Pitt describes columnists’ personal touch
By Roger Pitt
New Years is the time of contemplation — remembering the past and thinking about the future.
Phil Anunson urged a “look in to the future” when posed a question on which to focus.
Phyllis Laughlin set the course months earlier with a clipping of a Leona Mech column in the Jan. 14, 1976 Press-Star.
Leona wrote her “Thoughts in Passing” column and was the first face people would see entering the Press office on Pearl Street. She was writing the column years before I came to New London in 1964 and continued long after I moved to the Appleton sports department.
Leona and her brother Art Gesse, street department supervisor, helped acquaint me with the city and local history while sharing a table at the Friendly Place, now the Waterfront.
The column was about the Octagon house located west of Pfeifer Park and south of the railroad tracks. It was moved to Historic Village at Memorial Park, preserving it from razing.
Mech’s column defines the time consuming, tedious search for accurate information for a column or analysis story. The internet makes most searches quicker, but many details remain hidden in archives not digitalized.
I am an addict of looking back columns, like Leona’s and “All Those Years Ago” in the Amherst area Community Spirit, a monthly paper.
I wrote for the weekly Amherst Advocate, from 1957 — my freshman year in high school — until 1964 when I joined The Post-Crescent.
Excerpts of 100 and 75 years ago from the Advocate would flunk (not acceptable) as politically correct. Some legally sanctioned practices are unthinkable today and were repealed.
The column had an item from the December 1915 Advocate about a pioneer, experimental sterilization program in Wisconsin for the “feeble minded.” The mandatory sterilization act was passed in 1913. It was first used in 1915. Nearly 2,000 sterilizations took place before the law was repealed in 1978.
Items 50 years ago seem like yesterday and my age gap on 75 years is rapidly closing. Many items kindle memories of news, school and community events, while the names of people make it more personal.
An item often revives memories associated with the person or event.
Dr. Lenard Markman and wife Leslie opened practice at Amherst Family Medical Center 25 years ago. Len was the youngest of Harold and Marion Markman’s three boys. Isidor, his grandfather settled in New London, establishing a grocery store and department store. Isidor often stopped at my New London office to chat during his routine walk through the business district. His brother Gary owned clothing stores in New London and Clintonville and Larry a grocery store in New London.
Many familiar names were in the item on Amherst’s basketball team 50 years ago, including Neil Fuller, the coach. Fuller, nicknamed “Knuck,” was one of several teachers from New London at Amherst. I routinely ran into Fuller at state basketball and track championships after he left Amherst. His mother Mildred and a sister lived in New London.
Tom “Gunner” Wolfe got the nickname for launching shots off the backboard from mid-court. He also would take on Paul Betro in no holds barred wrestling in the mid-court circle, sans mat. Wolfe left for a bank job in New London and wrote my first car loan.
He recently went on the “Honor Flight” and gave me a rubbing on the Vietnam Memorial of my classmate Don Lepak, killed Nov. 30, 1968.
I did stories about more than a dozen boys, most from the New London area, who were casualties of the war.
Gene Huettner came to Amherst about the same time and his wife Mary remained active in the community after his untimely death. I often was served Friday fish fries by his mother Margaret and tipped a few with his dad Al at the Franklin House.
Vern Pieper preceded the other New Londoners, coming to Amherst after graduating Lawrence University. He was a demanding but extremely popular band director. My peers speak fondly of him to this day.
Vern had a home on White Lake near Weyauwega down the road from my residence. I often saw him during summers and after his retirement. A brother John, who taught at Marion, used White Lake as his base between cruises after retiring. The oldest brother, Harold worked at Cristy’s when I came to New London and the youngest, Dave, was with the New London Press. Dave retired as a photographer with the Post-Crescent.
I thought of teachers in the Clintonville School District I crossed paths before my P-C career.
Bruce Parkovich was a roommate with my brother John at La Crosse. His stay in Clintonville was brief, moving on to Marinette.
Sig Burgman Shaw taught German for many years. We first met at the Quandt Field House at UW-Stevens Point. Ken Keenlance, another Pointer, would stop at the End Stool several decades ago, before going off radar.
The first person I met from Clintonville was James Malloy in Frank Crowe’s American history class. Malloy was not too quiet listening to the Truckers basketball game being played in the state tournament in 1963. Malloy spoke of the new coach and a kid named Bennett.
A year later I was writing about Truckers sports and began a long friendship with the coach, Carl Bruggink and Clintonville residents.