Nature Is His Muse

August 31, 2017

By Katherine Keller

 Jef Raasch — a world of beauty and delight

Often Jef Raasch’s work is a collage of creatures or botanical elements like The Faun, where the figure possesses a human face but its body is constructed or clad with birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. PHOTO William Lemke

The beauty and beings of the natural world inform and suffuse the work of Jef Raasch, a sculptor in clay.

Creatures of the water, air, wetlands, forest, and savannah are represented in his work, as are leaves, mushrooms, ferns, tree trunks, branches, and moss. He works with the human form, interpreted, often, as a supernatural wood nymph, faun, dryad, or the little woodland folk of fable and lore.

Sometimes his object is a single creature — a frog, a turtle, a koi, or a chair and divan, as in his “Fernichair” series.

But often his object is a collage of creatures or botanical elements like his Faun or Earth Mother, where the faun has a human face but his body is constructed or clad with birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians. Earth Mother’s form is human and incorporated with geological strata. Her breasts and shoulders are the lush green that blankets sections of Earth. The tree that erupts from the green forms her neck and head.

Bay View resident Jef Raasch and his boyhood friends ran free when he was a child for he lived in a place surrounded by woodland and farms.

“Oh, my goodness, what a different age we live in now,” mused Raash. “I grew up in Brown Deer and it was developing at the time. I, and my friends, starting at age 6, traveled miles in a day, and we weren’t supervised by our parents. We certainly weren’t forced to play soccer. All this stuff where you’ve gotta find things for your kids to do to make them safe. I just remember the woods were an amazing place to be. There used to be a creek in it and we caught baby crayfish. It was always the quest to find the ultimate creature.”

Twenty-two baby garter snakes for example. Inside his parents’ home.

Garter snakes are ovoviviparous meaning they give birth to live young. Raasch brought a garter snake into his bedroom where he’d set up a reptile aquarium with what he thought was an escape-proof cover.

His snake gave birth to 22 young. They all escaped. He recovered all but six snakes, which were never found.

Jef Raasch and his husband Jay Hunkins with their dog Bruno photographed in the Japanese teahouse Raasch built. Raasch owns a cottage near his home that he converted to a studio. PHOTO Katherine Keller


His mother Kathleen Raasch was not an animal-loving person. She grew up on a farm near Decorah, Iowa, where she became terrified of birds after encounters with hens. One of her tasks was gathering eggs, even those still under a hen. Yet, she and her husband William (Bud) Raasch tolerated their son’s proclivity and fascination with wildlife.

His toys and hobbies reflected his keen interest in nature.

“When I was a kid, models were the craze. Everyone was building model cars and helicopters. I was doing the horror picture monsters. There was a series of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures I was putting together. It was all natural. They were animals or people. They weren’t cars,” he said.

Raasch remembers that he began working with clay when he was six years old. He found clay in a ditch and began modeling bird nests.

He attended Algonquin Elementary, Brown Deer Middle, and Brown Deer High School. He doesn’t remember that his artistic ability was “so defined” but he liked art and had above average ability.

Jef Raasch, The Flock, Clay, 24” x 18” x 18”. PHOTO William Lemke

Raasch said he was a bullied kid, sometimes belittled as gay. Art and his high school art room became his “saving grace.” The art teacher was William
Panaro, who he sees every year when he visits the Morning Glory Fine Art Fair at the Marcus Center.

His teacher stopped at his booth this summer. “I sat and talked to him, reminiscing about those days. Every time I see him, I tell him he saved my life. ‘You gave me something. I hated high school but the art room was my place to be, my safe place where I could just express myself.’”

When he and Mr. Panaro discussed potential careers, Raasch said, his teacher asked, “What’s wrong with going into art?”

As appealing as that may have been, Raasch felt compelled to pursue a more traditional path. His oldest brother was in veterinary school. His mother said she would not pay for his college tuition if he chose to pursue art.

He chose premed, although he also took some art classes. “Physiology…oh, my goodness! I got through it. That was supposed to be the hardest. You had to learn every bone and every attachment and every muscle. I made it through that! And it really helped with my anatomy later on (art career).”

Raasch had enrolled at UW-La Crosse but transferred to UW-Milwaukee when he began his sophomore year. By his third year, he changed his major to art and dispensed with thoughts of a career in dentistry or optometry. “I thought, you know what? I’m really going to do what strikes my fancy. So screw it, if I’m poor, or whatever,” he reflected.

