December 5, 2009

Two longtime employees buy Wilson Funeral Home

Two longtime employees of the Wilson Funeral Home, Michael J. Calliari and Christopher M. Chvilicek, have bought the business from Neil L. Tomczak and his wife, Mary.

Both Calliari and Chvilicek are licensed funeral directors with 15 years' experience with the Wilson Funeral Home, 1212 Lathrop Ave. They both earned their funeral service degrees from Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Michael is a native of Racine and graduated from Case High School. His mother’s four-year battle with cancer was a life-changing experience that made him acutely aware of the human and emotional needs in times of crisis. He is married to Penny and has two sons, Alex and Nicholas.

Christopher is a lifelong resident of Racine and graduated from Horlick High School. He has degrees in biology and psychology from UW–Platteville. Christopher and his wife, Brenda, have two sons, Nolan and Aiden.

The Wilson Funeral Home was founded in 1946 by Robert G. Wilson at its original location, 1139 Blaine Ave. For 63 years the Wilson Funeral Home has been locally owned and family managed through two generations of families, Robert G. Wilson Sr. and his son, Robert G. Wilson Jr., and Edward L Tomczak and his son, Neil L. Tomczak.

Calliari and Chvilicek have partnered to continue the tradition of being locally owned and are committed to provide quality and personally dignified service.

The Wilson Funeral Home is a member of the International Order of the Golden Rule (OGR), an organization open only to family-owned funeral homes. OGR’s mission is to seek out dependable, ethical funeral homes in every community. The Wilson Funeral Home is also a member of the National Funeral Directors Association and Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association.

Rev. Jeff Barrow elected to lead Lutheran synod

Rev. Jeff Barrow, center, applauded after his election
as Bishop in Milwaukee (Photo from ELCA synod website)

The Rev. Jeff Barrow, senior pastor of Holy Communion Lutheran Church in Racine for the past 18 years, today was elected Bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

He starts the new job on Feb. 1, with his official installation on March 14 for a six-year term. As Bishop, Barrow will become the spiritual and administrative leader for 137 Lutheran congregations in Southeast Wisconsin, with some 91,000 members.

The synod runs from the state line up to Sheboygan. There are three other synods in Wisconsin.

Originally from Billings, MT, Barrow, 58, was ordained in 1979 and has been a pastor in Wisconsin for 30 years. He and his wife, Kate, a teacher and familiar presence on the stage of the Racine Theatre Guild, have two children: Jackson, 19, a student at UW-Milwaukee, and Anneka, 15, a student at Walden HS.

Asked about the challenges he will face as Bishop, Barrow said, "Goodness gracious, a lot of our churches are in old neighborhoods. In Racine, for example, there are 15 ELCA churches, a lot on top of each other. It's like having 11 1957 Buicks parked in the same garage."

Major issues facing the church are economics and unrest over the national church body's recent vote to allow gay and lesbian ministers.

"I am very grateful to be a pastor in this church," Barrow told the ELCA News Service. "I am hopeful for what is ahead for the Greater Milwaukee Synod and the wider church." Barrow said his experience as a parish pastor was helpful as he worked with congregations in his role as assistant to the Bishop. "I think I will always look at things through the eyes of a parish pastor," he said.

Barrow once served as pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, where the synod offices are now located. He also was on the synod staff part-time, helping congregations with transitions.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the largest Lutheran church body, and the election of a new Bishop -- the vacancy caused by the resignation in September of Bishop Paul Stumme-Diers, who left to become pastor of a church in Washington state -- is a grassroots affair. Lay delegates chosen by each of the congregations in the synod, and all the ordained pastors, got together in Milwaukee Friday night -- 370 voters in all.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson led the process with a worship service. Then each of the voters submitted the name of one nominee. Thirty-six pastors received nominations, many with just one vote. Barrow received 50 votes on this first ballot, nine more than the pastor in second place.

Overnight, the nominees were contacted and the list reduced to seven. Each gave a five-minute presentation today, and then on each subsequent vote the list was reduced until on the fifth vote Barrow won election by 209-185 over the Rev. Susan Tjornehoj, director of Evangelical Mission of the Minneapolis Area Synod..

Give the kids what they want ... and they'll read it!

It was all about reading Saturday morning, as thousands of kids poured into the warehouse at Merchants Moving where some 50,000 books were waiting for them.

Long rows of pallets, each with piles of books for a different age range, were the big draw, as each child was allowed to fill a large bag with all he or she could carry. Nor were books the morning's only attraction: Santa Claus was present, after all, along with Sparky the firedog, carols, a string ensemble and even Toby, a reader-dog. More than 100 volunteers worked quietly behind the scenes, replenishing to piles of books and making everything go smoothly.

Children sat contentedly on the pallets, holding up this book and that, reading a few pages, putting it back to find something else. Moms and Dads helped, some sitting quietly to read with their children. Julia Burney Witherspoon, whose Cops 'N Kids reading program started it all, proudly wore reindeer antlers and shepherded shy kids from place to place, garnering some a book here, a junior police badge there. Her smile was ear to ear. "Isn't this wonderful." she said; it wasn't a question.

And when it was done, you can be sure there were many Racine kids sitting quietly in a corner at home, engrossed in their latest acquisition: a stack of new books. How neat is that?

Vanessa Guaerrero, 5, reads to Investigator Tracy Hintz

Brock Batwinski, 1, surrounded by books

Elizabeth Marcellis, 5, with Santa

Postscript: There were a lot of law enforcement personnel at the book giveaway, signing autographs, giving away junior policemen badges and pencils, generally making small talk -- all part of their effort to win hearts and minds while the kids are receptive. Racine Police Chief Kurt Wahlen was also present, and I joshed him gently, saying, "Shouldn't you be out on the street catching criminals?" Ha, joke's on me: While he was driving to Saturday's event in his unmarked squad, a car sped past him at 50-60 mph. Wahlen turned on his portable flashing lights, stopped the vehicle and arrested its driver: a woman driving with a suspended license for the third time who had two warrants pending.

Artists' studio tour is full of surprises...

