Milwaukee County’s Zablocki Park selected as “Frontline Parks” by City Parks Alliance

November 19, 2012

Zablocki Park in Greenfield, Wisconsin has been named a “Frontline Park” by the national urban park advocacy organization City Parks Alliance.

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

“We selected Zablocki Park for recognition because it exemplifies the power of partnerships to create and maintain urban parks that build community and make our cities sustainable and vibrant,” said Catherine Nagel, Executive Director of City Parks Alliance. “We hope that by shining the spotlight on this park that we can raise awareness about both the necessity and the promise of these kinds of partnerships to spur investment in our nation’s urban parks.”

Zablocki Park is a 45-acre special metropolitan park located in the City of Greenfield,Milwaukee County, WI. It contains a variety of active and passive recreational activities including baseball, softball and soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, trails, and a golf course. Until 1984, Zablocki Park was known as Cherokee Park, and was renamed to honor a popular Congressman named Clement J. Zablocki, who had died the previous year.

Like many parks in urban areas, Zablocki Park has faced reductions in funding and deferred maintenance, and has facilities that are underutilized due to lack of programming. Through a unique partnership with the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation (PCCCF), Zablocki Park has been able to offer valuable community services in addition to being a space for neighborhood recreation.

The PCCCF will invest more than $180,000 in a three-phase renovation of the Zablocki Park Pavilion that includes window repairs and replacement, wider road access, a new entrance,  HVAC replacement, new plumbing fixtures, and a general facelift for the flooring and walls. In return, Milwaukee County Parks offers PCCCF use of the pavilion for its offices and programming, including language classes, social events that feature traditional foods and folk dances, martial arts and art exhibits, and a free medical clinic that will provide services which would otherwise be too costly for some people to obtain.

“We are pleased to see Zablocki Park recognized as a “Frontline Park,” says Milwaukee County Parks Interim Director James Keegan. “The park’s partnership with the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation is a model for how creative partnerships can leverage parks to meet a wide range of community needs.”

Zablocki Park is being featured on CPA’s website,, during the month of November.

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore .

About City Parks Alliance

City Parks Alliance is the only independent, nationwide membership organization solely dedicated to urban parks. It unites and serves a growing network of hundreds of civic and community leaders, government agencies, park and recreation authorities, funders and others working to create healthy and sustainable parks and green spaces. CPA’s vision is that everyone in urban America will live within walking distance of a park that is clean, safe and vibrant.


30th Annual Sleighriders Charity Concert Dec. 17, Shank Hall

November 19, 2012

30th Annual Sleighriders Event for Charity

Forty of the best, most experienced, most professional musicians  of the Milwaukee music scene join together again for the 30th annual Sleighriders show and charity auction!

Greg Koch, Eddie Butts, Warren Weigratz, The Speakeasy Horns, Xeno and Steve Grimm of Bad Boy, Scott Finch and Peter Alt of Blue Hand, Steve Cohen, Joe Hite and Sigmund Snopek , to name but a few of the participants, join forces in one gigantic rockin’ band, for one show at Shank Hall on December 17th.

It’s a very special holiday event that you don’t want to miss and a true Milwaukee tradition. For 30 years the this group of musicians has donated their time and talents for charity. This year is no exception. The charity to benefit from the concert this year is Variety of Wisconsin, who helps disabled children.

$15 at the door. Doors open at 6:30pm. 21 and over. 


Governor Walker defers to Fed’s insurance exchange

November 16, 2012

November 16, 2012 Dear Secretary Sebelius:

Please accept this letter as official notification to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that Wisconsin will not build a state-based health insurance exchange and will defer to the federal government’s insurance exchange.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) gives states three options in building health insurance exchanges: an exchange built and managed by an individual state subject to federal mandate; a partnership plan requiring the state to perform functions on behalf of the federal government; or a federal exchange developed by the federal government. While the three options differ in who initially builds and operates the exchange, all three options are identical in that they are governed and controlled by federal policy. No matter which option is chosen, Wisconsin taxpayers will not have meaningful control over the health care policies and services sold to Wisconsin residents. If the state option is chosen; however, Wisconsinites face risk from a federal mandate lacking long-term guaranteed funding.

In Wisconsin, we have been successful in providing health insurance coverage to over 90 percent of state residents without the creation of an exchange and absent federal regulation. We have a long history of being a leader on health reform issues, and with more guidance and greater state flexibility, our competitive market system would have ensured health insurance coverage to the most vulnerable Wisconsinites without federalization of our market. Unfortunately, operating a state exchange would not provide the flexibility to meet our state’s unique needs or to protect our state’s taxpayers.

