Friday, February 5, 2016

Little BIG Town - Junior Achievement in Wisconsin

At first I imagined I would liken the overall experience to “herding cats,” but “puppies” would be much more accurate.  You see cats are creatures that (while unruly and un-herdable) are aloof, solitary, and temperamental in nature; whereas puppies on the other hand are rambunctious, careless and eager to get into stuff.  The later would describe what it’s like when dealing with 120 fifth-grade boys and girls; particularly when you’re unused to doing it.  The day was like that.  It is again (on days like that) when I reflect on just how little the average elementary school teacher is compensated for his or her sacrificial efforts.

The JA Kohl’s Corporation has dedicated a great sum of monetary sponsorship into the infrastructure of a dynamic education center located within the Wisconsin Junior Achievement Center on the very northern edge of Milwaukee, WI.  Their JA BizTown combines in-class learning with a day-long visit to a fully interactive, simulated town.  Students should leave understanding the relationship between what they learn in school, and their participation in a local economy.  Students (called “citizens”) operate a bank, restaurant, city hall, newspaper, retail store and 10 other businesses.

Volunteers are crucial to making the program successful.  JA reaches out to the participating schools for help, as well as to the surrounding communities for enough bodies to staff the various venues with adult leadership.  No previous experience with JA is necessary to volunteer; however I can testify that it couldn’t hurt either.  Careful emailed instructions are forwarded to the willing adults with attached documents to fill-out, and the emails also contain links to several tutorial videos that are to be viewed prior to your on the job training experience.  All of these pre-emptive and helpful vehicles are good; but nothing beats having been there before.

Each business and venue within JA BizTown has a CEO and CFO, as well as other worker-bees that need to come in ready to fly from the get-go.  Specific children would have been identified by each participating classroom teacher, previous to the trip to the center.  The visiting students were only somewhat prepared for their various assignments (by their sponsoring school) ahead of their experience.  I say “somewhat” because there were plenty of holes stepped into and back out of; related to that preparation phase.  Having spent more than a few hours with youth, associated with to raising my own children, and again with Cub Scout leadership; I can sympathize with the challenge.  Add to that, the type of family structure that so many of these kids come from; and you have an uphill battle with attention spans and retention of knowledge.

My assignment for the day was the “Supply and Delivery” storefront.  This was ironic, as one of my regular duties within DFMS is to oversee the warehouse operations for the District’s repair and maintenance activities.  The purpose of the venue is to provide just that; supplies and deliveries to all of the other fledgling businesses all over JA BizTown.  I likened the business model to a cross between the post office and a Sam’s Club with only business members allowed to shop. 

My five little charges for the day met me at the front of the store at around 9:00 AM; three boys and two girls.  Noah was to be the CEO and Joshua the CFO, with Mariah as the Store manager.  Travis and tiny little Fabiola were to be the mail carriers for the day.  When all the busses with students had arrived, a brief town-meeting was held with all the citizens sitting at the front of each storefront on black industrial strength, man-made carpet flooring intended to resemble asphalt.  Green was intended as intermixed grassy areas.  Step on the green and receive a fine from the town police force; that was taken immediately from your bank account.  The microphoned instructions were many and rapid-fire, covering everything from bathroom breaks, to the method by which more impromptu town meetings would be called.  Afterward, I introduced myself and gave a few Supply and Delivery ground rules before each was shown to their laminated green work-assignment job descriptions, affixed to brown clipboards.  This needed to happen quickly, as there were multiple children already standing at the opening to the pretend street; looking for supplies for their own businesses.

The idea was that each business was supposed to have given a $5.00 check to the courier that was sent over, for their individualized (start-up) supplies.  Our crew was thrown a curve right off the bat, when children were standing there with some other type of meaningless card, attempting to get their goods.  So basically, we had some kids waving legitimate paper checks, wanting service, while other hapless kids had been sent on a red herring with bupkis.  Once I was able to sort out the growing bottle-neck; we were able to fill all the orders with minimal grumbling.  I was suffering with a chest-cold, so raising my voice was not an option anyway. 

After the initial wave of humanity accosted our place of business, there was some time to concentrate on the multiple job duties, each had been given as a part of their day’s adventure.  I read and re-read each card in my head and attempted to translate what was being communicated without actually doing the task itself.  It was stressed to us often, that the “children are to do everything.”  That’s where I guess I might have spent a bit more time in “simulation” back at school.  The kids knew some things, but seemed flummoxed by other instructions on the cards.  I will give them a lot of credit however for their computer abilities.  These children were apparently raised-up with more technology available to them than mere Pong; like when I was their age.  In fact; it seemed that when it came to computer-driven tasks; they were at home.  Communicating verbally with each other was a bit of a challenge however.

There were red, yellow, and green dots that needed to be kept track of too.  These indicated when each citizen could go to eat lunch or shop amongst the other actual stores.  These dot colors corresponded to the lit lamp of a traffic signal (“stop and go light” if you’re from the Midwest) for guidance.  There was also a single residential style, black mailbox on a stand under a large clock in the center of town.  Part of the job description of Travis and tiny little Fabiola was to “check the mail” and bring it back to our storefront for processing when the “flag was up” on the box.  I realized there was an issue when I was asked over and over as to when either of them could get the mail.  I said, “When the red flag was up.”  They looked at me curiously.  “Oh, I said, you don’t know about flags on mailboxes, do you?”  I felt old again.

During one of our mandatory “staff meetings” on the carpeted floor of the shop the CEO passed out the paper paychecks to each worker, along with a debit card.  I worked with them as quickly as I could to rip out the correct savings slip and deposit slip that had (thank the Lord) been filled out previously while they were at school.   I was asked by Mariah if I was a cowboy.  I hesitated, looking at my boots and western shirt along with my western-style leather phone holster with a five-pointed star Concho and said, “Why yes…I am a cowboy.”  I expected further questioning; but that was that.  Kids are great; if you want to be a cowboy - that’s just fine with them.

