August 1, 2009

County Fair 'could not ask for more' from Sara Evans

Country star Sara Evans used a mix of new songs and old hits to entertain the Racine County Fair on Saturday night. The popular singer and her band (which included her sister and brother) played for about 80 minutes to a decent crowd at the grandstand.

Evans is releasing her sixth album later this year and she drew on the new material for about half of the concert. Among her new songs was "Feels Just Like A Love Song," which was released July 20 on country radio. She also opened the concert with a new song called "Desperately" and later added "Anywhere," which is about throwing away maps and loving someone wherever you are.

But it was the old hits that brought the crowd to its feet. Evans gave a raucous performance of her No. 1 single, "Suds in the Bucket" (she had a group of young girls singing the words on the way out of the concert) and then later showed off her soaring voice in the ballad, "I Could Not Ask For More." She also sang her standard hits "Born to Fly," "Perfect" and "A Real Fine Place to Start."

As a treat to the live audience, Evans sang a stunning cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" along with her sister, Ashley Evans, who works as a back-up singer for her older sibling. The classic started a capella and turned into a borderline rocker. There was no borderline with the closing tune. Evans and her six-member band rocked out to Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me," which was a real crowd-pleaser.

All together it was a great night for Evans and the County Fair. It's clear Evans is ready to rejoin the limelight after a messy divorce (she remarried last year), and the fair got a great performance from a bonafide country star.

Here's some photos from grandstand seats:

Sara and Ashley Evans singing "Jolene."

The light show with the evening countryside in the background.

More of the light show

Evans' bus was parked prominently near the stage. Her tour was sponsored
by ABC Daytime and the Soap network.

Racine County Idol Danyelle Vyvyan opened for Evans.

The Fair Royalty was on stage before the Sara Evans' concert.

Before the Evans' concert,
I took a few pictures around the fair ...

This vendor was playing, "As Time Goes By," on the pan flute.

While my wife was eyeing this ride ...

I was queasy just watching this one roll around in circles.

We walked through the horse barn before the concert. So many beautiful animals ...
what incredible work by the kids who show at the fair.

And if you have no idea who Sara Evans is, here's the video for one of her biggest hits:

46 Norwegians descend on Racine for a birthday party

Ola Hirth at his birthday party Saturday at DeKoven's Taylor Hall

Racine's Norwegian population took a big jump this weekend, as 46 of Ola Hirth's relatives descended on the city to celebrate his 85th birthday.

Hirth,who founded Ola Hirth Painting and Decorating, was holding court at Taylor Hall, presiding over a celebration that included two of his sisters, one brother -- and their families. This is the first visit to the U.S. for many of them, and it is serving double duty, as a birthday party and family reunion. Ola rented a bus to pick up sixteen of them who flew into Milwaukee together.

The first thing you notice about Ola is that he's a "young" 85. In fact, this is the first year -- in 80 -- that he hasn't been on skis (the result of having broken his arm in a freak carwash accident; don't ask.) Ola came to the U.S. in the 1950s, after his two best friends in Norway moved to Seattle. He tried Chicago, California, Racine and Seattle -- in that order -- and then settled permanently in Racine.

The city then had a burgeoning Norwegian population, and a big Norwegian Club, Wergland Hall on State Street, where the bus depot is now. "It also had a big ski club," he says, "where you met a lot of nice people." This was not cross-country skiing either; nor just downhill. Rather, ski-jumping.

At 85 -- he was born Aug. 9, 1924 -- Ola is now the oldest of his six siblings. The family was close-knit, he says; "we had to make our own fun." His oldest brother died a few years ago, but he has two brothers and two sisters living in Norway. All but one brother is now here for the reunion. This is not their first family reunion -- there have been at least five previous ones, but this is the first in the U.S. Ola and his daughter, Kari Farrington, and sons Jim Hirth and Darren Hirth, and their families, live here in Racine.

Kari sent us the following update Sunday, after the birthday party ended:
"After you left we continued with the party by singing a couple of songs and my Dad's youngest brother, Arne, said a few words and presented my mother and father with some handmade wooden gifts. Then, from his twin nephews and their sister, they presented him with a vest and some handmade Norwegian mittens and socks (the best things to keep you warm in the winter).

"The rest of the night was for socializing, dancing and drinking. The party finally came to an end at 4 a.m. (my dad did not last that long but made it until around 1 a.m.) My dad did have a cute song that he sang that I played my violin along with, called, "Ola, they all called me Ola." It was about a hobo, so he wore an old hat and flannel shirt while he sang. It was quite funny."
She also sent us this picture, of all the partygoers outside Taylor Hall as the birthday festivities began.

Chair-i-ties: Art with a message you can sit on

Cody Denneau showed off Lattitude (and his colorful Mohawk!)

Every chair, every rainbarrel, every ... um, toilet-converted-into-garden-mosaic told a story at the Chair-i-ties auction Saturday.

Take, for instance, Shaniece Kelley's mosaic, Tea Time. "My inspiration was the teacup because it is such a beautiful item. With a teacup, you can do anything with it, like execute a floral design or a heart pattern...I used broken bowls and plates in various colors to fit my design. I also used a teakettle on the top of the toilet to add an additional creative touch..."

Got that? "...a teakettle on the top of the toilet..."

Shaniece is 14, a graduate of San Juan Diego Middle School who will be attending Case High School. What she also learned is this: "I found that anything you set your mind to do, you can pull it off."

Or Sitting Pretty, right, a chair painted by Alissa Casteneda and Arielle Exner, who said, "We both wanted to do the chair, so we decided to work together."

And that is what the Main Gallery's summer art program is all about: teaching kids that if they work together they can do anything. This summer, 40 youngsters participated in the six-week program: researching art and the environment, repainting the flag-motif banners hung downtown, and finally transforming their found-object chairs, rainbarrels and discarded toilets into art befitting this year's theme, "Green Racine."

The auction of the 34 pieces sold today brought in $4,515, and the accompanying silent auction of matted and framed photography and live plants from the Racine Urban Garden Network brought in $687.

