January 3, 2009

RCPJ protests Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip

Rev. Glen Halbe addresses RCPJ protesters Saturday

The Racine Coalition for Peace and Justice held its first protest of the new year today, on Monument Square, opposing Israel's bombing of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which have left more than 400 Palestinians dead.

Almost simultaneously, CNN was reporting a ground invasion by Israeli troops, further escalating the decades-old conflict.

Dr. Wayne Johnson, a retired UW-Parkside prof, told the three-dozen protesters, "the current disaster is only the symbol" of the long, painful history in the region. "There are more than enough thugs to go around," he said.

The Rev. Glen Halbe, a retired United Church of Christ minister, said, "we gather here in the blindness of hope." He charged that "Israel lied" about about dropping leaflets warning civilians to get out of the neighborhoods it was just about to bomb.

The crowd was led in the now-familiar anti-war chant: "What do we want? A ceasefire! When do we want it? Immediately." "Sustainable... now... end the blockade... stop U.S. support... a real peace process." Behind the protesters stood Santa's chalet, while the poles supporting their peace and U.S. flags were stuck in a mound of snow that just two weeks ago was a representation of Santa himself.

Pete Wicklund of the Journal Times has a more complete report on what the speakers said, and a response from Rabbi Martyn Adelberg of Congregation Beth Israel Sinai.

Upcoming events planned by the RCPJ include:

  • Stand for Peace. Monthly Racine stand for peace will resume on April 18.
  • Thursday, Jan. 8: “The Myth of Democracy in Colombia,” presentation by Sr Pat Chaffee, 7 p.m., Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church. 7th Street & College Avenue, Racine. Info: Wayne Johnson, 262/639-7149.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 13: “Immigration, Race, & Ethnicity: The View from Wisconsin & Racine,” sessions on Tuesdays through 17 February, 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m., HOPES Center, 506 7th Street, Racine. Info/registration 262/898-2940.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 13: “War, Inc.,” Videos for Peace, 7 p.m., Peace Action Center, 1001 Keefe, Milwaukee.
  • Thursday, Jan. 15: Regular meeting of the Racine Coalition for Peace & Justice. This meeting will be held at the Chancery Restaurant in the Racine Harbor.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 21: Start of ten-week Spanish class, 4:30 pm or 5:30 pm, HOPES Center. Info/registration: Dixie VanRemmen, 262/554-5464.
  • Monday, Feb. 2: “Health Care for All,” presentation by Wisconsin Senator Kathleen Vinehout, 6:30 pm, Siena Center, 5635 Erie, Racine 53402. Info: Sr Rita Lui, 262/639-4100 x1230.
  • Thursday, Feb. 5: “Change Viewed from Abroad,” foreign student panel on the international response to Barack Obama, 7 pm, Olympia Brown UU Church, College & 7th Street, Racine. Info: Wayne Johnson, 262/639-7149.
  • Thursday, Feb. 19: Regular meeting of the Racine Coalition for Peace & Justice, 1st and 3rd Thursdays at 7 p.m. at the César Chávez Community Center, 2221 Douglas Avenue (access and parking off Charles Street).
  • Feb. 13-22: MayaWorks delegation to Guatemala. Info: 312/243-8050, .
  • Tuesday, Feb. 17: “Fair Trade and Food Sovereignty,” presentation by John Peck & John Kinsman, Family Farm Defenders, 6:30 p.m., Siena Center, 5635 Erie, Racine 53402. Info: Sr Rita Lui.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 24: “A Moral Foreign Policy,” presentation by John Nichols, Family Farm Defenders, 6:30 p.m., Siena Center, 5635 Erie, Racine 53402. Info: Sr Rita Lui.

January 2, 2009

$350 million unclaimed... is any of it yours?

Wisconsin's state treasurer is sitting on a pile of treasure -- $350 million worth to be exact. And it all belongs to us!

Treasurer Dawn Marie Sass wants to return the money and property to its rightful owners (alas, not to me) and has created a website that makes it ridiculously easy for anyone to check whether any of the unclaimed property is theirs.

Here's the link -- SHAZAAAM! Just plug your name into the search box -- and don't forget your friends here at RacinePost when you receive that big windfall!

