When you hear the word “government,” what do you envision?
Some people think of our national government, such as President Obama, the Republican-controlled Congress, and gridlock. Others picture state government and the political divisiveness that has overtaken Madison and beyond.
Often overlooked (and improperly so) are local governments. Counties, cities, villages, towns, and school districts — and the elected and hired officials who govern these areas — greatly affect our day-to-day lives.
As former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill often said, “All politics is local.”
It is for this reason that the American Legion Posts and Auxiliary Units of Waupaca County, in coordination with Waupaca County public officials, sponsored Waupaca County’s 55th annual County Youth Government Day on Friday, April 24, 2015. Twenty-four New London High School freshmen were among the 100 area students in attendance.
After the guns fell silent at the conclusion of World War I, returning soldiers saw the need to care for wounded veterans. For this reason, the American Legion was chartered in 1919, and it has been an instrumental voice for veterans for almost 100 years. Additionally, the Legion has promoted Americanism and democratic ideals, such as helping create the U.S. Flag Code (1923) and establishing the Boys State (1935), Girls State (1937), and Oratorical Scholarship (1938) programs.
County Youth Government Day is another example of how the American Legion is instrumental in providing civic education to the next generation.
Speakers at this year’s event included Arien Herminath (Chairman of Waupaca County’s Youth Government Day Program); Dick Koeppen (County Board Chairman); Kevin Petersen (Wisconsin State Assemblyperson); Jessica Beckendorf (UW Extension’s Community, Natural Resource, and Economic Development Educator); Jesse Cuff (County Veterans Service Officer); and the Honorable Raymond Huber (Circuit Court Judge, Branch III). A three-minute video (Google search “What are Wisconsin Counties video”) was worth viewing.
Other local officials also volunteered their time to talk with students about their jobs and public service, including Brad Hardel (Sheriff), Terrie Tews (Clerk of Circuit Courts), John Snider (District Attorney), Barry Tomaras (Coroner), Mike Mazemke (Register of Deeds), Clyde Tellock (Treasurer), and Mary Robbins (County Clerk). In addition, the Honorable Vicki Clussman (Circuit Court Judge, Branch II) shared her courtroom for a mock trial in which a number of New London students participate.
After a luncheon at the VFW Post 1037 Clubhouse and a few words by Post Commander Rich Morey, students returned to the Law Enforcement Center for a tour of the Sheriff’s Department and Detective Division, the Waupaca County Jail’s booking area, and the Communications/911 Center. Deputy Jon Lokan also showed those in attendance a patrol car and introduced students to Keira, a three-year-old Dutch shepherd K-9.
Participating New London students included: Micah Backus, Sabian Brooks, Gino Canzoneri, Faith Carothers, Hunter Doughty, Reegan Franzmeier, Bailee Fox, Addy Graber, Jessica Gregory, Josie Hintzke, Ella Johnson, Austin Lederhaus, Annabelle Lehman, Totyanna Martin, Elizabeth Radke, Emelia Roberts, Garrett Ruckdashel, Brooke Schweitzer, Sarah Solberg, Brianna Southard, Morgan Spoehr, Adam Steckbauer, Connor Titterton, and Pandora Yang.
“I really enjoyed it and found it very interesting,” said student Addy Graber. “The 911 call center was really cool because we got to see how they use four computers for the process of taking the calls.”
“It was truly inspiring to learn about the ways of the government,” said Emelia Roberts.
Brian Mathu, American & Global Studies teacher at New London High School, thoroughly enjoys the day. “At County Youth Government Day, our young people get to meet with legion members and county officials and understand their contributions — both in the past and today,” Mathu said. “And the adults get to meet with my students and experience their intelligence, energy, and optimism.”
NLHS student Josie Hintzke summed it up well, “We may be kids now, but we are the future adults that will make the decisions that will affect our everyday lives.”
New London High School appreciates the American Legion Posts and Auxiliary Units and the Waupaca County officials who contribute to the success of County Youth Government Day and, in doing so, improve the future of our county, our state, and our nation.