I stayed to man the store and watch over the remaining kids while each in turn, went to the bank, lunch, and shopped for trinkets with their play cash, debit cards, and checkbooks.  Occasionally some little kid would wander in to our shop with a paper in their hand and just stand there.  Each seemed to need some prompting as to what was their mission.  One in particular named Luis, needed our wee CFO Joshua, to translate into Spanish what he was there for.  One other kid named Zaire stood there with a large, half broken tape measure in his hand.  He asked to measure the shop.  I looked at his clipboard for clarification and discovered that the poor fellow had been from the assessor’s office.  He needed the square footage in order to levy a tax upon us!  Wow…talk about crappy pretend jobs. Well, I got through that day unscathed and was presented with a hand-written certificate and a scoop of Culver's custard coupon. The kids left around 1:30 PM to get back on their busses.  I went back to the office to finish my work day.  Funny how when I do that; the day seems so very, very long. 

I came back on Friday (two days later) to do it all over again.  This time I was spared the rigors of Supply and Delivery, for another (new) assignment as co-shopkeeper of the Joy Global storefront.  My business partner was named “Wei” from GE medical systems.  It seems a large group of her counterparts had all volunteered for duty on the same day as I had.  Joy Global is a large company in the City of Milwaukee that specializes in enormous mining equipment manufacturing.  Our “Joy Global” had the look and feel of that sort of company; but we were responsible for manufacturing a version of imprinted mug, and lapel button with a design impregnated upon it.  These were to be “made” and sold from the store; along with a really cool “mining simulator” game.  The latter was a timed play activity that was sold for $1.00 for two minutes of operation.

Our group of CEO, CFO, Store Manager, Design Technician, and Simulator Trainer consisted of girl, boy, girl, girl, girl in that order.  The CEO was named Milica (pronounced “milt-za”) and seemed a natural for the position.  Everyone did their part very well, and we soon had our mugs and pins cranked out and ready for sale to the “citizen customers.”  The students were all very eager to have their turn walking through the town; purchasing whatever they could buy with the money they had “earned” while “working for the company”.  Whoopie Cushions seemed to be the hot item; with the Koss earbuds (for $4.00 a pair) a close second.  The simulator was a big hit with the boys, and the mugs and pins were bought by girls, eager to have something tangible to take home from their day’s experience.

This time the day was a little more in focus; as I had done it before.  Small things I had missed during my first day were revealed; such as more detail about the ways in which the City Hall police could fine the citizens for breaking the laws of JA BizTown, who (which color group) was to “hold” onto their banking paperwork after the first staff meeting, what the orange (half-sheet) W4s were for, and who wanted them to be filled out, etc.  It was apparent that a wee bit more familiarity with the entire nuance of JA BizTown, would be immensely valuable for the new-bees; particularly those (like me) who were running a quart low due to a bad head cold.

Again, the day ended quietly and well-orchestrated, with the children returning to their assigned bus on schedule.  I returned to my office to finish the day with a great respect for the companies who volunteer their resources; both monetary and labor-dedicated to make this completely worthwhile endeavor operate.  They are to be thanked and mentioned in affectionate ways for their sacrifice.  Volunteerism is the one way in which satisfaction is a two-way street.  As someone wise once said; when you cast a vote; you get that one chance to make a difference – when you volunteer; you get that chance over and over again.

Without the many area companies and businesses to support this worthwhile endeavor; none of the magic could even get started.  Thank you to all who have "invested" in children through generous and selfless gifts!

Julie Plagge (MPS Facilities) in the KOSS storefront; awaits her student workers.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Stephensville squeals of delight

Barbara and I were returning from a trip to Rhinelander and decided to take the longer way back to Milwaukee, by taking Hwy 76 from Bear Creek to Greenville.  We were hoping to find something interesting to slightly extend our short weekend mini-vacation.  We were not disappointed. 

Stephensville, Wisconsin has a couple of bars and a couple of churches. As luck would have it; the 41st annual Stephensville, Wisconsin “Round-up” was being held Sunday, August 14th, 2011 at (150 year-old) St. Patrick Catholic Church.  The main street shut down for a parade that began in Tony Lauer’s field on County Road MM south of Stephensville, and apparently we had narrowly missed it due to the strategically positioned lawn chairs and gaggles of beer-drinking onlookers who still lined the curb.  Massive crowds had also turned out for a chicken and pork dinner, silent auction and live music, but what made the two of us investigate faster than you can say “oink” was yet another totally one-of-a-kind, small town, uniquely American experience; but more on that in a bit.

St. Patrick Church was founded by 15 Irish families who fled Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840s. The first Masses here were held on family farms, including that of lifelong member Leonard Tennie, 83. He remembered how families had name plates on pews in the church and "people always sat together in the same pews with their family."

Early Masses, it is said were also held at a local hotel, owned by the Pew family, and older present parish members still recall parish meetings at one of the two taverns that still operates in town.  The first settlers arrived in what they first called New Dublin via the Oshkosh to Ontanogan Trail. That trail was used to drive cattle up to copper miners in Upper Michigan. Early photos show split rail fences surrounding the church to keep the cattle from running into the building.  That church, with its 90-foot steeple, was built mostly with parish labor from oak logs cut at a nearby sawmill. Since the parish was a mission church for most of its history, it was first served by priests who arrived by horse, horse and buggy and even by steamboat from Oshkosh up the nearby Wolf River.

This year’s Round-up began as you might expect; with an 8:30 a.m. Mass followed by a local favorite, broasted chicken/pork dinner from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The parade began at 1:30 p.m. with a featured a theme basket silent auction from 1 to 5 p.m. and quilt, cash and prize raffles, as well as children’s games for all ages, refreshments, a beer garden and music from 4 to 8 p.m. by the Honky Tonk Twisters.and a pig wrassle at 2:30 p.m.   Pig wrassling is simple. Pick up a muddy pig and get a portion of its body over a barrel in less than 45 seconds.  Organizer Glen Van Handel said up to 39 total groups could register to get in the mud. He said they sold advance tickets for the three sessions.

