Jane Kaczmarek cherishes local parks

November 9, 2008

By Matthew Sliker

Kaczmarek speaks to a crowd of 250 at the Green Gala, Nov.4, in Downtown Milwaukee (Photo by Matt Sliker)MILWAUKEE — Actress and Greendale native Jane Kaczmarek was the guest of honor at the first annual Green Gala, Nov. 8 at the Harbor Lights Room in downtown Milwaukee. Over 250 people, including Mayor Tom Barrett, attended the fundraiser dinner and silent auction for the nonprofit organization The Park People, Friends of Milwaukee County Parks.

Kaczmarek is perhaps best known for her role as Lois, the hilarious and manipulative mom of Fox’s comedy Malcolm in the Middle. She currently stars in the TNT courtroom drama Raising the Bar, where she plays Judge Trudy Kessler.

She spoke to the audience about her Polish heritage, her family, and her fond childhood memories of Milwaukee County Parks. She grew up near Jackson Park, but also spent some time in Bay View.

“To this day, one of my favorite summer memories is listening to the Braves or the Brewers on the car radio and driving home from the band concert at Humboldt Park. Something just said happy, safe summer memories when you were in the car, with the Braves on the radio, coming back from Humboldt Park,” she said.

Kaczmarek also recalled being a baton twirler, marching in the South Shore Frolics parade.

Kaczmarek now lives in California with her three children and husband Bradley Whitford, also an actor and Wisconsin native.

She told the Compass their kids look forward to trips to the Badger State, where both her husband’s and her families still reside.

“My children love Milwaukee. I brought my three children back [on this trip] and it’s kind of their favorite vacation spot, even when it’s 38 degrees and raining,” she said with a laugh.

The veteran actress was back in town to support The Park People, an organization formed in 1977 to help preserve, protect, and enhance the Milwaukee County Park System, said Janet Marie Tierney, executive director.

Since the county budget does not provide parks with enough funding to cover costs, the organization raises additional funds for needed restoration, maintenance, and the general upkeep of the parks primarily by the formation and management of “friends” groups. The Park People has created friends groups for over 50 Milwaukee County Parks, Tierney said. “We’d like to enable those groups to be soliciting tax deductible donations to go towards improvements they see are needed in their parks,” she said.

Ultimately, the goal is to have a friends group for every individual park, she added.

Jeff Grzeca, a North Point Lighthouse Friends board member, said that the county couldn’t afford the $1.6 million needed to restore the historic 1887 lighthouse located in Lake Park. “Our group had to raise all the funds to cover the cost of the restoration and ongoing maintenance. So the entire project was done without any cost at all to the county taxpayers,” he said. The restoration was completed in fall 2007.

“It’s a quality of life issue. [The parks] attract people and businesses to the Milwaukee area. So it’s vital for the economic vitality of Milwaukee and we felt it was critical to be here for that,” Grzeca said.

Kaczmarek joked that she was literally “here” because of the Milwaukee County Parks. Her father Ed Kaczmarek was a lifeguard at Jackson Park pool in 1948 while her mother Evelyn Gregorski, Kaczmarek said, “had the illustrious job of checking toes…I don’t know if it was ringworm or athlete’s foot, or what in the heck they were checking for!-but when I was a kid growing up…and even before…when I was a twinkle in my father’s eye, toes had to be checked before you went into the swimming pool. And that was my mother’s job.”

Evelyn’s sister Ruth Gregorski, who also worked in Jackson Park, in the boathouse, thought Evelyn should meet Ed and made that happen. “So when I say I’m here because of the Milwaukee County Parks, I mean I am here because of the Milwaukee County Parks!” Kaczmarek said.

Kaczmarek arrives at the Gala.  Her mother, Evelyn, is shown on far left. (Photo by Matt Sliker) Kaczmarek’s parents attended the Gala.

Organizers described the event as eco-friendly. Dinner included locally grown organic food and the drink list featured organic vodka.

Kaczmarek concluded her speech by asking attendees to join her in writing a check to “make the Milwaukee County Parks a real destination and a real part of your heart. My children will thank you, my grandchildren will thank you, and my grandparents from Poland will thank you,” she said, teary-eyed with emotion, to a standing ovation.

Jim Goulee, former Park People executive director, said Kaczmarek donated her appearance at the Green Gala as well as the $1,000 honorarium she received the previous evening from Fuel Milwaukee to Park People.

  • To see more photos from the Gala, click here.

  • To hear Jane Kaczmarek’s entire speech, click the play button below. Or, if you are unable to hear it, you may also click here.

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