A state softball title highlighted banner 2011

By Tracy Ouellette

Staff Writer

The state of Wisconsin made national news on more than one occasion in 2011 – the good, the bad and the ugly.

The home to reigning Super Bowl champs the Green Bay Packers was thrust into the national spotlight when newly elected Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his budget repair bill on Feb. 11.

The bill, which called for stripping unions of their collective bargaining rights and other unprecedented measurers, set brother against brother.

Thousands of protesters flocked to the State Capitol in Madison and 14 Democratic senators fled the state in an effort to avoid voting on the bill, all while public employees were under attack by many who accused them of being a drain on taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

Walker’s two-year budget, which was designed to eliminate the state’s projected $3.6 billion deficit over the next two years and called for state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their earnings to their pensions and 12.6 percent toward their health insurance, was approved in June.

Area school districts and local municipalities faced many challenges balancing budgets due to the cuts in state spending as a result of the budget repair bill.

The backlash over the budget fight in Madison spurred several recall attempts forcing a special election in August, where two state senators lost their seats and a recall petition is circulating to gather at least 540,000 signatures by Jan. 17, 2012 to force a spring recall election for Walker.

It appears that the year has ended much as it started, but it was the local stories of tragedy and triumph that really show what the community is made of. Here are a few that impacted the area in more ways than one.

 

Bronco girls win state

The Union Grove High School softball team brought home the 2011 WIAA Division 2 state champion after a hard-fought 1-0 win over previously undefeated Baldwin-Woodville June 18 at Goodman Field in Madison.

Bronco ace Alice Fitzpatrick bettered BW’s pitcher Abby Klopp, striking out 12 Blackhawks and giving up just three hits and one walk.

Union Grove managed just four hits and two walks off Klopp (who struck out four Broncos), but got the only run they needed in the bottom of the first.

With one out, Katrina O’Keefe walked and two pitches later stole second. After Emily McClelland flew out, senior Natalie Zanella singled to left to give the Broncos a 1-0 lead.

That was all Fitzpatrick needed.

Of Union Grove’s four hits, Zanella had two, with Danielle Mutchie and O’Keefe getting the other two. Mutchie’s hit was a double.

The Bronco girls finished the championship season 27-4, with all four losses coming at the hands of Division 1 teams who were ranked at the time.

 

Small town, big drugs

In what officials called the biggest drug bust in the area’s history and possibly the state, John J. Gay, 44, was arrested after a tip from a confidential informant led police to his rural Raymond farm where they discovered about 1,850 pounds of marijuana on the property, along with $100,000 in cash and six guns.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling. “I’ve got staff with 30 years on the force and they’ve never seen anything like this. We had to bring in a county dump truck and my guys were stomping it down to get it all to fit.”

Gay was charged with multiple felonies after agents with the Metro Drug Unit, federal High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program and the Greenfield Police Department executed a no-knock search warrant Oct. 31 at his western Racine County farm.

Schmaling estimated the value of the seized marijuana at about $7.4 million. He described the scope of the alleged operation as nothing he had ever seen before.

“This was a high-level manufacturer, producing a lot of marijuana for high-level distribution,” said Schmaling. “This was not your typical drug house.”

Gay is facing three felony counts: possession with intent to deliver over 10,000 grams of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC, the active chemical in marijuana); maintaining a drug trafficking place; and manufacturing/delivering over 10,000 grams of THC.

If convicted of all charges, Gay faces $110,000 in fines, 63.5 years in prison, or both.

Gay is scheduled to appear at a status conference in Racine County Circuit Court Feb. 7.

 

Southern Oaks closed

Moving swiftly to close a potential budget shortfall, state officials shuttered Southern Oaks Girls School and transferred all residents to Lincoln Hills School in Irma at the end of June.

The move came just weeks after the state Legislature’s Budget Committee voted to close the Southern Oaks Girls School and Ethan Allen School for Boys in Waukesha County.

A total of 12 girls were transferred from Southern Oaks into a newly created detention facility for girls during a formal ceremony held on the grounds of Lincoln Hills on June 27.

The transfer to the new center, called Copper Lake School, marked the first time that females have been housed at the Irma facility since 1994.

The closures are expected to net the state a savings of $23 million annually and help erase a projected $20 million deficit in the Department of Juvenile Corrections budget that was projected to occur by 2021.

 

Silo-nara

A piece of the Village of Union Grove’s storied past came crashing down in a heap of twisted metal and cloud of dust in March as demolition began on the silos at the old feed mill along State Street.

The demolition surprised many, including some within village government, since Cooperative Plus Inc. had recently granted an extension until September to keep fencing up along the perimeter of the property as the company waited for a development opportunity to present itself.

The speed at which the silos came down, according to CPI President Brad Gjermo, has much to do with the fact that the company performing the demolition presented the company with an offer it found hard to refuse.

According to Village President Mike Aimone , the razing of the structures will substantially help the village’s redevelopment efforts.

CPI had ceased operations at the grain mill site around five years ago.

Editor injured

Award winning journalist and editor of the Waterford Post and Westine Report, Mark Dudzik, was critically injured Sept. 17 while riding his bicycle in the Maywood Earth Ride in Sheboygan County.

Dudzik, 42, of Franklin, was struck by a pick-up truck at highway speeds when he failed to stop at a stop sign on Highway E and Garton Road. He was airlifted by Flight for Life to Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah where he spent nearly a month in a coma.

Southern Lakes Newspapers Editor in Chief Ed Nadolski said Dudzik, who has been in a rehabilitation facility since coming out of a medically induced coma in October, continues to improve by leaps and bounds. He recently began walking with the aid of a walker and is looking forward to the day he’ll be able to return home. His wife, Denise, who has been at his side daily, said she is amazed by the progress he’s shown since the accident.