Therefore, after much consideration and outreach with citizens across the state, and in the best interest of the taxpayers of Wisconsin, we have determined Wisconsin will not develop a partnership or state-based exchange.


Scott Walker

Governor of Wisconsin

Hide House home to HenschelHAUS Publishing

November 15, 2012

Kira Henschel and Riley  —photo Katherine Keller, ©2012 Bay View Compass

By Jennifer Kresse

The Hide House in Bay View is home to a diversity of small businesses and studios occupied by artists, photographers, and musicians. For the past two years, Bay View resident Kira Henschel has been operating HenschelHAUS Publishing on the second floor of the venerable old complex.

What could be described as a one-stop-shop for all writing and publishing needs, Henschel’s services include coaching clients in writing and publishing, manuscript review, typesetting, book and cover design, editing, proofing, layout, marketing support, and product distribution and fulfillment. She even guides authors with book award submissions.

The Hide House in Bay View is home to a diversity of small businesses and studios occupied by artists, photographers, and musicians. For the past two years, Bay View resident Kira Henschel has been operating HenschelHAUS Publishing on the second floor of the venerable old complex.

Read the rest of the story here.

New Montessori Column!

November 2, 2012

Lisa Reinhardt

Lisa Reinhardt has launched a new online column devoted to Montessori education. She’s name her column Montessori. Milwaukee and it  is currently published at

This month Reinhardt, who has a master’s degree in education and also Montessori certification, writes about Montessori training and certification and how it fits into Milwaukee Public School’s teaching and employment requirements. She discusses the training session that will begin soon at Montessori Institute of Milwaukee.

Find her blog:


November 2, 2012

By Jan Pierce

To lease or not to lease

By Jan Pierce

Q   “What are the things I should consider when deciding whether or not to operate my business from home?”

A   A significant portion of my practice involves clients in the throes of a landlord-tenant struggle. Often it’s because a business isn’t doing well and has had to close its doors well before a lease ends. Entering into a commercial lease is a big deal. Like any long-term relationship, it’s worth thinking about carefully. Incubating your business at home for a period of time may be safer, but it could also restrict your success.

When evaluating whether to lease or not to lease, first determine if it’s appropriate to operate your business at home. But in my opinion, there is simply nothing like having a separate place for your business. You’ll be able to focus on your work better, and clients or customers will take you much more seriously than if you’re working out of your home. That said, leasing also increases the risks of opening a business. So you need to balance the added benefit of leasing space outside of your home with a realistic assessment of the added risks.

If you’ve decided that leasing seems like a better option, the next step is to carefully evaluate the lease’s true cost. Here’s where people make the biggest mistake. They have unrealistic expectations for their business, and only analyze the lease in the short term. They make overly-optimistic revenue projections and net them against the rent. Lost in this calculation is the fact that a commercial lease usually obligates the tenant for a period of at least three to five years. Since a business is much more likely to fail in the first couple of years, the analysis needs to take into account the long-term nature of the obligation. For example, if you close up shop in month 13 of a 60-month lease, you’re still liable for 47 months of rent. Compounding this risk is the fact that the landlord may ask for a personal guaranty, something that will likely require you to file for bankruptcy, if you break your lease.

In a perfect world, you’d have a month-to-month lease with an option to extend indefinitely. But since the world isn’t perfect, creating a detailed and conservative business plan will put you miles ahead. Prior to taking the plunge and starting your business, which usually includes borrowing money, nothing will give you more of an advantage than having a good business plan that is vetted by experienced mentor-businesspeople.

There are several excellent groups that will help you for little or no cost. I’m a big fan of the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (, which helps almost as many male-owned businesses as they do female-owned ones. I’ve also heard great things about SCORE (

Disclaimer: Advice in this column is general legal information and does not constitute, nor is intended to be, legal advice. 

Send your question to To protect your privacy, your name will not be published.

Jan Pierce, S.C. is a law firm In Milwaukee that was founded with the belief that people can make a positive difference in the world and make a profit. The firm’s emphasis is on assisting small businesses and social entrepreneurs in all aspects of launching and managing their ventures.

There is a head-shaped impression in my desk

November 2, 2012

By Jay Bullock

When I wrote draft one of this column, I started with, “I have watched this community chase its tail about Bay View High School for five years now.”

But I think the problem probably lies not with the community, but with me. I may have left something undone or unsaid along the way.

I feel like maybe I haven’t been clear about our school’s history. Throughout the last decade, the high school and its neighbor, Fritsche Middle School (formerly a star MPS school) were losing enrollment. One of the reasons was district forces—MPS toyed around with Bay View’s enrollment cap from year to year, while it kept expanding nearby elementary schools to eighth grade. Another was demographics—this neighborhood just doesn’t have enough teenagers (less than 1000, according to MPS data from around the time of the merger) to fill a school the size of Bay View, even if we could magically stop them all from going to King or Thomas More or Reagan or fill-in-the-blank.

