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0856, 03 Dec 16

Around the Bend by Judy Steffes

Christmas tradition lives on

While growing up in Whitefish Bay my father had a workshop in the basement. There were nearly 10 table saws, a drill press, a lathe, screwdrivers and wrenches for any emergency and an assortment of worldly glues and fassen-alls.

My dad had quite the reputation for being able to repair anything. One Halloween someone smashed my 4-year-old cousin’s pumpkin. She said, “I’m not worried… Uncle Al can fix it.”

Evenings were spent in the basement roller skating around his sawdust. He’d encourage our creativity and say, “You draw it and we’ll make it together.”

One year my mom found a pattern for holiday geese in a Good Housekeeping magazine. She received the same instructions, “You draw it and we’ll make it.”

So she gave it to me – the one who could draw.

Together my dad and I made four wooden geese. Cut them out on the jigsaw and painted them.

Together, during the cover of night, we placed them in the front yard to surprise my mother the next morn.

During the day, from the living-room window the geese looked like they just landed; red bows around their necks, taking a break from their holiday flight.

That tradition of placing the geese in the yard continues.

My father is almost 93 now and we take his Alzheimer’s in stride.

He doesn’t remember making the geese, so I remind him.

Then we slip outside.

He asks, more than once, “Do you have a hammer? Do you have a stake to get these started?”

Then he’ll say, “This isn’t a good hammer.”

It’s his hammer from his workshop that I now have in my basement.  I remind him it has sufficed in the past.

We set up the geese together.

They’ve become weather worn over the years … a little like my dad. He is slow to get to the ground and take a knee, but his hammer strikes are strong and steady.

I know wielding a hammer makes him feel worthy. He has a gruff, German determination.

The ground is wet and his nose drips from the cold.

He finishes the setup in about five minutes and steps back to quietly review his work. Somewhere in there I know he still feels it’s a nice holiday surprise for his wife, who will look out their second-story window and see the geese have landed again for the season.

Doug Gonring named to WBCA Hall of Fame

Long-time baseball coach Doug Gonring has been selected to enter the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“Doug was an easy choice for the committee because the success he has had at different levels and different schools,” said Joe Waite, publications director for the WBCA.  “He is well known and respected as a great teacher of the game, which is evidenced by the success he has had year in and year out.  He is truly deserving and speaking for all of us on the committee, the WBCA is honored to induct him into our Hall of Fame.”

Gonring has racked up a stellar career in baseball. He played college ball at Florida Atlantic University and is part of that school’s Baseball Hall of Fame. He coached nine seasons at West Bend East from 1994 – 2003 and led the Suns to State baseball titles in 1999 and 2002.

Gonring developed players who advanced to the major leagues including former Suns pitcher Jason Wiedmeyer (San Diego Padres) and Mike Mueller (Atlanta Braves) pitched professionally after college and third baseman Ryan Rohlinger played for the San Francisco Giants.

Gonring also coached from 2008 – 2016 at Kewaskum High School.

In July 2016 he notched his 400th win as a coach when the Kewaskum Indians downed Southeastern Wisconsin Home School Association, 11-3.

Gonring spent several seasons as a catcher in the Houston Astro and Toronto Blue Jays organizations prior to professional baseball retirement in 1988. Gonring said it was 1986 when he had a run in with Yogi Berra during spring training.  By that time, Gonring had earned the nickname “Little Yogi.”

“‘Where is this Little Yogi,’” said Gonring doing a gruff Berra impersonation. “I stood up and raised my hand and he looked at me and said, ‘You’re too damn big to be a Little Yogi’ and he turned and walked out. I knew he liked me from then on.”

During a conversation Friday afternoon Gonring said he was honored by the selection. “I really thought this just went to older people,” he joked.

Gonring celebrated his 54th birthday last Sunday. “I guess I’m old now and I’ll be in that book,” he said.

In an effort to put 22 years of coaching and a lifetime of baseball into perspective, Gonring said he did it for the players. “I never played a game for myself,” he said. “They endured some hard times with me and I know I’m tough but I learned that through Gary Perkins and Steve Traylor and Kenny Bolek. “The parents and the kids have bought into my program and it’s been a better career for me coaching than it has as a player,” he said. Gonring will be inducted Saturday, Feb. 11 at the WBCA Honors and Hall of Fame Banquet at the Marriott Madison West.

Family escapes house fire Friday night on Indiana Avenue

Three adults and their 3 animals escaped a fast-moving fire that totaled their home Friday night at 753 S. Indiana Avenue in West Bend. Lisa Haubrich lived in the home with her mother in law and her girlfriend Christina Doerr.

Haubrich, 30, said she had just left to go to the gas station around 6:30 p.m. Friday and when she got home she saw the flames. “We were only gone about 10 minutes and when we got back and pulled in the driveway I was like we don’t have Christmas lights and then I saw the house was on fire,” said Haubrich.

Doerr’s mother was in the backyard with a dog and cat; the other dog, Molly, was stuck in the house. The dog was alive in the basement.

