Posted in Columns

Time to Fly

I am writing with two and a half days left here at Southern Lakes Newspapers, where we create local newspapers in nearly 20 communities as well as a host of other publications.
I wanted to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who have read my columns and supported us over the past six years. I especially want to thank the people I work with who were peppered with my continuous barrage of ideas then caught my vision and helped wrangle them together in a meaningful way.
Publications are a team effort, yet writers and editors tend to get all the credit when the going is good. Of course, we also get the complaints when things aren’t so good, so perhaps that balances things.
Still, many other people work behind the scenes, diligently doing their jobs and meeting a constant stream of deadlines. They often go unrecognized.
I want to recognize them now.
Thank you to our sales people. The buck starts with them, because without advertising, we’d be out of business and I would never have had the privilege of meeting and writing about the fascinating people in our communities or share my ramblings about family life in a public forum.
Thank you to our office staff. They hold down the fort, fielding phone calls, taking messages, classified ads, circulation questions, do accounting detective work, run reports, greet customers and leap tall buildings in a single bound. OK, maybe in two bounds. They do a whole lot of stuff that remains a mystery to the rest of us, that’s all I can say.
Then there is our Tech Guru, worthy of worship or at minimum a Diet Coke or dark chocolate covered espresso beans! Without computers we can’t work. He is much appreciated, especially for 6:30 a.m. text messages that give us a heads-up about the occasional cyber-surprise awaiting our arrival and giving us time for caffeinated reinforcement.
Thank you to the designers whose artistic eyes and creative spirits breathed life into my stories and photos and the newspapers and magazines I edited over the past six years. I appreciate their patience with my less-than-artistic renderings and cryptic messages that generally translated this way: “I kind of want the page to look like this, but if it looks bad, can you fix it?” They always fixed it and made me look good!
Thank you to the freelance writers who cared enough to contact me and then contribute their wonderful stories and photos. I only met a few of them in person, but felt a bond of friendship with every one of them – even if we only spoke on the phone or through email. Thank you for sharing your joie de vivre in your words and pictures.
I don’t know how to thank my fellow editors whose busy schedules I interrupted with requests for stories, for photos or opinions on various matters. They didn’t complain about writing additional stories when they already had more than they needed to do. They rose to the occasion and their energy and enthusiasm for their communities will inspire me forever! And thank you to our editorial assistants who are our right and left arms at times.
Thanks to my supervisors (they know who they are) who trusted my experience, willingly shared their own and allowed my ideas to grow wings. I learned so much from each one of them – not only about work, but about how to treat people and how to live as well.
More than anyone, though, my family deserves thanks. Mom and dad taught me to think for myself, passed on a love for reading and people and let me make my own choices and experience the consequences – some good, some not so good.
My husband is the ultimate cheerleader and has been my best friend for more than 30 years, knowing me better than I know myself at times. Like my parents, he seems to think I can do just about anything, even when I’m not so sure. I hope everyone has people like that in their lives.
Thanks to my kids, too, who have been the subject of my columns and didn’t complain, even though I never asked if it was OK. If I never did anything else, my life would be complete because I brought the three of you into the world. You made me laugh and cry and still do as we move from being parents/kids to being friends.
Thank you, readers, for spending time with me in this very personal message. I appreciate it so much when someone says, “Hey, I read your column and it made me laugh/cry/mad/etc.” I feel that in some way, we have become friends.
So, after all that – it’s time for me to fly. I have a new calling, this time in downtown Chicago. It’s scary making such a big change, but I figure life is an adventure. You never know what will happen until you try something!
Please keep in touch!

Posted in Articles

Hooves of joy

There’s nothing like sitting on the back of a big, beautiful animal, feeling its muscles move in rhythm as you race as one in a cloud of dust. Kirsten Pape of Waterford knows that feeling well. She’s been riding horses since she was 4 years old and started competing three years later.b73b3-horse-crystalsmiles

Now, at 10 years old, Kirsten and her horse, Slapshot, have won a number of racing honors. They competed together at the Walworth County Fair in Elkhorn, Wis., at the end of August in both the Tiny Tot (ages 10 years and under), Junior (ages 11-16) and Open classes of Walenton’s Rocking “B” Ranch Speed Show.