Raasch’s work has been commissioned, including the notable Bibliopile, an 11-foot installation (clay) in the children’s room of the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha, Wis. PHOTO Jef Raasch

He financed his education by working at the Tripoli Country Club. Beginning in 1977 while he was still in high school, he was employed by the golf club for 17 years, except for the months he lived in La Crosse. “I paid as I went.” Raasch said. “When I got out of school I was debt free but it took me seven years. But I decided I was lovin’ it in school, so the last year or two, it was almost all ceramic classes, and I was able to make up my own classes because I’d fulfilled all my requirements.”

He studied with ceramics professors Karen Gunderman, his primary professor, and also Paula Rice and Dick Evans, graduating with Bachelor of Fine Arts — Ceramics degree in 1987.

A turning point for Raasch was 1992 when he was able to walk away from the restaurant industry and support himself instead with his work.

He attends 10 to 15 fine art and crafts shows annually within Wisconsin and beyond.

His work has attracted collectors including Judy Faulkner, the founder and CEO of Epic Systems, a healthcare software company located in Verona, Wis.

Jef Raasch, Botanical Dodo, 24″ x 18″ x 18″, clay and acrylic paint. PHOTO William Lemke

His work has been commissioned, as well, such as the notable work Bibliopile, an 11-foot installation in the children’s room of the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha, Wis.

Bibliopile is delightful, if slightly dizzying mélange of books, a bookcase, animals, shells, and musical instruments piled from floor to ceiling. The work is built around a support column.

Raasch’s large scale works are made in 27-inch-high sections, the maximum height that his kiln accommodates. When working on a large scale piece, Raasch breaks his design into 24-inch sections.

When clay is fired, it shrinks about 10 percent. Years of practice have bestowed the skill required to make sections that fit together after firing. When they don’t perfectly fit, Raasch said he has developed techniques to compensate.

Raasch colored his early work with glaze but more and more, paints it instead.

He is finding that he’s working more and more with a green palette as his work has become more focused on the botanical.

“It’s not that I don’t want to do more animals, it’s just that I need to feel fresh. Right now I am so much into moss and mushrooms and green. My work is really green right now,” he said.

Currently, he makes a lot of clay koi because they sell. Craftshow-goers love —and buy — them. He paints the fired clay with acrylic paint and finishes it with a polymer gloss varnish. His work ranges from $40 for small pieces to $20,000 for the large.

Raasch’s work is not confined to work that’s baked in a kiln. He has transformed the exterior and interior of his home on Bay Street, and created a beguiling secret garden behind his home.

“This is my very secret garden,” he said, looking over a spiral walk walled with ferns. “No one would have a clue what’s back here. I love this space. It’s my staycation. It’s my little paradise.”

He has been working on it for two decades. When he purchased the property, he said “the backyard was grass and a maple tree pruned like a Tootsie Pop. Everything was exposed to the whole neighborhood. He began by planting poplar trees to create privacy. They’re long gone, replaced with tulip and other trees, and “a strange little crazy juniper.” He recently completed constructing a Japanese teahouse that’s tucked in a corner of his garden, right behind his waterfall and koi pond.

Jef Raasch recently completed building a Japanese teahouse in a corner of the secret garden behind his home. PHOTO Katherine Keller

When asked what he would do with his life if he didn’t have to support himself, he replied, “Not art!” with uproarious laughter.

He’d like to make environments, as he did in his backyard.

Raasch and his husband Jay Hunkins live in the home Raasch purchased in 1996 for $26,000. He also owns a cottage near his home that he converted into a studio.

He maintains a vegetable garden next to his studio, where, in addition to several raised beds, he planted apple trees that he espaliered.

Raasch recently led an unsuccessful movement on behalf of himself and neighbors to oppose the six-story mixed-use residential and retail development that is planned for the Hamburger Mary’s site on the northeast corner of Bay Street and Kinnickinnic Avenue. He and his neighbors objected to the scale of the building and were concerned about parking problems they fear will accompany the development in their neighborhood where many residents must park on the street.

BOOK REVIEW — You Too Can Can But You Must Can Carefully

August 1, 2017

By Katherine Keller

You Too Can Can But You Must Can Carefully
Science is key to safely preserving food in the home kitchen

Christina Ward and her Preservation — The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration have received a good deal of media attention in Milwaukee, Madison, and beyond, since her book was published in June.

Some of the local interest in the book and in the author herself is surely due to her status as a Milwaukee native but it also coincides with the recent spike in home canning and preserving.

