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What WCEDA does for county

November 20, 2014

The Walworth County Economic Development Alliance Inc. (WCEDA) held its annual meeting on Nov. 12 at the Grand Geneva Resort. WCEDA’s annual meetings are always well done, and this one was no exception.

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You haven't heard it all before

November 20, 2014

A few days ago the airwaves were clogged with “political messages.” We were assaulted from all quarters of the political spectrum with fervent appeals to support this or that candidate for office.

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Football pals and growing old

November 20, 2014

Things keep reminding me aging is unyieldingly on the march. It’s often those obituaries which seem relentless. This time it was two football teammates from high school days.


Recent Community columnists
Focus on area families at historical society meeting
November 13, 2014

Three well-known Walworth-area families were in the spotlight at the Oct. 23, meeting of the Historical Society of Walworth and Big Foot Prairie at Golden Years Retirement Village in Walworth, and the 52 people in attendance learned numerous interesting facts about the families.
For instance, Stan Fairchild of Walworth, in telling about his family, related that his second cousin, Everett Fairchild, was a clerk at the ceremony at which papers were signed ending World War II.
The event occurred Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri battleship in Tokyo Bay and featured U.S. military commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur and several world leaders.
While the late Bill Mereness of Walworth was known best for painting signs, he was an avid iceboater and amateur pilot, according to his son, Bob Mereness of Walworth Township.
Bill Mereness helped form the Skeeter Iceboat Club in 1933 and first soloed in a plane in 1938.
One more example: The Pop House was, according to Patricia Blodgett Morelli of Delavan Township, “the place to be” in 1917-45 when it was operated by her grandparents, Albert and Ina Mereness Blodgett. It was along South Shore Drive of Delavan Lake, and today is the site of Delavan Lake Resort.
Members of the Fairchild, Mereness and Blodgett families are related. The Mereness family has ancestral connections that go back centuries, as explained by Judith Blodgett Licata of Delavan Township in telling about early family history that included people with similar last names of Marinus, Morenus, Merenes, Mariness and Mariness.
Licata said a Gaius Mariness was a Roman general born in 157 BC, a man named Marinus was a cranial surgeon in Alexandria, Egypt. Marinus of Tyre, who lived in the second century, was a Greek geographer and mathematician who founded mathematical geography and started the use of longitudes and latitudes on maps.
Two men with the Marinus name were elected as popes. The first was elected in 882 and reigned until 884.
The second was chosen in 942 and served four years.
Members of the families with similar names lived in the Zeeland province of Holland, and some sailed to America around 1700 and settled in the Mohawk Valley of New York.
“They were mostly from cities, highly educated and wealthy,” Licata said. “They seem to have been exceptionally tall, long lived, with a long face and light hair and complexion.”
The Merenesses were involved in the American Revolution, Licata stated, noting their participation in the Battle of Oriskany on Aug. 6, 1777.
The fighters included corporals named William Marinas, John Mereness and William Mariness.
“My great-great-grandfather was Abraham Mereness, who also fought in the Revolution,” Licata said. “Most of us are about seven generations away from a Mereness ancestor who fought in the American Revolution.”
Several Mereness families relocated in the late 1800s from an area in New York called Sharon to an area in Wisconsin, which they also named Sharon.
“Once the families get to Wisconsin, we can read about them in newspaper articles such as birth notices, wedding notices and obituaries that help bring these people to life,” Licata said. “I’m fascinated by obituaries because it’s amazing what you can find in them.”
The most notable Mereness of contemporary times was Bill, who for 40 years did sign painting from his shop across from what used to be the Pontiac Diner along South Fifth Ave. in Walworth.