The two-day event consisted of flag and sand races, barrel races, pole bending, speed and action and other speed events during which horse and rider compete together against the clock. All events were timed and the fastest rider and horse won trophies and prize money.

Kirsten set a record, according to Barbara Walenton, owner of Walenton’s Rocking “B” Ranch. “Kirsten is the youngest participant to win the all-Around High Point trophy,” she said, noting that 10-year-old Kirsten outscored a 17-year-old competitor to earn the trophy.

In the Tiny Tot and Junior classes, Kirsten and Slapshot placed first in all events, setting a new personal record of 16.2 seconds in barrel racing and 25.558 seconds in pole bending.

“The best part was beating kids a lot older than me,” Kirsten said.

More recently, Kirsten earned the 2K Ranch Horse and Cattle Company (Helenville) 2008 Youth Reserve Champion title in the 18 and under Junior Class for this season.

Kirsten trains with professional barrel racer Colleen Barry of Winner Sircle Stables in Union Grove. Slapshot, a 6-year-old Appaloosa, has spent time training with Barry as well.

Girl and horse are quite the team – just like in any team or individual sport, they have a practice schedule, do warm up and conditioning exercises and have a coach to give them direction.

Kirsten’s commitment to her horse and riding carry though in the rest of her life as well. She enjoys studying math and science at Woodfield School in Waterford, and wants to go to college to be a veterinarian someday.

Along the way, Kirsten has become a champion for people who have special needs, sharing her time and love for horses with others.

Kirsten and Slapshot volunteer at Willow Creek Ranch, a therapeutic riding program for children and adults with dis-abilities that is owned by her mom, Jennifer Pape.

At Willow Creek, Kirsten leads therapy pony, Mr. Chubs, for participants ranging from ages 3 to 6 years old. Kirsten enjoys working with the children on cognitive skills, eye-hand coordination and riding skills during their 45-minute riding sessions.

Willow Creek is a member of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).

“It’s more than just putting a child on a horse,” Jennifer Pape said.

Therapeutic riding helps children and adults with a variety of disabilities and conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy and others. The games and activities riders do on a horse help them improve motor skills, self-esteem, concentration and problem-solving abilities.

The rhythmic movement of the horse stimulates the riders’ bodies, helping improve their muscle tone, strength, balance and head and trunk control.

“Sometimes we have the kids sitting on the horse backwards,” Pape said.

Willow Creek Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center is located just east of Waterford on Highway 20. Participants range from ages 3 to 85 and have a variety of special needs.

Volunteers are always needed for the program, from horse leaders and side walkers to marketing and grant writing. The ranch currently operates on property owned by Richard Beere.

Posted in Articles

Breaking the silence

Julia Martin shuffles into the kitchen, her hair a sleepy mass of curls with a mind of their own. She yawns and rubs her eyes – she doesn’t feel well, so she won’t be attending her classes at Evergreen Elementary School in Waterford, Wis., today.

“Good morning, Julia!” David, her dad, says with great enthusiasm.

Vicki, Julia’s mom, echoes the greeting.

Then they introduce the unfamiliar woman sitting at the kitchen table.

“This is Christine,” Vicki says. Julia’s big brown eyes look off to the side as her mom places a pencil in her hand.

Vicki holds up a purple plastic letter board with its 26 holes, each a stencil of individual letters of the alphabet.

Vicki nods to Julia, who quickly pokes the pencil into the holes.

“H-i,” Vicki says, “Keep going.”

“C-h-r-i-s.” Vicki says. “What else?”

“T-i-n-e. Hi, Christine,” Vicki says.

Julia puts down the pencil and then turns away.

“You’re tired,” Vicki says. Julia walks back toward her bedroom.