In the U.S., the resurgence of home food preservation began immediately following the 2008 economic downturn. In 2009, the New York Times reported that Jarden’s sales of its canning equipment had increased nearly 50 percent above its 2008 sales. At that time Jarden, now Newell, owned Ball and Kerr brands, both longtime makers of the glass jars used by home canners.

Wisconsin legislators became part of the trend when they passed the “pickle bill” in 2009, which permits the sale of a limited range of preserved foods processed in a home kitchen. Previously, state law mandated that small-scale producers of canned food were permitted only to sell to the public if the products had been processed in state- and city-certified commercial kitchens.

Some attribute the trend for DIY pickles, jams, preserved fruit, vegetables, chutney, kimchi, jerky, and beer to the current demand for handcrafted, artisanal, small scale, and locally produced food rather than the desire to stock the larder more economically. Buying jars, lids, rings, and other equipment is not inexpensive. And if one is buying rather than growing one’s food, it is yet more costly to “put food by.”

Ward’s book joins the contemporary stream of food preservation titles. A quick scan of Amazon’s listings revealed that more than 40 books on the topic have been published since 2009.

What distinguishes Ward’s work is she promises information about the art of canning, fermenting, curing, and dehydrating food, but also, crucially, the science.

Informing her knowledge of food-safe preservation practices is Ward’s certification as a UW-Madison Extension accredited Master Food Preserver. The accreditation is achieved after successfully completing a three-day course taught by university and extension faculty, according to information published by the UW Extension.

For those who preserve their own food, adhering to practices that ensure safe final products is critical because failing to follow the rules can result in serious illness or death. Ward repeatedly warns her readers to strictly follow her recipe’s directions, just as she warns not to randomly use recipes from the multitude of blogs on the subject. Instead, she advises, use recipes published by university extensions or those written by authors like her, who have been schooled in food safety science and practice.

In the first chapter, Ward introduces readers to a short list of deadly foodborne pathogens that poison food.

She follows it with two short chapters about the chemistry and physics of common food preservation methods, with an explanation about how each prohibits, if performed properly, pathogen growth.

The science sections are accessible and easy to absorb. She doesn’t delve too deeply and generally, when introducing a scientific term that may be unfamiliar to readers, includes a definition: “Any substance that attracts water molecules is called ‘hygroscopic.’ Salt and sugar are hygroscopic.”

Ward’s text also includes an overview of the different processes and equipment required for a variety of preservation methods including hot water bath and pressure cooker canning. There are shorter chapters that cover fermentation, curing, smoking, and dehydration. Each concludes with a selection of recipes.

Whether readers want to make chutney, canned fish, peaches in syrup, pickles, relish, jerky, pie filling, kvass, soup, or jam, they’ll probably find a recipe for it in Ward’s book.

The recipes are easy to read and for the most part, easy to follow. Text is set off by a healthy portion of white space. Each of the steps in the technique section is set in bold type, most helpful when perspiring in a steamy kitchen surrounded by a slew of ingredients and a bunch of equipment.

Nuts-and-bolts-information is provided in the header: prep time, equipment, headspace (proper amount of space between a jar’s contents and the lid), processing time, and yield. The recipe header, for the uninitiated, is printed at the beginning of a recipe and provides advice, special instructions, or key information.

In many of Ward’s recipes, yield information is provided relative to various jar sizes — pint, pint and a half, or quart, for example. This saves time when gathering equipment to make a batch of preserves. Experienced canners know that the prep and cleanup often take as long, if not longer, than filling and processing jars.

Most recipes include the weight of the main ingredient, in addition to the volume. For example, 1-½ cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen peas. Curiously, some do not. The recipe for Nantucket Pie calls for 32 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries. How many readers will know how many cups are in a bag of cranberries?

The 108 recipes would also be enhanced if the main ingredient’s weight and volume were added to the headers.

Ward’s recipes often include helpful supplemental information. A note in the recipe for Beet and Horseradish Relish informs, “Fresh horseradish is pungent. It will smell when you grate it. It can also cause irritation to eyes. Using a food processor is a quick and easy way to grate horseradish.” And in the recipe for Italian Sausage and Peppers: “Choose your jar size first as that will determine how you prepare the sausages. Quart jars fit about 4 whole sausages while pint jars fit 2 sausages that are halved.”

Ward said she’s made and tested every recipe in the book aside from the pressure-canned fish. She’s allergic to fish, so her husband taste-tested it.

The supplemental information provided in the recipes themselves and in the introduction to each set of recipes showcases the considerable depth of knowledge Ward possesses of her subject.