"It's the big draw for my church," said Bruce Learman, co-chair. "We'll raise $1,800 to $2,000 just from the pig wrassle and about $20,000 overall." St. Patrick's Sister Pauline Feiner and Father John Kastenholz both have taken turns chasing pigs in the mud-filled ring in past years; to the amusement of their parishioners. "We were fools, but we did it," said Sister Pauline, parish director.

In the 41 years St. Patrick's has held the fundraiser, it has included the wildly famous pig wrassle about 33 times, said Fran Van Camp, one of the wrassle organizers. Handlers watch carefully to make sure wrasslers follow the rules of not dropping pigs and always keeping their snouts above the mud. The 38 pigs from a local farm were rotated in the ring, and each was hosed down afterwards.  According to the locals, the event got the attention of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in years past, which prompted organizers to be even more vigilant. "We're very careful about the pigs," Van Camp said. "We want to get them back to the farmer safe and sound."

While that whole hog thing was quite weird and oddly unsettling, what made my skin crawl even worse was the antique tractor area.  As I walked up a small grassy knoll to check out the spectacle of color and noise; I was instantly dumbstruck and just stood there staring.  Barbara asked me what was wrong.  I could barely even describe the potential liability horror I was witnessing. Apparently to the residents, this type of configuration involving old farm implements parked unbelievably close together with their gasoline engines running and their respective power-take-offs whirring away was ho-hum commonplace.  To me, the large menacing rubber belts, zipping away between old John Deere and International Case flywheels to ancient mechanical devices (with absolutely no guards to conceal their decapitational potential) was in alarmingly stark contrast to the OSHA-dominated world of safety I existed in. 

One tractor-powered device was sawing wood while another was making ice-cream and all I could do was mutter and point as I witnessed a little girl being strong-armed by a large woman in period costume, into helping her shove corn cobs down a finger-threatening wooden chute into a gnashing de-kerneler.  It was all too unsetting, so I quickly pulled Barbara away to the blissful ignorance of (no witnesses) distance.  I silently said a prayer for the wee girl on the tractor platform that she would be OK and that sanity would quickly return to the ill-advised, demonstrating adult woman.

A calming walk through the silent auction tent slowly helped me to forget the terrifying tractor area, and suddenly; seeing the pile of fluorescent green flyers on an auction table advertising the upcoming St. Denis (6th annual world championship) Cabbage Chuck to be held September 17th in Shiocton Lake Park made me positively giddy with Roads Less Traveled blog potential.  Could this be our next big investigatory stop?  I mean c’mon…there is a possible “world record cabbage chuck attempt” at 5:00 PM and it’s only three bucks to get in!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ripon Cookie Daze- 2011

Cookie Power!
I love the Midwest, and I especially love the people of the small towns of Wisconsin.  There’s nothing like the warmth and friendliness that comes from attending a festival, celebration, annual event, or local corporation family-oriented gala held in one of the thousands of cities and villages that dot the Badger state.  One such family-friendly annual event is held in Ripon, WI.  Cookie Daze celebrated its “sweet” 16th anniversary on August 6th 2011 (10-2) on the lush Barlow Park grounds.  Why a “Cookie Daze” celebration in Ripon, WI?  That’s because Ripon Foods Inc. (Rippin' Good cookie maker extraordinaire) is located on Ripon’s Oshkosh Street...and why not?  Here's a great example of an entire town coming together to celebrate the success of one of its very own job-providing industries.

Ripon Foods was founded in 1930 by Horace A. Bumby. It started with one second-hand oven producing plain cookies. Today, Ripon Foods can produce approximately 60 different kinds of cookies in a variety of sizes.  Ripon Foods manufactures a wide variety of high quality private label and branded cookie products, including wire cut and enrobed cookies, as well as sugar wafers and employs a staff of approximately 250 to 499. Ripon Foods' products are sold to other cookie manufacturers through co-manufacturing arrangements and to various grocery and mass merchandise retailers under their store brand, as well as the "Rippin Good" and "Golden Batch" brands.  On September 13, 1999 Ralcorp Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: RAH) announced it had reached a definitive agreement to purchase Ripon Foods, Inc.  Ripon Foods also produces a high quality fruit filled breakfast bar, which allows Ralcorp to effectively enter the fast-growing breakfast/meal bar segment. Annual sales for Ripon Foods are approximately $64 million.  Since that transaction date; Ripon Foods has been operated as an integral part of Ralcorp's Bremner cracker and cookie subsidiary. Ralcorp sales have grown to $2.8 billion in fiscal year 2008 from $1.3 billion in 2003.

Got Milk Dedra?
The festival began as a tribute to Ripon baking the World's Largest Cookie in 1992, which measured 907.9 square feet!  In 1996 Governor Tommy Thompson issued a proclamation recognizing Ripon, WI as “CookieTown, USA.” Parking is on the area streets and the walk is short to Barlow Park.  Cookie Daze is a (mostly free) festival for children of all ages.  Kids can build their own rockets out of recyclable materials (this venue is coordinated by a local Boy Scout troop) and actually LAUNCH them into the air; testing their flight worthiness, do a variety of arts & crafts including coloring, jump in an inflatable castle and interact with colorful circus clowns.  Everyone attending may take a free ride on an elegant multiple-seat, wagon pulled by “Billie” the Belgian draft horse, play Cookie BINGO with chocolate “Teddy Grahams” as place-markers, judge the themed cookie displays and sample the free delicious Bake & Taste (contest) cookies, complete with a free carton of delicious Kemp’s white milk, all at Ripon's Barlow Park

By far, the most anticipated activity is the Cookie Drop.  Hundreds of young children wait eagerly beneath the (Ripon Fire Department's) tallest ladder truck, ready to have thousands of Rippin' Good Cookies literally drop from the sky, triggered by Sesame Street’s very own blue and fuzzy “Cookie Monster.”  The mad scramble is repeated for three age categories (5-6; 7-9 & 10-12).  If a lucky child should find the one specially marked cookie (with a star); a brand-new bicycle is theirs to take home.