You never know what you'll find at the annual artists' studio open house at the Racine Business Center, where the creations range from traditional to avant-garde, from work done 20 years ago to those on which the paint is still drying.

Moreover, just when you think you have an artist pegged as a serious sculptor, because of one gallery of his work at this end of the corridor, you stumble into another gallery at the other end and find he's got a comic side as well.

Some three dozen studios were open to visitors today, showing the work of about 50 artists. Here are a few things that caught my eye.

Linda Somlai is dwarfed here by her -- oh, my! what to call it? -- assemblage/ sculpture called Madame Hudson, which took her about two years to construct. It is made of thousands upon thousands of hand-made beads, themselves made from old tins; you know, candy tins, tea tins, that sort of thing.

It began with a conversation with her son, she said. "We were talking about old tin cans and what to do with the garbage they generate." And so, she began making a metal tree that looks as if it got its nourishment from old tin cans, from garbage.

Friends who heard about the project started giving her tin cans -- from Russia, China, Amsterdam. She used found objects, broken pieces of jewelry, junk. The sculpture's name comes from the old metal Hudson automobile logo she happened to find.

Below is a closeup of Madame Hudson's head. Click to enlarge for all the detail.

Detail of Madame Hudson; price not yet determined

The artist who caught me -- and other gallery visitors -- by surprise was Bradford D. Lee, whose gallery of museum-quality alabaster and marble sculptures was the first encountered by studio visitors. Here's the gallery; the piece on the right is two-faced Sybil.

Sybil by Bradford D. Lee: $7,000

But in another gallery, we found another side of Lee: Humorous paper sculptures made by him and his wife, Marie, "for relaxation," she said. Here's what they look like:

Hippies by Bradford D. Lee: $200 each

Jana McLaughlin's Sunflowers, $200, platinum over pigment,
with antique Rochester View camera.

Alice Hazarian's clay Ram, $400, draws on her Armenian heritage

Janet Hoffman's Mermaids beckon; $20 each

Wall-sized sculpture of walnut leaf stems, by Maureen Fritchen

Bright fleece and crochet hat and scarf by Marjorie Meyer, $21

Marilyn Ward teaches children's literature at Carthage,
and brings students to her studio to see her collection
of antique doll houses (and lots more interesting
stuff). She has them sign her tool pegboard.

From Jerry Belland's Tortures of Solitude studio bulletin board

It's almost Vivaldi o'clock in the studio... clock actually
a bit of appropriate composer's music on the hour.

December 4, 2009

This SC Johnson heiress is a pop singer

The sixth generation -- the great-great-great-granddaughter of Samuel Curtis Johnson, founder of SC Johnson -- is a pop singer?

Five generations of Johnsons have built what started back in 1886 as Johnson's Prepared Paste Wax Company into the worldwide home products behemoth we know today as SC Johnson, a family company (with sales of about $8 billion a year).

The family, in fact, still runs it: the fifth generation, Sam Johnson's kids -- Fisk, Curtis, Helen and Winnie -- are firmly in charge of the various corporate entities and foundation.

But what about the sixth generation? Will they find inspiration in Raid, Pledge, Glade and all the other products that have enthroned five members of the family in the top half of the Forbes 400 list, with a combined net worth approaching $10 billion?

In a word, no. At least not Samantha Marq, daughter of Winnie Johnson Marquart, younger sister of H. Fisk Johnson III, chairman and CEO of SCJ.

We learned today through the 'net that Samantha, "an heiress to the SC Johnson fortune," has just released her first single, Super Girl, "a unique blend of hip hop infused pop and dance on her first album The Evolution of Love in Dysfunction."

Samantha has a website where the tune will be available for downloading free, starting in January. For now, however, you can surf over there and listen to it. (Just click on the Music link.) The website says Samantha will release each track from the album separately, over a period of time, "as diary entries" and is "treating each new single as an album release unto itself, complete with full videos." You have to sign up and become a member for access to the new tracks and videos, but it's free. The song is also on Samantha's MySpace page, but only for this weekend it says.

Notes the website, "Already a regular staple on the Hollywood Red Carpet scene, this heiress is all grown up and ready to take the music world by storm."

“This album is so personal to me. I want everyone to know how hard I worked on this project and be able to listen to the music and take something special away from it.... My whole life people knew my name, but hopefully this album will show people who I am.”

Her online bio says Samantha grew up in Virginia Beach, VA, and graduated from California's Pepperdine University; her father is Michael Marquart, who owned Windmark Recording, a studio where she watched Justin Timberlake record Justified (which we don't pretend to have heard).

St. Nicholas raises funds, gifts at annual lunch

Donated gifts piled high at St. Nicholas lunch

St. Nicholas made his annual appearance in Racine Friday, collecting toys, food and money for Tex Reynolds' Toys for Tots and the Racine County Food Bank.

St. Nick -- not to be mistaken for Santa Claus -- headlined the annual St. Nicholas lunch at Infusino's, sponsored by M&I Bank. Some 190 business people came to eat and support the two local charities. This was the sixth annual St. Nicholas lunch; in past years, M&I has raised over $10,000 plus the donated toys and foodstufs for the two charities.

Dan Taivalkoski of the food bank and Darlene Patrizzi of Toys for Tots both noted that overall donations are down this year. Taivalkoski said the pantries he stocks served more than 2,200 families in October; Patrizzi said 981 families, with 2,380 children, have already registered for Toys for Tots (registration is continuing).

Tom Gavigan, Dan Risch
and Tim Majcen, l-r

St. Nicholas, in the form of Tom Gavigan, senior vice-president of M&I here, and Tim Majcen, local president, gave the bank's annual award for outstanding community service to Dan Risch, CEO of Lincoln Lutheran, whose organization serves more than 5,000 people each year.

Besides a plaque, Risch received a red tie symbolizing the fact that St. Nicholas wore red vestments. Many luncheon attendees also wore red, making them eligible for a number of door prizes donated by Kortendick Ace Hardware.