Although the book includes almost no photographs of finished products, there is a 16 page section at the book’s center that features color images of market produce along with a few close ups of peaches, dill pickles, syrup, and jelly in jars. Likewise, there is only a handful of graphics that illustrate technique, so if you’re an anxious beginner or visual learner, consider supplementing Ward’s book with the Ball Blue Book Guide of Preserving or the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Other rich resources are university extension websites such as those of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Georgia, etc. The University of Wisconsin Extension’s website, The Learning Store, offers a wealth of information.

This noteworthy book possesses a couple of hitches. Some of the material could be better organized and there is a disappointing dearth of indexed material. Ward includes a good deal of information that augments or summarizes her main text but these treasures are scattered throughout the book and often not logically placed, therefore not easy to locate.

The index is only three and a half pages for a book of 394 pages packed with details. When I attempted to use the index, the page number for each of the first two items I consulted was incorrect.

An in-depth index along with an appendix that compiles the key information provided in tables and subsections would enhance the book’s usability. If you find a table or other information you will likely wish to consult again, put a sticky note on that page so you can readily find it when you need it.

That said, Ward’s work is notable for the depth and breadth of her knowledge, in addition to the bright, broad array of appealing recipes. Whether confessing her desire for a return to pickled fruit, advising how not to blow up a pressure cooker, dispensing personal anecdotes and interesting morsels about food history and culture, or sharing her wealth of information about food preservation, the book provides a compelling, authoritative resource for those who would “put food up.”

The information is practical and comprehensible and as such should reassure and embolden novices but also round up the knowledge of the more seasoned and advanced food preservers.

The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration
Christina Ward, Author
Process Media; Trade Paperback;  $24.95

PAREN(T)HESIS — Money Talks

August 1, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

Last month, I shared thoughts around talking with kids about how babies are made.

Next up, money, another subject that is sometimes taboo. More specifically, I’m thinking about kids knowing the basics of personal finances.

Many grade schoolers have to pause and think to remember how much a quarter is worth. Ask them to guess how much is paid for rent or a mortgage, and they may throw out what they consider a really high number, such as $100. As they get older, they might grasp these values and concepts but know little about using a budget to help prepare for the future. Older children should learn things like how credit works and even compound interest.

While it’s comforting to keep money concerns in the realm of adults, eventually kids will need to handle money without an adult over their shoulder. I remember my first purchases without a parent were 10 or 25 cent candy at a store near our school. (Peach was my flavor of choice.) Today kids might buy a cookie at a coffee shop or use a vending machine without their parents, or even rent a movie or juice up an online game.

It’s reasonable to think that they will make better decisions, both large and small, if they have been given some guidance.

On a small scale, I try to show our daughter receipts for things like groceries and have her look at the total so she gets a grasp of the cost of food. On a Target or Walgreens receipt, I point out the line indicating tax.

To help her become comfortable with money and to have a little independence, we’ve started to let her make some small purchases on her own, such as muffins at a coffee shop or farmers market.

Wisconsin legislators are considering requiring public schools to include financial literacy for kids from kindergartners to high school seniors. Like the discussions over the birds and the bees, in my mind financial discussions should start at home and be reinforced at school. This helps make sure a family’s culture is respected while all kids get the basics. It helps society at large when they graduate with a solid knowledge of financial topics.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed the Financial Literacy bill in late June with no opposition. According to an article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the State Senate may consider the bill this fall.

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

IN BALANCE — Magnesium: An Essential Mineral for Health

August 1, 2017

Craving chocolate? Your body may be telling you that you need more magnesium.

Magnesium is an easily overlooked and essential multitasking mineral present in the body. It is found in bones, teeth, and red blood cells. It is involved in over 300 biochemical functions in the body, serves as a building block for DNA, and is required for proper functioning of the nervous, muscular, and cardiovascular systems.

Americans are at risk of magnesium deficiency and it has been estimated that nearly half of the population is deficient. Factors including commercial agriculture, processed-food diets, chronic digestive issues, daily caffeine intake, alcoholism, chronic stress, excessive calcium supplementation, and low mineralized water make it difficult for people to maintain enough magnesium and other essential minerals.

Diagnosing magnesium deficiency through lab testing is difficult due to its wide distribution throughout the body. Therefore, detecting early the signs of magnesium deficiency can be the most helpful diagnostic tool. Symptoms include increased irritability, muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, loss of appetite, muscle contractions and cramps, tingling and numbness, restless sleep, low energy, and headaches. When ignored, these symptoms can escalate, leading to the potential for insomnia, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, hormone imbalance, fibromyalgia, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, constipation, and migraines.