Option A was to shut both schools down. Option B, the one we chose, was to combine them. We can quibble—and I did!—about the process of combining the two, but not about the reality that those were the two options. This was not some evil plot.

Ergo, Bay View Middle and High School. It’s here and it stands ready to teach your children.

Maybe I haven’t done enough to emphasize the good things about the school: band and orchestra, engineering courses for college credit, AP courses, a full selection of athletics and after-school activities. Students who actually want to be at Bay View every day and who, with their dedicated teachers, are part of a significantly positive education experience.

BVMHS’s most recent test scores rank it at average for MPS. A low bar, admittedly, but scores are higher than they’ve been in a decade. The school was recently removed from the district’s “list of schools that need severe interventions.” Students in the school’s engineering and construction academy, anchored by Project Lead the Way, flat-out beat the district average. And starting next year, the district has promised to offer SpringBoard, the College Board’s official, rigorous pre-AP curriculum for math and language arts. The community demanded SpringBoard, and now they have it.

Yeah, but there was a “riot,” or a “brawl,” or whatever you want to call it, one morning before school started, and that seems to obviate the above.

I haven’t pushed local leadership as hard as I should have when I heard their post-riot public comments. They, our elected officials and opinion leaders, came down on BVMHS cold, stinging, threatening, like late-autumn sleet.  “It is not a safe school,” Bay View Alderman Tony Zielinski said, claiming the October 18 fight “merely dramatizes what happens on a daily basis.” “Right now, it’s a school of last resort,” the neighborhood’s school board member said in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It’s “a symbol of the problems facing large high schools in Milwaukee,” offered Alan Borsuk, Milwaukee’s most experienced education observer. These statements are broadcast on TV and reported in the state’s largest daily paper, these slams against my students and me.

At the same time, I should note, these folks did say that they “want Bay View to be a destination school,” and that “some of finest teachers in the system are at Bay View.” Which is nice, but doesn’t really take the sting out.

But maybe most of all, I haven’t been clear enough in laying out for you—neighbor or parent or otherwise-interested third party, exactly what Bay View needs in order to become the school we all think it should be. I didn’t, after all, raise my hand and toss in my two cents at the October 3 community meeting about our school, when an earnest neighbor asked, “What do you need from us?”

The answer that was in my head and in the first draft of this column was simple. “Give us your kids.”

BVMHS is a school of 1,400 students, more than a thousand of whom don’t live in the neighborhood but nonetheless chose Bay View (It is a destination school already, see?) and show up every day and learn. The rest, well, they get placed here to fill up the school. And while most of them turn out to be great too, some don’t. There aren’t that many who are truly a problem, but enough that sometimes our school makes the news. (Later in the day my students agreed that the fight was stupid and that it was not representative of them or their school.)

All that it would take is a couple of hundred parents living nearby to say, “We’re taking Bay View back for this neighborhood,” and to demonstrate that by sending their students to Bay View. Fill up those spaces before the district can, and, suddenly, this is the school you’re looking for.

But this last incident, this stupid fight that topped the news cycle, is going to be just one more in the long line of excuses offered by Bay View parents as reasons why they will not send their children to our school, which follows their previous reasons: low tests scores, the lack of a college-prep program—and the rest of the reasons or excuses that preceded those. All of the parent groups in Bay View say they want BVMHS to be their school of choice, but none has chosen it.

So here I am, trying to make up for what I didn’t say before, which is this: I have been teaching in MPS for 15 years and have never had a group of students as good as those I have now at Bay View High School, and I have never had a harder time getting anybody to believe me.

Jay Bullock teaches English at Bay View Middle & High School. He blogs at and jokes a lot on Twitter as @folkbum.

Pint-size politics

November 2, 2012

One evening this past summer, when my 4-year-old daughter and I were downtown on Mason Street, we saw people carrying signs and heard them chanting. We walked down the block to observe their political protest for a few minutes. While our daughter had seen a few Independence Day and Christmas parades, this was the first protest, and she had a lot of questions: Why were they allowed to walk in the street? What were they shouting about? How did they know what to yell?

Children are prone to asking questions and I have been waiting to field a stream of them about the presidential election. Surprisingly, the questions aren’t flowing. The kid who hones in on Milwaukee Public Library’s Super Reader yard signs has never inquired about the presidential campaign yard signs. When she overhears me talking with friends about the debates, she doesn’t follow up with questions.

