Gazette reporters' favorite stories of 2013: Homelessness, antiques and a tribute to a tree

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Gazette staff
December 28, 2013

Reporters and photographers interview hundreds of people, write dozens of stories and take thousands of photographs in a year's time.

Some are drudgery; others are a delight.

Some become favorites that they'll never forget.

Here are some articles and photos Gazette reporters and photographers chose as favorites from 2013:

Dan Lassiter/dlassiter@gazettextra.com
Exhausted after only a few days on the streets, Gazette reporter Neil Johnson rubs his eyes while enjoying a coffee that a friend bought him at the Citrus Cafe in downtown Janesville.

When there is no home sweet home

Reporter: Neil Johnson

Date published: March 11

Neil Johnson

Synopsis: During one of the coldest, snowiest weeks of the year, I spent a week “homeless,” in Janesville, with no car, living out of a men's shelter on a budget of $150.

This was the most difficult, eye-opening story I've ever worked on. I immersed myself in the challenges that the homeless face in Janesville every day, seeking to understand how easy it would be to bootstrap myself as a working homeless man in a small town.

I ate, slept and traveled to and from work every day with $150 to my name and a narrow ledge of support at a local shelter. At the end of the week, I was exhausted, with three slices of salami and $3.75 left to my name.

Yet in the end, I got to go home.


Janesville manufacturer develops 'revolutionary' paint roller

Reporter: Jim Leute

Date published: April 11

Jim Leute

Synopsis: Monterey Mills invented a seamless, collapsible paint roller fabric that its owner believes could revolutionize a painting process that's had few significant improvements since it debuted in the early 1940s.

Only time will tell whether the Janesville manufacturer finds the success it envisions with the new fabric.

Spend any time listening to company President Dan Sinykin describe the product, however, and it's impossible to walk away without a smile and a sense that this guy is deeply passionate about his company and its potential.

If that's not an example of American entrepreneurial spirit in its purest form, I haven't seen it.

Even when the discussion centers on paint roller fabrics.


Janesville Jets helping groups throughout the community

Reporter: Shelly Birkelo

Date published: Dec. 2

Shelly Birkelo

Synopsis: Volunteering became a requirement for Jets players in 2012. Players in high school must devote at least eight hours a month, while those out of high school are required to donate 12 hours a month.

The team's 23 players, ages 16 to 20 who come here from all around the world, donated 2,200 volunteer hours to schools and nonprofits in Janesville, Clinton and Beloit in 2012. The team's efforts won it Forward Janesville's 2013 Community Improvement Award.

It is heartwarming to know that even though this was a team requirement, players wanted to volunteer and give back to the community that has welcomed them.

Without their help, it would be more difficult for nonprofits.

Dan Lassiter/dlassiter@gazettextra.com
This 150-year-old bur oak tree located just north of the Rock-Jefferson county line on Highway 26 was cut down to make way for expansion of that highway between Milton and Fort Atkinson.

Tribute to a tree

Reporter: Anna Marie Lux

Date published: April 25

Anna Marie Lux

Synopsis: A Janesville woman lamented the imminent loss of a massive oak, slated to be cut down because of Highway 26 expansion.

Among my favorite columns in 2013 is a tribute to a 150-year-old tree. Anyone who drove regularly on Highway 26, north of Milton to Fort Atkinson, enjoyed seeing the stately oak. Some even pulled over to take its photo.

Forester Mary Ann Buenzow of Janesville knew the tree better than most. She had lovingly taken its dimensions and recorded them. She had admired the perfect creature through the changing seasons. In the end, she had wondered how to pay tribute to a doomed friend. The story is a reminder of the cost of new highways not measured in dollars and cents. “Trees are much bigger than us,” Buenzow said, “and more forgiving.”


Thais find common ground in Janesville

Reporter: Frank Schultz

Date published: May 4

Frank Schultz

Synopsis: I've seen a lot of foreign students visiting local schools through the years, but these girls from Thailand were charmers. Part of their charm was that they were so similar to their American peers—and yet different.

“Do you know Justin Bieber?” a Marshall student asked them.

A Thai student didn't miss a beat: “Yes I do. He's my boyfriend.”

I imagined the Thai teacher cringing internally, but these kids quickly developed a rapport with the American students and managed to share a bit of Thai culture. It was learning at its best: Students on both sides thought they were just having fun.


Clarence W. “Badger” Richey, 81, was a mysterious genius with a great heart, friends say

Reporter: Catherine W. Idzerda

Date published: Nov. 7

Catherine W. Idzerda

Synopsis: For those who took the time to understand him, being with Clarence “Badger” Richey was a blessing and a luxury.

Here was a man who could see the connections all around him, who was engaged in the world in a way that I appreciate. When people described their conversations with him, he sounded to me like a wilder and more unrestrained version of my dad, who died in August. Conversations with my old pop could start with something banal, say, a request to pass the broccoli and end up in ancient Rome.

Hearing about Badger made me hopeful that there were others who could have those funny, challenging, engaging and instructive conversations with me.

Dan Lassiter/dlassiter@gazettextra.com
WATCH (1:29): Mantiques, at 111 W. Milwaukee St. in Janesville, is your one-stop shop for action figures, comic books, sports cards, vintage bar paraphernalia, Tonka trucks, advertising signs, carnival mirrors and more.

Janesville antiques store Mantiques is all about guys

Reporter: Marcia Nelesen

Date published: July 8

Marcia Nelesen

Synopsis: I spent more than I earned in the hour-long interview at Mantiques, which was the not-so-good part.

But I enjoyed the hour way more than any work hour in a long time—excluding the last public hearing on sidewalks—and that was the good part.

A new antique store called Mantiques opened in downtown Janesville, 111 W. Milwaukee St., and it's all the name advertises. Still, there's enough there to interest this woman, as well.

Owner Jason Allen stocks his store with unusual and some downright weird stuff. That appeals to me. Other stuff takes me back to my and my children's childhoods, so there's a certain sense of nostalgia to be found there.

I guess I just like the feel of the place.

The owner and his friend who works there are super friendly. They keep a stool handy, and people often just hang out, talking about the stuff there and related stuff topics.

Several weeks ago, I was frustrated because nobody I knew had yet viewed the last, riveting episode of AMC's "Walking Dead," a television show based on a graphic novel.

I considered heading up to the store and pulling up a chair of my own.

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