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it may be time to focus on increasing magnesium-rich foods or to start taking a food-based magnesium supplement.  Commercial farm practices are depleting the levels of minerals found in our foods, so it is important to seek out organic produce. The best food sources of magnesium are spinach, chard, almonds, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, kefir, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate, and bananas.

Taking a magnesium supplement can have dramatic results on more severe deficiency symptoms.

When choosing a supplement, look for a product that includes whole food ingredients, such as spinach. A food-based supplement is preferred because nutrients cannot be taken apart from a whole food complex and then be expected to do the same job in the body as the whole complex of nutrients is designed to do. My top recommended brands for food-based supplements are Standard Process, Innate Response, and Megafoods. I prefer these brands because they source ingredients from organic farms and manufacture and test products in their own facilities. Stick to the recommended daily dosage, unless instructed otherwise by a healthcare professional.

Consuming too much magnesium via food is not likely in healthy individuals because the kidneys will remove the excess and it is excreted in urine. If an individual should take too much magnesium via a supplement, it is common to experience diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping.

I recommend that anyone with irregular kidney function or adrenal fatigue consult a healthcare professional and start with a lower dose of the magnesium supplement.

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 30 mg* 30 mg*    
7–12 months 75 mg* 75 mg*    
1–3 years 80 mg 80 mg    
4–8 years 130 mg 130 mg    
9–13 years 240 mg 240 mg    
14–18 years 410 mg 360 mg 400 mg 360 mg
19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg 310 mg
31–50 years 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg 320 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg    

*Adequate Intake (AI)
Source: National Institute of Health

Bay View resident Aleisha Anderson, L.Ac. is the clinic director and acupuncturist at Mke MindBody Wellness, an integrative wellness center with holistic therapies focused on mental health. More information:

Disclaimer: The information provided in this column is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or care.

SPOTTLIGHT — Do You Know What Style Your Home Is?

August 1, 2017

By Toni Spott

Toni Spott

What exactly is home style in real estate terms? Home style refers to architectural style. There are more than 38 different styles and 26 of those are more popular than the rest.

The top 15 styles in order of popularity are, according to an article published by American Home Shield: Modern, New American, Contemporary Cottage, Texas, Colonial, Victorian, Italianate, Mediterranean, Ranch/Rambler, Bungalow, Beach, Cape Cod, Craftsman, Florida, and Georgian.

Craftsman homes are one of the most popular styles in Midwest but Traditional is more popular in the Northeast and Mountain regions, though it is also popular in the Midwest. The Ranch/Rambler is one of the more popular in the Southwest. Geographical area plays a large role in the style of home and how it holds up in specific climates.

Ever wonder if the style of your home is the style that was original to its construction? A lot of homes have morphed into a completely different style over time due to renovation and remodeling.

If a home has been significantly altered, the original style is usually discovered during a remodeling project. Taking down walls and finding secret areas you never knew about are sometimes discovered. Sometimes original detailing is uncovered and revealed.

Whether you are thinking of remodeling, adding on, or just improving curb appeal, it’s always good to know the style of your home before you begin. There is nothing worse than a home with no continuity of design after a remodel or addition.

Worse yet is an interior with choppy flow from room to room when dramatically altering the original style.


My home, for example, was an original Center Hall Colonial built in 1945. Originally it had two bedrooms, one and a half baths, a galley kitchen, living room, and a dining room. My husband and I have done two remodeling projects. We added one full bath on the second floor and two more bedrooms. On the main floor, we removed walls to open up the kitchen and incorporate a three-season room. We completely transformed the first floor to an open concept. It is no longer a Center Hall Colonial but our Malibu Beach home. Just call me Barbie!

Our new design incorporates continuous flow from room to room and successfully melded the old architectural style with the new. Our project illustrates that you don’t have to stay true to the original style. You can incorporate your own and tastefully integrate the old with the new.

Review the list of architectural styles from, so next time you are driving down the road, test your style skills and see how many you can get right.

Here’s to lots more sunny days and great home style!

Toni Spott Sustainable Agent, Keller Williams Realty;

Facebook: TheToniSpottTeam

Majority of St. Francis Convent Buildings to Be Demolished

August 1, 2017

By Katherine Keller

Buildings shown in red will be demolished. Buildings that will not be demolished on the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi Campus, 3195 S. Superior St., in St. Francis, Wis.: 1.(St. Francis Chapel); 2. (Troubadour Meeting Room); 3. (Juniper Court); 4. (Canticle Court). Buildings that will be demolished: 5. (Marian Center/Loretto and Rosary Halls and Clare Wing); 6. (Power House); 7. (Motherhouse); 8. (St. Elizabeth)

Demolition of the Marian Center for Nonprofits buildings has begun. The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, who own the convent campus, will build a new convent at the site, 3195 S. Superior St.