Some of this year's best-sellers were:
  • "What Kitties Do Best," a kids' toy chest with cushion painted by Katie Wright. The chest itself was found by the artist's mother, thrown out as garbage. It fetched $275.
  • "Poe-Tree of Life," a collaborative poetry/photo rain barrel, brought $225. Kids from photo group made collages of tree bark photos to create the image of a tree on the side of the barrel. Paint was also used and original poetry written by the youth is hand-painted on the barrel. Local poet and Volunteer Sandy Christiansen took several of the youth to the REC center along the Root River and they wrote short poems inspired by our waterways.
  • "Make Art not War," a chair painted by Alissa Castaneda, sold for $200.
Artists who led the youths during the program were Denise Zingg, photography; Toby Priolette, multimedia; Dave Castaneda, furniture painting; and Jane Cascio, mosaic.

Main Gallery is sponsored by the City of Racine, Parks and Recreation Department and the Racine Arts Council. The program costs about $50,000 each year, with most of that paid to the participating youth, who work 18 hours a week for six weeks for minimum wage. Auctioneer Saturday was Dave Castenada, with MC help from Jason Mars, recreation supervisor at the Humble Park Community Center who oversees the program, and Jessika Mikol, executive director of the Racine Arts Council.

Mars and Castenada presented a plaque and painted chair to Lois Solberg, who now heads Habitat for Humanity's Re-Store and who is a long-time supporter of the arts in Racine (and an enthusiastic bidder.) Solberg noted that youth in the program keep a journal of what they're doing and what they've learned each day. "It's 'waterworks' when you read them," she said.

Monument Square was filled with bidders...

Chuck Tyler, former head of Parks and Rec, who helped start
the Main Gallery in 1995. That's Hannah Gudbauer's
In the Key of P.

What Kitties Do Best, by Katie Wright

Make Art Not War by Alissa Castaneda

Serenity by Ali Sabrine, with its new owner, Jose Palacios

Cheer Up by Veronica Cameron gets a hand

Tea Time by Shaniece Kelley was a handful

Arts Council director Jessika Mikol framed by Serenity

Dave Castaneda and Jason Mars honor Lois Solberg

Signing up for RUGN's silent plant auction

July 31, 2009

Another $2 billion? Ryan says no

"A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."
-- (attributed to) Everett Dirksen

The U.S. House of Representatives understands the axiom very well, and today voted 316-109 to authorize another $2 billion for the "Cash for Clunkers" program.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, voted "nay."

In the same House session, lawmakers approved, 237 - 185, limits on executive pay at major corporations, allowing shareholders to vote on executive compensation (although those votes would be non-binding).

Ryan again voted "nay."

Dickert outraised Turner by $30,000 in mayoral election

John Dickert outraised state Rep. Bob Turner by $30,000 in the May 5 special mayoral election, according to campaign finance reports.

Dickert raised $66,759 for the mayoral campaign, including $32,244.88 after winning Racine's 11-candidate mayoral primary on April 7.

Turner raised $36,678.26 for the election, including $26,349.26 after the primary.

Both candidates were required by law to file a campaign finance report with the city by July 20. The reports covered candidates' contributions and spending between March 24 and June 30. Dickert won the May 5 election 55-45 percent.

The records reveal Dickert had strong support among local business leaders, including the Johnson family, while state politicians and unions backed Turner.

Turner received $6,685 from state politicians and unions in the weeks leading up to the special election.

Turner received donations from state Reps. Mike Sheridan, Mark Pocan, Pedro Colon, Barbara Toles and Jon Richards. He was also backed by the Teamsters, IBEW and the Racine Education Association.

Dickert received maximum contributions (about $800) from W.H. Pugh, Alan Ruud, Craig Leopold, Helen Johnson-Leipold, Ken Buser (head of Wheaton-Franciscan All Saints) and Charles Johnson (head of the Racine Police and Fire Commission). Fisk Johnson contributed $750 to Dickert's campaign, and Curt Johnson gave $500.

Despite being outraised, Turner was able to draw on previous donations to outspend Dickert by about $2,000 between the primary and special elections. Turner spent $34,856.55 from March 25 to May 1, compared to $32,434.34 for Dickert.

But throughout the entire campaign (including the primary), Dickert outspent Turner by about $17,000. Dickert spent about $57,000 getting elected, compared to about $40,000 for Turner.

The candidates major expenses include:

* Turner paid Craig Oliver about $11,000 in consulting fees. After Oliver was dismissed from the campaign, Joshua Stephany was paid $1,200 in consulting fees.

* Dickert paid Greg Bach $1,000 in consulting fees and WZW Consulting $1,500.

* Dickert paid Mission Control, of Mansfield Center, Conn., about $17,000 to handle lit pieces and postage.

* Turner printed his brochures through Walgreens ($580), Office Depot ($96) and Accurate Printing, in Kenosha, ($5,084). He paid Diamond Laser, of Racine, $4,784 for mailing service.

Odds & Ends

* Only a few aldermen donated to the mayoral campaigns. Alderman Ray DeHahn donated $160 to Dickert and $60 to Turner. Alderman Jeff Coe donated $150 from his campaign fund to Dickert. Alderman Ron Hart gave Turner and Dickert each $100. Alderman Mike Shields gave Turner $25.

* Turner loaned his campaign $5,000 and Dickert loaned his $6,000. Dickert's loans are paid back. Turner's loan is outstanding, but he still has $7,166 in cash on hand to pay himself back.

* Dickert, who's up for re-election in 15 months, has $4,617 cash on hand. He raised $4,933 after the May 5 election.

John Dickert's campaign contribution report | Bob Turner's campaign contribution report

Root Communication given 'Best of Racine' award

Root Communication, Corp. has received the 2009 Best of Racine Award in the Systems Integration Services category from the U.S. Commerce Association (USCA).

The USCA "Best of Local Business" award program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the country. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

This year's award program focused on quality, not quantity. Winners were determined based on the information gathered both by the USCA and third parties.

Glass through glass: Therman Statom unveils new work in RAM's window gallery

Therman Statom talks with a member of the Racine Art Museum staff Thursday while installing his work, "Outside the Box," in the museum's Windows on Fifth Street gallery.