December 3, 2009

Students from Racine Christian School
do well at Speech and Spelling Festival

Emily Porcaro , Hannah Parsons, Amy Westplate, Grant Dasovic,
Kellie Friesema, Drew Patterson, Tyler Jensen, Bradley Minger,
and Ben Meekma, (left to right).

Students from Racine Christian School recently participated in the Wisconsin Christian Schools Speech and Spelling Festival in Randolph, and "scored extremely well," according to Principal Dave Van Swol.

Here are their results:
  • Original Speech: Hannah Parsons, Nolan Bratt, Micaela Saldivar and Jacob Rhoads – I Superior.
  • Dramatic Dialogue: Olivia Garcia and Lindsey Czernicki, Olivia Karegeannes and Hallie Charbogian, and Abby Wiegers and Abigail Stewart – I Superior. Emily Pocaro and Amy Westplate – II Excellent.
  • Dramatic Monologue: Abigail Stewart, Nico Salazar, and Emily Nichols – I Superior. Kellie Friesema – II Excellent.
  • General Storytelling: Nora Nichols, Jacob Rhoads, and Conner Schultz – I Superior. Casey Ann Wiegers – II Excellent.
  • Bible Storytelling: Andrew Smith and Emily Nichols – I Superior. Kyle Schultz – II Excellent.
  • Interpretative Reading: Levi Montee, Drew Patterson, Abby Parson, and Hallie Charbogian - I Superior.
  • Extemporaneous Speech: Jon Cooper and Nico Salazar – I Superior.
  • Choral Reading: Grades Five and Six – I Superior. Grades Seven & Eight – II Excellent.
  • Reader's Theater: Grade Five – I Superior. "Jumanji" – I Superior. "Gregory the Terrible Eater" – I Superior.
  • Spelling: Tyler Jensen – Second Place; Katie Churchill, Nolan Bratt, and Casey Ann Wiegers – Honorable Mention.
Racine Christian is a K-8 elementary school serving families from more than 40 Christian churches throughout the area. The school is located at 912 Virginia St. and on the web at

Students set candlelight vigil for climate action

Racine students are organizing another rally, this one a candlelight vigil in support of action -- and not just hot air -- on climate change.

The rally will be held on Saturday, Dec. 12, at 5 p.m., at Monument Square. It's a bring-your-own-candle vigil, and open to the public. Not coincidentally, it will take place while some 16,000 delegates and activists are attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Among those attending the Copenhagen meeting will be President Obama, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Racine resident Jamie Racine, one of two Wisconsin student representatives.

This latest rally, organized by Joseph McNutt, a student at Walden III High, and other students, is in response to President Obama's statement that he would not sign anything at Copenhagen, despite the years of preparation for the event. "We want to show Obama and the leaders of other nations that we don't want talk, we want action." The rally is an follow-up to the one held in Monument Square on Oct. 24, in conjunction with more than 5,200 similar events around the world, under the auspices of

"We will gather at Monument Square and promote action at Copenhagen instead of just speeches," McNutt said. "President Obama will go there and deliver a rousing speech and then go on to Norway to collect his Nobel Prize. We just want to show we want action."

Racine's rally on the 12th is one of many again organized by Their collective messsage, contained in a letter McNutt received, is this: The World Wants a Real Deal -- people all over the planet are demanding a binding global climate agreement guided by the latest science and built upon principles of justice and equity.

The Saturday rallies in many cities will be followed by the ringing of church bells, the beating of drums and the blowing of horns -- all for 350 times -- on Sunday, Dec. 13.

Here's more from
As Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed said last week at a summit of the most vulnerable nations: "We will not sign a global suicide pact, in Copenhagen or anywhere."

Instead, he and the other nations called for a "survival pact," for commitments by the developed world to cut emissions enough to get the atmospheric concentration of CO2 back to 350.

Some of the planned candlelight vigils will take place at iconic places in communities all over the world. Others will be outside American consulates and embassies, and at senators' offices throughout the United States. Partly this is because the U.S. is, historically, the country most responsible for the carbon in the world's atmosphere. But it's also because America, if it chose, could lead the way to a sane global climate policy.

...We need to send a signal to say that speeches and prizes are good, but action is what's really required -- enough action to head us back towards 350 parts per million.

Obama will bring an emissions target to the table in Copenhagen, a bittersweet development in this political drama. Sweet because having any sort of commitment from the U.S. increases the chances of global collaboration on a climate deal, bitter because U.S. emissions target represents a paltry 3% reductions below 1990 levels -- far from the ambitious cuts scientists say are necessary to get back to 350.

The United States now holds a big key to unlock this process, and we need Obama and the U.S. Congress to turn that key -- which is why many of the candlelight vigils will take place at U.S. senate offices, and at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.

...Here's the deal: the huge day of action on Oct. 24 was a tremendous start, and it's hard to believe that it was only a month ago that you created what's being called "the most widespread day of political action in history." It took the most important number on earth and made it one of the most well-known.

Copenhagen continues that process--with the whole world paying attention, we need to remind our leaders that we don't need rhetoric, we need change. Fast.

Costumer's son scores on other side of the footlights

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree ... or so they say. Still, in the theater, sometimes it falls on the other side of the stage

Racine seamstress and costumer-to-the-stars Kitty Schweitzer sent out a link this afternoon to a Chicago Tribune review of Redmoon Theater's Winter Pageant 2009, a production that reminded the reviewer of "a hipster clown show or a Dr. Seuss drawing brought to life."

But that wasn't what got Kitty excited; rather it was the one performer singled out for praise: Her 22-year-old son, Alexander M. Knapp: "...he of the luxuriant dreadlocks is an especially funny and effective co-conspirator."

You can read the whole review here (although that's all it had to say about Alex) ... and be sure to stop in at Kitty's Seams Unlimited shop on Main Street to give the proud mama congratulations for a chip off the old block, even if he's on the "wrong" side of the footlights.

St. Cat's freezes tuition for 2010-2011 school year

St. Catherine’s High School today announced a tuition freeze for the 2010-2011 school year.