The official cause of the fire has yet to be determined; however Haubrich said they saw smoke in a back bedroom and smoke was coming out of the vent. The Red Cross is working with the family to find accommodations. Haubrich said she will be headed back to Children’s Hospital to take care of her baby. The child was not home at the time of the fire.

The Washington County Humane Society is helping care for the animals. The amount of damage has yet to be determined.

Pizza Hut gets new sign

The new Pizza Hut sign is on order for the restaurants new location, 1460 S. Main Street in West Bend. The Wisconsin Hospitality Group, LLC has leased 1,613 square feet from Brixmore Paradise Pavilion, LLC.  The new Pizza Hut will be to the north of Regis Hairstylists. A build out of the interior is currently underway. The opening date is expected to be within the next 30 days. Pizza Hut closed its store on Highway 33 on Feb. 1, 2016.

West Bend Christmas Parade winners

Lucky Mutts Rescue is the official winner of the Marv Husar Spirit Award for the 2016 West Bend Christmas Parade.  As a reward they received a $500 donation on behalf of Husar’s House of Fine Diamonds, along with a trophy for bragging rights.

Other winners: Adult: 1st place: West Bend Kettle Trailblazers, 2nd place: West Bend Moose, 3rd: place: Lucky Mutts Rescue. Youth: 1st place: Badger/Silverbrook Dance/Guard, 2nd place: West Bend West Dance Team, 3rd place: West Bend Catholic Schools. Business: 1st place: All Above Dance, 2nd place: Country View Equestrian Estate, 3rd place: Sport Clips West Bend

 Downtown WB Theatre

Is the Historic West Bend Theatre a road paved with good intentions? Neighbors are starting to wonder. Last weekend the theatre doors were opened as people took tours, signed petitions and had their photos taken in the theatre balcony.

“I would like to see shows like comedians and old movies,” said Elizabeth Bartelt, one of 300 who toured the building. “Bring back the nostalgia of why the theatre was here in the first place. It would be a shame for an 80-plus year building to go to the wayside.”

Scott Evenson also toured inside the theatre. “I would like to see it stay; it’s the anchor of our city,” he said.

Several displays presented during the open hours offered options on what direction people would like to see the theatre take. Choices included foreign films, live bands, plays, and events like weddings.

“The most popular listed on the board was classic films,” said Evenson. “For myself I’d like live bands and musicals.”

The theatre is a hot topic. It marked its 87th anniversary on November 26.Since around 2007 it has gone dark and there have been some recent rumblings about a possible sale or even razing the building for an outdoor amphitheater. None of the rumors have been confirmed by building owner Matt Prescott.

What has been confirmed is a December deadline regarding the renovation or removal of the bridge behind the theatre. The downtown West Bend Business Improvement District has put forth a $75,000 surety to save the pedestrian bridge that extends from the back of the West Bend Theatre over the Milwaukee River.

That deadline, now a year later, is just a couple weeks away.

During Sunday’s West Bend Christmas Parade an attempt was made by historian Terry Becker to rally some support for the future of the theatre by having people gather below the West Bend marquee for a photo.

About 30 people drifted over to the theatre but came away disappointed. “It’s just disorganized,” said Bartelt. “People are looking at information. I asked if they were going to do the community picture and nobody answered me.”

Chris Witt of West Bend came away frustrated too. “I want something to be done with it,” he said. “It’s too historical of a building to just be sitting empty for as long as it has been. There’s discussion of bringing Music on Main inside during the winter. We need to bring people to downtown; there are too many dead buildings. The entire community needs to be behind this.”

Becker said he thought a rally under the marquee may raise awareness and possibly bring about a “miracle offer” to save the theatre. “I saw the turnout; it’s just so disappointing,” Becker said.

However, Becker’s “hail Mary” may have worked. A man did express interest in the theatre. He said he was rebuffed by organizers gathered under the marquee. Attempts are being made to contact the man and see how he intends to move forward.

Wreaths for Gov. Walker come from Washington Co.

A family from West Bend is able to boast that two of their handmade wreathes will hang this Christmas in the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.

Jane Muench is the creator and artist behind the wreaths. She works for her brother and sister in law at Christmas on Indian Lore. “I made it look rustic and I threw in the pheasant feathers because I know Governor Walker is a hunter,” she said. There are five different kinds of evergreens woven into the wreaths including cedar, balsam, Fraser, white pine and scotch.

Muench is a well decorated wreath maker in her own right. She won a pair of grand champion awards last January at the annual Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association.

Updates & tidbits

-The WBHS Culinary Arts and Child Care Skills classes are hosting Breakfast with Santa on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. in the West cafeteria. Proceeds benefit “The Gingerbread House” gift-giving program to aid families in need this holiday. Tickets available at the door!

– Sandy Lang has been hired as a consultant at the Washington County Fair Park. Lang will be helping fill the entertainment calendar for the 2017 Washington County Fair and she’ll be showing new executive director the ropes. Kellie Boone starts at the Fair Park on Monday.

-In less than 1 year has climbed to the top of the Google search engine as the No. 1 and No. 4 news source in Washington County, Wisconsin.