She did not watch any debates with us because they begin after she is in bed and because the topics include those that are beyond G-ratings: war and abortion. Nor do I plan to let her watch them four years from now when she is 9. And, while it’s hard to be certain what my sensibilities will be in eight years, I predict that I’ll still be wary when she is 13. However, I have heard of some parents who allow their kids to watch debates while the parents stay nearby and mute the volume when mature subjects are discussed.

My daughter’s lack of kiddie questions about politics may be for the best. I would probably struggle with something as abstract as voting. I had a difficult time explaining the protest we witnessed in concepts that a 4 year old could comprehend. When I searched online for advice on talking to kids about politics, the dearth of articles surprised me. Parents who turn to the internet for advice about talking to kids about sex or drugs will find a lot more advice.

I did find a helpful article, “Talking to Kids About Politics (Elephants, Donkeys and the Media, Oh My!)” from the NYU Child Study Center. It points out that the ideal parental response should vary a lot by the child’s age but that toddlers through teens seek reassurance from their parents. “Even teens are looking for security when they come looking for answers,” the article advised.

After we left the protest, we ran into an acquaintance of mine. We adults chatted about politics in a guarded way, since we don’t know one another’s beliefs and didn’t want to get too deep or risk offense. We felt safe, though, as we concluded that we’re happy to live in a country that allows us to speak out against the government. I appreciate that I get to vote and that’s a message I’ll pass along, even if I’m not asked.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

Milwaukee Blacksmith forges family ties

November 2, 2012

By Jennifer Kresse

From left: The Knapp Family—Shannon, Birdie, Kent, Miles, and Oscar. —photo Jennifer Kresse

Blacksmith Kent Knapp is in the business of making family heirlooms. He is the owner, designer, and chief artisan of the family’s business, Milwaukee Blacksmith, 518 E. Erie St.

Knapp is a master of functional fine art. From cleavers, pot racks, wine racks, and fireplace tools to ornate signs, fences, balconies, and gates, Knapp can create just about anything for a client. “The limit is your imagination,” said Knapp. “You have an idea, we can figure it out together, build it, and make it happen.” His originals are found in homes, mansions, and museums on five continents.

Oscar Knapp, who makes old-time iron nails that are highly desired by woodworkers. —photo Jennifer Kresse

Knapp’s first love was music and as a teenager, he frequented Up And Under’s blues jam, which were run by a moonlighting blacksmith. These sessions brought out Milwaukee’s artists, including a drummer who was also a blacksmith. Knapp began hanging out at the Ornamental Iron Shop at the Cedar Creek Settlement in Cedarburg, Wis. He became a apprentice at the shop where his love for the craft was born and nurtured over the next five years.

But the he needed to spread his wings, he said. He and his wife Shannon, daughter Zoey, and son Miles, moved to New Orleans in 1996 where returned to his music. There, drawing up  his roots in blues and electric bass he said,  “I played with everyone from Earl King to Bo Diddley [to] Cyril Neville.”

In 2004 the family returned to Milwaukee, now with two more sons, Birdie and Oscar, where Knapp resumed blacksmithing.  “We came back to visit for the summer and Kent fell back in love with Milwaukee and wanted his children to know his parents. So we stayed,” Shannon said.

Kent Knapp’s son Birdie measures Dad’s bicep.
—photo Jennifer Kresse

As the family set down new roots, Knapp returned to blacksmithing. After a few years working in a shop in Walker’s Point, he learned his teacher was closing the business and moving to Beijing, China. Knapp decided to purchase the majority of the shop’s tools and he started his own business in 2005. Two years later he visited Beijing and to work in an iron factory where he shared his knowledge of technique.

Knapp has learned a lot over the years, he said, but he acquired most of his advanced skills on his own. “When I was the apprentice, I was only allowed to do the grunt work and it wasn’t until I stepped into the deep end…that I had to figure stuff out for myself,” he said.

“It is a self-led craft,” noted his wife Shannon. “Historically speaking, blacksmiths keep to themselves and then guard their secrets,” she laughed. Her parents worked for Sunvold Antiques in Milwaukee. Part of the work they did combined needlework and blacksmithing. Her mother created intricate crewelwork designs on lamp shades, and her dad wrought the iron lamp bases.

Knapp produces original ironwork and also reproductions and replications.

He often spends weeks studying a piece before beginning the process of replication. Puzzling out the techniques behind a work of iron can be the most exciting part, he said. Voracious study of texts, internet resources, and consultation have led to some of Knapp’s best work, including the gate he created for the Carl A. Miller mansion, 2909 E. Newberry Blvd. He consulted with the project’s architect, H. Russell Zimmerman, who designed gate to match the home’s existing ironwork. That work was created by Kent’s idol, renowned Milwaukee blacksmith, Cyril Colnik (1871–1958). The property was awarded the Cream of the Cream City Preservation Award for outstanding contributions to historic preservation in Milwaukee in 2010.