Vicki begins chatting about Julia and their family, and the TV in the bedroom gets louder, then louder still.

Vicki smiles. Like many 12-year-old girls, Julia has found a way to tune out her mom when she doesn’t want to hear her voice.

And like many girls her age, Julia enjoys spending time with friends. She likes to read. She likes boys (although she doesn’t say which ones.) She loves to wear her Sketchers. She even likes to comment on politics at times.

But unlike many girls her age, Julia cannot speak. In fact, until a couple of years ago, Julia could not effectively communicate her wants, much less her thoughts and dreams. She was locked in a silent world – and it was a frustrating place to be.

Vicki says people often assume Julia is mentally challenged, mostly because Julia cannot readily communicate. She frequently does not make eye contact, and her body movements are often not in synch with what Julia is trying to do at a given time, even something as simple as sitting in class.

Julia’s world opened up when she learned to communicate with the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), which involves using the letter board and may eventually involve use of a keyboard and computer.

Vicki spoke before the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services Autism Council on April 2, 2008, sharing Julia’s experiences:

“It blew me away when I realized how much was inside of my daughter. This was not just a wish that makes me feel good. The fact is children with severe autism do have a lot inside and need a way to express their thoughts…

“The assumption of intelligence is vital because our children KNOW when they are not respected, believe and talked down to or worse, talked about in front of them as if they don’t understand,” she said.

David says, “This has been a revealing thing for me…I try not to judge people on the surface…she has so much to offer. She has so much going on.”

Julia’s writings are the window to her soul. She enjoys writing poetry, and hopes to someday attend college and write children’s books.

Her writings include this poem, titled “Love”:

Inside my heart I hide
I have so much love
I can’t express
I try to show my love
But I don’t know how
Just believe
Julia likes to play with words as well. A couple of months ago, she wrote:
Night falls
Chris calls
Julia sleeps
Mom keeps
Angel wings
God sings

Autism, or autism spectrum disorders (ADSs) are a group of related brain-based disorders that affect a child’s behavior, social and communication skills, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Autism is a lifelong condition. There is no cure. However, children who have autism can progress and learn new skills, according to the Academy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 150 have autism. The cause or causes of autism are still unknown, although many theories are being researched, according to the Academy.

Autism is currently classified as a developmental disability or disorder; however, many children who have autism also have immunological, gastrointestinal and neurological problems, according to Bryan Jepson, M.D. in his book, “Changing the Course of Autism: A Scientific Approach for Parents and Physicians.”

Julia has migraine headaches, digestive problems and frequently battles severe illnesses, Vicki says. For years, a frustrated Julia experienced pain she could not readily explain to her also-frustrated parents.

“It was a miracle the first time she could tell me what hurt,” Vicki said during her April 2 presentation.

Parents raising children who have autism face emotional, financial and physical challenges.

Because autism is classified as a developmental disorder, insurance companies often do not pay for large portions of a child’s therapies, Vicki explains.

The Martins downsized, selling a larger home and moving to a smaller home with Julia and their two sons, in order to pay for Julia’s therapy.

It was worth it –– but it has been a challenge, Vicki says.

And Julia, through her silence, wrote:

“In a small town in rural Wisconsin there lived a girl who understood many things. She was not just average. She was special and had some extraordinary people around her. These people motivated her to press on regardless of the cost. How can she ever repay them for their love?”

Posted in Articles

The ultimate gift: Injured veteran returns home

Interview and photo by Tedd Lupella

Written by: Christine Lupella

Jeremy’s arrival was a long time coming, but the timing was just right. After spending nearly a year in out-of-state hospitals and rehabilitation centers, Lance Corporal (LCPL) Jeremy Stengel, 22, came home to Waterford, Wis. on Dec. 8 – an early Christmas gift for the family and friends who visited him, stayed with him, and prayed for him.

