,325 to find that out?”
Now let me back off a second. I’m not saying the money was ill spent — not yet at least.
There was more nuance in the study than that headline implies. The city has already discovered some inaccuracies or misinterpretations that will require further consultation. And it is just a preliminary study, so out of fairness, we ought to wait for the next chapter before passing judgment.
But I’m going to let fairness go by the wayside for a moment and riff on some initial thoughts:
I think the city council is well-intentioned in its desire to solve this perennial problem and felt that a fresh study beat a shoot-from-the-hip approach. Right now, it seems like a close call.
The most interesting aspect of the report was the suggestion that we need a parking structure.
That does seem like an easy answer from an outsider’s approach, but I’ve had my doubts.
First, it’s expected that such a structure would cost about $6 million. That’s a lot of money especially because, as it stands now, it would probably be nearly empty during the six months or so when Lake Geneva’s resort traffic disappears.
But maybe we have to look at the bigger picture. If that solves the downtown parking issue once and for all, maybe it’s worth it.
The report indicated that the lack of parking is keeping locals away — and that’s part of a larger picture.
If we look at the city’s downtown economy, getting locals back there is key.
So is making Lake Geneva a vacation destination for 12 months a year, instead of five or six.
If the parking structure got locals downtown and the city became more of a year-round destination, it would probably be cost-effective.
But, of course, it’s a chicken and egg proposition.
If the city built it would they — the locals — come downtown?
Should it be built betting the city will become a 12-month vacation paradise?
The goal of making the city attractive to visitors all year ‘round, will be one of the challenges of the new chamber head, who is expected to be hired in a couple of months. I do believe the city has winter charms that can be maximized beyond Winterfest and ice fishing. A Winterfest expansion is already in the works.
The study suggested a good location for a parking structure would be adding to the Cook Street surface lot behind the old theater. That area is already partly owned by the city. And it’s close to downtown, unlike some of the other locations mentioned in the past.
There is enough money in the TIF funds for a parking structure. Of course spending it, might get the anti-TIF people going. But unlike the skate park, for instance, a parking structure would clearly meet the TIF goal of improving downtown.
Of course, the word “parking structure” creates visions of tall, gray cement industrial-looking monoliths.
That’s not the image Lake Geneva sells. But they don’t have to be that way. They can be attractive.
The first floor could also feature stores that would incorporate the retail segment with the structure.
Upon hearing of the location, I flashed back to a conversation I had with former mayor Spyro “Speedo” Condos a few months ago.
Apparently, during his administration, that location was suggested for a parking structure and there were plans to buy adjoining properties to make it happen.
He could be excused for saying “I told you so.” So, I’ll say it before he does.
While the parking study still has a little time to be corrected and marinate, it’s healthy to keep on discussing it.
Pretty soon the summer traffic will be gone and we might all be lulled to sleep.
Let’s plumb everything we can from the study and then make some lasting decisions.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News.

More than football
September 12, 2013
I thought Derek Diehl was all football.I hadn’t met the man until after the Williams Bay game Friday night.I was expecting someone intimidating.
Weird law has Orwellian consequences
September 05, 2013
A bizarre interpretation of a law has meant you’re not getting the news you deserve.Managing Editor Rob Ireland explained it well in an article we ran last week (see it online at lakegenevanews.net).
Criticism, sports, pay raises, award
August 29, 2013
“Does your paper endorse the comments and views of W.C.? His recent comment targeting Chris Ann’s Resale business seemed like a personal shot at her business. I find this bias, and consider it as him airing his dirty laundry!”That was an email I received last week from California, of all places, referring to a comment Sal Dimiceli wrote in his The Time is Now column last week.There were many criticisms of Dimiceli’s comment on our website plus I received two phone calls and the threat of a lawsuit.First, the only comments I endorse in the Regional News are my own. Sal’s column is in a section clearly marked in very big letters “Commentary.” That’s also the place where we run my column, letters to the editor and commentary by politicians of all stripes. I like to offer a broad perspective and allow varying opinions in that section — including criticisms of the paper and other opinions that I may or may not share.Here’s what Dimiceli wrote:“Please contact us direct for any furniture, appliance or any item donations. We are no longer collecting or distributing these items through Chris Ann’s Resale Shop. While we wish Chris Ann the best, we are no longer offering charitable donation receipts at her store. My repeated attempts to work with Chris Ann regarding her pricing, offering free items for the handicapped, and other store suggestions, has left me unable to continue our mission together.”Dimiceli, a philanthropist who has given away millions of dollars of his own money, has been promoting Chris Ann’s Resale Shop for months and months. In fact the last few weeks, he’s written strong commentary urging people to support the store.So, I think Dimiceli is allowed a rather tame comment buried at the end of his column explaining why he is no longer collecting or distributing through the store. He said the two of them couldn’t agree on pricing, offering free items and other store suggestions. Based on the phone calls I received, that was clearly the case. They couldn’t agree and parted ways. How is that inaccurate?Apparently, the two have agreed to not level accusations anymore, so I hope the book is closed on the issue.Sports coverage“You’re going to love being sports editor so much you’ll give up your jobs as general manager and editor.”Those are the paraphrased words of Mike Ramczyk during his last day as sports editor of the Regional News.Mike has left us to be sports editor of his hometown newspaper, the Burlington Standard Press. He’ll be great there as he was here.He made those comments prior to the party we had after work that night. So he was sober and I don’t think he was kidding because he repeated the comment at the tavern.It’s true, I will be handling sports until we do hire someone else and getting a whole lot of help from other staffers, coaches and athletic directors.But we do plan to hire a new sports editor. We have a couple of promising prospects — a phrase that sounds an awful lot like sports jargon (I’m practicing).One of those prospects is not me.It’s true that I started off in the newspaper racket wanting to be a sports writer. I grew up loving sports but not being very good at them — a typical profile for a sports writer (Ramczyk excluded).But my career quickly veered off into news, management and, eventually, into the business side of newspapering.One of those jobs though was being editor of another weekly with a two-person staff. That meant I did double as sports editor.One of my lasting memories was of standing out in the pouring rain trying to keep my camera dry watching the local football team take a drubbing.I decided then that sports would not be in my future as a full-time gig.So, contrary to Mike’s prediction, I’ll keep my day jobs as editor and general manager.And work really hard to be replaced as sports editor of the Regional News.In the meantime, we’ll try to cover area sports as best we can.Everyone in the news department will probably be chipping in — but they have day jobs too and we don’t want to cut back on news.So, we’ll try our best, but you may see a little less sports in the Regional News the next few weeks.If you have concerns, please contact the editor who will give the interim sports editor a good talking to.Pay raisesLast week I wrote a column about pay raises for Lake Geneva city council members.I heard from two readers who made good points against a pay raise.One noted that being on the city council should be an act of giving back — not taking away.He also mentioned that if a pay raise were given it should be no more than the raise that was given to city employees.The other reader mentioned that we might “get even goofier” people running for the job if the pay was raised. They might just run for office for the money. And that would be a real disservice to the community.
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