The last time I did this, I opened with the opening of the first song on the first album of my favorite rock group, Chicago:
Hey there everybody
Please don’t romp or roam
We’re a little nervous
’Cause we’re so far from home
So this is what we do
Sit back and let us groove
And let us work on you
Readers probably are interested in knowing my southwest Wisconsin bona fides. I am the son of two southwest Wisconsin natives — my mother is from Boscobel, and my father grew up in Richland Center. (They met in Madison, of course.) I spent a fair amount of time in my youth in Grant County, getting there via the roller coaster ride that is Wisconsin 133 along the Wisconsin River west of Lone Rock. I also spent a few summer days on my grandparents’ boat on the Mississippi River. My father was the first piano player on what is credited by one Wisconsin rock music scholar as southern Wisconsin’s first rock and roll band, Vilas Craig and the Vicounts. He also was the first of the three generations of trumpet players in our family.
I was one of the few UW School of Journalism graduates to have a job lined up before graduation. (Even in 1988 that was considered a feat.) I spent the first 3½ years of my career as a reporter at the Grant County Herald Independent in Lancaster. I covered school board meetings (many of them tied to a new high school project), wrote feature stories, laid out pages the old-fashioned way, wrote editorials, and covered more games than I can count.
(The first team I covered was the Potosi baseball team. One of my more fun stories to cover was Potosi’s state title in 1993. I also covered the improbable state tournament run of Lancaster in 1989, which included a sectional final win over … Platteville.)
I got two Wisconsin Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest first-place awards for two stories I wrote within weeks of each other. In 1990, Tony Tubbs, who was briefly a heavyweight boxing champion before his title was stripped due to a failed drug test, decided to make a comeback in, of all places, Boscobel. I also got an award for the game story for one of the craziest games I’ve ever covered, the 1990 summer baseball sectional semifinal win of Gale–Ettrick–Trempealeau over Lancaster, 8–7 in 12 innings. (Remember that high school baseball games are seven regulation innings.)
In those days, the Herald Independent and the Journal had separate owners, so we battled for readers and advertisers. We would venture to Platteville (and its one-way Main Street) to cover speakers at UWP, which allowed me to meet Scott Carpenter, one of the original U.S. astronauts. I also got to hear Bernard Kalb, who worked for CBS and NBC news and was briefly a State Department spokesman, give the greatest speech opening I’ve ever heard: “Thank you very much for inviting me, and other than that I have no comment.”
Indeed, one of the appeals of this job is being in a college town. Thirteen years of living in another college town, Ripon, shows that college towns are progressive in the non-political sense. The college always offers something to do for the community, whether it’s sports, cultural offerings, or the opportunity to audit classes. You always get a sense of renewal every fall because a new group of students is coming in.
How far back do I go in Grant County? I remember Bo Ryan as UW–Platteville’s men’s basketball coach. (For that matter, I remember UWP and all the other non-Madison UWs being NAIA schools, not even in Division III of the NCAA.) Watching Wisconsin play very deliberately (and generate complaints among sportswriters who feel insufficiently entertained) is ironic because I remember Bo’s UWP teams as playing much faster in tempo, pressing on defense and rotating 10 players.
Before that, as a freshman in the University of Wisconsin Marching Band, I played in a concert at UWP. At one point in the concert, band director Mike Leckrone (who is still the band director nearly three decades later) introduced a Platteville High School senior who was recruited to play football at UW — Paul Chryst.
Speaking of football, I was here when the Chicago Bears held training camp at UWP. (You’ll notice they haven’t won a Super Bowl since they left.) If you were a nonaligned football fan, you found the ‘80s Bears teams fun to watch because of their outsized personalities, with Walter “Sweetness” Payton, Jim “The Punky QB Known as” McMahon, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Steve “Mongo” McMichael, and their coach, Mike Ditka, and defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan.