He was forced into retirement in the early 1990s when he had a stroke that paralyzed his right side. He was slowed a few years earlier in his profession by a fall and subsequent hip replacement. He died in August 1997 at 85.
As told by son Bob Mereness, Bill Mereness started hand lettering in 1930 as a Williams Bay High School student and eventually opened a sign shop.
For two winters he studied sign painting with Lawrence Carlson in Chicago.
Mereness’ business was interrupted by World War II due to a lack of materials but resumed after the war when he set up shop in Victor Carbrey’s building along Kenosha Street.
Harry Shunk sold his sign business to Mereness, and he became the best-known area sign painter till his fall and stroke. He trained Mike Kelley of Sharon and Jack Vanderpal of Hebron, both of whom continue to paint signs by hand.
Mereness, who was born on the Blodgett farm along State Highway F in Delavan Township, worked as a part-time cab driver at age 16 and on the Geneva Lake excursion boats.
“Dad really liked iceboating and had a boat named Zephyr II, which is still in my family and is raced occasionally,” Bob Mereness said.
“The Skeeter Club is still going, and I’m a member of it and have a boat named Zephyr III.”
Bill Mereness’ interest in flying was evident by Bob Mereness’ display of his father’s logbooks and Civil Air Patrol card. He had an Aeronca that was kept at the former Cattle Corners (the current intersection of State Highways 14, 67 and Lakeville Road) south of Walworth. He gave rides and wrote a local newspaper column called “Tailspins.”
Similar to iceboating, Bob Mereness picked up flying, too.
He has a commercial license and is a flight and ground instructor. He has a Cessna plane.
The Blodgett family’s Pop House business was popular because of its Delavan Lake location.
“They were known for their slot machines, food, ice cream, boat rentals for fishing and friendly atmosphere for the young and old,” Morelli said. “It seemed as though the more cars in the parking lot, the more people came.”
Hugo Bolander bought the business in 1945 and ran it as Hugo’s until 1966 when he sold it to Emory and Helen Carlson, who renamed it The Harbor Inn. “
They sold the property in 1999 to Keefe Real Estate of Lake Geneva. The firm tore down the building and erected Delavan Lake Resort.
Morelli’s grandparents also owned and operated Blodgett’s Lake View Resort in the house of a farm along County Highway F near Delavan Lake and catered to Chicagoans in the summer. Morelli worked there cleaning rooms, doing the laundry, registering guests and serving meals.
Melody Ranch was part of the farm and operated by Morelli’s parents, Arnold and Ruth Blodgett. Morelli and her sister Joan took care of the horses, raised colts and led trail rides.
Stan Fairchild reported that the Fairchild family emigrated in the 1700s from Scotland to America and settled in Massachusetts. His great-grandfather, Charles Fairchild, and his four sons located in Door County and operated a lumber mill on Chambers Island.
Stan Fairchild’s father, Robert, was born in 1908 in Fish Creek, the second youngest of seven children to a father who was carpenter and property caretaker.
The family moved to Two Rivers and then to the Walworth area in 1926.
Robert Fairchild worked on Fred Stopple’s farm east of Walworth and then on Frank Harness’ farm west of Walworth.
His wife’s father had a farm next to Brick Church Cemetery along Brick Church Road, and he sold it to Bob and his wife in 1934; they operated it for many years.
Stan Fairchild, who was born in 1936, read from a daily diary kept by his great-grandfather Ira Mereness in 1886-89 that told about his work on a farm, telling about such activities as buying hogs, hauling manure and getting coal.
Fairchild donated the diary to the historical society.
Steve Fairchild, who lives between Delavan and Darien and is 11 years younger than Stan, noted that one time he went into Walworth Lanes bowling alley and counted 11 people as cousins. The Fairchilds are related to the Stirmel and Christenson families, among others.
According to Stan Fairchild, a book was written in 1968 about the history of the Fairchild family.
The author was a family member who married one of the daughters of the founders of Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., the first theme park in the United States.