UW-Washington County’s Moraine Chorus will present a winter concert Sunday, Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. in the campus theatre.  The chorus is directed by Dr. Peter Gibeau, Professor of Music at the campus. Admission is free although a free-will offering is appreciated.

-A certificate of appreciation was presented to West Bend city clerk and assistant city administrator Amy Reuteman this past Monday. Reuteman was recognized for 15 years of leadership, dedicated service and tireless contributions to West Bend.

– Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin St. Joseph’s Hospital will host its 30th annual Love Light Tree event Sunday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m. in the hospital’s Garden Cafe.

– There was $7,540 raised during the 15th annual Jeff & Bink’s Monday Night Football Party to benefit the Full Shelf Food Pantry in Washington County. The event was held at Pilllars Pub.

– Santa will fly into the West Bend Airport again this year but he’s on an earlier flight. Santa will land at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10.

– Winter street parking rules are now in West Bend. The rule is even-numbered side of the street on an even calendar date and odd – numbered side of the street on odd calendar date.

Lillian Oelhafen celebrates her 100th birthday with a few friends

The parking lot at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on Highway D in Allenton was packed last Sunday afternoon and it was the friendship of Lillian Moritz Oelhafen that brought everyone together.

Oelhafen was celebrating her 100th birthday; she decided to invite a few friends. “I think there are about 400 people here today,” said daughter Judy Etta yelling over the din in the church hall. “We ordered narrow tables so we could fit everyone in here for lunch.”

Etta, who runs the dessert tent at Germanfest in West Bend, prepped for the day by baking 600 cupcakes.

Lillian Oelhafen was born Dec. 24, 1916 when Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States, Charlie Chaplain dominated films, and the Saturday Evening Post first featured a painting by Norman Rockwell on the cover.

Lillian dressed in purple for the century celebration.  She wore a light purple blouse with a rich purple satin jacket and a decorative corsage of yellow and red roses. Her white hair was perfectly coifed and her smile was as big as the room.

Lillian sat at the back of the church hall, her coffee and plate of food grew cold as the line to wish her happy birthday stretched through the doorway, down hall and up the stairs. To say she was “a little overwhelmed at the turnout” was an understatement.

“She said I want all the people who have touched my life to come to my birthday,” said Etta.  “You know she taught Sunday school here.”

Lester Hahn, 60, said Lillian was his first grade Sunday school teacher. “I got gold stars, you can ask her about me – she was 45 when I was in that class,” said Hahn. “The wisdom that’s her whole life. You look at people here and how could all these people possibly come together at this church without her. “You couldn’t plan a party to get this many people here in fellowship. It’s awesome,” said Hahn.

Lillian grew up in Kohlsville; during the school year she lived with her grandparents on Highway 33, also known as Cedar Street. She graduated West Bend High School in 1935 when D. E. McLane was principal and the top hit on the billboard charts was Fred Astaire and ‘Cheek to Cheek.’

Orv Schulz was a neighbor to the Oelhafen family. “She’s a tough, tough lady,” said Schulz. “Her whole family was hard working.”

Oelhafen’s great grandparents, Ferdinand and Wilhelmina Sell, emigrated from Germany and came to America on their honeymoon in the 1800s. The couple set up their homestead in the Kohlsville area because it reminded them of their home in Germany. Ferdinand bought the local saw mill in 1893. There was also a grist mill by the lower pond and during winter they’d harvest ice.

“She’s an inspiration to everyone,” said Suzanne Tennies. “For her positive outlook, her joyfulness, always smiling. She’s just a wonderful, great lady.”

For hours Lillian received hugs, held hands and caught up with old friends. “Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy – I can’t say it 100 times,” said Herb Tennies.

The two held hands as they spoke. Fast friends drawn together by the love of German music and polka. “I danced with her one time when she was younger,” reminisced Tennies. “She was at the dessert tent at Germanfest and everybody loves to see her.”

People came from Arizona, Minnesota and Milwaukee to wish Lillian well. “She’s such an inspiration,” said Ron Schmidt of Milwaukee.   Lillian is his great aunt. “She’s kind and warm and always caring. She’s so active and such a good historian.”

Schmidt launches into a story Lillian told about harvesting ice off the lake. How it was dangerous business. Farmers Frank and Ernest Rusch, they were bachelors; they had a good strong team of draft horses. They came with their bobsled and load it up to haul ice to the shed and one day they broke through the ice and the horses drowned. “It was just horrible,” said Lillian.

Ruth Jansen’s tie to Lillian dated back 52 years. “She made our wedding cake,” said Jansen. “If you were getting married and needed a wedding cake, Lillian was the go to.”

Lillian’s 100th birthday cake was white with multiple tiers and surrounded by cupcakes and a pew full of presents. Friends and family sang happy birthday and Lillian sang a quiet reply of thanks.

Her thoughts were passed around on simple white sheets of paper for guests to take home and cherish. The note read: It is by the grace of God that I am here today. I can’t thank the majority of people who have helped me in life, as they are dead and gone.  Remember to thank those in your life before you can’t anymore. Thanks to all of you for coming and being a special part of my 100 years. Enjoy the day! Love Lillian Oelhafen.skate


0856, 03 December 2016


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