Spokesperson Jean Merry said Groth Group of Milwaukee was selected to design the new facility that will provide living quarters for 80 sisters and include a kitchen and dining room. The motherhouse offices will also be moved to the new building. A convent’s motherhouse is often the founding building or main location of a religious order.

The century-old Marian Center buildings that once housed St. Mary’s Academy and St. Clare College presented mounting unsustainable maintenance costs and no longer met the aging sisters’ basic health and safety needs.


Loretto Hall was built in 1904 as a Catholic high school for girls. The school closed in 1991. It was never converted to a coed high school program. —Photo Katherine Keller

After St. Mary’s Academy closed, the center was created to preserve the legacy of the three connected structures, Loretto Hall, Rosary Hall, and Clare Wing, and provide affordable rent to nonprofits for office and studio space. According to the center’s website, “Loretto Hall was constructed in 1904 as St. Mary’s Institute, a high school for young women. Expansions in 1931 and 1935 created Rosary Hall and Clare Wing to allow for the development of St. Clare College in 1937.”

Five years ago the sisters partnered with Milwaukee-based developer Cardinal Capital Management, Inc. to redevelop the Marian Center for Nonprofits into 44 affordable apartments. The plans for the $10 million project were scuttled when the partners were unable to secure sufficient financing.

Currently, Merry said, 40 sisters live in small rooms, inadequate for eldercare, on the third and fourth floors of another building that also will be demolished.

Read past coverage here and here.

New Planning and Design Study to Address Ongoing Water Quality Problems at South Shore Beach

August 1, 2017

By Keith Schubert

Plan must include a study to relocate the beach

Native species have been planted on the north end of South Shore Beach. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

 Milwaukee County selection committee will have chosen an outside consultant by July 28 to complete a planning and design study addressing near-shore water quality and beach improvements at Milwaukee’s South Shore Beach. The county issued a request for proposal (RFP) June 30 seeking respondents.

The RFP requires respondents to propose three concepts for the county project with the objective “to have a beach with significantly fewer closures due to bacterial contamination.”

The study is funded by a $350,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency that was received by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and given to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and sub-awarded to Milwaukee County. The goal of the study will be to find ways to reduce beach closures and improve water quality  conditions. It is another step in ongoing work to improve water quality conditions at South Shore Park.

Jill Organ, chief of planning and development for Milwaukee County Parks, said the study will consider multiple alternatives to carry out this goal. The RFP notes that “the consultant should assume at least two of the concept plans, including the final design, will include the beach being relocated.”

The current budget limits the study parameters to planning, design, and construction-document preparation. The RPF notes that implementation of a construction phase is subject to approval of future funding. Although the construction amount has not yet been identified or secured, the RFP notes “there is a realistic expectation that funding will be pursued.”

The existing parking lot was regraded and reconstructed. The gardens and bioswales were added to filter storm-water runoff. A bird-inhabited sandbar was removed. A section of the Oak Leaf Trail was redirected to a newly constructed promenade along the water’s edge that is safer and more scenic than the previous route through the parking lot. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Cody Varga of Waterford, Wis. filets a salmon in the South Shore Beach fish cleaning station. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

South Shore Beach is one of three public access points along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the southern half of Milwaukee County. It provides recreational access to thousands of Southeast Wisconsin residents. Beach amenities include a park, bike path, swimming, children’s playground, boat launch, boat wash station, fishing, and a fish cleaning station. It is also a prime spot for bicyclists as the Oak Leaf Trail runs through the park.

Because of poor water quality and high levels of E.coli, the beach has long been regarded as one of the worst in the nation and has more closures than any other beach on the Great Lakes.

In 2015, according to a study done by the county, 65 percent of water samples collected exceeded the recreational water quality standards for E.coli. These issues are what cause the beach to regularly rank among the worst in the nation for water quality and number of bacterial related closures, including seven in June of this year.

A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Great Lakes
WATER Institute in 2008 showed that moving the beach 500 yards to the south would result in a 90 percent improvement in water quality, minimizing or eliminating beach closures.