Therman Statom's art is displayed around the world and he's known as a leading figure in the contemporary-glass movement. But Thursday the 56-year-old artist was thinking about Menard's.

Statom is in Racine this week building his remarkable new installation "Outside the Box" in the Racine Art Museum's "Windows on Fifth Street Gallery." Statom designed and built much of the installation in his Omaha, Neb. gallery, but assembling the final piece in RAM's window was its own creative process. He painted windows, shaped and polished leaves, positioned sculptures and taped neon tubes to walls in preparation for Saturday's unveiling.

"Outside the Box" is the sixth installation in RAM's window gallery. Statom's work replaces Arline Fisch's "Creatures from the Deep," which was installed in 2008.

Statom's installation is a collection of glass sculptures and paintings. The sculptures include a house, ladder and chair - three standard objects Statom works with. Each of the objects comes with layers of meanings, he said. Here's a summary of his work as described with a 1993 sculpture in Los Angeles:
His work incorporates simple forms which, when combined with other shapes, tell a story or establish a theme. Over each form Statom adds a layer of brushed paint, bringing the artist’s hand back into the creative process.
The three major sculptures in the RAM installation are linked together with smaller sculptures, paintings on glass, neon tubes and the hanging leaves.

"It's one big painting, essentially," Statom said of the work.

Statom uses mirrors to bring the viewer, and the surroundings outside of the window, into the installation. He described the mirrors as "temporal."

"It takes what's outside and brings it in," said Statom, who is the first artist to use mirrors in the RAM window gallery.

Statom's glass house sculpture in RAM's window.

Statom and a member of the RAM staff hang a leaf in the window gallery.
The Johnson Bank building is reflected in the gallery's exterior glass.

Statom designed "Outside the Box" in his studio in Omaha, Nebraska. Having lived in Washington, D.C., he moved to Omaha five years ago because it's centrally located in the country.

"People say the coasts are the center of the art world, but the Midwest is a great place to create," he said.

Statom taped out the RAM window space in his studio and created the various pieces over several months. He described using "intuitive treatments" in his work designed to deeply connect with people.

"The decision process doesn't have a linear structure," Statom said. "It's more emotionally based." He added intuitive perception underlies all creativity, be it in fields as diverse as art, education or science.

"So many decisions are intuitive," Statom said. "Even hard sciences come from intuition. This is about that perception."

But while he relies on his intuition, Statom is an expert craftsman with 25 years of formal training and practice at creating art. His works are on display in museums in Paris, Lausanne, Switzerland, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Detroit and San Jose. He also has many sculptures and paintings for sale in galleries around the world.

"It's not subjective where you can do anything you want and justify it," he said about his creative process. "I couldn't just come here and paint everything pink because I like pink."

Instead, Statom described a variety of elements that influenced the final piece being installed at RAM. Natural and artificial lighting, weather, trees the shape of the space, the lake, and people he's met in the city are some of the influences he cited in the RAM installations.

Searching for a word to describe Racine, Statom finally said: "The city is just 'multi.'"

Back in April, Statom taught art classes to 200 elementary students. He said teaching is increasingly important to his career and turned him from an introspective studio artist into someone trying to reach out into communities.

"I consider education art, just like this," Statom said.

Along with the Racine installation, Statom has a new work on display in Orlando. "Stories from a New World" is a 6,000 square-foot collection of glass art based around explorer Ponce de Leon's pursuit of the Fountain of Youth in Florida. Statom said Europeans' migration to America changed the world by giving people an escape from monarchies and a new freedom to live and create.

"It really affected everything," he said.

By comparison, the RAM installation isn't political, Statom said. Instead, he created an abstract piece designed to connect with the viewer on a "primary, intuitive sense that exists in everyone."

"I wanted it to be inviting," he said.

Statom (back left) and members of the Racine Art Museum staff lift the base of Statom's giant chair sculpture into place on Thursday afternoon. The back of the chair still had to be added to the piece.

In person, Statom comes across as a humble, warm man who easily slips between art theory and chatting with museum staff. He's also very trusting. It's RAM staff members who assembled and even placed parts of Statom's work in the windows. While Statom created the larger pieces in his studio, he still had painting and metal polishing to do Thursday.

Executive Director Bruce Pepich played a role in the piece when he allowed Statom to paint on the glass wall that creates a backdrop for the Windows on Fifth Street gallery while separating the interior of the museum from the street traffic. Statom is the first artist to paint on the panels.

"It fits beautifully with the piece," Pepich said.

"Appreciate you allowed me to do it," Statom said. "I didn't expect you to say yes."

Statom and RAM Executive Director Bruce Pepich (right)

The paint in the background is the first time an artist has painted on RAM's glass wall that separates the gallery from Fifth St. The sculpture in front is not Statom's piece.

Statom's piece will change throughout the year. In six months he'll return to Racine to switch in new sculptures and paintings. The space's connection to the outside world - as opposed to a controlled interior museum space - brings a seasonal aspect to the installation, he said.

All together, the installation offers a new way of seeing. With the difficult times, Statom said, the combination of sculpted glass, paint and light offered an abstract glimpse of Racine's future.

"It shows what the city can become," he said.

Statom's glass ladder blends in with reflections in the Fifth Street window.

July 30, 2009

Local Theater: Over Our Head Players lighten up Eric Bogosian's 'Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll'

The Over Our Head Players' performance of Eric Bogosian's "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll" opens
Friday night at Sixth Street Theatre, 318 Sixth St. in Racine.

When Joe Piirto was set to play Eric Bogosian's signature role in a production of "Talk Radio" at UW-Parkside, he emailed Bogosian himself for advice.

"It's going to be your character," the actor answered. "Make it your own."

That's no small task when it comes to Bogosian. Not only does the actor, now most famous for his role on CSI "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," bring a searing intensity to his roles, he wrote the plays for himself to star in.

But after early success in "Talk Radio" as an actor, Piirto is ready to take on the challenge again. The technical director for the Over Our Head Players at Sixth Street Theatre is directing Bogosian's "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll" set to debut Friday night. The show is a pared down version of a one-man, 12-act show Bogosian wrote and starred in on Broadway in 1990. It features a series of sketches about life in the underworld of a major city.