Various civic groups from the area run the different venues and food tents on the grounds.  The Chamber of Commerce runs a booth that features both tables covered with imprinted merchandise, and a small “outlet store” under their large tent.  Packages of delicious Rippin’ Good cookies are available for ridiculously low prices.  I spotted Coconut bars, Ginger Snaps, Oatmeal, Carousel, Macaroon, and Chocolate chips, as well as Striped Dainties, Mint Crèmes, and their ever-popular Rippin’ Good assorted pack.  There are tee shirts, colorful shopping bags, and other souvenir items for purchase to help you remember your time in Ripon at this wonderful nostalgic festival.  Be sure to put it on your family’s calendar next year. 

PS: Don’t worry if you missed the fantastic deals on Rippin’ Good cookies at this year’s Cookie Daze event; there’s an outlet store at the company’s baking facility.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Road to Something Completely Different: Kindergarten

Wearing different shoes for the day; I tiptoed into the great unknown...

Feeling like a blend between George Plimpton, Mike Rowe and a struggling 1st year Spanish student; I am finally taking a few moments to reflect on my recent experience as an MPS K-4 teacher for a day. In short; it was totally awe-some and awe-inspiring.

In a brilliant team-building endeavor, new MPS Superintendent, Dr. Gregory E. Thornton directed his direct administrative reports to solicit Central Office District volunteers to be "out" in the schools, assisting with the first day of school. I volunteered and am so grateful to have been selected to help out Fratney Elementary for the entire school-day. SRA. Carmen Reyes welcomed me into her kindergarten classroom of twenty-six brand new students with a smile and a cheery Hola and a brief explanation that the State DPI now mandated that K-4 and K-5 abandon their staggered start times of the past and have all children report at the same time. This seemed to be an important point due to the fact that there was only one of her and many more children and parents about to momentarily converge. With Fratney’s 2010-2011 Paraprofessional School Breakfast aide allocation at an MPS typical .20 of an FTE; it was clear that my help would be more than welcomed, if only for one day.

”Miss Carmen” as she is known in the Fratney world is an extremely competent middle-aged, bi-lingual teacher from what I witnessed. Granted I am a complete and total novice in the world of education, however I did assist in the raising of three of my own kindergarteners, and it ain’t no picnic some days. She handled each and every situation that arose like it was no big deal and kept a calming, controlling presence throughout what was otherwise a rather hectic day.

We began our day in room 122 with each parent (or set of parents) dropping off their little Niña, or Niño into our care with kisses, hugs and I love you’s ringing out in both English and Spanish. One little girl was particularly tearful as I went around to each of the mini-tables and chairs, opening their UBP (Universal Breakfast Program) box meals. She sat there stiff straight backed with tears flowing silently down her reddened cheeks as I worked nearby. “Hey, you’ve got new shoes on today with pretty pink horses on them”, I tried as she looked up into my eyes. She stopped sobbing momentarily and before I could go for my winning follow-up remark a woman appeared at her side with a hug and kiss on the top of her head; her aunt. I guess I’ll never know if telling her that ”it would all OK before she got married”, would have worked.

The little children kept on arriving over the next 40 minutes with one adult or another; hanging each child’s Toy Story, Transformers, Tinkerbell, or Spiderman back packs on their corresponding labeled hooks, directly below the brightly colored, plastic named cubbies. These I discovered held a particular child’s blankie and favorite stuffed animal for their eventual nap-time session, (or siesta, as in this case). Parents dropped off the obligatory boxes of Kleenex, paints, crayons, paper toweling and zipper-locked, see-through plastic bags plus something new to me; chlorinated wet-wipes. Yes folks we are now solidly in the new era of the “dual shaking hands maneuver”. This I witnessed with wonder a bit later on as each child held out both their tiny hands to the dual pump of the pungent, alcohol smelling, hand sanitizer wielding, Hispanic aide. It was if doing so was as natural to these wee ones as staring at cartoons on TV. Once each spritz of cooling medicinal gel was administered; each child in turn did a similar combo-move of applying friction to the inside and back of their hands, then quickly waved them both in the air as if wishing an exaggerated goodbye to grandma. Once completed their reward was a small handful of generic animal crackers on a light brown paper towel. But then I’m getting ahead of myself with that observation, however at the time I wondered how my similarly aged counterparts and I ever survived childhood without first performing this adult-invented ritual before eating the popcorn pieces that had wound up in the sandbox.

Name tags were looped around each child’s neck on clear plastic straps, verily daring them to be played with. This however was not only not permitted; it was also one of the first and best ways to get your name advanced along the progressive discipline stoplight; another new innovation for me. No more dunce-caps and standing in the corners I guess. The theory is that this simple visual of a traffic light and a child’s clothes pinned name clipped to one of the three colors, gives a constant reminder of their individual overall behavior for that day. Green (smiling face) was where each child started their day and tried not to get clipped to the red (sad face) circle that represented the need for a call home, only the graphic representation on the red circle would certainly serve to confuse any savvy kindergartner of today as it depicted a push-button, pink, princess-style telephone with handset, instead of an image of mommy’s Blackberry. 