A Veterans Day request
November 13, 2014

According to the documentary, “The Guns of August,” based on a book written by Barbara Tuchman about the origins of World War I, that conflict resulted in some 37 million souls listed as killed, wounded or missing in action.
Shortly after the Armistice was signed, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, a movement began in the United States to establish an organization that would serve as an advocate for all U.S. service members, regardless of when they wore the uniform. This eventually became the American Legion. In 1925 this organization established a camp for the recuperation and rehabilitation of all former Wisconsin service members near Lake Tomahawk.
Camp American Legion is the only place of its kind in the country.
The camp welcomes any Wisconsin veteran honorably discharged from the service who has a health condition that would benefit from the camp’s facilities.
Veterans are accepted without regard to race, creed or color. No distinction is made between men and women. It is not necessary for a former service member to have a service-related injury, nor is it required of a veteran that he/she be a member of the American Legion.
The only criteria are an honorable discharge, treatable health issue and residence in Wisconsin.
Further, if a veteran needs a caregiver, accommodation will be made for that person. If the veteran is married and asks that a spouse be allowed to accompany him/her, the request is granted. And should any soldier, sailor or airman feel their psychological outlook would be improved if they were accompanied by their grandchildren, provision will be made for these additional family members.
There is no charge for any veteran to attend Camp American Legion.
Food, housing and all recreational equipment, including boats and fishing tackle, are made available without fees.
By arrangement with the Department of Natural Resources, veterans may fish in either of the two lakes bordering the camp without a license, while the veteran is in residence. Regularly scheduled trips to local events/attractions are offered on specially equipped vehicles, at no cost.The only thing not provided is transportation to and from the camp itself. That is the responsibility of the veteran.
The mission of Camp American Legion has not varied since its inception nearly 90 years ago: to provide a place for veterans to come and avail themselves of those activities and facilities that may be restorative to their well being. And to do this without any cost to the veteran.
Since the War on Terror began, there have been an estimated 40,000 men and women killed, maimed disabled or listed as missing in action.
Obviously, this means the ability of the camp to continue to provide for the needs of discharged Wisconsin service members grows more difficult.

Contributing to these pressures is the fact that as older veterans from previous conflicts age and are removed from the Legion’s membership rolls, they are not as yet being replaced in adequate numbers by younger returning veterans from more recent military conflicts.
I have attended camp over the past several years and found it to be an extraordinary experience.
I would not like to see this benefit denied to future veterans if the camp cannot maintain adequate funding.
What concerns me most is the prospect that it may become necessary for the American Legion to begin assessing veterans a fee for their stay.
In itself, this does not appear unreasonable based upon all that the camp offers.
However, I fear that any charges will likely fall upon those whose personal circumstances are already strained; that the least able to pay will suffer the greatest burden.
With this in mind, I am appealing to all who have benefited from the protection of those who volunteered their sacrifice on our behalf, to give thoughtful consideration in support of Camp American Legion by making a donation; a subscription that will enable this facility to continue offering its healing resources for all veterans, regardless of the era or conflict in which they served. And above all, irrespective of their financial situation.
Those interested can contact the camp at campal@newnorth.net, or by calling Kevin Moshea, camp director, at (715) 277-2510. Checks made payable to Camp American Legion can be sent to Camp American Legion, 8529 County Road D, Lake Tomahawk, WI, 54539-9573, Attn. Kevin Moshea, Director.
All those who stood their watch, took their place in the line and did their duty will be grateful.
Remember that no veteran ever asked to go in harm’s way. No man or woman who volunteered for military service ever made any of the policy decisions that sent them to the stations they were told to take up.
Without question or complaint.
And oftentimes at great personal risk and even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice.
Offering help now is little enough to do, especially when measured against all that Wisconsin veterans have done for us.
Finally, the request for a contribution to keep Camp American Legion open is not much to ask of those who gave up the least; those who could not be found when it came time to step up and honor their obligations on behalf of their country.
It goes without saying that they should certainly be first in line now.
It’s their turn.


Problem deeper than parking
November 13, 2014

Editor’s Note: This was written before the parking structure referendum was voted down.

When I took the teaching assignment at Badger High School in Lake Geneva in 1958, the appeal was not what you might think it to be. I knew the city was a lake town influenced significantly by Chicago. My only memory at the time was the area’s ignominious part in the selection of a site for the U.S. Air Force Academy (1952). When the selection committee arrived, an organized protest met them.

The emergence of the Franklin Avenue neighborhood
November 06, 2014

Lake Geneva is a city of neighborhoods, including, among others, the Manor, Sturwood, the “Crawford,” Hillmoor Heights (originally called “Golf Hills,”) and Maple Park. But that was not always the case. The Maple Park neighborhood, which today is a very trendy place to live, was not a “neighborhood” during the 1940s and 1950s — it was merely a part of the city. The Manor and Sturwood developed as the first “suburban” subdivisions of Lake Geneva. The “Crawford” (the northeast part of Lake Geneva) named after its developer in the 19th century, the Crawford Manufacturing Co., might be Lake Geneva’s first “neighborhood.”

County finances on the right path
November 06, 2014

Walworth County’s 2015 budget passed another milestone last month.

‘Fury’ best recent war film
October 30, 2014

“Fury” doesn’t necessarily have just one plot or conflict.