A news release from the school said:
As part of its commitment to affordability, St. Catherine’s High School announced that it will freeze tuition for students for the 2010-2011 academic year.In response to the struggling economy, Board President Tom Leuenberger said, "A tuition freeze in these turbulent economic times is a strong message from St. Catherine's that we are using every resource we have in an attempt to allow as many students as possible to realize and benefit from the outstanding educational opportunities available at our school. We hope that all of our students, parents, alumni, and friends will take this opportunity to find some way to "be an Angel" and help St. Catherine's in our effort to continue our mission and grow our school.”

SCHS parents Amy Murray replied, “We were glad to hear that the board at St. Catherine's High School voted to freeze next year's tuition. I'm sure it was a difficult decision. Like so many families like us, every little bit counts, especially since we will have two students at St. Catherine's next year. So, far it has been a great experience for our daughter who is a freshman. We hope more families are able to choose St. Catherine's High School to continue their Catholic education. “

Each era brings its own challenges not the least of which, in our present day, is the economic pressures faced by all of us. Demonstrating a true awareness and understanding of these challenging times, the High School Board of Directors recently approved a tuition freeze for the coming year, 2010-2011. We support this significant decision but also recognize that this choice represents great contributions from faculty and staff. We hope that many young women and men will continue to choose attendance at our school, a school that in the Dominican tradition encourages all students to achieve their greatest potential as they prepare to be, faith-filled, socially responsible men and women.” added Sharon Simon, OP, President of the Racine Dominicans.

Christopher Olley school president said, “For nearly 150 years Saint Catherine’s High School and the Racine Dominicans, have partnered with committed parents to provide an excellent faith-based education. This commitment to freeze tuition by the SC Corp Board is a message that our school will do everything possible to keep Catholic Education affordable for Racine. A tuition freeze can be an effective tool if both enrollment and stewardship increases. As we take the necessary steps to prepare for Saint Catherine's future, I would like to say thank you to those who support our Dominican mission. Your prayers, wisdom and wealth give hope to countless Racine families."

For more information on attending St. Catherine’s High School, email Sean Brady, SCHS Admissions Director, or call 632-2785 ext. 429.

Now it's beginning to look a lot like winter...

Does today mark the real start of winter? I ask the question while looking out the window, at a steady stream of fluffy snowflakes drifting down.

It's now a few minutes after noon, but while the flurries seem relentless only a few are sticking. The bigger clumps look like pollen, but even they quickly melt and disappear, barely staying long enough to have their picture taken. We shall see: the weather bureau says 100% chance of snow -- maybe up to half an inch today -- but the temperatures will range from 23° to 39°, so nothing's certain.

Still, better safe than sorry. I went shopping for a snow shovel yesterday -- they range in price from $8 to $35 at the four stores I checked. Right now, plenty are available. But be forewarned...

OOHPs send out Snowdance rejection letters

Local playwrights got some disappointing news this week. The Over Our Head Players' Snowdance committee sent out rejection letters for the annual 10-minute comedy festival.

As someone who has had Snowdance plays rejected a few times over the years, it just doesn't feel good to get passed over. But it's certainly understandable. The committee now gets hundreds of submissions from around the world and then sells out practically all of its Snowdance performances. OOHPs work hard to put together the most successful show possible.

More important, I think, is the sheer number of people OOHPs has writing comedy every year, thanks to Snowdance. It's rewarding to simply put words to paper in an effort to make others laugh, smile, think ... and laugh some more. Congratulations to all Snowdance playwrights for their submissions, and good luck next year!

Performances of this year's festival run from Jan. 29 to Feb. 28. Here's the list of this year's finalists, which includes two former Racine residents:
Wedding Belles by Brett Hursey, Longwood University, Farmville, VA
A young bride gets more than just bad luck when she sees her future husband moments before the wedding

Ray Who? by David Berger, Madison, Wisconsin
It may be “Up North,” but has a Green Bay Packer legend really been turned in to the game warden for "practicing" with local deer?

10x10 by Roy Sorrels, Santa Fe, New Mexico
10x10 = all you need to know about modern life in 10 scenes, 10 lines each. Or maybe it just equals 100.

Chewbacca and Costello by Joe Thompson, Madison, Wisconsin
Who’s on first? Costello tries to figure out the names of the players on Chewbacca's team

Award-Winning Entry by Jeff Neuman, Denver, Colorado
Is it?

Toys in the Attic by Michael Burgan, West Haven, Connecticut
When David and his wife venture into his parents’ attic to find a childhood toy, they find it and a whole lot more.

The Covenant by Tim Bohn, Jonesboro, Arkansas
Smelt fishing on the shores of Lake Michigan can teach many lessons.

Context by John C. Davenport, Seattle, Washington
No need to read between the lines as a couple works through a painful break-up

Please Report Any Suspicious Activity by Rick Park of Boston, Mass.
On a Boston subway, “suspicious” is a relative term.

Bottom of the Ninth by Rand Higbee, Hager City, Wisconsin
It’s the bottom of the ninth with the winning run on second. What could be more important?

How Now, Brown Couch? by William S.E. Coleman, Des Moines, Iowa
Family and furniture collide over news of a very unexpected pregnancy.

The Snowdance 10 Minute Comedy Festival is a competition of original 10 minute comedies. In the ultimate interactive experience, the audience can vote for the production they enjoyed the most. The votes will be tallied throughout the four week festival run, and the Snowdance “Best in Snow” will be awarded after the final performance on February 28th. A cash award of $300.00 goes to “Best in Snow”, with a $100.00 award going to both second and third place. OOHP presents Snowdance January 29 – February 28; they run four shows each weekend. Reservations are available at (262)632-6802.

Among the finalists are four previous Snowdance playwrights, including two winners. In addition, two of the finalists are former Racine residents.

The 2010 Snowdance 10 Minute Comedy Festival is sponsored by Minuteman Press. Rich Smith leads the Snowdance acting and directing ensemble, which also features John Adams, Tom Amacher, Barbara Akey, Brianna Hubbard, Emily Breiwick, Diane Carlson, Nathan Davis, Rick Ditter, Melissa Hughes Ernest, Brianna Hubbard, Mike Kishline, Mona Lewis, Chuck Lindas, Elizabeth McGregor, Joseph Piirto, Matt Rangel, and Ron Schulz. All five previous Snowdance Festivals played to sold out audiences. Previous competitions were produced by Time-Warner Cable for Wisconsin on Demand television after the run.

