Tuesday, March 27, 2007

St. Louis Church Fire

It's really difficult to describe some pictures even if they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I'd venture to guess that there are some who witnessed the St. Louis Church fire in Fond du Lac who would have more than enough words to describe what they witnessed. If you're not a religious person you probably wouldn't understand that for a lot of people your church is part of the backbone of your community.

Most of my formative years were spent growing up in a house that was a block down from the church that we went to. In fact there were two other churches right across the street from our house. Ironically the house still stands on a site that was originally a stable for one of the churches.

I didn't get down to the St. Louis Church until about 2:30 on Tuesday, March 20th. By then the church was still burning, but not as bad as it had earlier in the night. I'm actually glad I didn't have to see the worst of it. I understand that it was almost like a social gathering. People took pictures of the church. Watched as generations of hopes, prayers and family history floated up into the evening sky with the embers. I've seen it before.

Of course I was eighteen at the time, my senior year in high school. Someone had left left a space heater on at the Schoolcraft County Courthouse in Manistique, Michigan when they went home one weekend. It heated up a wall behind it and that Saturday night most of the County showed up to watch the 100 year old or so Courthouse go up in smoke. People were heartsick. It was a time when birth certificates, death certificates, deeds and all manner of records were still kept on paper. In other words, thousands of lives were affected by that fire.

I'm not sure how many lives were touched by the St. Louis Church. Like the Courthouse it was a unique structure. You could rebuild on the site, you could try and save pieces of it, but there are some things that bricks and mortar can't replace.

If you're lucky you'll be witness to one really memorable fire in your lifetime. If you're even luckier you'll never have one that touches your life personally. It saddens me that I sometimes have to report on fires like the one at the St. Louis Church. However I'm glad that unlike house fires in the Markesan and Random Lake areas I didn't have to report that children lost their lives in the fire. Buildings can be replaced or restored.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

In The Line of Duty

A Leadership Fond du Lac group wants to place a police and fire fighters memorial in Hamilton Park. It seems like a simple enough request, but there's been some criticism.

Fond du Lac City Councilwoman Lindee Kimball mentioned during a meeting that one resident had contacted her saying they can't see doing the project, that if you are going to do it for the police and fire fighters...why not teachers? After all they put their lives on the line every day too.

You know I can see the point, but you could argue that for just about everyone who works. Farmers, factory workers, highway crews,etc. Even newsguys sometimes put it on the line.

Okay the last is a bit extreme. I'm not Bob Woodruff and I'll never be covering a war on foreign soil, but there have been a few stories I've covered over the years that could have put me in harms way. A couple standoff incidents where I trusted law enforcement officials to know that we were out of the line of fire. In Dodge County I sat outside a farmhouse once while authorities searched it for booby traps and weapons. It belonged to the Oswalds, the father and son who killed a Waukesha police captain after a bank robbery. There was another time I was at the scene of a huge chemical fire, not knowing where safe exactly was.

Even your own office isn't completely safe. While working in Munising, Michigan our radio station used to allow people to come in and make copies on our copy machine for a small charge. One guy the community had nicknamed "Rambo," because of the army camoflague pants he always wore and the headband, would constantly come in to make copies. He was always involved in some kind of civil litigation with the city or county and everyone gave him a wide berth. Calling him strange would have been an understatement. One night "Rambo" was at a bar where he turned to another patron and bragged that he'd just killed his mother. He had butchered her in fact. He's serving a life term in a Michigan prison.

Of course every day life can be scary. Take the Waupun woman who gave up a job she enjoyed at a Fond du Lac insurance company because her husband kept badgering her at work. Ultimately he chased her into a municipal building in Fox Lake and killed her. She gets the same memorial we all will eventually, a small marker with a way too brief summary of our life here on earth.

Monday, March 12, 2007

You May Be From Wisconsin

I'm never going to be able to say with confidence that I'm from Wisconsin. Mostly because even though I've lived here for 20 years now, I'll always have my roots in the U.P.