Though it's 18 years old, many of the urban issues Bogosian was talking about back then are still relevant today, Piirto said.

"We found a lot of the topics he looks at are still plaguing us today," Piirto said. "We looks at the underbelly of man, especially the American man, from bums on the street to very successful attorneys and mob bosses."

Piirto took a few steps to make te play "his own." First, it's not a one-man show. (Bogosian wrote the original play as a vehicle to demonstrate his acting range, Piirto said.) He cast seven men and woman for a show. Second, it's shorter. Bogosian originally performed 12 sketches and wrote five additional "orphans" that were published along with the script. Piirto narrowed it down to six sketches and four orphans. Third, it should be funnier.

Bogosian is an aggressive, snide actor best known for intense monologues that are darkly funny. Piirto took it as a challenge to retain Bogosian's words, but lighten the mood around them.

"It was hard for me to reconcile with just beating our audience up with this stuff," he said. "... Without changing lines, we had to figure out how to bring the humor out."

"Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll" stars Zach Chacon, Chris Clausen, Joshua Devitt, Nick Hoyt, Daniel Myers, Jay Rattle, Brandy Harrell, and Jesse Silva. Harrell, who performs a monologue offstage, is the only woman in the cast.

Rehearsals have gone well, Piirto said. The cast came from a small audition - only one actor didn't get a part - but drew in talent perfect for the show, he said. Everyone came in with lines memorized on day one, which has given them time to develop characters and work on "audience interaction."

"I'm awed by them," Piirto said. "They carry the audience through a roller coaster ride. Hopefully at the end everyone is entertained and smiling."

Piirto, who moved to Racine when he was 5, described himself as a "minimalist" director who uses simple sets. "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll" is a plain set with graffiti, from local artists, sprayed on the wall.

"The idea is you're in an alley somewhere in the city," Piirto said. "It speaks to the urban ideas most of the monologues contain."

Piirto graduated with theater degree from UW-Parkside eight years ago and now works as a freelance technical director and set designer for theaters throughout southeastern Wisconsin, including the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson. He is the full-time resident technical director and set designer at the Sixth Street Theatre.

Prior to moving back to Racine, Piirto worked in Florida and in the Seattle area.

Along with Piirto, Matthew Rangel assistant directs and stage manages the show. The production staff includes Jenny Kostreva, Erik Piirto, Claudia Bruce, Bradford Ermel, Hans Michaelis, Taryn Fuhrman, Jerry Horton, and Tom Spraker.

"Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll" opens Friday at 8 p.m. and runs six shows over two weekends. The other dates include: Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m.; Aug. 7 and 8, 8 p.m., and Aug. 9, 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 on Fridays and Saturdays and $12 on Sundays.

For reservations, call the box office at (262) 632-6802. Sixth Street Theatres is located at 318 Sixth St.

Eric Bogosian in a classic monologue from "Talk Radio."

And one more scene, just for fun ...

One application in for 10th District alderman

City Council President Q.A. Shakoor II said he's received one formal application for the council's vacant seat.

Thomas Gursky Jr. was the first person to put in for the 10th District seat vacated by Tom Friedel. Friedel resigned to become city administrator.

Tenth district residents have until Aug. 10 to apply for the seat, which will be up for election next spring. Shakoor said the council hopes to fill the vacancy by the end of August.

Play Ball! with a kitten from Countryside

The Brewers are struggling, but the Cubs are hot -- what better excuse than that to adopt a baseball-loving kitten?

OK, maybe that's a stretch -- but you have to admit this is an adorable picture of a cute kitten from Countryside Humane Society!

Helios is one of many kittens Countryside has available for adoption. He is a domestic short hair with a black and white coat. Helios is eight weeks old, and has brothers and a sister also available for adoption.

Due to the large number of kittens currently at the shelter, you can get two cats or kittens for one adoption fee through Saturday, Aug. 1. The adoption fee is $95 which includes a spay or neuter, rabies and distemper vaccines, worming, microchip, feline leukemia testing, and a flea treatment.

Countryside has also recently changed its application for adoption to a simpler format. Bring shot records of any current cat or dog you own and all members of your family with you when applying and your application can be reviewed quickly.

Come meet Helios and all the other kittens at Countryside Humane Society, at 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Stimulus money may pay for gang prevention coordinator

Racine is seeking a three-year, $450,000 stimulus grant to coordinate gang prevention activities in the area.

The money would be used to hire a director and to create a database that tracks young adults who have had contacts with gangs. The director would work with local organizations already in place and the database likely would be made available to nonprofits, schools and other agencies.

If successful, the city would likely subcontract the program to an agency like Racine Vocational Ministries, which runs the Community Re-entry program for people coming out of prison.

The City Council's Personnel and Finance Committee unanimously approved the grant application. Grant Coordinator Debbi Embry said her discussions with state officials led her to believe Racine had a good chance at receiving the money.

"After meeting with the state, we felt we had a good chance because we have all of the pieces in place," Embry said.

Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II was enthusiastic about the grant.

"This is exactly what we need, and this will make a difference," he said.

Racine Concert Band to split from city

The city will spend an additional $10,000 next year to cut ties with the Racine Concert Band under an amicable agreement pending before the City Council.

The concert band, which has been playing concerts in Racine for 86 consecutive years, would receive $35,000 from the city next year. In exchange, the band (which received $25,000 this year) would provide its own insurance, transportation and storage.

The agreement settles a question that came up last July over whether members of the concert band are city employees. If approved by the City Council on Tuesday, it would clarify band members are not employed by the city.

The additional $10,000 will be at least partially offset by shifts in "hard and soft costs," City Administrator Tom Friedel told the Personnel and Finance Committee this week. Hard costs are generally considered money and soft costs are things like services.

The finance committee approved the agreement unanimously.

The Racine Concert Band, under the direction of Mark Eichner, is scheduled to play a free show at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Zoo Park. The theme is baritone and flute solos.