The results of the 2013 “South Shore Beach Relocation Study” by consultants W.F. Baird and Associates suggested that the county spend $4.2 million constructing a second beach retention structure at the south end of the existing beach, as well as other improvements to the current location.

The changes were not made due to inadequate funding.

A section of the Oak Leaf Trail was moved to this newly constructed promenade along the water’s edge. The new trail location is safer and more scenic than the previous route through the parking lot. Benches are another of the new amenities that enhance the waterfront at South Shore Beach. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Suggestions for moving South Shore Beach are the same today as in 2013 —runoff from the park and parking lot areas, excrement from gulls and other birds that occupy the beach’s sandbar, storm water runoff, sewage overflows, and a breakwater that limits exchange between water near the beach and the lake at large.“Because of where the beach is now, [with the water] trapped behind the break wall, there will always be problems because there is just not enough circulation,” said District 14 Milwaukee County Supervisor Jason Haas.

Haas said if the beach were to be moved south near Texas Avenue, the biggest issue would be accessibility.

Another problem is birds. Wherever humans go, so do problematic gulls and other waterfowl, Organ said. Birds contribute to fouling the water with E.coli.

The county recently wrapped up a $3.7 million green infrastructure-improvement project at the site of the beach. Milwaukee County partnered with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, GLRI, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Science, Wisconsin DNR, and the Fund for Lake Michigan.

The mini curb cut near the base of the sign allows boat water and rainwater to drain to the depression directly behind the curb. There, the water is filtered through the plants and soil to reduce lake pollution. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Project improvements included dredging and upgrades to the boat launch, a new boat wash station, and native-plant landscaping. The existing parking lot was regraded and reconstructed. Rain gardens and bioswales were added to filter storm water runoff to reduce polluting the lake. A bird-inhabited sandbar was removed. A section of the Oak Leaf Trail was moved to a newly constructed promenade along the water’s edge that is safer and more scenic than the previous route through the parking lot.

These improvements might not be sufficient to meet clean beach water standards though, as indicated by the text of the RFP that stipulates a plan and design that includes the possible relocation of the beach.

Katherine Keller and Jennifer Kresse contributed to this report. 

Earl Gutbrod Has Retired

August 1, 2017

By Sheila Julson 

Bay View post office loses a friendly, familiar face

Newly retired postal clerk Earl Gutbrod said Bay View is the friendliest neighborhood he worked in during his 36 year career with the United States Post Office. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

For the past 15 years, jovial postal clerk Earl Gutbrod served thousands of patrons at the Bay View post office.

Known for his cordiality and humor, Gutbrod put on his United States Postal Service uniform for the last time May 31 and retired after 36 years of service. He has lived in Bay View for the past 30 years.

Now with leisure time aplenty, Gutbrod is pursuing photography, historical studies, canoeing, and, he added with a laugh, procrastinating.

Gutbrod, the oldest of six children, lived in numerous Milwaukee neighborhoods throughout the city during his childhood, attending approximately nine different Catholic parochial schools. After graduating from Riverside High School, he served in the U.S. Army from 1966 through 1969 and was in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. “I left footprints all over the Central Highlands,” Gutbrod said.

He graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in business and then worked in sales, but he didn’t enjoy it.

During the early 1980s when an economic recession hit, he, like many others in America’s workforce, had difficulty finding work despite a solid work record and a good work ethic.

“It was scary because I always thought I could get a job,” he said. “So I took the post office exam on a lark, not really thinking about it,” he said. At that time, he was working two jobs, one at a wholesale meat company and another driving a school bus.

His application was accepted and he began working at the main branch on St. Paul Avenue in February 1981.

“I started on a letter sorting machine,” Gutbrod said.

The position challenged him to memorize addresses and the letter carrier to whom they were assigned. He was soon sorting letters at a rate of about one per second, using a 10-key horizontal keyboard. “At first, it was very difficult. I wasn’t a typist, but it’s interesting what needing a job can teach you,” he said.

Today, automated systems sort mail from the time it is dropped into the mailbox until it’s routed to the carrier who delivers it.

He also performed other sorting tasks and saw many examples of how difficult some made it for their letters to reach the intended destination. “During a postage rate increase, somebody taped pennies onto the envelope by the stamp to make up the difference,” Gutbrod laughed.

Gutbrod worked at the downtown branch for about 10 years. From there, he worked as a substitute window clerk at a dozen post offices throughout Milwaukee. He enjoyed exploring different neighborhoods during his lunch breaks, and he was particularly intrigued by the Historic Mitchell Street neighborhood. The area’s stores, such as Goldman’s, the former iconic department store that sold everything from candy raisins to girdles, fascinated him. He remembers taking lots of pictures there.

