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Our Christmas photo op: A holiday hat trick

December 19, 2013

“Chris, take off your hat!”
For the last few years we’ve shot a team photo that we use on our company Christmas cards.
Over those last few years, some things have changed. But one thing is as certain as sunrise — Chris Schultz will wear a hat.

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Red kettles teach lesson in human nature

December 19, 2013

The Salvation Army’s red kettles may be a familiar part of the landscape in December, but the view from behind the red kettle was eye opening.
For an hour on Friday, Dec. 6 and two hours on Saturday, Dec. 7, I rang a bell soliciting donations for The Salvation Army. In those three hours, I thought a lot about volunteering, charities and human nature.


Recent Commentary
Random thoughts on Kwik Trip, resolutions
December 12, 2013

Give it six months from its opening and I think 90 percent of the residents around Kwik Trip will be happy it went up.
Even if they don’t say it, they’ll be shopping there.
There was a lot of dust kicked up over the idea of putting a Kwik Trip on Williams Street, just off Broad Street.

An awakening, just in time for Thanksgiving
November 28, 2013

I heard voices.
It was 6 a.m. last Wednesday and WTMJ-AM was my alarm clock.
I’ve grown to appreciate its folksy manner and find comfort in its cheesy ads.
The regularity of the ordinary.
I followed my usual ritual and walked to the front of my apartment, turned up the furnace, crossed through the kitchen and hit the button to start the coffee brewing.
I fully intended to go back to bed, as is my custom at that time of day.
But as I strode past the picture window in my living room I noticed an orange-slice sliver of light on the horizon.
I like to say that my apartment has the best view in Lake Geneva off the water.
It opens to a cornfield, due north of the middle school, due west of the sunrise.
Now, of course, the corn is gone. Gone, too, are the leaves from the trees that front my window. But now I can see the sun rise.
I grabbed my laptop and sat down on the couch next to the window and had the following email exchange with my girlfriend 20 miles to the east.
“I beat ya!” I wrote.
We like to brag about who emails first — the type of silly game you come up with to avoid the tediousness of a simple “good morning.”
“Damn! I was up at 6:07,” she emailed me back. “Takes me longer to shower and get ready. Thought u might sleep in, papers done, right?”
“I thought I might too but got up to turn on coffee and saw a wonderful sunrise,” I replied. “Glad we both get entranced by such things. A continual and very simple life recharger. Enchantment, a great and inexpensive elixir.”
That reminded me of another moment I’d read about years earlier.
It described another window, another sunrise, and the death of Ernest Hemingway.
I scoured my bookshelf for the quote.
Finally, I found it.
From a book called “Ernest Hemingway: A Life,” written by Carlos Baker.
I never forgot the reference to Hemingway’s last moments in Ketchum, Idaho, where he and his wife had rented a house during the last years of his life. Hemingway would wake up early and write using a typewriter in front of a window with a view of the Boulder Mountains. Until the day when he didn’t anymore.
“Sunday morning dawned bright and cloudless,” Baker wrote. “Ernest woke early as always ... and padded softly down the carpeted stairway. The early sunlight lay in pools on the living room floor.”
Earlier in the book, Baker noted that Hemingway “could be thrown into a slump by weather that was cold and damp or hot and sticky. He could be lifted from the depths by early morning, the time of sunset, breezy sunlight, crisp cold, hills and mountains and the sea.”
But Baker wrote that on that morning, as Hemingway walked past the window, “if he saw the bright day outside, it did not deter him.”
The rest is history. Hemingway shot himself that day. A day when he was not roused by the early morning, the breezy sunlight.
No, this is not a column about suicide. That’s a lot more complicated than a sunrise.
It’s about awareness, thankfulness and glee — death’s polar opposites.
I was glad I stopped last Wednesday morning. Caught myself from going back to bed, to slumber, to unawareness.
Seeing that slice of orange across the morning sky never ceases to waken me to awe. I ought never to forget that, or forget to notice.
As Thanksgiving nudged closer I had struggled with what to write to mark that holiday.
I found it outside my own window that morning — the one with the best view in town off the water.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.