The band's free Aug. 9 concert, also at 7 p.m. at Zoo Park, will feature soprano and oboe solos.

Lee comes down to earth, with $24.5 million loss

In the past month, Lee Enterprises -- parent company of the Journal Times -- saw its stock rise from below 50-cents per share to almost $2. Yesterday, it jumped up 17 percent to close at $1.92. Lee was benefiting from a general rise in newspaper stocks, ever since the nation's largest newspaper chain, Gannett, reported a profitable quarter two weeks ago.

Today, Lee came back to earth, with the release of the company's 3rd Quarter financial results. Although the company reported having cut costs by 22 percent, revenue dropped by 20.5 percent, leading to a quarterly loss of $24.5 million. Minutes after the NYSE opened, the stock was down 33 cents per share.

Here is the lede from the company's financial statement:
Lee Enterprises, Incorporated (NYSE:LEE), reduced cash operating expenses, excluding unusual items, 22.0 percent in its third fiscal quarter ended June 28, 2009, as operating revenue declined 20.5 percent. Excluding non-cash impairment charges and other unusual items, diluted earnings per common share were 12 cents, compared with 30 cents a year ago. Free cash flow(2) totaled $22.1 million, compared with $34.2 million in 2008.

Including non-cash impairment charges, Lee recorded a loss per diluted common share of 55 cents for the quarter, compared with earnings of 6 cents per share a year ago.

“We are continuing to position Lee so it will emerge strong when the recession ends,” said Mary Junck, chairman and chief executive officer. “We reduced debt by $18 million during the quarter and again performed well within projections we provided to lenders in February. While overall business remains sluggish, it has stabilized, and many of our publishers are reporting cautious optimism from an increasing number of local advertisers. We are also encouraged by our efforts to expand our local advertising market share and the response we have received to new sales programs that reach non-traditional advertisers. Beginning this next quarter, we also expect an enthusiastic response to our rollout of online behavioral targeting advertising through the new Yahoo platform.”

She added: “Our streamlining of costs also remains on track, and, thanks in part to 22 percent reductions in the June quarter, we expect to reduce full-year 2009 cash costs, about 17 percent below 2008, a decrease of nearly $140 million. We have completed page width reduction across the company, realigned staffing and consolidated or outsourced printing and distribution in several more locations. As a result of those actions and many more, the overall rate of decline in our operating cash flow(3) has slowed dramatically since last quarter, and more individual enterprises have begun exceeding prior year. Our operating cash flow margin(3), which includes corporate costs, has improved to 21.9 percent from 21.0 percent a year ago.”


Total operating revenue from continuing operations for the quarter decreased 20.5 percent from a year ago to $203.8 million. Combined print and online advertising revenue decreased 24.3 percent to $148.0 million, with retail advertising down 18.4 percent, and classified down 35.2 percent. Combined print and online employment advertising revenue decreased 60.4 percent, automotive decreased 30.9 percent and real estate decreased 35.0 percent. Online advertising revenue declined 29.3 percent, with online retail advertising down 1.7 percent and online classified advertising down 45.8 percent. National advertising revenue decreased 11.4 percent. Circulation revenue declined 6.3 percent, partially a result of elimination of less profitable delivery areas.

Operating expenses, excluding unusual items, depreciation and amortization, decreased 22.0 percent to $157.6 million and decreased 21.5 percent in total. Compensation, excluding unusual items, declined 22.4 percent, with the average number of full-time equivalent employees down 16.8 percent. Newsprint and ink expense decreased 41.4 percent, a result of a reduction in newsprint volume of 36.4 percent and more favorable newsprint prices.

Operating cash flow decreased 16.9 percent compared with a year ago to $44.7 million. Including equity in earnings (loss) of associated companies, depreciation and amortization, as well as adjustments for impairment and other non-cash charges, the operating loss was $13.8 million.

Turner works on bill to protect felony victims

Rep. Bob Turner hopes to minimize the number of times victims of crimes have to testify in court.

Turner, D-Racine, is working with Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, and other Democrats and Republicans to allow testimony in certain criminal proceedings to be readmitted at later hearings. Now, victims are often required to re-testify several times during criminal proceedings.

Here's an excerpt from a release on the proposal:
In many instances, rather than simply readmitting the previously delivered testimony, the victim must also testify at a revocation hearing because the accused person was already on probation, parole, or extended supervision.

"This bill comes at the urging and request of the Kenosha County Victim Witness coordinators at the Kenosha District Attorney’s Office. Based on their hands-on experience assisting crime victims through this often difficult process, they believe that this change would extend an important additional protection during a very challenging time," Representative Barca explained. “This will be especially helpful in protecting children.”

The proposal would allow for testimony taken from a felony victim at a preliminary hearing to be used in a subsequent revocation hearing in cases where the defendant was already serving a previous sentence. Under the bill, if a party can show good cause for requiring the victim to appear they could still be forced to testify.

Representative Turner, Chairman of the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee explained, "If a state court has already established ‘probable cause’ based on the victim’s sworn testimony, it should be sufficient evidence in a later hearing before the Department of Corrections."

Identical legislation passed the Assembly as Assembly Bill 431 in the previous session with the support of the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association, the Wisconsin Troopers Association, and the Milwaukee Police Association.

July 29, 2009

Racine Produce store not closing, but it is for sale

No, Racine Produce isn't closing, as some customers have feared.

But the Hispanic-centered grocery store on Durand Avenue in Elmwood Plaza, is for sale.

Brothers Dino, left, and Jimmy Gregory opened the grocery store known for its abundant produce and Mexican foods in 2001. Dino says, "Business used to be good, but now it's down 40 percent from two years ago."

"It's not just us that are hurting," Dino says, gesturing to Racine -- and the entire country -- beyond. "Racine is very bad off," he says. "We need to get some jobs here," adds Jimmy.

"I see no hope here," says Dino. "People are leaving."

The brothers are Greek, but see nothing unusual in their running a store that caters to Racine's Hispanic population. Jimmy notes: "It's easy for Greeks to speak the Spanish language. There are cultural similarities between our countries. And it's traditional for Greeks to be in this business." He says many Hispanic-centered stores in Chicago are owned by Greeks.