In 2008, the program returned more than $28 million worth of unclaimed property to more than 25,000 people; that was nearly $3.3 million more than in 2007. And still the pile grows: The $350 million remaining belongs to roughly 1.3 million people. Under Wisconsin law, after one to five years of inactivity, Wisconsin businesses must turn over all unclaimed money, stock and safe deposit box contents to the State Treasurer's office for safekeeping. There is no time limit for collecting unclaimed property.

Since the program began in 1970, more than $155 million has been claimed by 205,000 people. So, what are you waiting for?

Here's an additional bonus: A link to a national database of unclaimed funds. Good luck!

January 1, 2009

Obama mural going to Dr. King Center

A mural from the Obama campaign headquarters, painted by Racine Artist Jean Smith, will be given to the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center on Jan. 17, during the annual King Day Celebration.

The mural will be dedicated by members of Racine County's Community for Change and Presidential Inauguration Committee, which are planning several events to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama as president.

The dedication will take place at 3 p.m. at the Dr. Martin Luther King Center, located at 1134 Martin Luther King Drive. For further information or to find other events in the area, check the Community for Change website or join its online community.

Sanity prevails; Splash and Dash cancelled

The disappointment was so thick, you could cut it with an ... ice pick.

An ice saw? A backhoe?

Turns out, with none of those. Cooler (?) heads prevailed Thursday. Sanity reared up in the middle of an event it usually avoids, and cancelled Racine's annual Splash and Dash, what would have been our 19th plunge into the waters of Lake Michigan on New Year's Day to raise money for local charities.

To say the hundreds of polar bear wannabees were disappointed would be an understatement. Many stripped down to their bathing suits anyway ... at least until their extremities started turning blue along the windy beach. Sam Wright of Racine -- he of the lovely red Hawaiian print at top -- was especially disappointed: his daughter and son-in-law were up from Florida to take their place alongside him in the surf. Another year, perhaps.

The temperature was a balmy 26 degrees -- up from last year's 21 degrees. But the mound of ice along the shore at North Beach was solid rock, and there were ice caves -- beautiful to look at but dangerous to walk around -- right offshore.

Although a backhoe had been provided to cut a path into the surging water, organizer J.C. Conyn of the Racine Fire Department made the sensible call, fearing what the chunks of ice might do to the splash and dashers. Still, volunteers collected donations of cash and foodstuffs, and at the end, as they trudged back to their cars, the erstwhile swimmers turned in their wristbands for this year's bright green Splash and Dash t-shirt.

Gotta hand it to the guys and girls from Peg and Lou's!

December 31, 2008

Ripley, rescued from children's cruelty

This is Ripley.

Look closely at his eyes, and hope that your kids are not as cruel as the ones Ripley was rescued from -- a group of children who poked his eye with a stick.

His eye was ruptured and he is blind on the left side. The woman who rescued Ripley from those kids kept him for a while, but eventually had to turn him over to the Countryside Humane Society.

Ripley is a three-year-old male Chihuahua/Pug mix. He is energetic and social, and gets along with other dogs and cats.

He is available for adoption now at the Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Journal Times' parent reports huge loss for 2008

I'm no accountant, but the news today from Lee Enterprises -- parent of the Journal Times -- is dire.

The company sent out its Annual Report -- delayed more than two weeks -- as well as a notice from the New York Stock Exchange saying it is in non-compliance with NYSE listing standards, and de-listing from the exchange is a distinct possibility, unless it gets its stock price up over $1 and its total capitalization up over $25 million. Lee has 10 business days to respond to the NYSE with its plans for compliance.

But it is in the 190-page Annual Report where the real disaster is enumerated: Lee reported a loss to stockholders for the year of $888 million, and an operating loss of $1,049,000,000. Lee's accounting firm raised "substantial doubt" about the company's ability to continue as a going concern.

Wrote KPMG LLC of Chicago: "Our report dated Dec. 31, 2008, contains an explanatory paragraph that states that the company has short-term obligations that cannot be satisfied by available funds and has incurred violations of debt covenants that subject the related principal amounts to acceleration, all of which raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern."

Lee reports that required debt payments of $142 million in 2009 "are expected to exceed the Company's cash flows available for such payments." (Another $166 million is due in 2010.) The company says it will have to tap its revolving credit to fund some of the 2009 and 2010 debt payments. Lee's total debt is $1.3 billion.

Lee also reported that "certain covenant violations" relating to its debt from the 2005 Pulitzer acquisition were waived in December 2008 -- at a cost of $1,874,000. Another credit agreement was amended -- at an additional cost of $6,277,000.