A quick twist in the Kwik Trip debate
November 21, 2013
A tense plan commission meeting Monday night brought out some predictable players and one surprisingly unpredictable one. The discussion was whether to approve Kwik Trip’s request for a conditional use permit that would allow them to build a 6,000-square-foot convenience store/gas station on Williams Street, just off Broad Street in Lake Geneva (see story 1A). It was approved unanimously but not without drama. There was the usual group of contrarians, sincere in their belief that the little man is being stomped on by The Powers That Be. To them, graft is the only explanation for a differing opinion. There were gas station owners who have businesses near the planned Kwik Trip with concerns about the impact of another gas station on the environment. There was also acknowledgment that Kwik Trip would jeopardize their businesses, but they knew that argument would not win the day. There was restaurant owner and former city alderman, Tom Hartz — a man after my heart, in the “why can’t we all get along” club. Everyone was predictable — fulfilling their own roles in this reality show — until it came time to vote. That’s when the wild card was thrown on the table. Planning commission member and First District Alderman Gary Hougen, who had argued against rezoning at the last Plan Commission, moved to approve the Kwik Trip request. I was surprised and more than a little impressed. I would have been impressed if he had voted the other way. He’s clearly a man of integrity. He wanted to do the right thing. Everyone there did, of course, but all in a way that expressed their personalities. The contrarians see no gray. They’re the true believers and we need them. The gas station owners are fighting for their lives — hard to blame them for becoming environmentalists in that pursuit. People like Tom Hartz and I think there’s wisdom in reasoned discussion — even if we sound a bit Pollyannaish at times. But Hougen had the courage to do the unexpected, to do what he thought was right even if it seemed to contradict a previous position. And he just didn’t go along with the apparent change of heart, he lead the charge. That takes real courage. In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Hougen went into more depth regarding his vote. In reality, it was less a change of heart and more a change of circumstance that affected Hougen’s position. Hougan said his real objection at the last plan commission meeting was against the change in zoning from planned development to general business. That change allowed Kwik Trip’s request for a conditional use permit. Hougen’s hope is that the city can look at developing areas for specific purposes instead of just accepting what comes in. But the zoning change was approved by the council, so his dream of developing the area in a more logical way was moot. As a result, Hougen saw no persuasive reason to reject a Kwik Trip plan that was allowed by the city’s zoning code. His apparent change of heart did not come from an under the table deal or impetuousness. His vote changed because the circumstances changed. That sounds suspiciously like logic. Hougen’s vote did not come without his acknowledgement that Kwik Trip might have some negative consequences — like jeopardizing the other gas stations. He wasn’t putting his head in the sand or denying reality.

He seemed to show heart-felt concern for how his vote might affect others.
While those issues could be considered in rejecting the development, the overriding reason to approve Kwik Trip, in his mind, is that it would be the best currently available alternative for the area. He saw his job as doing what he thought was best for the city, even if it might have some negative consequences.
We’re all familiar with the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
But it is the end of that quote that sheds the real light:
“Speak what you think today in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words …”
We blindly honor consistency in our society. We clamor for it. But, sometimes, consistency should be trumped by changing realities.
What we really need are a few brave souls who don’t fit stereotypes, who will reconsider positions, who will be wild cards.
Who will respond to the issue at hand instead of playing the same role all the time.
They’re the real change agents.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.


City should approve Kwik Trip proposal
November 14, 2013

The basics of the Kwik Trip issue are spelled out in the accompanying Q&A.
Here’s what I think:
It’s not up to the Plan Commission or the city council to pick winners and losers when it comes to a business enterprise. The responsibility of those two bodies is to determine if the zoning request is proper.

Q&A on Kwik Trip
November 14, 2013

The Kwik Trip debate is confusing, so let’s break it down in a Q&A.
Q: What’s this about?
A: Kwik Trip wants to build a 24-hour, 6,000-square-foot gas station/convenience store/car wash in Lake Geneva and needs approval from the city to do it.
Those against Kwik Trip make several arguments:
1. It will hurt the other two gas stations nearby. Employees of those gas stations could be in jeopardy of losing their jobs.

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.


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.


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.Hes a former SWAT officer and U.S. Army Paratrooper, and he teaches all sorts of classes on firearm safety and personal defense.
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