If they sell Racine Produce, the brothers say they will open a similar store in Milwaukee, where they believe there is more opportunity. Right now, they say they've had interest in the store from "five or six" different individuals -- but "they've had difficulty getting bank credit."

The shelves at Racine Produce remain well-stocked. The bread aisle has plenty of churros, pan de platano, calabaza, canela and piedras. (Even some white bread rolls on a bottom shelf.) There is a full case of queso fresca; the deli section -- carniceria -- is stocked with pollo and pescados y mariscos. The cookie shelf has plenty of Marias, Sandwich Marquez, El Mexicano Canelas -- alongside the Oreos. And, of course, the fruit aisle is overflowing with the familiar and unfamiliar.

July 28, 2009

Racine County Fair extravaganza begins!

A well-stocked shelf of canned produce is a feast for the eyes.

And so it begins, the annual extravaganza of canned fruits, lovingly-raised livestock, crafts, tractor pulls, county fair food, music and gee-gaws... and so many more relics of a simpler age. All topped by the appearance of country singer Sara Evans Saturday night.

The Racine County Fair today officially opens its five-day run in Union Grove, with something -- many things! -- for everyone. And the best part, nostalgia for what once was, is free. All the rest -- well, admission is $8 a day for adults. (Bring two non-perishable items, and get $2 off the admission price until 3 p.m. today.)
Full Fair schedule here.
More pictures of the early 4-H judging are here.
Two Pekin drakes quench their thirst on this hot summer day. Their
owner is Mindy Oberhart, 12, of the Cloverview 4-H club of Sturtevant.

Lindsay Woelbing recognizes the face of Rachel Rushing,
a Union Grove classmate who lost her battle with cancer
on April 8, 2008, in a newsprint collage by Emily Helbling
of Sturtevant. It won a first-place ribbon.

Rylee Chart, 12, of the Cloverview 4-H club, discussed her drawings
with Tom Nowak. This one won a 2nd place ribbon.

Jeff Vogtshaller gives Samantha Ball, 16, of the Kan-Do 4-H club,
kudos for her 1st place photo.

After the seemingly endless flow of photographs was judged,
Will Meinke mounted them securely to the display wall.

T-shirt booth took shape the day before the fair opened.

'Grumpy's Grub' opening in former pizza place on Lathrop Ave.

A new family-style restaurant with a liquor license is poised to open in the former Geo's Pizza on Lathrop Ave.

"Grumpy's Grub and Suds" received approval for a liquor license Monday night from the city's Public Safety and Licensing Committee.

Owner Karley Barcalow, of Racine, plans to open Sept. 1. She'll employ about 15 people at the restaurant, which will be open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Barcalow described the menu as a traditional breakfast with handmade dinner special every day. "We want to keep it more of the home-cooked style," she said.

Barcalow brings a lifetime of experience to the restaurant. She started working as a dishwasher at 16 years old and worked her way up to waitress, manager and the owner of "Curt's Carryout and Delivery" in Kenosha. She now manages the Denny's Restaurant at the corner of Washington Ave. and Green Bay Road.

The restaurant site is basically an empty building, Barcalow said. She's installing a new kitchen with new ranges, and will receive a liquor license (pending full City Council approval) once the kitchen is approved by the city Health Department.

The committee approved the liquor license unanimously. The council will take it up next week.

Aldermen exchange barbs over committee's review of liquor licenses

Alderman Mike Shields accused the City Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee Monday night of treating minority-owned bars and restaurants unfairly.

"The way they drill people of color is a problem with me," Shields said in the hallway during the committee meeting.

Shields' comments came after the committee asked Gerald Bester, an African-American businessman from Milwaukee, a series of tough questions about his plans to open a new restaurant in Uptown.

Alderman Aron Wisneski, chairman of the committee, forcefully rejected Shields' contention.

"As usual, he (Shields) didn't do his homework to make an informed decision," Wisneski said.

Wisneski said the committee asks every business that's applying for a liquor license a series of questions designed to probe the applicant's ability to run a safe business.

He acknowledged the committee is tougher than its predecessors, but said it's tougher because the council allowed people to sell alcohol without doing enough research into their backgrounds. The result: Unsafe and unruly bars that brought down the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

"Our committee is doing its job," Wisneski said. "We don't hand out licenses like candy. Liquor licenses are a serious job for our committee."

Every meeting the committee calls bars and restaurants before it to review recent police incidents in or near the establishment. License holders are typically asked to explain what happened and are given a series of actions meant to control crowds and cut down on violent incidents.

For example, the committee asks bars to install a certain type of video camera to help monitor the premises. Another common request is an electronic ID checker that forces the bars and liquor stores to scan IDs of people buying alcohol.

The committee will also ask bars to close early if police incidents are occurring after 1 a.m.

Occasionally, bars choose not to comply and turn in their liquor license. Cash Money, a former bar on S. Memorial Drive, shut down after a murder and a shooting occurred nearby.

Other times, businesses are denied. A proposed Sixth Street convenience store failed to win a liquor license because neighboring businesses were opposed.

Mostly, though, bar owners are called in, scolded for police incidents and ordered to work with the City Attorney's office to make improvements. The underlying threat is the city will pull a business's liquor license if it doesn't comply.

"We have to do a better job of making sure they're good neighbors, not bad neighbors," Wisneski said about liquor license holders. "Alcohol makes people do stupid things. Good tavern owners know how to do things responsibly. They know how to be good neighbors."

As for business owners of color, Wisneski said the committee is tough to all applicants and license holders. He pointed to a tough series of questions Karley Barcalow, who is white, went through about her new restaurant on Lathrop Ave. They were similar to the questions Bester and another applicant, who is Hispanic, had to answer Monday night. (Barcalow, who received committee approval, said after the meeting she was a little flustered by the committee's questions.)

To ensure fair treatment, Wisneski said the committee works off a list of standard questions it asks all applicants, Wisneski said.

He added that while the committee is tough, it grants most liquor license applications.