December 2, 2009

American Tire and Recycling closer to delivering jobs to Racine

It's looking more and more like Mayor John Dickert is going to deliver his first new major employer to Racine.

American Tire and Recycling is close to a deal to move into 2301 S. Memorial Drive, where it will collect old tires, cut them apart and send the products to its processing plant in Niagara, Wis. (located on the Wisconsin-Michigan border).

The Racine operation will employ up to 88 people over three shifts, according to City Development Director Brian O'Connell. If approved by the City Council, operations would start in the first quarter of next year, he said.

The building on Memorial Drive is perfect for the operation. It will serve as a transfer point for old tires collected within a 100-mile radius. Trucks will carry the tires in, drop them off to run through a machine that will separate the side walls from the treads, and then another set of trucks will drive them to Niagara.

The company has a similar operation going in New London, Wis. that's having success, O'Connell said.

The Redevelopment Authority reviewed a proposed deal to use sewer revenue money to pay American Tire's lease for 18 months to help the company get established. The deal would cost $39,600, O'Connell said. It also includes a clause requiring American Tire to hire its employees form the city of Racine, which has the second highest unemployment rate in the state.

RDA member Pete Karas asked about the environmental impact of the business. O'Connell said it would be minimal, with no piles of tires or really any waste product left behind.

The RDA unanimously approved the deal for American Tire.

It was the second bit of good news for the company this week. On Tuesday night, the Niagara City Council voted to allow American Tire to setup its recycling operation at a former paper plant.

West Racine grocery store developer seeks forgivable mortage in exchange for new jobs

UPDATE 2: There's a need to clarify our original post on Tousis's proposal. He is not requesting money from the city. He's asking for a forgivable mortgage in exchange for providing at least 24 jobs. It wouldn't cost the city any money. Also, it's probably worth noting the development with help the city's TID pay back the loan it took out to demolish buildings on the site. Without development, the site will get expensive for the city. (That's why, for example, it's not practical to turn that site into a park. The city needs tax base.)

The RDA voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to defer action on the proposed West Racine grocery store to a special meeting within the next few weeks.

The vote came with some sense of urgency. "We have to bring this to some kind of conclusion," RDA Chairman John Crimmings said at the meeting.

City Development Director Brian O'Connell said city staff received Tom Tousis's proposal too late to review. Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, said the proposal was late because O'Connell and city staff missed their deadline by over a week.

Regardless, it looks like there could be some kind of vote on the proposal within the next two weeks.

ORIGINAL: The developer who wants to build a grocery store and restaurant with gas pumps in West Racine is seeking free land in exchange for the creation of 24 jobs for five years.

Tom Tousis, who will appear before the Redevelopment Authority this afternoon, submitted an offer to buy land at Washington Avenue and West Boulevard for $250,000 on a five-year forgivable mortgage.

Under the proposal, one-fifth of the mortgage would be returned each year if Tousis creates and maintains 12 full-time jobs and 12 part-time jobs. All of the workers would live in the city of Racine, according to the proposal.

The RDA is scheduled to take up the proposal at its meeting this afternoon.

The proposal was based on a similar agreement the RDA reached with Treasures Media to build a new warehouse in the Southside Industrial Park, according to Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis.

Williams added the "24 jobs" number is not indicative of the total number of jobs that will be created by the development. The final number will be higher, he said.

JT lays off accounting employees

The Journal Times laid off members of its financial services department, according to sources.

Lee Enterprises, the JT's parent company, has consolidated its billing department in La Crosse. That allowed Racine's newspaper to eliminate accounting positions. It also means bills for ads in the JT will be sent from La Crosse.

The somewhat good news is Lee seems to be trying to protect newsroom jobs throughout the state by consolidating its accounting departments. The bad news is they cut a few more jobs in the heart of a tough economy.

It'll be interesting to see if the paper writes anything about the changes.

Corinne Reid-Owens Tribute Committee to meet tonight; Illegal meeting?

Update 2: The meeting was canceled.

Tonight's meeting may be illegal. The City Council approved the committee at its meeting last night, which started at 7 p.m. That makes it impossible for the city properly notice the meeting, which is at 6 p.m. tonight. State law requires meetings to be noticed 24 hours before their start times. We received notice of this meeting from the mayor's office today at 11:49 a.m. Exceptions can be granted for emergencies "good cause," but it's unlikely they would apply in this instance.

Original: A committee organized to honor Racine's Civil Rights leader Corinne Reid-Owens will meet for the first time tonight.

Members of the committee include: Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II, Alderman Jeff Coe, Alderman David Maack, Pastor Charlene Mills, Pastor Melvin Hargrove, Marie Black, Ron Thomas and Vincent Esqueda.

The agenda for the first meeting says the committee will discuss the what the committee will do, how it will do it and possible meeting times.

The committee was created after a housing development named after Owens failed to get city approval. Maack suggested the committee, and Mayor John Dickert created it.

Shakoor will chair the committee.

JT's Top 10 list paints gloomy picture of 2009

It's been a year of doom, gloom and uncut lawns, according to the Journal Times.

Our daily newspaper reviewed the top stories from 2009 and came up with a list of 19 stories for readers to vote on and whittle down to a Top 10 list. Not a bad idea ... until we look at what stories are on the list.

Of the 19 stories on the list, more than half of the stories focus on crime, death, the down economy ... and the Weinermobile crash. There must be some sort of positive, uplifting story on the list, right? There must have been at least one instance in the past 11 months and three days of people coming together and helping the community, accomplishing remarkable feats and showing us Racine is a great place to live and work. Right?

Uh, no.

If the stories on the JT's list aren't negative, they're at best neutral. They're certainly not examples of what's right and great about Racine.