(If, on the other hand, you were a Packer fan, things were more difficult because those Bears teams treated the Packers like a dog treats hamburger. If you were also a Badger fan, things were doubly difficult because the college football team across the river, Hayden Fry’s Iowa Hawkeyes, treated the Badgers similarly. Football fans who watch the excellence of the Packers and Badgers these days should have been around in 1988, when the Packers and the BADgers were a combined 5–22.)
The most memorable story I’ve ever covered was the 1990 Gregory Coulthard murder trial, which I covered from beginning (nothing will wake you up more thoroughly than hearing “A Grant County sheriff’s deputy was shot to death last night”) from your clock-radio first thing in the morning) to sentencing. The sheriff’s department has a memorial page for Deputy Tom Reuter, which I found accidentally one day, including almost all of the stories I wrote. Journalists are strange because they get an adrenaline rush out of covering events that are calamities and tragedies in others’ lives.
My wife is from Grant County — to be absolutely precise, the Town of Potosi, site of the family farm. I am, as far as I know, the only person to have met my spouse by interviewing her for a newspaper story. (She served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala after college.)
I left Grant County in 1991, only to return less than a year later to become editor and co-publisher of the Tri-County Press in Cuba City. One of the best accolades I’ve ever received was when the Tri-County Press won the WNA’s Most Improved Newspaper award in 1993. Getting on the right (as in successful) side of the Cuba City–Lancaster basketball rivalry (after three years of being on the wrong side) was enjoyable, as was covering girls basketball and volleyball state titles. (That was several state titles ago in the case of Cubans coach Jeff Pustina. And back in those days Jerry Petitgoue wasn’t the state’s winningest boys basketball coach … yet.)
Cuba City is known as the City of Presidents, the nation’s longest running Bicentennial project. I was at a meeting where the concept of what the city’s theme should be, and then someone looked outside the front window at the plaque outside the newspaper office, and then, Eureka! The City of Presidents was born. I still think of that every time I see the red, white and blue water tower.
One story I didn’t get to cover, but intend to take advantage of now, is the revitalization of the Potosi Brewery. I’ve been attending the monthly steak fry at the Legion Bar in Potosi for more than two decades, and I would look across the street and wonder if anything would ever be done with the buildings. The microbrewery is an example of going ahead to the past — in the days before refrigerated trucks and TV, every town had at least one brewery. And so Potosi does again.
One thing I’ve always found refreshing about southwest Wisconsin is that people’s values seem to be in the right place. I noticed that immediately upon leaving Madison, my hometown, which was an entertaining place to live, but also a place where people would do and say things that would make you shake your head. (That is still the case, but I think Madison’s quality of life isn’t what it used to be.)
Those readers who live or work downtown are likely to see me wandering around, perhaps not doing anything particular. In addition to being my preferred exercise method, walking helps me think, because thinking is a physical activity; the brain is an organ, not merely a computer. So if you see me out aimlessly meandering, feel free to introduce yourself.
For the past year, I’ve been doing my own blog, steveprestegard.com. It followed three years of opinion-blogging at the late Marketplace Magazine. If you haven’t read it yet and go there, you’ll find it’s very opinionated (I describe myself as an independent who veers between conservative and libertarian depending on the issue), and you may or may not agree with what you read there. I’ve always believed in the value of the marketplace of ideas, where opinions are hashed out and debated, not merely with those who generally agree with the principles behind those ideas.
What you read in the opinion sections of the Journal and my corner of swnews4u.com won’t necessarily parallel what I’ve been writing at my own blog. Platteville Journal readers are interested about what’s going on in southwest Wisconsin. They are not necessarily interested in the editor’s opinion on, say, presidential or state politics, except as presidential or state politics affect southwest Wisconsin.
When I started in Lancaster in 1988, Grant and Lafayette counties had seven newspapers owed by six different publishers. All seven of those newspapers are now owned by one company, and yet they still exist as separate publications today. Other media companies in similar markets have merged newspapers or even closed them.
This company believes the printed word is important, and that the information the Journal brings to its readers each week is worth its investment. I hope you think your investment in the Journal as a reader and an advertiser is important.