LG’s 19th century history
October 30, 2014

While researching primary sources for this column, I necessarily learned more about Lake Geneva’s history than I ever knew before.

New rules increase red tape, safeguards
October 30, 2014

It looks like the federal government is trying to keep closer tabs on its money. Last December the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued comprehensive grant reform rules entitled “Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.”
Contrary to what the length of the title would suggest, the stated intent of the effort, according to the OMB, is to consolidate the existing grant rules and reduce the administrative burden for agencies that receive federal grants. Eight separate circulars or rule books governing how grant money must be handled and accounted for are being combined into one super or “omni” circular. I thought I was familiar was most government jargon, but I will admit this is the first time I have ever heard the term omni-circular. I’m skeptical that anything called an omni-circular is going to make life simpler, but if we want federal money, and we do, we’re going to have to get with the program.

Nearly 16 percent of the money spent by Walworth County government comes from state and federal sources. Put another way, if we continued to offer the programs we do, without grant funds, the county tax levy would jump by $21.7 million.
I’ve heard two explanations for OMB’s latest project; the first is that the Feds are doing nothing new, but merely reorganizing existing rules.
The second explanation, and the one that I believe is closer to the mark, is that the federal government will be scrutinizing how state and local units of government spend federal money far more carefully than it has in the past.
Walworth County has a fair amount of work to do to ensure that our own ordinances and forms are in place before the new federal rules go into effect, which happens to be the day after Christmas.
We are in better shape than many other counties in achieving compliance, however, because we have developed a centralized procurement process over the years. Purchasing and contracting figure prominently into the new federal mandates.
Unlike cities, county government has traditionally been highly decentralized.
It is not unusual, in many counties, for individual departments to apply for grants and buy things on their own with little oversight by their boards.
Over the past 12 years or so, Walworth County has imposed more or less uniform rules on grants and purchasing.
This increased oversight was not always popular with our managers, who preferred the flexibility of having very few rules. The old system had many problems, however, including the fact that we missed out on volume discounts when each department acted as its own purchasing agent. Competitive bidding, moreover, was a hit-or-miss proposition and the time spent by individual employees to search for bargains and even drive to the store to pick items up was never figured into the final price. Centralizing our procurement process solved these issues and now gives us a leg up in complying with the new federal requirements.
Because we have a well-documented purchasing system, we don’t need to create one from scratch. We need only tweak existing ordinances to comply with the federal standards.
One of the first planning questions that we faced was whether to operate under a single set of rules or create two different purchasing systems; one for spending federal dollars and another when only county or state funds are being used.
We opted to extend the federal requirements to all of our purchases.
The downside of doing this is that it will create even more requirements for vendors and staff to follow. The danger of not making the rules uniform, however, is twofold: first, it creates two systems that workers must understand; secondly, and more importantly, it creates the possibility that an incorrect process will be followed when federal money is involved.
It is not always apparent when federal funds are being spent. In some cases, grants that we receive from the state are actually federal dollars that the state passes through to us. In those cases, the county is a “sub-recipient” and the OMB omni-circular would apply to our use of that money.
We will do our best to fully comply with the new OMB rules by the December due date. Like any new program, we expect we’ll learn as we go along.
Hopefully, the accountants and agencies that audit our programs will take this into consideration, but we can’t count on it; the stakes of losing grant dollars are high.
Complying with the federal grant regulations will require effort from both county staff and the vendors that we rely on to provide vital services. I expect to hear complaints about the additional red tape created by the rules. I have two answers to this criticism; first, it isn’t a choice. If we want to receive federal money, we will need to comply. Secondly, it is hard to argue with the overall goal of the omni-circular, which is to carefully account for tax dollars.
It is impossible to have things both ways. Those who criticize red tape are the same people who are outraged when waste or fraud are uncovered in government contracts.
OMB’s omni-circular will result in some additional rules; ensuring that government purchasing is done in a transparent and accountable manner, however, is in the interest of all taxpayers.

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


‘Gone Girl’ shocking, must-see film
October 23, 2014

Reviewing “Gone Girl” is sure to be one of my hardest tasks since I started writing reviews.

The name of the Lake
October 23, 2014

There’s more to the story about the name controversy about the real name of southeastern Wisconsin’s most renowned and beautiful lake.

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