He recently completed a project for the Charles Allis Museum where he made a new railing for the wheelchair ramp. He copied Colnik’s design for the ironwork that encloses a circular driveway in the back of the property.


What Knapp hath wrought. —photo Jennifer Kresse

“The great thing about blacksmithing is that you can make just about anything,” said Kent. “I always joke that it’s the world’s second oldest profession. It kind of ties you into the historical timeline of mankind. Once you have an anvil and a hammer, you can make the rest of the tools. All the tools you see on my racks, more than likely, were either made by me or another blacksmith.”

The Knapps have been running their own business for the past seven years, but they have plenty of help from sons Miles (18), Birdie (14) and Oscar (13). Nineteen-year-old daughter Zoey is a chocolatier for Atomic Chocolate in Walker’s Point. Their most recent addition, daughter Dharma, was born October 26. It’s too soon to say if she’ll be swinging a hammer for the family business one day.

Kent Knapp at his anvil at his family’s Milwaukee Blacksmith shop, 518. E. Erie St. —photo Jennifer Kresse

Miles prefers the more modern techniques of plasma cutting and welding and has his own line of metalwork. Birdie works with his older brother on projects such as yard stakes that support or hold solar lights or beverages. Oscar makes nails that are popular with woodworkers because of their rustic appearance.

Zoey Knapp holds her new sister Dharma Knapp.

Each of the boys was about age 10 when they began assisting in their dad’s shop. Shannon runs the business, handling the books, paying the bills, and marketing, but she also does the finishing work, priming and painting the final product. “She’s got a good eye for that,” Kent said.

In addition to Shannon’s many hats, including being mother of five children, she also runs a daycare business in the Knapp home, taking in four children, two days a week. She said she is grateful that their boys have a place in the forge. “Teenage testosterone is a volatile thing and to have a dirty place with fierce tools where they can create is a wonderful, positive outlet. They can work at the forge with Dad and there is great bonding that happens, often without many words,” said Shannon. The children all still do chores around the house as well, regardless of age. “Taking care of your space and being respectful of those around you is a must though, regardless of who you live with. I remind my boys that they are in training for life and I will make certain that my daughters-in-law have competent partners!” she said.

The Knapp family has resided in Bay View for the past five years. Kent often bikes to work in the Third Ward. The boys frequently bike downtown where Miles and Birdie attend Tenor High School.

In summer biking to Chill On The Hill every week and walks to the lake and to Outpost Natural Foods are favorite activities. They also like to spend time at the Bay View Library, Anodyne Café, and Down And Over. “The winter festivals that happen here and the amazing summer events and parks make this such a rich environment to nurture our family. Where else can you rip out the huge hill of grass in front of your house to plant food and have that celebrated by your community?” asked Kent. “Our entire family is in love with Bay View,” added Shannon. “The community is amazing.”

Kent Knapp’s work may be viewed on the balconies of Summerfield Court, 1479-1495 N. Farwell Ave.; the SoHi Building balconies and awning, 760 N. 27th St. (awarded a Mayor’s Design Award in 2010); the Emanuel D. Adler House, 1681 N. Prospect Ave.; and the Points East Pub sign, 1501 N. Jackson St. Closer to home, the hanging-basket brackets on Kinnickinnic Avenue north of Oklahoma were wrought by Knapp.

Landscape designer sets up on KK

November 2, 2012

By Jennifer Kresse

You probably noticed the verdant, cheery window boxes and planters at Pastiche Bistro & Wine Bar this past summer. They are a product of the loving care and craftsmanship of Lynn Goldstein, owner of Creative Landscape Designs, LLC, 3003 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. “I absolutely love my location,” said Goldstein. “I have a beautiful view overlooking KK.”

Creative Landscape Designs is a full service landscape design and contracting company specializing in customized residential and commercial landscape projects. Services include design and installation of patios, walls, water features, outdoor living spaces including kitchens, pools, children’s gardens, decks, pergolas, lighting, plant selection, and landscape design. Goldstein said a lot of her business is return customers. “I’ve had many repeat clients [who] decide they want another area of their yard done or they want me to research a new plant for a specific area,” she said. “I spend a lot of time and I work very closely with my clients so that they’re as thrilled as I am with the end result.”