Gutbrod worked at the USPS branches on 34th and Vliet and on the North Shore before being placed at the Bay View station in 2008. “I worked all over Milwaukee, and in all of the neighborhoods, people, overall, were decent and respectful,” he said. “Bay View is the friendliest neighborhood by far. I got to know a lot of people. It was always great seeing a friendly face in line, and we’d all kid around a bit.”

The drawbacks? “The worst was having to be the messenger of bad news,” Gutbrod said. Sometimes mail was lost or delayed. Customers expecting checks or other important mail would often come to the post office in search of an important letter or check. Despite a desire to help, neither Gutbrod, nor any other postal branch clerk, had any power to recover
delayed or lost mail.

“One week, I had two very unpleasant experiences because parcels got held up in customs in Russia and in Algeria,” Gutbrod recalled. “The one in Russia was especially poignant. A woman
(in Milwaukee) was mailing a wedding dress for a relative to get married in. She sent it express mail. The package made it to Russia and then it sat in customs in Russia and never made the wedding. As much as I wanted to help, sometime people don’t realize limitations. I have absolutely no influence in Russia or Algeria!”

—Photo Earl Gutbrod

The Red Fox is a favorite photo subject of Earl Gutbrod and is Bay View’s unofficial mascot.

The advent of the internet has drastically changed our way of life for better or worse and it has particularly impacted USPS. The agency’s bread and butter had long been mailed bills where a first class stamp was used by the creditor to mail a bill and first class postage was used again by the recipient to mail payment. Now, many people pay bills online. “That revenue is not being replaced,” Gutbrod said. “Somewhere along the line, a young person might ask what’s a stamp? That, by far, has been the biggest change.”

Gutbrod also noted that during his time working for USPS, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) was signed into law under the George W. Bush administration in 2006. Under PAEA, USPS was forced to prefund its future healthcare benefit payments for its retirees for 75 years forward.

The post office is a stand-alone government agency of the executive branch. It is the only federal agency that pays its own way. It has not received taxpayer money for many years. “If you use the corporate model, the board of directors would be Congress. These are the people that make the rules for which the post office must comply, with one big difference — the people on our board of directors get millions of dollars in campaign contributions every year from our competitors,” Gutbrod emphasized. “This has all sorts of crazy effects on some of the rules that Congress writes.”

PAEA and the impact of the internet occurred simultaneously, greatly reducing USPS mail volume. Consequently, Gutbrod said, service was affected due to cost-cutting measures that were instituted. Reducing the number of employees at post office counters was one of those.

Another was setting up a two-tier wage system creating the job category “city carrier assistants” (letter carriers), who begin employment at lower pay rates and who are on contract rather than permanent employees. They get moved around wherever needed and sometimes have to deliver a route with which they are completely unfamiliar. “People came in and said a letter was delivered to the wrong place, but the poor carrier was never even on that route before,” Gutbrod said sympathetically.

Earl Gutbrod served patrons at the Bay View Post Office from 2008 through May 2017. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Easing into retirement

A history enthusiast, Gutbrod is contemplating studying for a master’s degree in history. He’s particularly intrigued by 19th century America. “We talk about the way things have changed, but nothing compares to the way things changed during that century,” he said. “You had rural to urban lifestyle changes, steam power, changes in the economic structure, the Civil War, and the Industrial Revolution.”

Gutbrod has been a hobbyist photographer since he received a camera for his first communion at the former Holy Ghost Catholic Church on Lincoln Avenue at 32nd Street, now San Rafael.

He’s shown his work at Seasons of Life Art Gallery, located at St. Ann Center in St. Francis. His photo of a fox is on permanent display. He uses different types of digital equipment and is playing around with stereo photography, a technique where two pictures are captured simultaneously and then displayed side-by-side to give a three-dimensional effect.

Gutbrod also plans to go canoeing and kayaking. His motorcycle, a Honda 1800 VTX, will see more miles.

He shared a story about his last day on the job. “On my last day of work, I brought in an Eisenhower (silver) dollar. For my very last customer, I said, ‘I’m retiring tomorrow, and this job has been good to me. I’d like to give you this buck for luck. She took it and smiled, and said ‘I’ll never spend it.’”

He said he would like to thank his customers in Bay View. “It’s been good,” he said. “I was treated kindly, with respect, and these people made it all possible.”

To receive additional social security benefits, Gutbrod worked until age 70.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and contributor to the Bay View Compass.