No doubt stories on the JT's list were newsworthy or important (though we have to wonder about putting a story about "long grass" on the same list as Russell Seager getting murdered at Fort Hood). But it's a sign of the mindset of the editors and reporters who put together this list that they couldn't include one positive story. It's not like there was a set number - unless they were somehow limited to 19 stories - and there were plenty of wonderful, successful events in our community this year.

Here's a few stories we'd add to the list of top stories of 2009 (starred stories mark our Top 10):

Downtown Racine events including: ice carving, First Fridays, Gallery Night, Summer Art Project,

UW-Parkside prof gets prestigious appointment to Stanford

OOHP's Snowdance continues to grow

SC Johnson to preserve historic fire station

Ben Johnston Krase named pastor at First Presbyterian

SCJ, Johnson Financial among best places to work | And here

Racine Arts Council gets new leader

CATI presents to patent conference in Japan

Quilts on Barns in Racine County is a big success

Artists Gallery moves to new location

Racine snow sculptor wins Chicago competition

1,500 attend Black History Youth Achievement awards

Beer club, Hop to It are a hit among microbrewers

Belle of the Ball gives out prom dresses

Empty Bowls brings in $16,000 to fight hunger

Racine costumes earn spotlight at opera, Broadway

St. Patrick's Day parade in Downtown Racine

Thoughts for Food plays on to support Food Bank
| Fall event

RAM brings glass artist to students

EPA: Racine cut toxic chemicals by 53,000 pounds

Hundreds turnout for mayoral forum

* United Way aims to take 50 families out of poverty

LGBT Center opens in Racine

Open air aviary opens at Racine Zoo

Leadership Racine brings art to HALO

Tax protesters rally at City Hall

Peace rallies continue

Racine's 'biggest loser' competition changes lives

Art in an hour fundraiser

55th anniversary of Pancake Days

Leaders consider 'Racine Promise'

Farmer's Markets are a success

Eat Right Racine takes off

* Urban Gardens get a boost
| And here

* RAM hosts exhibit by famed artist Viola Frey

Letter carriers collect 70,000 pounds of food for Food Bank

Racine still has the world's greatest prom

New Unified superintendent stabilizes school district | Shaw

Suzuki method gets local students playing music

Student-built gardens take shape at Walden III

North Beach again named among nation's cleanest, safest

Hot Rod Power Tour visits Racine

Treasures at Monument Square Art Fair

Relay for Life raises money, hope

Another year, another successful Lighthouse Run

Sebastian's named one of area's top restaurants

Greek Fest offers great food, fun

Mayor Dickert's neighborhood clean up

Racine's massive Fourth of July parade

Dragon Boat Festival paddles on

* Sewer plant adjustments save the city millions

Spirit on the Lake Triathlon draws top athletes

Downtown Racine bike races draw a crowd

Public devours healthy foods gathering on Monument Square

46 Norwegians descend on Racine for a birthday party

Glass artist Therman Statom unveils new work in RAM window gallery

Racine County Fair extravaganza!

Community for Change organizes health care forum

* Racine Kilties' Emil Pavlik inducted into Drum Corps International Hall of Fame

* Lockwood Park: Community rallies to build playgrounds for all

* A good ride: Volunteer keeps skateboard park flowing | 2009 Bike Jam

Elaine Kinch named 'peacemaker of the year'

Team Trivia fills local bars

Sunny and Chair Tour ends with successful auction

Mount Pleasant to host new half marathon

Great Lakes Brew Fest sells out

Racine wins 'best host city' for pro volleyball tournament

Art takes center stage at Sixth Street Art Walk

Party on the Pavement is a great time

HALO gets a new executive director

Mayor seeks millions for clean beaches center

Compassion Fest offers contemplative way to peace

Raytown Roadhouse opens on Sixth Street

* Walden III named 'exemplary' by the state

City rehabs Uptown buildings

Successful Raiders season ends in playoffs

* Sixth Street work finally pays off

Holiday season arrives in Racine | Kiwanians light up zoo | Holidays at the mansion

* Racine celebrates 175th birthday

Racine gets a voice at international climate change negotiations

Thanksgiving Eve Ceremony brings faith communities together

Walden III students donate 10,300 pounds of food to Food Bank

50,000 books await kids at annual giveaway

December 1, 2009

Gov. Doyle makes Juneteenth Day a legal holiday

Gov. Jim Doyle today signed into law Senate Bill 170, a bill that designates June 19, Juneteenth Day, as a legal holiday.

The governor was joined by Rev. Ronald Myers, national chairman of Juneteenth Day, and Mac Weddle, the executive director of the Northcott House and local president of Juneteenth Day, for the signing at Northcott Neighborhood Center in Milwaukee.

“Milwaukee has long celebrated Juneteenth Day and I am proud that Wisconsin is moving forward to recognize this important holiday across the state,” Doyle said. “Juneteenth Day marks a historic milestone in our nation’s history and celebrates the freedom that unites all Americans.”

Juneteenth Day is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas first received word that all slaves in the U.S. had been freed by President Lincoln. Milwaukee first celebrated Juneteenth Day in the 1970s.

Feingold rips Obama's Afghan troop surge

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, who objected to Republican President George Bush's war policies, today took a shot at President Barack Obama's.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill this afternoon, Feingold rejected the president's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Obama is scheduled to announce his plans tonight, during a televised prime-time address.

"This is a mistake, to move in the direction of a huge troop build-up," Feingold said. Obama "is doing what he thinks is right. We just disagree."

Feingold was relatively mild; after all, he and Obama are both Democrats. And he gave the president the benefit of the doubt: "Anything I say would be tempered by giving the president an opportunity to actually explain how what I'm hearing about this plan would actually hold together."

But: "I continue to question the wisdom of sending thousands of more troops into Afghanistan."

Feingold said the U.S.'s goal in the region "...continues to be dealing with Al Qaeda, not nation-building in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is not primarily based in Afghanistan any more." Furthermore, he said, more troops in Afghanistan would further de-stabilize Pakistan.

He also said he agrees with a troop removal time-frame of three years, one of Obama's expected points. "I would be very much in favor of this," Feingold said. "I don't see how that dovetails with increasing our troops to over 100,000."