Stengel, a Marine from the 2/3 Weapons Co. Map 1 Unit 44065, was on a mine sweep mission on Jan. 31 with several other soldiers in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq near Haditha, when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb. Two other soldiers who were in the Humvee died in the attack and Stengel was critically injured. The driver was also injured.

Stengel was flown to a hospital in Iraq, then to a hospital in Germany on Feb. 2. His family received word that he was on a ventilator and sedated. His injuries ranged from internal lacerations to a fractured lumbar – lower spine, extensive fractures to both legs, ankles and feet, and multiple wounds on his legs and heel.

Two days later, he was flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington D.C., where he would remain for a number of months undergoing multiple surgeries, experiencing fevers and infections, and slowly rehabilitating his body.

His parents, Greg and Gayle, took turns staying with him in the hospital, encouraging him on the bad days and celebrating the good. Other family members filled in at home in Waterford, caring for Jeremy’s younger siblings, Ethan and Jackie, or updating the Web site that kept friends, family and community members informed about Jeremy’s progress.

Ethan, 10, is especially delighted that Jeremy is home. The best part, he said, is “hanging out” with his older brother.

Their dad takes Jeremy to an area health club to work out.

“Things are coming along slowly,” Greg said of Jeremy’s progress.

Jeremy is still technically an active duty Marine, and still feels a special bond with his military family.

His platoon is back in the states for now, but will be de-ploying to Iraq again in January for another seven to nine months.

“I miss going out in the field with the guys, but it’s a nice break,” Jeremy said about being home in Waterford.

Both his family and his military family are Jeremy’s inspirations. Jeremy first became interested in serving when he saw the HBO Television series, “Band of Brothers.”

“Band of Brothers” is the story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne Di-vision and their mission in World War II.

Jeremy chose the Marines because “I had uncles and other family members that were in the Air Force and the Army, and I thought, why not the Marines? Then all the branches will be covered.”

Jeremy is not yet sure of his future plans. He knows he will be returning to Washington D.C. in early January for more therapy. He walks with a cane right now and hopes to continue building his strength.

“I’ll see how therapy goes,” he said. “The main thing is, I want to be able to do what I used to do.”

That includes golf and pickup games of basketball – and eventually, college.

Jeremy said people can help other soldiers by sending cards and letters and letting the soldiers know they are not forgotten. He received mail almost every day from his family, and he appreciated that, he said.

Stengel honored with Meritorious Service Medal

American Legion Post 20 of Waterford, Wis. presented Lance Corporal Jeremy Stengel of Waterford with a special award Dec. 17.

A welcome home and award ceremony was held in Stengel’s honor at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and school. A standing-room only crowd filled the school gymnasium to honor Stengel, who was injured while serving Iraq in January this year.

Legion Commander Jon McCourt presented Stengel with a Meritorious Service Medal and certificate. McCourt said this is the only American Legion award for active service members.

Stengel accepted the award and quietly said, “Everyone who prayed for me and my family, thank you for your support.”

Posted in Articles

Art on wheels: Father-son team adds aesthetic touches to motorcycles

The bike revs, its sparkling paint reflecting blinding bursts of sunlight back at the viewer – highlighted by a passionate portrayal of an eagle soaring, weightless, above the earth.

The design is a testament to the owner’s personality, a melding of art and mechanics. And it’s just one of hundreds created by Jeff Smikowski, owner of T.S. Customs, a Wa-terford-based painting business geared toward motorcycles, hot rods, signs and more.

Jeff’s love for art took root when he was 7 or 8 years old, when he developed a passion for drawing and cartooning.

By the time he was a teen-ager attending Boys Tech in Milwaukee – now known as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School – he transferred his art skills to wheeled objects.

At 16, he applied pinstripes and lettering to his own car, then started working on his buddy’s cars, lockers, motorcycles – anything made of metal that could be painted, striped, and cooled-out.

Jeff eventually opened his own shop in Milwaukee – TS Customs, painting motorcycles, signs, hot rods and more.

He moved to Waterford, Wis., with his family in 1979, and then closed the Milwaukee shop two years later in favor of working in the garage he converted to a new shop, right next to his home.