"It is very rare we deny a license," Wisneski said. "A person would have had to have committed a felony. But we take this seriously. We don't just rubber stamp applications. We have high expectations for them (license holders)."

It's Moo-la-palooza time!

What is it with cows? I like a good steak or burger as much as the next guy, but I can take or leave the big ol' flatulent bovine they come from. And yet, a couple of weeks ago, Racine had a "dress like a cow" event at Regency Mall. And now we're about to have a "moo like a cow" contest.

Only saving grace: this latest cowmedy event comes with a charitable segment: Every entrant will earn a dollar for 4-H.

And, of course, last year's winner came from Racine: Grand Champion in 2008 was the city's own Phillip Prantle, who won in a "moo-off." As you'd expect, we have a video of this championship event!

Our local bovine bellowers will qualify to compete in this year's Moo-la-palooza at the Wisconsin State Fair, a promotion run by the Cousins Submarines sandwich chain. The 2009 Moo Tour will visit Caledonia on Saturday, July 31, and the Racine County Fair on Aug. 1, in search of the best, brightest and most creative moo-ers to compete in Moo-la-palooza.

Moo Master Sean Cundy and the Cousins Moo Team will audition moo-ers on July 31 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Cousins Subs at 5131 Douglas Ave. in Caledonia, and on Aug. 1 from 3 to 7 p.m. in front of the cattle barn at the Racine County Fair. Contestants come dressed in cow outfits, cow hats, and channel their inner moo. There is no cost to enter, and Cousins will donate $1 for every entrant to local 4-H youth groups. The most skillful moo-ers will receive a golden cowbell and the chance to move on to the big competition at State Fair.

State Fair Moo-la-palooza grand champion receives a $1,000 prize and a year of free subs from Cousins.

“We hope this might be the start of a great tradition,” said Norman Lorentz, owner of the Caledonia Cousins Subs. "4-H does so much for the youth in our state, and Cousins wanted to give something back.”

The Moo-la-palooza competition at the Wisconsin State Fair is on Aug. 15.

For more information on Moo-la-palooza, visit its website or Facebook page.

Kohl votes for Sotomayor, but criticizes process

U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, D-WI, voted today, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to approve Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court. While he expressed "no reservations" about Sotomayor, Kohl joined in criticism of the confirmation process itself, where nominees are unwilling to speak openly and "cautiously cloak" their responses "in generalities."

In his prepared statement, Kohl said:
...I am pleased to cast my vote for Judge Sotomayor, an individual whose life story is an inspiration to millions of Americans. A child of immigrants with modest means, Judge Sotomayor has risen by dint of exemplary academic accomplishment and hard work, to the cusp of confirmation to our nation’s highest court.

But Judge Sotomayor is much more than just a story of accomplishment. She has shown herself to be a judge truly worthy of elevation to the Supreme Court. Both on the bench and before this Committee, Judge Sotomayor has proved that she has the necessary character, competence and integrity to serve on the Supreme Court. Judge Sotomayor’s distinguished 17-year judicial record demonstrates her commitment to fair and impartial application of the law, and respect for the values which make up our Constitution.

At her hearing, Judge Sotomayor assured us that she will listen with an open mind to all sides of an argument and that she will be mindful of the very real impact her decisions will have on each and every American. She pledged fidelity to the Constitution and to the Court’s precedent, as well as a responsibility to cautiously review precedent when justice requires.

As we conclude our Committee’s action on Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, we need to reflect upon the role that confirmation hearings play in the Senate’s duty to “advise and consent.” While I have no reservations about my support for Judge Sotomayor, I share the concerns expressed by many Americans, legal commentators and others about our Committee’s ability to have candid and substantive conversations with nominees about the issues Americans care about.

We all know that the confirmation process is crucial – it is the public’s only opportunity to learn about a nominee before he or she serves for life on the highest court in our land. But, for many years we have seen a familiar pattern from nominees – Democratic and Republican alike – who have learned that the path of least resistance is to limit their responses and cautiously cloak them in generalities.

Understandably, nominees don’t want to risk their confirmation by saying anything that might provoke potential opponents. And we cannot ask nominees to disclose how they would vote on cases that might come before them. But it is reasonable for us to ask them to speak more openly about past Supreme Court decisions and how they would decide cases that are close calls -- what reasoning they would use and what factors they would consider.

The concerns I raise do not reflect any personal criticism about Judge Sotomayor. I think she responded to our questions with great intellect and sincerity, and that she has rightly earned bipartisan praise.

However, going forward, Mr. Chairman, I hope that together our Committee can explore ways to achieve the greater candor that the confirmation process demands and the American people deserve. For example, we could convene a bipartisan group of committee members, members of the bar, constitutional scholars, and perhaps members of the media who have experience following the court and our hearings to help us determine what specific questions we can and should expect substantive answers about. If we can do this, then the Committee’s unique opportunity to engage nominees in the great legal questions facing our nation will more effectively fulfill the Senate’s constitutional duty.

In the meantime, I commend President Obama for nominating Judge Sotomayor – a woman of great ability who has demonstrated an enduring commitment to public service and to the law. I look forward to her tenure on the Court.

Good things in the past year ...

A local business wrote us this morning asking for "good things" that have happened in Racine and Racine County in the past year. Here's the list I sent her back off the top of my head ...
  1. Lots of great local events like the volleyball tournament, triathlon, Hot Rod Power Tour, Great Lakes Beer Fest bringing people into the community.
  2. Farmer's markets, urban garden at Park High, and creation of "Eat Right Racine" and "Neighborhood Walk" programs
  3. Horlick High basketball making the state finals.
  4. Fourth of July parade and Post Prom's continued success
  5. MitchellMcKinley Middle School kids win national documentary film awards
  6. Relay for Life
  7. E3 jobs program for young adults interested in green jobs
  8. Work on expanding I-94 started
  9. REC Center on the Root River in Racine.
  10. North Beach wins national beach award - again.
There's lots more to add ... post them in the comments!

Volunteers to build city's first special-needs-accessible playground

An overhead view of the Lockwood Park playground that will be built Aug. 15.