What might Feingold and other senators do to prevent the president from sending more troops to Afghanistan? He suggested not including funding for troops, resolutions for time-frames and other approaches. "As far as I'm concerned, everything would be on the table to prevent this error from occurring," he said.

UPDATE: After the President's address, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, issued the following statement:
“We cannot simply walk away from Afghanistan, let the Taliban and al Qaeda take over and threaten the stability of a nuclear armed Pakistan. After careful review the President has laid out a new strategy, with timelines and benchmarks and more emphasis on training Afghan troops and police. We should give his new strategy an opportunity to work, but be clear that this is not an open-ended commitment if the Afghan people and government fail to do their part.”

Glass artists' sale will benefit slain officers' families

UPDATE 2, 2/22: Doug Chaussee sent us a final update on the fund drive in which Hot Shop Glass participated in December, to aid the families of four slain Lakewood, WA, police officers. The Lakewood Police Independent Guild reported this week: On Feb. 2, the LPIG Charitable Fund deposited $2,129,968.42 into the Lakewood Fallen Four Officers Children’s Trust Fund. That fund is now closed; future donations will go into a fund to help the families of future slain or injured officers.

UPDATE, 12/07:
This fund-raiser brought in $1,810 to benefit the families of the four police officers killed in Washington state last weekend. Amanda Paffrath told us today that Doug Chaussee would mail off the donation made by Hot Shop Glass and its customers to the families' fund on Tuesday.

Original post:

Hot Shop Glass is holding a sale this weekend to benefit the families of four police officers killed Sunday while doing paperwork in a Lakewood, WA, coffee shop. (Seattle police killed the suspect this morning.)

Doug Chaussee, Amanda Paffrath and Liz Gabriel, owners of Hot Shop Glass, pledged to donate 100% of sales of paperweights and ornaments from their downtown gallery this weekend to benefit the surviving families -- and nine children -- of the slain officers.

"We are deeply saddened by the outrageous act of violence against the four officers in Washington State and want to contribute to their families," said Hot Shop's owners. Chaussee, who retired as a Mt. Pleasant police detective after 27 years' in policing, is the driving force behind the local contribution.

"Christmas holidays are normally stressful for police officers. Adding this to the whole mix is the straw that broke the camel's back," he said.

Hot Shop Glass is located at 239 Wisconsin Ave. Gallery Hours are Friday from 2-9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday from 10-2. The ornaments and paperweights are $25 each.

Contributions can also be made directly to the families through the Lakewood Police Department Union website.

American Tire and Recycling seeking subsidies from two governments

American Tire and Recycling has a busy week.

The company has meetings with governments on opposite ends of the state - including a Racine city committee - to discuss economic incentives to bring jobs to the communities.

American Tire officials will meet with the City of Niagara tonight to discuss leasing a portion of a former paper plant. Niagara is located on the border of Michigan and Wisconsin.

The company will then have business before Racine's Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday. The RDA will consider a rent subsidy to help the company open at 2301 S. Memorial Drive. The subsidy is expected to be about $40,000.

In June, American Recycling & Tire received a $200,000 loan from Marinette County to start its recycling program.

For the third time, city to take up option for West Racine grocery store, restaurant and gas station

Officials are expected to meet this week on a $5 million commercial development that will create jobs and bring a long-desired service to the city.

The proposal is supported by surrounding residents, fits the long-range business plan for the neighborhood and appears to have the support of the mayor and several City Council members. It now just needs city approval to allow the developer, who has a solid track record on construction projects, to proceed.

Seems like a no-brainer for a city that's only landed a handful of new commercial construction projects in the past year. But, no.

The project described above is Tom Tousis's proposal to build a grocery store, restaurant and gas station at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard in West Racine. The $5 million project is now before the city's Redevelopment Authority, which is negotiating an option with Tousis to buy the land. (The RDA, which was created by the city, is the owner of the property.)

The problem for Tousis is Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who represents a portion of West Racine. Spangenberg has made no secret about his opposition to Tousis's project, largely because it includes a gas station. Spangenberg is the lone City Council member on the RDA and has an influential voice in all West Racine discussions.

The key issue is whether the grocery store and sit-down restaurant in Tousis's proposal make the gas station acceptable. Tousis argues the gas station is an important component of the plan because it will draw people to the site (and to West Racine).

But opponents, many turned off by Tousis's aggressive approach, are focused on the gas station. Dick Hinsman, who owns a business next to the proposed site, offers a glimpse of this one-track mind in a letter to the editor in today's JT. Hinsman wrote:

Also, recently, the City of Racine had put together a committee of local business people and people from the neighborhood. The committee was referred to as a Neighborhood Work Group. This committee came up with some recommendations as to what should be built on the site. The findings were that a business such as a gas station and a tattoo parlor were unacceptable/undesirable uses. Preferred uses include a full service grocery, and a table service restaurant.

Let's keep West Racine as a special area. A gas station will not be a destination business, nor will it be a business that will compliment West Racine.

Lost in this email is that Tousis is proposing a grocery store and restaurant, as well as a gas station. But Tousis's proposal is stuck with entrenched beliefs and hurt feelings.

It's now going around that Tousis' team didn't fill out the proper paperwork when submitting its plans to the RDA. Tousis disagrees, but let's assume it's true. If the fate of a $5 million development - that's $1.5 million more than the much celebrated $3.5 million "Treasures" warehouse proposed for the Southside industrial park - hinged on paperwork, you'd think someone would go out of their way to help the developer get things straightened out.

Maybe that's happening here. But the RDA is going on its third month of discussing Tousis's request for an option, and this is far from the last step for the project. It still needs to pass the Plan Commission, Access Corridor Review (which Spangenberg sits on) and needs a liquor license from the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, plus full City Council approval.

If every step takes three meetings, it could take Tousis another year to get a shovel in the ground. It raises questions of whether Racine is developer friendly, and what could be done to streamline the approval process for new construction.