During the winter, Lynn Goldstein works on design projects and attends home and garden shows where she books projects with clients for spring. —photo Jennifer Kresse

Goldstein earned a master’s degree in art education from UW-Milwaukee and an associate’s degree in Landscape Horticulture from MATC. She worked at a garden center and two landscape firms before starting up on her own. She established her office in Bay View in February of this year, her tenth year in business. She also teaches plant science and environmental education classes for children at Boerner Botanical Gardens in winter. “I enjoy teaching children about plants and how important they are in our world,” she said. Recently, Goldstein picked up part-time work at the home decorating company Cranston in the Third Ward, to buoy her interior design skills. “When I go out for my first design meeting [with a client], I like to meet inside the house, as well as outside. The architectural design, the interior design, and the landscape work together hand-in-hand to make a successful living space,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein begins outdoor installations in March or April, depending on the weather. Design, installations, and container-planting jobs are steady through July. Business is generally slower in August, but picks up again in autumn as Goldstein’s clients want their landscape work completed before the snow flies. “More people [should] think about design in the winter so that they can get their landscape installed early in the year, and then they have the summer to enjoy it,” she said.

During the winter, Goldstein works on design projects and attends home and garden shows where she books projects with clients for spring. “We book up pretty fast,” she said. Goldstein drafts designs for spring implementation if she can view the property without snow cover. Along with carryover from the previous season, she said springtime keeps her busy.

“I love being outside and not stuck in an office all day. I love being able to use my skills as a designer to create a landscape for my clients to enjoy all year long,” said Goldstein.

Creative Landscape Designs, Inc.
Lynn Goldstein, Owner
3003 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 3rd floor
(414) 294-0900

No place like Ilija’s

November 2, 2012

By Sheila Julson

Ilija and Djurdjica Zoric. —photo Jennifer Kresse


For nearly a decade, the Cudahy neighborhood flanking the intersection of Squire and Kirkwood avenues has offered  a slice of Eastern Europe. Among the duplexes and bungalows, barking dogs, and teens rapping on the street, there was laughter, Balkan music, and the cadences of conversations spoken in Serbian. Merry outdoor dining and lively parties on the patio at the back drew curious glances and grins from those who passed by. Ilija’s Place—the red-brick bar and restaurant with stained glass windows, flower-draped window boxes, and a front door framed with wrought iron—featured eastern European cuisine and spirits. Inside there were stringed instruments, ethnic costumes, and paintings of European streets that evoked Bosnia and Serbian culture.

For the past 10 years, Ilija’s evoked a bygone era, where neighbors gathered with fellow immigrants, along with others from families who have been here for generations, in a setting where the owners knew their customers by name. Patrons came for the Serbian cuisine as much as they did for the warmth and the sense of belonging. So when it was announced that October 27 would be the establishment’s last day of business, neighbors and patrons were shocked and sorrowed by the unwelcome news.

Owner Ilija Zoric said he is closing his doors because a recent rent hike is beyond his reach. That followed on the heels of a decline in business since Wisconsin’s smoking ban was instituted in July 2010. “It cut business about 50 percent,” said Ilija’s wife, Djurdjica Zoric.

After the smoking ban went into effect, Djurdjica (“Georgia”) said customers changed their dining habits. Those who once dined, then lingered after dinner to socialize over drinks and cigarettes, now departed when they’d finished dining because they didn’t care to step outdoors to smoke.

Serbian roots

Ilija Zoric is, as he will tell you, “Serbian, from Bosnia.” He emigrated from Bosnia in 1976, and came to Milwaukee, where he met Djurdjica. She had immigrated to Milwaukee three years before. Both had family in Milwaukee.

The couple opened Ilija’s Place in 2003. Prior to opening his business, Ilija waited tables for 27 years at Old Town Serbian Gourmet House in Milwaukee’s Lincoln Village where Ilija called most customers “friend” and was quick with a joke or a jovial laugh.

Cudahy resident Vera Trifunovich, also Serbian, lives a few doors from Ilija’s Place. She knew Ilija from his days at Old Town, when she and her family dined there. “He was so striking and unique,” she said. She was delighted when she learned that he intended to open a restaurant in her neighborhood.

After opening the new business, Ilija tended bar, and greeted and served customers while Djurdjica did all the food preparation and cooking. Their sons Dario and Neven helped tend bar and serve customers. Ilija’s brother, Milan, helped with the pig roasts that were occasionally staged on the patio during the summer months.

The cozy restaurant that “fit 50 people comfortably, or 60, a little tight” as Ilija said, offered family recipes. “It’s traditional home cooking,” Djurdjica said.

Djurdjica Zoric takes a break from her artistry in the kitchen. —photo Jennifer Kresse

Among the favorites were sarma—cabbage leaves stuffed with seasoned meat and cevapcici—a grilled seasoned sausage that received rave reviews from Ilija and Djurdjica’s customers. Dinners included a complimentary appetizer, ajvar, which is a sweet red pepper spread, served with kajmak, a soft spreadable cheese, and bread. Ajvar can take a whole day to prepare, Ilija said.