Still there are some things that I do, say, think that could fit in as punchlines to a joke that starts "You may be from Wisconsin if.." For instance last week we had our first 40 degree day of the season. I'm riding in my car and my first instinct is to turn on the air conditioner. I settled for cranking down a window instead. And by cranking I mean electronically lowering it.

I enjoyed a bowl of chili the other day and found myself putting small chunks of cheddar cheese in it. That's something I never used to do until just the last few years when I told someoneI can't see putting macaroni noodles in chili and they suggested putting cheese in it instead. My U.P. upbringing does have me using venison when I can to make chili.

One thing I did get right from the start is being a Packer fan. I've was brought up that way by my father, who started life out as a fan of Da' Bears. For him that changed during the Lombardi years. The rest of my brothers and sisters are Packer fans too, except for my sister Diana the long-suffering Lions fan. I told her one weekend that ESPN Classic Channel was airing reruns of highlights from NFL Championship games and she asked me to tape the last one the Lions won. Shucks I missed it.

I have gotten to the point where I also take it personally when I hear a disparaging remark about Wisconsin or the area. That Lions fan sister of mine sometimes puts in a slam, especially when I'm visiting and we're watching a Packer's game. Most times she just leaves the room.

A couple weeks ago I was at a press conference in North Fond du Lac waiting on police to arrive and took offense to some things I overheard being said about North Fond du Lac and Fond du Lac. I know it was supposed to be good natured fun by some of my TV colleagues, but a few things sounded spiteful. The Village and City have a lot of things to be proud of and if I were living and working in Milwaukee I might watch the size rock I'm throwing...otherwise I'll have to e-mail Jeff Foxworthy for some good "You may be from Milwaukee if..." jokes.

All of that being said I do take pride in the fact that I live in Wisconsin and love all of its cities and burgs. Not a native, but not naive either.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

And the Winner is..

My love of movies probably came from my Dad. At one time I actually served as a movie critic for one of the radio stations I worked for. The problem is I'm more of a popcorn movie type of guy. You know favoring movies that are entertaining versus those that wow real critics.

I actually looked forward to this year's Oscars. Because of the early morning hours I work I couldn't stay up for the whole thing, but tried to stick around for at least one major award. That came 90 minutes into the telecast. Because the Academy wants to appeal to an international audience we have to sit through every minor category. Many people have remarked to me that they simply just hate that. I agree if you watched the Barbara Walters special, the red carpet preview and the Oscars you put in more than 5 hours.

I'm actually looking forward to seeing some of this year's winners. However I never buy all the critical hype instead preferring the praise of someone I know in idle conversation as the best thumbnail description of a movie.

I recently picked up some movies on DVD after getting a little Oscar fever. Putting on my old critic's hat here are some brief descriptions. Peter Jackson's "King Kong" is one long film, which probably could have been broken up into two smaller films. Yes it's visually stunning and the special effects are very good, but unlike his Lord of the Rings films as action-packed as a film can get it's hard to get worked up about a movie when you already know the sad conclusion, the monkey dies!

Our morning show's Bob Hoffmaster recommended the Spike Lee film "Inside Man." It's a caper film starring Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen. I never thought I'd say I enjoyed a Spike Lee film, but there it is. The bank robbers aren't the real villains. If you like smart films with a Law & Order type twist you might like this one.

Finally last, but not least a movie I haven't been able to get out of my head "Hollywoodland." It bombed at the box office and might not appeal to everyone, but if you like a good conspiracy theory this might do it for you. It's about the mystery surrounding the death of 1950's TV Superman, George Reeves. In it a fictional detective, based on a real detective, looks into the suicide of Reeves. It paints a sad portrait of Reeves who couldn't get a good acting job once he donned the famous cape.

Ben Affleck plays Reeves. Adrien Brody is the detective. There's a marvelous scene where Reeves is watching a screening of the film "From Here to Eternity" in a packed movie house. He's morphed into a real scene from that film with the film's star Burt Lancaster. I won't give it away. The movie shows three possible ways Reeves took his own life or was shot and killed by another. A warning though that this is not the kind of Superman film you want your children to see.