His son, Adam – a Waterford Union High School graduate – works with him as well. It’s something Adam has been doing on and off since he was about 10 years old. Adam does metal fabrication, the basic painting and clear coats, and the bodywork.

“I try to get everything ready for him (to customize), then he gives it back to me to finish out in the shop,” Adam said.

The father-and-son team attends an average of two rallies each month during the summer, visiting with motorcycle and car enthusiasts and displaying and demonstrating their work.

That’s been one of their best sources of business, Jeff said. T.S. Customs also gets referrals from Milwaukee-area Harley Davidson dealers.

“It’s a lot of fun being at the events,” Jeff said. “It’s amazing how many people are into the motorcycle scene.”

Adam said, “A lot of people like that we’re there and they can talk to us face to face.”

Last year, T.S. Customs was hired to paint a Buell STT motorcycle with a Spiderman theme. The bike was part of a national giveaway promotion sponsored by Burger King in conjunction with the release of the movie, “Spiderman III.”

More recently, Jeff and Adam provided custom graphics on the Special Edition 2008 “Rock Girl” Harley Nightster for local FM radio station 102.9, the HOG. The bike will be awarded to one winner in a random drawing later this year.

One of the team’s most challenging projects was a “Heroes” themed Road King, done in 2003.

The bike featured detailed murals depicting Iwo Jima, firemen during 9/11, and the Korean War and Vietnam War Veterans memorials.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center were painted on the helmet.

The owner has shown the bike all over the country, Jeff said, and “won a gazillion awards with it.”

One of Jeff’s favorite projects is Adam’s motorcycle, which features diamond plate painting and detailed skull graphics around the tail and signal lights.

Painting projects can take two or three weeks, or as much as four months.

“It depends on the complexity of the job,” Jeff said.

Whether the job is simple or complex, both Jeff and Adam enjoy the work – and they enjoy working together.

“We’re friends. Not a lot of people can say that about their kids,” Jeff said.

They both like the people part of the job as well.

“We spend a lot of time with our customers, because it’s their baby, it’s their toy (we’re working on),” Jeff said.

Customers often have their helmets and leather jackets painted to match their bikes.

“The joy in this whole thing is the customer’s response,” he said.

T.S. Customs also makes custom signs – Jeff said he offers a discount to local non-profit organizations – along with customizing bikes, hot rods, jet skis, and more, with everything from pinstripes to flames, to complex murals, to gold and silver leaf.

“Anything that will stand still long enough, we’ll paint it,” he said.

The best part: “It’s rare in this day and age that you can say, ‘Man, I love doing my job,’” Jeff said.


Posted in Articles

Waterford Post named Wisconsin’s best small weekly newspaper

The Waterford Post has been judged best among the state’s small-circulation weekly newspapers in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest.

The Post received the coveted general excellence award Feb. 9 during a ceremony at the WNA annual convention near Wisconsin Dells.

Waterford Post Editor Christine Lupella accepted the award from officials of the WNA.

It was one of eight awards captured by the Post in separate contests for editorial and advertising content. That total included three first-place awards and five second-place honors.

In naming the Post the top all-around newspaper in its circulation category, a panel of professional judges wrote: “This was the most complete newspaper of the bunch. The quality writing was evident throughout the publication. (It has) a nice balance of general reporting, human interest and sports.”

Ed Nadolski, editor in chief for Southern Lakes Newspapers, the parent company of the Waterford Post, said: “An award like this is a tribute to our entire staff, from those in the newsroom to those in our office, composition, printing and circulation departments. But this is a special honor for Chris (Lupella) and (Sports Editor) Jennifer Eisenbart. The content they provide is the heart of the newspaper.”

In addition to the general excellence award, Lupella and Eisenbart also claimed individual first-place awards for their writing and reporting.