The children were sequentially directed to stand in front and say there first name to their new classmates.  Each child was then cheered with a friendly, gently coached "Hola ____!" from the rest of the carpet-seated throng.  "Criss-cross applesauce" was spoken again and again to encourage the kids to sit cross-legged on the floor.  I asked Miss Carmen how many of these children spoke English. She replied that most spoke some, however a few spoke none. I eventually managed to find each one of the latter by eliciting a curious confused stare as I asked if they’d like me to open their milk carton for them. That’s where speaking more loudly, animated hand motions, and putting an ”O” at the end of English words are totally ineffectual. I relied instead on fetching the attention of an aged Miss Betto who wore a black Fratney polo and spoke Spanish like the native she apparently was. Fortunately this class of children had no repeat first names like each year I coached youth baseball. Three Billys, two Trevors, and three Marys can give you fits and create mass confusion. This class was different and unique with the majority having Hispanic sounding first names to try to properly pronounce. Even a small boy named David had the exotic twist of “Dah-veed” associated with his seemingly common name. I thought I was getting pretty good at the remembering the name game when I was thrown a curve by Miss Carmen. I was making out bus tags for her door when I thought I had caught a mistake. “There’s no Ruth in here, is there?” I smartly questioned. “Oh, that’s Kerany (Key-rrah-nay)....her real name is Ruth, but her parents call her Kerany,” she replied matter of factly. “Oh,” I said and filled out another bus tag. It seemed that another child wearing an ”Aida” name tag was referred to all day as ”Cory” or (Ko-lrree) a far cry from Aida in my mind, so I didn’t even ask about that one. One thing I have never been able to physically, do is roll my ”R”s. I try and it sounds like I’m making the noises of a chronic Tourettes sufferer. I quit trying years ago.

Taking twenty-six K-4 children to the large group bathrooms is a trip and a half, let alone the four times we dedicated to this exercise in the course of our day. I took up a vigilant stance in the boy’s room while the little guys did what little guys do, pants and undergarments dropped down to the floor, attempting to cover every square inch of the porcelain urinal in a back and forth motion while looking back across their shoulders at their buddies vamping at the Bradley wash fountain. “C’mon guys, just one push on the flush valve and soap dispenser please!” I implored, as each one validated their gender by playing with the water as long as possible. What a production! Then there was the trip to then school cafeteria for the very first time. With me lifting and fetching like a 6 foot Border collie; the line of room 122 made its way first to the cashier and then to the actual stainless steel counter. I’m not sure whose great idea it was to have an entire round nectarine rolling back and forth on the paper tray that each set of mini-hands was attempting to control, but c’mon on the first day? “Leche aqui” repeated the African American food service worker, stabbing a finger to a particular section of the segmented tray as the kids fumbled with their carton of choice; chocolate or white. I mean is there really a choice at that age? Chocolate milk was as rare as a school snow day, when I was a kid.

Nap time came after the lunchtime experience and lasted longer that I figured it might. The mats were laid down and the blankets were distributed as the little students were told to lie down. Music provided by a CD player filled the room with soft guitar sounds mixed with gently washing surf as the lights were turned off for the next 60 minutes. Heads were popping up and down as Miss Beto cautioned the kids to stay on the floor or risk the stop light’s fury while Miss Carmen finally took a break to eat some lunch. I vacillated between the hallway and the room as I found that I actually became a distraction to some of the kids who wanted to whisper to me. When the lights finally came back on 6 children had actually fallen asleep so deeply that they needed to be awakened by their eager classmates.

Half of the class went with “Miss Sue” to an actual art room down the hall and up the stairs while the other half listed to Miss Carmen describe the hallowed “take home folder” and its function to those who stayed behind. This particular K-4 class (one of two) was referred to as Las Catarinas (or The Ladybugs) in Espanol. Crayons were brought out and each child was encouraged to color (decorate) a sheet of paper with multiple insects on it. Once finished, the piece was slipped into the clear front of that individual child’s folder as the cover art. Miss Carmen encouraged the kids to write Su nombre’ (their name) on the line at the bottom before she placed it in the folder sleeve. After a period of time, the class halves were switched and the scene in the classroom was repeated. Miss Sue's art class worked on coloring an outlined butterfly with magic markers and these were brought back when the class returned.

With the wall clock approaching 3:00 PM, the veteran Miss Carmen began the arduous task of getting all twenty-six children ready to go home for the day. Folders were matched with corresponding backpacks and labels with the method of transportation for each student were applied to the shirt fronts. I wondered how much more difficult that this task would become once coats, boots, mittens and hats were inevitably added to the mix. While orchestrating this slow motion performance with extreme efficiency, Miss Carmen called my name and offered me the tremendous honor of reading the final storybook for the day as the children waited unknowingly for the clock to reach 3:30; the scheduled time to go home. One little girl had had enough and could not be comforted away from her sudden sobbing homesickness…she wanted her mommy…to go home.

Finally, when my storybook was finished I repaired out of harm's way to take a few photos. From the back of room 122, I watched dear Miss Carmen handle this squiggling group of precious little ones with educational practice and utmost patience, wondering if I personally would have the stuff it would take to show up every day for another session.

I know Miss Carmen would…and thank goodness for that.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wequiock Falls - (New) Home of the Legendary Jean Nicolet Statue

Wequiock Falls
Hello fellow travelers and seekers of the less beaten path.  The Internet while replete with all sorts of bits and pieces of a particular interesting place, landmark, wayside, etc. can take an average person a lot of concentrated surfing to pull it all together. That's where THIS blog differs; if I find it interesting, I'll pull it all together for you...right here.  Together, we're also bound to discover more of what lies behind and under the surface story too.  Kinda' like most people do a "drive-by" on their lives and never really see or understand the whole picture...either too busy or too distracted.  We won't let that happen to siree.
It's now time for my second installation of this new blog.  I thought it prudent to explain more of what this vehicle is truly about before I get too far along the journey.  Obviously it is about me and what I think is interesting in the way of roadside attractions and curiosities, however it is also about you the reader and what you could possibly take from each vignette to enrich your own brief existence here on planet earth.  In regard to the former; if something catches my attention, I find it necessary to investigate and to ultimately report via this medium.  It's just that damn near everything catches my attention lately...where to start, where to start? 