November 30, 2009

50,000 books await kids at annual giveaway

Jim Eastman of Merchants Moving with a huge box of books

Every year at this time, newspapers and airwaves are filled with stories (and ads) about the new "hot" toy every child must find under the tree on Christmas morning. This year, believe it or not, it's a robotic, hamster, from China, or somewhere. If you haven't already bought 'em, forget it. They're sold out and you're a failure as a parent.

Yeah, that's what they'd like you to believe. But the truth is, the rat's batteries will die and it will disappear under the couch in a couple of weeks (along with last year's Darth Vader or Furby thingie.)

What will your kid play with then? Well, if they're lucky, with the best toy ever -- a book. No batteries needed: only a willing imagination.

There are adults in Racine who know the value of childrens' books, people who spend all year working quietly behind the scenes to make sure that thousands of kids receive the gift of a lifetime this holiday season -- even kids whose parents couldn't afford the little rat ... er, hamster, even if it were available.

Instead of a few hamsters, they're giving away some 50,000 books!

This Saturday, Dec. 5, is the 7th Annual Kids Holiday Book Giveaway sponsored by Cops 'N Kids and the State Street Civic Association. Any kid -- from pre-school to middle school -- is welcome to choose an armful of books at the event, held inside one of Merchants Moving's cavernous storage rooms, 1215 State St., from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As usual, there'll be more than books available: Santa will be on hand, and Christmas music will be playing, and the Racine Police Athletic Association will make SafeAssured IDs available at no charge.

And, given the event's mother, former Police Officer Julia Burney-Witherspoon -- who handed out books to kids as a way of teaching them not to fear the police -- policemen, firemen, FBI agents and, new this year, Sheriff's deputies, will be on hand to talk to the kids, maybe even autograph some books. For her efforts, Burney-Witherspoon was named ABC-TV's Person of the Year in 2008.

In past years, some 2,000 kids have braved the line, sat down on the floor and rummaged through the seemingly-endless piles of colorful books to find favorites to bring home for themselves, or even gift-wrapped for others. Last year, 40,000 books were given away.

This year -- I know, I said it before, but it's an incredible number that bears repeating -- there will be 50,000 books! Boxes of them line two long corridors at Merchants, awaiting scores of volunteers who will sort them into age-appropriate stacks later this week. The books have been donated by publishing houses, distributors like Treasures Media (the Christian bookstore company planning to build a distribution center in the Southside Industrial Park), book drives held by schools, churches, service clubs -- even the Postal Service.

Jim Eastman of Merchants Moving ticks off the names of the organizations supplying volunteers, who will open the hundreds of boxes of books: the Racine Public Library, the Healthcare Network, the Volunteer Service Center. Other partners include Barnes and Noble, the YMCA, Culver's, Educators Credit Union, Johnson Bank, the Safe Kids Coalition, the United Way, the Junior League. While Eastman is talking, he's surrounded by a couple of hundred room-sized wooden crates -- each holding about 1,200 pounds of stored goods -- that his crews will move to other parts of the warehouse to make room for Saturday's hordes of insatiable kids. "No problem," he says. Eastman became involved with the program more than a decade ago, when Officer Burney -- she wasn't married then -- found about 10,000 abandoned books while answering a burglary call... and came up with the idea of giving them away to kids.

Now, more than 70 other communities have copied the Cops 'N Kids concept she pioneered.

But how many of them will give away 50,000 books this Saturday? Far as we know, just one.

Santa, Eastman and Julia Burney Witherspoon at last year's event

Go here for our report and pictures from last year's book giveaway.

City may cut season pass golf rates for county residents

The company that sells season golf passes to city golf courses wants the City Council to consider eliminating a residency requirement to buy the pass.

Scott Schuit, president of Public Golf Associates, said in a letter to Parks and Recreation Donnie Snow that the city can make more money on its golf courses by eliminating the higher rate for people who live outside of Racine, but in Racine County.

Last season Schuit's company sold 31 adult season passes to city residents for $715 and nine adult passes to non-residents for $1,040. Eliminating the higher fee for county residents would cut revenue by $2,925, Schuit wrote. But the lower price would attract more golfers - many from Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Sturtevant - to more than offset the difference, he said.

"We have had several requests from customers over the past several years regarding this change in policy," Schuit wrote. "We strongly believe this change would help boost customer satisfaction, thereby increasing overall golf course revenues."

The proposal will be introduced to the City Council Tuesday night. It's slated to be referred to the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Board and the Finance and Personnel Committee.

City to consider $40,000 contract for annual fireworks show

The City Council will consider renewing a contract for a $40,000 fireworks show on the Fourth of July for the next three years.

The annual show, provided by Melrose Pyrotechnics of Kingsbury, Ind., costs the city $17,500 per year. The remainder of the cost is covered by sponsorships and private donations, according to a letter from city purchasing agent Sam Aiello.

Melrose Pyrotechnics has run Racine's fireworks show since 2000.

Zoe Outreach Ministries seeks $4,800 from the city

Zoe Outreach Ministries, 2130 Racine St., is seeking $4,800 to pay for damage from a sewer backup. The church is claiming the backup occurred after the Racine Water Utility made repairs to a water main across the street from the church's property at 2118 Racine St. The line is connected to the Mount Pleasant sewer system.

The city is recommending the claim be denied. The claim will be introduced to the City Council Tuesday night and referred to the Finance and Personnel Committee.

City seeks 'subsidy of rent' to lure jobs to Memorial Drive

Update: Mick Burke over at the JT already laid out this deal. He reports the rent subsidy will be about $40,000. (See the end of the article.)

Original post: The city is pushing ahead with plans to help American Tire and Recycling Corporation move to 2301 S. Memorial Drive.

City Development Director Brian O'Connell is asking the City Council and Redevelopment Authority to approve incentives to help the company, and an estimated 88 jobs, move to the city.

Here's O'Connell's request to the City Council, which will be referred to the Redevelopment Authority and the Finance and Personnel Committee:
In order to match the employer with a suitable workplace, a temporary subsidy of the rent at the location is necessary. I am recommending that the city provide this subsidy from the Intergovernmental Sewer Revenue Sharing fund.