UPDATE: Have some time this weekend? Help build the new Lockwood Park playground. Work starts on Saturday at 8 a.m. and runs through 6 p.m. It'll start up again on Sunday at 10 a.m. and continue until 4 p.m. Volunteers are encouraged to bring work gloves and protective eyewear. Drinks will be provided both days and lunch will be provided on Saturday.

Questions? Contact Alderman Aron Wisneski at:

ORIGINAL POST: The city's first playground designed for children with special needs will be built in Lockwood Park in August.

The new playground will include wheelchair-accessible ramps to playsets for toddlers and older children. It will also have a poured-in-place rubberized surface that's both soft and firm. The blue surface will be poured after the playground is built and will provide a padded landing in case children fall, but also a firm surface for wheelchairs to cross.

Alderman Aron Wisneski has worked on getting the playground for over a year. He and his wife are now recruiting volunteers to help build the playground on Saturday, Aug. 15.

Wisneski said the playground is accessible to all people. For example, elderly or disabled residents who may be wary about six or seven steps to reach a playset with their grandchildren will be able to walk up the ramps. The same goes for the rubberized surface. Most playground use wood chips or sand as a base, which is nearly impossible for someone in a wheelchair to cross.

"It's more accessible for everyone," Wisneski said.

The City Council agreed to spend $63,230 on the playground, which came with a matching grant from the equipment manufacturer.

The Kiwanis Club of West Racine recently donated $360.75 to the city to purchase a "Zero-G chair" (a hanging swing with harnesses) for the new playground. The Finance and Personnel Committee approved the donation Monday night.

If you're interested in volunteering to build the new Lockwood Park playground, contact Alderman Aron Wisneski at:

July 27, 2009

Restaurant planned at former nightclub 'The Bank' in Uptown

Gerald Bester plans to open a new restaurant in Uptown. "Gerald's" will be located at
1501 Washington Ave., the former home of "The Bank" nightclub.

The former nightclub "The Bank" in Racine's Uptown is ready for its next act.

Gerald Bester, of Milwaukee, is preparing to open a restaurant in the space that was once home to the controversial nightclub. Bester is planning to buy the building at 1501 Washington Ave. and turn it into "Gerald's," a restaurant he described as "upscale that's a step below elegant dining and two or three steps above fast food." The restaurant has a smokehouse theme and will serve a variety of specialty items, Bester said.

His plans took an important step forward Monday night. The City Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee agreed to give Bester an alcohol license as soon as he adds a kitchen capable of serving 150 people in the building.

The committee grilled Bester on his plans, but a strong business plan and an endorsement from the Uptown Business Association won over the aldermen. They unanimously backed Bester's restaurant.

Bester said he plans to build the kitchen toward the end of October. Contractors and plans are lined up for the job, which will actually complete a kitchen started when a restaurant/bar called the "The Vault" was in business about five years ago.

Bester, of Milwaukee, hopes to open "Gerald's" in spring 2010. He has experience running businesses. He now owns a trucking company, which he plans to sell to open the restaurant, and is the former owner of "The Comedy Spot," a comedy club in Milwaukee.

He'll also have some help. Karl Kopp, the owner of Kopp's Frozen Custards in the Milwaukee area, will serve as a mentor. "He's agreed to help in every aspect of the business," Bester said.

The distinctive building at 1501 Washington Ave. (right) is a former bank that was converted into a nightclub in 2000. The interior is beautifully designed with a second-story balcony overlooking the floor.

The building has sat vacant for the last five years after "The Vault," a bar/restaurant that replaced "The Bank" nightclub shut down. "The Bank" was open from 2000 to 2003.

Current owner Linnea Anthony said several people looked at the building, but none were a good fit. "It's been waiting for Gerald," she said.

Richard Kemper, a dentist who lives a few buildings down from the proposed restaurant, spoke in favor of Bester receiving a liquor license as long as he puts in a full kitchen and treats the space more as a restaurant than a bar or nightclub. Kemper, speaking on behalf of the Uptown Business Association, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about Bester's proposal.

"We look forward to 2010," he said.

While the committee backed Bester, they made it near impossible for him to open just a bar at 1501 Washington Ave. Along with a finished kitchen, the committee required Bester to give them a menu, set hours of operation and come back to the committee if he makes any significant changes to his restaurant business plan at any time.

Bester agreed to the changes and the committee gave him the go ahead for a liquor license. The full City Council will vote on the license next week.

Judging begins as County Fair nears

Lauren Woelbing, 15, of the Raymond 4-H Club, won
a variety
of ribbons from Judge Eileen Mirsberger

The Racine County Fair doesn't open until 8 a.m. Wednesday, but there's plenty of activity already under way at the Fairgrounds in Union Grove on Highway 11. Set-up, of course, but also the judging of numerous 4-H projects.

The "official" opening of the Fair is noon Wednesday, but that's preceded by Junior horse and dairy judging, and the antique tractor pull. Don't take our word for it: there's excitement every day: livestock and produce judging, truck and tractor pulls, motorcross jumpoff, antique tractor parade, bands and singers, the crowning of the Fairest of the Fair and country singer Sara Evans on Saturday night.

Complete Fair schedule is here. The Fair continues through Sunday.

One bit of advice: When it comes to that great County Fair food, pace yourselves.

Here are some more pictures of the early 4-H judging, taken for us Monday by Linda Peterson.

Carson Bunker, 10, won a 2nd place ribbon from Judge Charlie Reich

Charlie Reich, who's been a judge for seven years, said, "It's great to see so many young people carrying on the fine woodworking tradition. A lot of credit goes to parents for their encouragement, and to instructors Dale Helgerson, George Henderson, and others. I look forward to judging every's the best job I've ever had."

Kathy Braun judged Open Class photos in front of avid photographers

First-year woodworker Alex Westman, 10, won a blue ribbon

Lindsay Woelbing's baskets earned blue and red ribbons.
She's 18, and has been a Raymond 4-H member for nine years.

Cloverbud Morgan McNamara, 7, talks with Junior 4-H judge Marissa Meinke

A perennial exhibitor, Paisley lawn furniture, is in its usual location.

Kelly Pum, 4, waits cheerfully while her brother's project is judged