Overall, "Loss to common stockholders totaled $888,747,000 in 2008, compared to income available to common stockholders of $80,999,000 in 2007." Per share, that works out to a loss of $19.83 in 2008 for each share of Lee stock, compared to earnings of $1.77 per share in 2007. Pity, too, the poor Lee employees who bought a total of 73,000 shares of Lee stock in 2008, at an average price of $5.20. At the close of business today, each of those shares was worth 41 cents, which actually is up from where it's been lately. Nor did the company fare well with its own stock repurchasing efforts: it bought 1,722,280 shares at an average price of $10.98 apiece during 2008, spending almost $19 million on what today would cost $706,000.

Lee reported reducing operating expenses by 3.2% in 2008 "and expects to reduce such operating expenses by an additional 7-8% in 2009. Such expense reductions are not expected to significantly impact the Company's ability to deliver advertising and content to its customers," the report states.

Lee was not alone in 2008. The 14 major newspaper publishers in the U.S. lost a total of $64 billion in market value this year, according to an industry blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur.

December 30, 2008

Another historic Main Street home in foreclosure

The Henry and Cosie Miller House, at 1110 South Main St.

Racine's historic preservationists are scowling.

Downtown Racine's Historic District is taking a second blow from this year's mortgage crisis. Yesterday, we told you of the Christmas House's upcoming foreclosure sale. Today we learn of yet another Main Street mansion fallen on hard times, just a block away. They are just two of the 94 foreclosure auction sales scheduled by Racine County Sheriff Bob Carlson in the next few weeks.

This time it's the Miller House, a striking 1899 neo-classic home that helps recall the city's robust manufacturing past. Owned by Rickey and Shea Leech for the past six years, it will be auctioned on Feb. 3, at 1:30 p..m. at the Racine Law Enforcement Center, victim of a $672,948 loan default. The judgment of foreclosure was finalized in June. Asked if there is any chance he can avoid loss of his home, which is assessed at $415,000, Rickey Leech said, "Probably not."

There actually are two Miller Houses -- one at 1100 South Main Street and the other next door at 1110 South Main. 1100 on the corner, with its round turrets, was built in 1893 by Joseph Miller, once the mayor of Racine, but better known as the founder in 1857 of J. Miller and Company, a shoe manufacturer here that made boots for Wisconsin soldiers during the Civil War.

The house next door, at 1110 South Main, was built in 1899 by Joseph Miller's son, Henry, the superintendent of his father's shoe factory, for his bride, Cosie, as a wedding gift. The house was completed in time for their marriage in 1900, and they lived there the rest of their lives. Henry died in 1929 and Cosie in 1946. The house was later owned by George and Mayme Wheary of the Wheary Trunk Company.

It is described by Preservation Racine like this: "It is undoubtedly the most sophisticated example of the Classical Revival Style in the city. Two columned porticos are deftly interwoven at the entryway: the lower one bows out from the middle of a pillared porch across the front to support a semicircular balcony above it, while the taller one forms a two-story columned canopy with a classical pediment that hovers over the balcony below it.

"Among the house's many striking features are the floors and the fleurs de lis. Many of the floors are original and have been beautifully restored. As you enter the house, note the original mosaic tile floor in the entryway. Then, just ahead, note the recently refinished quarter-sawn oak stairway sweeping elegantly upward to the second-floor hallway. Finally, in the dining room, note another floor of quarter-sawn oak -- but this one an original S.C. Johnson parquet floor..."

Rickey and Shea Leech, who were renovating the Miller House, at one point owned two historic homes in Racine. They bought the Lochnair Inn on Lake Avenue in 2004, and Shea ran the Bed and Breakfast. But in 2006 Rickey was injured when a tree he was cutting down fell on him, breaking his back and leg. The couple put the Lochnair up for sale in July of 2007, using an innovative five-day auction method, but were apparently unsuccessful. A story in the Journal Times said bidding had reached $900,000... but the Lochnair ended up being sold at a Sheriff's sale on Nov. 5, 2007, for $725,000 to Sandra Young; it is no longer a B&B.

Vivian Merlo, immediate past president of Preservation Racine, says the Miller House "is an important house. It's one of a kind -- but it's going to take a lot of money." A close look at the front shows deteriorating woodwork; Merlo says the house also was struck by lightning.