How about a recent spring trip to Door County, WI where the thing that I spied was the same thing I have seen on multiple trips up north...let's try that.  It all began with a hwy sign.  The sign interestingly beckoned, "Wequiock Falls County Park - Jean Nicolet Statue".  Now, the problem with that sign over the years of my seeing it was that it seemed to point to nothing, and to nowhere accessible; least ways from hwy 57 N. (at 65 MPH) did it point to nowhere accessible.  That and the fact that I was always "with" people who would in no way want to delay their trip to "The Door" by any more than a potty stop and some auto fuel.  This time however, I was by myself and looking to (finally) investigate the mystery.  Now I could have sworn that there was no way in hell to actually get to the statue because in all the years I had driven this route, I spotted no road access, however THIS time it looked easy as pie...why?  (I'd find out later that the statue was moved recently {in July of 2009} to this more accessible spot next to Wequiock Falls, narrowly edging out the Bay Shore Park as a contender because of proximity historical significance to his actual theorized landing spot)   In short; the new highway 57 completed in 2005 had cut off access to Jean and that was unfortunate.  It took the tenacity of Brown County Parks and Recreation Assistant Parks Director, Doug Hartman almost 3 years to shepherd the move.  This decision to keep the statue in the Town of Scott (where it had been since 1942) seemed to make the locals happy.  Timberline Landscapes in Scott was ultimately paid 40K to move it.  So, with my new motto of "life's too short...why not?" urging me onward, I pulled off Sturgeon Bay Rd (Hwy 57) onto Van Laanen Rd and followed the sign to the first parking area that looked likely to have my answer.

A small knot of young people were having a cookout at one of the permanent grills.  The two post-high school boys and one youngish looking girl were throwing a Frisbee back and forth, while holding what appeared to be adult beverages, as large black dog romped back and forth between them.  Not wanting to disturb this unbalanced pastoral scene with my sudden appearance (and camera) I turned the WPT around on the gravel and drove back out onto the road.  Heck, I didn't even see a "falls" anyway; let alone Jean Nicolet.  I turned right on Van Laanen and thought about finding 57 again when within 500 feet I spotted another sign and a large bronze statue in a clearing. 

The gravel parking area was just adjacent to a small path that lead to a bronze plaque embedded out front of the statue proper that read, "A gift to Wisconsin by her school children 1939-1940 during the tenure of John Calahan State Superintendent of Public Instruction".  The statue, erected in 1942, was the brainchild of local school principal Robert Desereau. School kids in the 1930s and 40s pitched in pennies, nickels and dimes. Next to the statue in the grass; a familiar template of the typical routered brown and white State of Wisconsin Historical Marker (complete with routered badger at the top) sign told the story of this particular monument\'s significance. 

Basically, explorer Jean Nicolet (Zhan "Nick-o-LAY" here in Wisconsin...but if you are in Minneapolis it's "NIK-oll-ET") de Belleborne emissary of Gov. Samuel de Champlain of New France was looking for the "Orient" in 1634 when he took a slightly wrong turn and ended up at (Red Banks) near Green Bay, WI. (an easy mistake I myself have made).  He and his entourage then exited his fleet to greet the Chinese locals; Jean in his long flowing oriental overcoat, took out his pistols from behind his gaudy cape and FIRED them for effect.  That unexpected maneuver really seemed to impress the band of Winnebago Indians who had come down to investigate, as they immediately treated him as a man of power; an ambassador and asked him to share an impressive feast in his honor where they butchered "six score" beavers.  (That's about 120 of the little buck-toothed critters in case you wondered...DAM that's a lot of busy little flat-tailed creatures for an evening meal!)

Then dear reader, there's the aforementioned falls of Wequiock to discuss.  It seems that the planners of the more recent resting place of Mr. Nicolet knew what they were doing when they set him down here.  All one needs to do is walk a 100 feet south and the top of the twenty five foot falls is right there under a foot bridge to the wayside park I first had driven to.  The actual address of the falls is 3426 Bay Settlement Road in the Town of Scott.  If you are into waymarking; the coordinates are: N 44° 34.109 W 087° 52.768 - 16T E 430166 N 4935392.
Wequiock falls (a "curtain" type waterfall) is the result of the Wequiock Creek tumbling over the Niagara escarpment (more accurately the Silurian escarpment).  It is documented to be far more impressive in the early spring as you might imagine with the natural snow melt up the creek.  The later spring day I witnessed it; it was not quite a torrent, but rather respectable as Great Lakes waterfalls go.  If you would like to peruse the UWSP geology descriptions of the actual rocks that make up the falls; look HERENo-Doze Alert: If you are brave enough to visit that link, you're likely to also learn all about the Maquoketa Formation too.  Frankly how the rock enthusiasts know what they know is beyond me; and for all I know it could be all made up, but it is surely fascinating in a heady sort of way.  Not to mention getting to use the word "Imbricated" in a sentence...that's priceless.

The foliage had grown up in the basin and the sun had warmed the air quite nicely as I descended the sturdy manufactured set of wooden stairs to the base of the creek.  These stairs are amazingly well built and are probably the nicest set of landmark stairs I have even been kidding.  I was impressed and remain so to this day.  Whatever Brown County paid to have them constructed was money well spent.  I took a slow and careful walk to the bottom of the falls and breathed in the moist air...ahhh...that's nice.  Plus, who doesn't like the sound of the rushing water?  If they say they don't, they're THERE!

All Things Wequiock
  1. Wequiock = Means "bladder" from the Ojibwe word "wikkway".  [Source: Milwaukee Sentinel, Aug. 29, 1939.]  So if you gotta' "go" your Wequiock is full I guess.
  2. Here's Wequiock Falls in the winter on YouTube
  3. Here's the falls on a PBS television station called WETA. 
  4. There's even a Wequiock Elementary School in Green Bay, WI  (Bladder Elementary School eh?  Their mascot could be something like one of those red rubber hot water bottles your grandma used for an earache, however the savvy Wequiockians have chosen the "pandas" of course.  The PC crowd probably thought that the name meant an actual Indian's name like "Cheif Wequiock of the Full Bladder Tribe", so they erred on the side of caution with that one...good thing too I guess.
  5. Map and Map of Wequiock, WI (Really?  Map Quest seems to think there's an entire "Town of Wequiock")
  6. So does the US Gazetteer.
Anyway, enough of that insanity...the Internet is a zany madcap place indeed; so don't believe it unless you read about it here on the Roads Less Traveled blog.  Visit the park, falls and statue on your next trip to The'll like it and you'll know the WHOLE story even before you do.