Serbian wines and beers quenched thirsts and kept the good times flowing. Serbian tea made with slivovitz, a plum brandy, was kept warm in a stainless steel percolator behind the bar. Kruskovac, a pear-based liqueur from Croatia, was another of the traditional offerings from the Old World.

Besides the food and drink, the European collectibles that were part of Ilija’s décor prompted much conversation. Every piece had a story, and Ilija was always willing to share the tales. He pointed to a mandolin on the wall behind the bar and said the dark wood, pear-shaped instrument is 100 years old and from Yugoslavia. “I got it as a present about 11 years ago,” he said.

European musicians, as well as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and the Bee Gees were among the artists in Ilija’s collection of 1,500 CDs. The food, drink, music, and ambience charmed patrons—from their fellow Serbians to those who experienced the culture for the first time. Customers ranged from those who traveled a distance by car, including those who arrived in their Jaguar, to their neighbors who walked to the restaurant.

Cudahy’s beloved Serbian bar and restaurant opened in 2003 and closed October 2012. —photo Jennifer Kresse

Neighborhood loss

In a community that has been struggling to attract and retain solid businesses, the loss of Ilija’s Place will not be insignificant to its Cudahy neighborhood. Trifunovich said she and her family were sad to learn the restaurant was closing.

“Ilija’s has been a true gathering place for our family and friends since opening just a few doors away from our home. Over the years, we’ve shared great food and great times as we celebrated family milestones, birthdays, and those days when you just need a great dining experience close to home. Everyone has favorites, from the cevapcici to the karadjordjeva schnitzel to the punjena pljeskavica,” Trifunovich said. “Actually, you can make a meal of just the ajvar, kajmak, and bread, even before your entree arrives. We’ve shared our neighborhood gem with friends, and all of them have enjoyed dining at Ilija’s Place, and then telling their friends, too. Ilija’s has been a wonderful part of our neighborhood, and a valued member of Cudahy’s business community. Words cannot express how much my family, friends, and I will miss the best Serbian restaurant in the world!”

Kathy Julson, who lives next door to Ilija’s Place, enjoyed the lively European music piped onto the patio and said the melodies were a fine background music while she gardened and did yard work. She also savored the aromas as the food was being prepared. “It’s going to be boring around here with Ilija’s gone,” Julson said.

Other neighbors also expressed surprise and disappointment when they learned of the closing.

Life after the restaurant

During the final weeks of business, a tearful customer hugged Ilija as she wished him well.

“Now, now, none of that. We’ll keep in touch,” Ilija said as he hugged her.

Ilija, 59, said he’s going to retire after closing the restaurant. “I’ve worked for 40 years,” he said. “That’s enough.” He said he is looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren.

Djurdjica will continue operating her business, Georgia’s Alterations, which she runs from the same building as Mara’s Sewing House in South Milwaukee. Mara is Ilija’s aunt.

Ilija, who proclaimed a steadfast determination to retire, held a drink shaker and strainer and artfully mixed a beverage for a customer. As he carefully poured the concoction, he admired his work, and looked around the restaurant. “But, I will miss this,” he said.

Hello kitties!

November 2, 2012

By Michelle Passante

—photo Katherine Keller

Ezma, Happy, and Oklahoma need a home. They, along with about 130 other kittens and adult cats, await adoption at Second Hand Purrs, a no-kill nonprofit shelter that has been finding homes for felines since 2004. The shelter is housed in the building that was formerly Balsmider’s Food Market, 4300 S. Howell Ave., 10 blocks north of General Mitchell International Airport.

Sandra Gapinski and two other experienced animal rescuers founded the shelter eight years ago to create a safe haven for abandoned cats and kittens. “We saw so many cats being turned away from shelters simply because there was no room,” said Gapinski. “So we unofficially began the shelter in the upper level of my duplex about three months before our official opening on Howell Avenue.”

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit shelter survives solely on material and monetary donations from the public. Board members Nancy Benoit, Jane Francis, Rhonda Kimmel, and Sandra Hegemann oversee the shelter’s operations.

At present, Second Hand Purrs houses more than 60 cats and kittens, with another 75 in homes waiting for adoption. Only surrendered cats are accepted; the staff does not seek or pick up strays.

When space permits, the shelter also takes in kittens from Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) and other shelters with an over-flow of the juvenile animals. However, Second Hand Purrs is presently at full capacity with a waiting list of people who want to surrender adult cats to the shelter.