"There are a few things in this city, a few buildings that the community has to decide are important enough for us to come together and preserve. This is one of those," Merlo said. She would like the city to enact an ordinance giving tax credits to people who buy and renovate historic buildings, "but the mayor has told me personally it's too expensive."

Cory Mason's wife gives birth to a daughter

State Rep. Cory Mason, D-62nd District, has a new assignment -- much more important than any of those committees he serves on in Madison.

Mason and his wife, Rebecca, are the parents of a daughter born on Dec. 26 at 3:16 p.m.

Their family's newest Democrat -- how could she be otherwise after being named Eleanor Roosevelt Mason! -- weighed in at 5 pounds, 3 ounces, 19 inches long.

Dad managed to say, "We find ourselves blessed and lucky beyond what we can put into words."

December 29, 2008

Santa brings foreclosure to Christmas House

Santa brought a lump of coal -- the technical term is foreclosure -- to the owner of what long-time Racinians know as the Christmas House.

The former Benstead Hall, once owned by All Saints Healthcare System Inc. and beautifully decorated for many years as a holiday house to raise funds for cancer, was sold in 1997 and converted into a Bed and Breakfast called the Christmas House. In 2007 the name was changed to the East Park Inn.

Now the 19th century mansion is poised for another ownership change. Circuit Court Judge Richard J. Kreul entered a default judgment against innkeeper/owner Laurie Novak-Simmons on Oct. 15. Racine County Sheriff Bob Carlson is scheduled to hold a foreclosure sale of the property on Jan. 27 at 1:30 p.m. at the Law Enforcement Center. (The B&B's garden nymph, right, doesn't seem too happy at the prospect.)

Plaintiff in the suit against Novak-Simmons was the Central States Mortgage Company, which is owed $939,707.21: principal of $888,999, interest of $46,845, late charges of $1,814, attorney fees of $1,100 and disbursement of $947. Judge Kreul's order did not specify -- as many default judgments do -- any time period during which Novak-Simmons could satisfy the default and retain the property. Efforts to reach her, and plaintiff's attorney Steven Zablocki, were unsuccessful.

The beautiful, three-story Victorian mansion -- located at 116 10th St., a block from Lake Michigan, across the street from Gateway Technical College and catty-corner across Main Street from the Masonic Temple -- was sold to Novak-Simmons by the trustees of St. Luke's Hospital, which used the house for visitors, for $425,000 in 1997. She did extensive renovations, creating five guest rooms, each with their own bath. The building has eight fireplaces, many stained glass and beveled windows, magnificent woodwork and hardwood floors.

The Racine County Registrar of Deeds shows the property -- which includes a carriage house and garden -- was assessed for $705,000 in 2007, with fair-market value listed as $720,196. Property taxes are $16,221. The computer records in Registrar Jim Ladwig's office appear to show that last year's taxes haven't been paid.

In 2000, Novak-Simmons put the building up for sale, saying, ""I have another project that I'd like to commit to and I can't do them both." The asking price was $895,000 -- but it didn't sell.

Interior views from Sotheby's online listing

It is still listed for sale online by Sotheby's International Realty, where the price has grown to $1,650,000. The listing says it is a 10,000 sq. ft. single-family home built in 1883: "There are 5 guest rooms, all with en suite baths, plus 3 other bedrooms. Both the library and office have paneled cherry wood ceilings and built in bookcases. The living room, library and dining room all have wood burning fireplaces. There are 5 additional fireplaces in this charming three-story home, with leaded glass and hardwood floors throughout. The separate carriage house has 3 bedrooms, kitchen, living room and 2 full baths. Heated garage space for 5 cars with pad parking for an additional 5 cars."

Novak-Simmons has had some financial difficulties, according to court records and other evidence. Earlier this month she was cited by the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau as the city's "biggest transgressor," owing some $5,000 in room taxes, according to RCCVB executive director Dave Blank. Novak-Simmons disputed his amount. Wisconsin's Circuit Court Access System shows almost two dozen cases in which Novak-Simmons was a defendant (and five in which she was the plaintiff). They range from small claims cases -- Sander Paint and Wallpaper sued for $921 in November -- to larger amounts: the State Department of Revenue sued for and received $13,805 in September 2005, and $49,797 in August 2006 to a $220,332.37 judgment in June 1998 against Kenosha Manor House, another B&B, in which Novak-Simmons was one of three defendants. All of the above-mentioned cases were closed, according to the WCCA system.