Have a great journey on any road you have not been down before...and I'll see you later.

Fantastic construction eh?
From the bridge looking toward the walkway

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Oak Hill...The Freeway Onramp Cemetery - Wauwatosa, WI

Oak Hill (off Capitol Dr.)

It’s been an unusually hot and humid summer - especially for Milwaukee Wisconsin. Don’t get me wrong…I like the warmth much better than the cold. However, human nature is to complain regardless of the weather. I guess the reason I notice it (and mention it) is my current self-imposed living arrangement. You see, I left my wife of nearly 26 years; the love having all but evaporated like one of those cone-shaped room air fresheners that you have to open up to expose the soft inner core - and moved into an upper half of a house with zero AC. Since the place I’m renting didn’t come with it, and I would have to pay for it…I’m suddenly uber-frugal with my meager stipend. I can also unequivocally attest to you dear reader that heat does indeed rise…I have the sweat-stained tee shirts to prove it. I guess that’s one reason I totally enjoy getting out in the deep woods…the coolness of natural shade.

No there's really no giant Red Arrow in the sky
Even at 8:30 AM on this particular Sunday; the Cicadas were buzzing with gusto as I parked the White Pickup Truck under the westbound bridge of Milwaukee’s Capitol Drive. Why not park the vehicle in the shade I thought, as I gathered up my binoculars, tripod and camera. I knew I’d be away from it for a time and didn’t need to come back to an Easy Bake Oven interior. My goal for today was two-fold; investigate the crumbling and forlorn cemetery plots directly adjacent to the Capitol Drive highway 45 North freeway onramp, and to walk the trails that lead away into the woods near the graveyard ruins.

The only convenient access, was to park where I did and walk a short distance - so walk I did.  Note: The focus of THIS particular blog installment will be the cemetery, if you want the “trail” segment (because it is more birdy in nature)…look HERE within the (wildly popular) Birdstud Blog.

I must have driven past the markers over 100 times in the 22 years living in Milwaukee. Each and every time in the past 3 years however, I vowed to find a way to investigate them more fully. I’d pull up to the stop sign glance to my right, spot the curious cemetery plots so out of place, and continue turning right onto the freeway ramp thinking: I need to check that out someday. Well today was someday and now I was approaching the oddity from the east on foot along the busy roadway. My first impression was that someone, somewhere, somehow must have been making a miniscule effort to maintain the property, as I could see a chain across two posts with Lannon stone curved retaining walls that somehow indicated an entrance. The grass near this opening was lower as if the highway department might have been recently through with its massive mower deck whirring and chopping away. A tall flag pole with flag adorned the left side near what appeared to be military style grave markers.

I observed two signs at the front of the cemetery. One white plywood sign, hand painted with black letters that read,” Oak Hill Cemetery – 1853 – This acre was purchased from Mr. Clarke Brookins by the Oak Hill Burying Ground Association. Burials began in 1839. Civil War Vets Johann Bahler and Dr. Levi Halstead are buried here with other Wauwatosa pioneers.” And another newer more “county-looking” routered one that read simply, “Oak Hill Cemetery – Est’d 1854 Wauwatosa” that was no doubt brief in nature so that moving cars had a chance to know just what this unique area harbored. So hmmm…technically the(suburb) City of Wauwatosa land eh?

I don’t know if you are a history buff or a person who likes antiques – a cemetery enthusiast or are merely curious about “old stuff” like I am, however I found this place compellingly interesting and quietly stimulating. Sure, I could visit, walk around swatting the mosquitoes that hung to the tall unkempt grass, looking at what was left of the markers, but to really know what this place was all about…research would be necessary. I just love that part.

The Milwaukee County Online Genealogy and Family History Library states that from an article published in the Wauwatosa News Times June 25, 1887: "Oak Hill became a burial ground in 1853 after Clark Brookins sold one of his 150(?) acres of land to the newly formed Oak Hill Burying Association. He charged $20 for the parcel and plots were sold for $1 each. The oldest grave belongs to Julia Knapp, who died in 1848. Although the area officially became a cemetery in 1853, farmers buried relatives there before that, which was the reason Brookins sold off the property." The cemetery records were destroyed in a fire in 1912. “The tiny, 1 acre glade, provinces the resting place to the gentleman farmers of early Wauwatosa." There farmers were mostly German immigrants.

The transcriptions below are from a book by Elizabeth Dohrety Herzfeld. I personally have highlighted the few of the 83 family names that I photographed, however the entire “roster” is located HERE.  Just an FYI for any of you who wish to be remembered longer than others; buy that reddish granite looking headstone - they seem endure and remain far more legible than your run-of-the-mill stone marker…think about it.

Halstead / Bahler


Johann/b. 1843/d. 1880/Pvt Co. 1 17 Wis Inf US on star marker/NEXT TO:

Johann/b. 1813 (??)/d. 1880/probably wrong birth date



Daniel/b. 1856/d. 1820/father/OSSW:

Emma/b. 1858/d. 1928/mother



Francis/b. 18 Nov 1816 Co. Tyrone, Ireland/d. 5 May 1911/seems to be 7 stones

in Plot/Mary Ann, Frank, Charles/3 mothers/1 father



Lizzie/b. 1858/d. 1939/OSSW:

Luther/b. 1865/d. 1846



Charles/b. 20 Oct 1811/d. 2 Jun 1860/dates could be wrong

Henrietta/b. 1836/d. 1923/Mother/NEXT TO:

Wm./b. 1836/d. 1919

Halstead's Little Red Store


Dr. L. C. (Levi)/b. 1817/d. 12 Dec 1902/Surgeon 7 Wis Vol Batry Lt. Arty/age 84

years 8 months/US on star marker/NEXT TO: (HALSTED)