Happy —photo Jennifer Kresse

Smokie —photo Katherine Keller

Pyle —photo Katherine Keller







Modus operandi

Second Hand Purrs carefully evaluates their wards before placing them in new homes. After accepting a surrendered cat or kitten, each spends time in a foster home before being admitted to the shelter itself. While in foster care, the cat’s health, personality, temperament, and ability to socialize with other pets/animals are evaluated, as well as their tolerance or ability to cope with children. In some cases, the shelter departs from its protocol and allows a cat to be adopted directly from the foster home.

On average, an adult cat spends six months to a year in foster care. Given the length of time the cats spend in foster care plus the number of cats, the shelter needs many foster homes and people for fostering. There are presently 15 foster homes, but the shelter urgently needs 10 more.

Those who foster a cat for Second Hand Purrs incur no costs because the shelter provides cat litter, food, and veterinary care.

Zelda —photo Michelle Passante

Carlo, a sweet-natured 10-month-old orange tabby, is an example of how Second Hand Purrs strives to save every cat in the shelter. Rescued from MADACC when only eight weeks old, Carlo had a rough start in life. At 5 months, Carlo developed a severe respiratory infection. Many tests and x-rays eventually led to a possible diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which he was treated for. Carlo was neutered and was given one more test four months later, but unfortunately, the results were inconclusive. Consequently, he will not be “adopted to a forever home” until an accurate diagnosis is made that confirms his condition is stabilized. In the meantime, Second Hand Purrs will need more advice from a veterinarian, which translates to more medical bills for the shelter. Veterinary services are provided by Community Veterinary Clinic in Bay View and by Franklin Veterinary Clinic.Second Hand Purrs does not euthanize except in cases where the cat is suffering and can no longer be aided by medical care. Some shelters may deem older cats or cats with behavior problems as not adoptable, but not Second Hand Purrs. “Every cat and kitten that comes through the shelter doors is given a chance,” said Hegemann. If a cat’s medical issues or behavioral problems are too complex to be remediated, the cat is given a home at the shelter for life.


Arnie —photo Michelle Passante

The depressed economy has also contributed to the number of cats returned to the shelter. There were four months in a row in 2011 when more cats were returned than cats adopted. The shelter’s goal for 2012 is 250 adoptions.The recession has taken a toll on the number of adoptions over the past several years. Some families can no longer afford to care for their pet because of a job loss or reduced hours or salary. In 2010, 231 cats were adopted, but only 186 found homes in 2011.

Other circumstances that cause people to surrender a cat include moving into an apartment where pets are not allowed, moving into a nursing home, or needing to give up a cat who can’t blend with the family’s other pets.

Ezma —photo Jennifer Kresse

Adoption processWhen prospective adopters come in, the shelter’s staff member gathers information about the family’s household: the number and age of children; existing pets in home including their age and temperament; character of the home—quiet, noisy, busy? Prospective adopters are also asked about the type of personality they are looking for. Do they want a playful cat, a calm cat, or a lap cat?

“We try to make the best match we can, with what we know about our cats’ temperaments, and what we find out about the people looking to adopt,” Jane Francis said. “It may seem that we’re being nosy, but asking about the presence of children, other pets, and the general activity level of the household helps us to recommend certain cats over others.” The applicant is also asked if the pets in their homes see the vet on a yearly basis.

Cats 6 months and older are spayed or neutered. The adoption fee also includes a distemper booster, deworming/preventative, flea bath, ear mite treatment (if needed), stool test, nail trim, and a rabies booster. Kittens must be 9 weeks old before they can be adopted. When kittens younger than 6 months are adopted, calls are made to make sure that the kitten is spayed/neutered by the time they are 6 months old.

The shelter’s adoption fee is $80 for one cat/kitten or $130 for two and applicants must be age 21 or older.

The shelter will not release a cat until the staff reviews the application, which can take a few days. Then a shelter staffer delivers the cat to the adopted home (up to 50 miles from the shelter) so the home environment can be evaluated.

Carlo —photo Jennifer Kresse

Second Hand Purrs is operated entirely by volunteers. There are no paychecks for board members, the bookkeeper, members of the fundraising committee, or for those who administer medicine, clean cages and litter boxes, and who socialize with the cats. “They all do it for the love of the cats,” Nancy Benoit said. The shelter always needs more people to become volunteers for daily cleaning shifts and to work with the public on days that the shelter is open. Volunteers must be age 18 or older. Children under 18 may volunteer but must be accompanied by a supervising adult.

Second Hand Purrs placed 1,765 in new homes between September 2004 and January 2012.

Second Hand Purrs
Th 6-9pm; Sat 10am-3pm
Voicemail: (414) 727-7877 + Facebook


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