Lupella took first place in the spot news category for her coverage of the Mute swan controversy in the Waterford area. “You took a boring meeting story and made readers want to get involved,” judges from the Minnesota Press Association wrote. (See Aug. 31, 2006 post: “Unanswered questions, hard feelings.”)

Lupella was also honored with second-place awards for a feature story on a pirate-themed wedding and headline writing in an open category with competition among weekly newspapers of all three circulation groups. (See July 14, 2006 post: “Shiver me timbers!”)

Eisenbart brought home a first-place award in the sports news story category for her coverage of the Waterford Union High School girls basketball team’s ascent to the state championship game in 2006.

She also brought home a second-place award in the sports feature category for a story head-lined “Sister Act” that chronicled the exploits of a pair of sibling athletes.

The Post sports section, edited by Eisenbart and composed by graphic designer Sara Spencer, also earned a second-place award.

In a separate contest sponsored by the Wisconsin Newspaper Advertising Executive’s Association, the Post earned second place for best niche publication out of pa-per for the Waterford quality of life book published on behalf of the Waterford Area Chamber of Commerce. Lupella teamed with Creative Department Manager Sue Lange to produce the book.

The 2006 Better Newspaper and Advertising Contest drew 2,678 editorial entries from 150 weekly and daily newspapers and 622 advertising entries from 62 newspapers.

Posted in Articles

60 years later: WWII veteran receives Bronze Star

It was supposed to be a little family get-together in honor of family birthdays.

84-year-old Leonard Susalla never expected to see a congressman walk into his daughter’s Wind Lake, Wis., dining room.

He also never expected to receive the military medals he earned more than 60 years ago, when he served in the U.S. Army Infantry during World War II.

He knew he had earned most of the medals, but life got busy and, until recently, he did not think about them a lot.

He did not know he had earned the Bronze Star, which is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the military of the United States after Dec. 6, 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan presented Susalla with the medals.

A houseful of family and friends looked on as Susalla’s bright blue eyes filled with tears.

“We simply want to say thank you for your service to our country,” Ryan said.

“I didn’t know anything was going to happen like this,” Susalla said. “I never expected anything.”

Susalla was 20 years old when he entered the Army on Dec. 9, 1942. He was a private first class (PFC) when he was discharged nearly three years later.

“I turned down a sergeant (position) because I wasn’t a kind of guy to give out orders,” he said.

Susalla participated in the Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns, and earned the Combat Infantryman Badge.

His other awards and honors include the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars, World War II Victory Medal, Sharpshooter Badge with Carbine bar, and the Honorable Service Lapel Button – WWII.

Susalla grew up on the south side of Milwaukee. He now lives in the Kenosha area.

His daughters, Beverly Weber and Janet Wernette, live in Wind Lake and Waterford, respectively.

Weber started the search for her dad’s medals a couple of years ago. She said he never said much about his time in the service, but that she and her sister knew it was an important part of his life.

“He’s patriotic and it rubbed off on us,” Weber said.

She discovered that Susalla’s military records were among those destroyed in a huge warehouse fire in St. Louis in 1973.

Then she enlisted the help of the Congressman.

“The ball got rolling because your daughter called us. You have a family that loves you very, very much,” Ryan said.

Susalla said not a day has gone by that he does not think about his experiences in World War II.

“I see people being shot out from under me, across the road from me,” he said.

His grandson, Dustin, a 15-year-old Union Grove Union High School student, recently interviewed Susalla for a class project.

Weber said she learned more about her dad from Dustin’s paper than she had in a lifetime.

Susalla said he remembered his final trip home from the European front on Nov. 15, 1945.

The ship entered New York Harbor – and all the soldiers hurried to one side of the ship, to catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

The ship began listing to one side because of the unequal weight distribution. Susalla said the men in charge told the men to spread out – people would wonder about the military if the ship came into the harbor leaning so far to one side.

Susalla was quiet for a while, taking in the moment and the memories.

“My tears say it all,” he said. “Every time I look at (the medals) I’m going to cry…I’ll never stop doing that,” he said.

“I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud that I served,” he said.