The oldest commercial building in Wauwatosa, WI -The Little Red Store - 7720 Harwood Ave was built in 1854 by Dr. Levi Halsted Wauwatosa’s 2nd physician in 1848, in the center of the village at the intersection of the Plank Road, the Menomonee River and the railroad. It was originally intended to be a blacksmith shop but instead became the private dwelling for Dr. Halsted. Since then, the Little Red Store has served many purposes. It was the first railroad depot in Wauwatosa and is the oldest post office building in Milwaukee County still standing. It has also served as a general store, grocery store, harness shop, plumbing shop, library and Republican Party headquarters. It served as the community’s first railroad depot and express office, and it remains the oldest standing post office building in Milwaukee County. The Little Red Store was designated a city landmark by the Wauwatosa Landmark Commission in 1978 and a historic structure under the city’s historic preservation ordinance in 1998. The property is designated for its historic significance in 2008



Annie/b. 1862/d. 7 Jun 1894

Dorethe (GLASEN)/b. 11 Feb 1827/d. 1 Aug 1886/OSSW:

Ida/b. 19 Apt 1863/d. 25 Mae 1883/OSSW:

Justus/b. Jun? 1815?/d. 9 Dez 1865/hard to read

Frank/b. 1848/d. 1913/NEXT TO:

Louisa E./b. 1862/d. 1932



Carl/b. 24 Apr 1856/d. 16 Dec. 1940/father/OSSW:

Louise/b. 13 Jun 1863/d. 19 Jan 1931/mother

Knapp - Oldest Grave


Emmily OLDS/b. 31 Mae 1807/d. 1878/wife of G. F./NEXT TO:

George F./b. 15 Jun 1804/d. 20 May 1873

Julia A./b. 9 Sept 1807/d. 29 Jun 1848/wife of Geo. F.



Henry/b. 6 Feb 1880/d. 14 Dec 1917/NEXT TO:

Gustav/b. 20 Oct 1834/d. 28 Sep 1909/NEXT TO:

Fredericka/b. 14 Sep 1839/d. 8 Nov 1922/Ruhe Sanft/OSSW:

August/b. 19 Sep. 1866/d. 9 Mar 1903/Ruhe Sanft/NEXT TO:

Norma/b. 20 Nov 1907/d. 7 May 1908


Maria B./b. 13 Mar 1832/d. 4 Jul 1916/mother

Last (but not Least)


Emma/b 1881/d. 1944/Wife/OSSW:

Frank/b. 1882/d. 19__/Husband



Gustav/b. 23 Aug 1854/d. 17 Sep 1909/Ruhe Sanft/NEXT TO:

Max O/b. 1880/d 1913/Ruhe Sanft

Schultz - (Patched at some point)


???Hann/b. 9 Jun 1876/d. 24 Oct 1889/OSSW:

Wilhelmine/b. 2 Jul 1842/d. 5 Jan 1915/Mutter/OSSW:

Gustav/b. 2 Sep 1891/d. 2 Oct 1891/OSSW:

Bertha/b. 28 Apr 1879/d. 10 Nov 1899/OSSW:

Charles/b. 24 Mar 1842/d. 11 Feb. 1914/Vater



Carl/b. 24 Nov 1859/d. 23 Nov 1901/NEXT TO:

Friedericka/b. 1832/d. 1915/Mother/other stones in Plot Broken



Heinrich/b. 16 Sep 1820/d. 14 Mai 1900/Ruhe Sanft/OSSW:

Louise (MOOHOLD)/b. 12 Apr 1832/d. 6 Apr 1889



Carl/b. 11 Jan 1838/d. 30 Oct 1922/NEXT TO:

Wilhelmine/b. 1 Mar 1841/d. 10 Jan 1913

Oak Hill Cemetery Entrance

From: Milwaukee Journal July 26, 1931 Newspaper article

Old Cemetery is Picturesque

Quaint Sculpture Is Seen on Site Recently Center of Dispute

For many years, probably no American flags and no flowers have been placed at the head of the grave of Dr. L.C. Halsted, surgeon in the 7th Wisconsin Volunteer battery, Civil War, who was buried in Oak Hill cemetery in December, 1902. Dr. Halstead's grave is one of many at the old cemetery on Capitol drive, west of Highway 100, the markers of which are covered with tall grass or knocked to the ground. It is one of many graves half hidden by overhanging trees and bushes.

Oak Hill cemetery, one of the picturesque spots of Milwaukee county, recently was the center of controversy over the building of a two-lane superhighway on Capitol drive. The county planned to cut through the cemetery, but, because of pleas of relatives of persons buried there, it was decided the road should be widened without molesting the old grounds.

STONES 90 YEAR OLD - Many of the stones in the cemetery are more than 90 years old. One headstone, so weatherbeaten that the name can hardly be read, is that of Edwin D. Pierce, who died Apr. 4, 1839(sic), at the age of 17. Other stones mark the graves of persons who died only a few years ago.

Quaint sculptural designs mark many of the cemetery monuments. Several stones are fashioned with pairs of clasped hands reaching upward, or with the index finger of a hand pointing upward. Other markers indicate in verse that the person buried in the cemetery "has passed heavenward." And about a few graves are small glass enclosed boxes which hold faded and withered wreaths in their original form.

LIVED NEXT TO CEMETERY - One of the persons buried in Oak cemetery once lived in the old farm immediately to the west. The home was torn down and the farm deserted many years ago. The cemetery is on the crest of a hill directly opposite the northwest corner of James Currie Park. A steep incline on the driveway into the grounds leads through a gate which long ago fell from its hinges. Along the borders of the cemetery a ravine extends to the north. A row of stakes running east and west through the cemetery several feet north of the entrance shows the point to which the county had at first plan to cut into the grounds in widening Capitol drive.
So, the next time you are in the neighborhood, or are about to enter north on the Hwy 45-894 freeway at Capitol drive...look right and think about old Wauwatosa pioneers.
Roads Less Traveled make ALL the difference!