Wisconsin State Journal sportswriter Andy Baggot opens his Tuesday column with the words “First impressions, second thoughts and the third degree.”
Well, no good idea goes uncopied …
My week with Walker: Starting from when I was a high school student, I have either met or heard in the flesh every governor since Lee Sherman Dreyfus. (Whose description of Madison as, using the current measurement, “77 square miles surrounded by reality” was rejected by the City Council as the city’s official “punchline.”) Usually, though, I go at least months, if not years, between meetings.
On July 11, Gov. Scott Walker was on hand when the National Guard’s 229th Engineering Company returned to Wisconsin at Volk Field in Camp Douglas. Then, six days later, Walker went to Mound City Bank (as the photo on page 3A proves) to sign Senate Bill 151 (now there’s an appropriate number) allowing refinancing of home loans owned or serviced by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
One year ago, I met Walker for the first time at the Town of Hazel Green farm of Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City), who was in the midst of his third 49th Assembly District primary campaign. Walker, of course, was in the middle of his recall campaign at the time. Walker won in June; Tranel won in August and in November.
Walker is not as outgoing as Gov. Tommy Thompson, who, for those who remembered him as the Assembly minority leader, was amazing to watch. For Thompson, it was as if someone flipped a switch and he became Tommy!, inevitably saying “Isn’t it great to be from Wisconsin?!”
Walker does, however, have something in common with not just Thompson, but arguably George W. Bush (who I got to see twice during his 2000 presidential campaign) and Ronald Reagan, in that Walker is and the others are continually underestimated by their political opponents. I am skeptical about Walker’s chances to become president, in part because I am skeptical of the chances of any Wisconsinite, Republican or Democrat, of becoming president. But I’ve had political predictions pancake before.
After a few minutes of interview with Walker, I asked him where we were meeting this week. Maybe he’ll show up for the Party in the Park. (No, that’s not inside information.)
The march of time! It is a sign, I suppose, of how long I have been an ink-stained wretch to realize that I knew several of the people whose lives in journalism will be memorialized during the annual Wisconsin Newspaper Association Trees for Tomorrow retreat in Eagle River Aug. 16.
The most notable name, obviously, is Richard Brockman, whose family owned your favorite weekly newspaper for 70 of its 114 years, and who spent 51 of his 65 years working here in some capacity. Also honored will be Dennis Novinski, former owner of the Montfort Mail newspaper and Blanchardville Blade, who also worked at the Muscoda Progressive and Grant County Independent (now Herald Independent) in Lancaster.
The list also includes Don Huibregtse, former publisher of the Monona Community Herald and McFarland Community Life. In 1985, Don hired a UW–Madison junior to write and photograph sports and do, as it turns out, such things as covering senior-citizen fashion shows immediately after UW Marching Band practice. (Really.) After three years of doing that, said UW–Madison student went to work in Lancaster, and, well, here I am, yes, a quarter century later.
The other familiar name is Henry Schroeder, who owned newspapers in Oregon, Fitchburg and Verona; he and Don owned part of their newspapers’ printing plant, and Henry interviewed me for the editor job at the aforementioned Herald after Henry purchased Don’s newspapers.
Ponder this, if you like: I now work for a newspaper formerly owned by the Brockman family for 70 years. Before that, I worked for the Tri-County Press in Cuba City, formerly owned the Goldthorpe family for 64 years.
Next hire: An auto mechanics teacher named Ford: Any UW–Madison graduate has to appreciate the hiring of an agriculture teacher named Elizabeth Babcock at Platteville High School. Ag chemist Stephen Babcock created the “Babcock test” to measure the fat content of milk, thus, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society, discouraged farmers from watering down or skimming their milk. UW’s Babcock Hall also is where its tremendous and creative ice cream is made. (For instance, orange custard chocolate chip. Really.)
Tradition! UW–Platteville did not have its Heartland Festival last year because of renovations at the Center for the Arts. So Sunday was the first time I got to see a Heartland Festival performance, “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Which, as you read, starred our son Dylan in the key non-speaking role of the rabbi’s son. Whose “father,” asked to provide a blessing for the Czar in the first scene, replied with, “May God bless and keep the Czar … far away from us.”)
I admit to a little bias, but “Fiddler” was simply a magnificent performance. I detected some sniffling around me during “Sunrise, Sunset,” probably among those who have watched their little children grow up. (Must have been a high pollen count on Sunday.) And the last scene, where Tevye, pulling his cart for the last time as the Jewish residents leave Anatevka, hears the fiddler and gives an ironic yet genuine laugh, could not have been done better.
The entire Heartland Festival is an excellent example of the benefits of being a university town. Some Southwest Wisconsin communities have theater groups, but I doubt any community west of Madison and south of La Crosse has the wherewithal (including people brought in from elsewhere in Southwest Wisconsin) to put on a performance that includes a large number of actors, complete musical accompaniment, authentic-appearing costuming and quality sets. Bravo.