It wasn’t the first time Judge John Wood has complained in court about the weekend entertainment for many young people: cruising up and down Janesville’s Milton Avenue.
“I’m probably not the only person in this community who tries to avoid Milton Avenue on Friday nights. It’s crazy out there,” Wood said from his Rock County Court bench at a sentencing Tuesday for a Delavan man who fired a gun into the air in rural Rock County after a confrontation on Milton Avenue escalated.
“It’s pretty sad that citizens have to be almost afraid to drive on Milton Avenue on Friday night because of all the craziness that takes place out there,” Wood added.
Prosecutor Anne Nack agreed, calling the aggressive driving and other antics by many young people on the Milton Avenue circuit “nonsense.”
It’s a time-honored tradition, but a troubled one. Janesville police are tasked with enforcing the law when the young circuit cruisers get out of hand.
Police enforce traffic laws, deal with occasional fights and underage-drinking violations and enforce customers-only signs in parking lots that line the circuit.
Vandalism and littering are common violations in the parking lots, said Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan of the Janesville police.
The circuit generally starts at Mount Zion Avenue and continues to just north of Highway 14, where cruisers use a left-turn lane and side streets to turn around, for a circuit of about 3½ miles.
“I would encourage people, if they see erratic driving or disorderly behavior, to report it,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan said prompt reporting helps police locate the problem, but people should wait until they are safely out of traffic. Call the non-emergency number, 757-2244, he said.
Police organize unannounced clamp-downs on the circuit three or four times over the summer months, when problems often intensify, Sheridan said.
The special operations bring in Rock County sheriff’s deputies and the Wisconsin State Patrol, along with Janesville police.
They face many young people out for a good time, sometimes getting into fights, sometimes roaring past motorists who are not looking for the thrills the young people seem to find.
The circuit can be dangerous, Sheridan acknowledged.
“Ever since it moved from downtown, it’s created a new set of challenges,” he said.
The downtown circuit ended in 1993 with the enactment of an ordinance forbidding driving past a traffic control point three or more times in a two-hour period between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Soon, young people relocated to the Milton Avenue commercial district.
The many access roads and businesses along Milton Avenue complicate police work.
“It just makes it that much harder to control,” Sheridan said.
Sometimes racing or a driver cutting off another driver will lead to fights, he said.
Some weekends are more peaceful than others, Sheridan said, but action picks up in the warm months.
Police are busy on weekend nights even without the circuit, and at times, despite best intentions, there may be no officer in the immediate vicinity when something happens, Sheridan said.
Police have not been up to full strength lately, which makes things more difficult, Sheridan said.
The department has had difficulties hiring new officers fast enough to replace officers who leave for retirement or other reasons, he said.
One problem is there aren’t enough people who want to be police officers, Sheridan said, noting this is a nationwide problem.
Sheridan remembers a time when 300 applied for one opening. Now, they’re lucky to get 60, and after interviews, testing and background investigations, they are lucky to get five who become officers.
And even after that, depending on the recruit’s background, training could continue for a year before officers are ready to patrol on their own.
He was a one-man anti-homophobia campaign, a terrific speaker and a generous donor.
But what Steve Starkey misses most is the humor that was a trademark of his friend William Wartmann.
Wartmann died Sunday at Agrace Hospice & Palliative Care in Janesville. He was 82.
Wartmann grew up in Chicago as the son of immigrant parents, who he cited in a 2011 article in Illinois Wesleyan University Magazine as the inspiration behind his philanthropy.
He moved to Wisconsin to become a master’s degree student at UW-Madison and eventually moved to Edgerton, where he lived his entire adult life.
The art enthusiast made his career as an antique appraiser and sculptor, but he is most remembered for his generosity.
Dennis Pauli, Edgerton School District superintendent, said he doesn’t remember Wartmann ever saying “no.”
In 2003, Wartmann and his wife, Joyce, established the William and Joyce Wartmann Edgerton Endowment for the Performing Arts, which allows the school district to bring four or five national and international performers to the city each year, Pauli said.
In addition to that, Wartmann bought about 50 tickets to give to students for free, Pauli said. He also paid for uniforms and trips for band, choir and orchestra students.
Arts were his passion, and kids were his love, Pauli said.
Wartmann’s generosity transcended the arts. He provided 15 to 25 scholarships for Edgerton students each year and funded the $200,000 aquaponics greenhouse project, Pauli said.
Pauli’s conversations with Wartmann often strayed from school to life in general. Wartmann had a kind, gentle soul and enjoyed talking about philosophy, Pauli said.
“I think Bill will live on in every corner of the school district with the contributions he has made to help our students have opportunities,” he said. “He clearly walked the talk.”
Jim Schultz, CEO of Edgerton Hospital and Health Services, said Wartmann was a pillar in the community. The hospital’s physical therapy wing was named the William and Joyce Wartmann Rehabilitation Services Department in 2015 after Wartmann and his wife made a major donation.
He also helped the hospital with several fundraising campaigns that made a big impact on the small facility, Schultz said.
But what allowed Wartmann to best blend his personal philosophy and philanthropy was his advocacy work with people of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
Starkey worked with Wartmann for more than a decade at OutReach, an organization that supports the LGBT community in southern Wisconsin.
Wartmann was bisexual and experienced a lot of oppression growing up, said Starkey, executive director at OutReach. He used his status in the community to talk about bullying and equality.
“He was very willing to go out on a limb and be very vocal on an issue that is sometimes controversial, especially in a small town or rural area,” Starkey said.
Over the years, Wartmann hosted fundraisers at his home and visited the OutReach center every week to build relationships with people.
When OutReach moved its offices in Madison and needed money to build a bathroom for transgender clients, Wartmann supplied the $20,000 it needed, Starkey said.
Equality was a priority for Wartmann, he said. He helped homeless shelters and vocally opposed discrimination against people of different races and ability levels.
“I think his leadership in that area really changed Edgerton and changed Rock County in terms of being more open-minded, more progressive and more accepting,” Starkey said.
And on a personal level, Starkey will miss the weekly conversations with his friend—both the talk and the laughter.
Ariens Specialty Brands plans a gradual closure of its Janesville facility, affecting 141 employees.
The direct-marketing operation at 401 S. Wright Road will begin shutting down Aug. 20, with full closure by Dec. 31, although five employees will remain at remote locations until about March 31, according to a letter to the state from company officials.
Company officials met with Janesville employees Tuesday, the company said in a news release.
“Eligible employees will be provided with a severance package based on the number of years of service. Employees are welcome to apply for open positions at other Ariens Company facilities and may be eligible to receive a relocation bonus,” according to the release.
The schedule of layoffs, according to the letter, is:
The state Department of Workforce Development and the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, will provide Rapid Response services to affected workers, according to the notice.
Ariens is abandoning its direct-marketing business “in an effort to focus on its core power-equipment business,” according to the news release.
The company operates three direct-marketing brands from Janesville—Ben Meadows, AW Direct and Gempler’s—all acquired from W.W. Grainger in 2014, according to the release.
Ariens leases office and warehouse space at Grainger in Janesville.
Ben Meadows and AW Direct are being sold to two different buyers, and both will move out of state as part of the terms, the release states. The sales of both divisions are expected to be complete by the end of August.
The company has invited the businesses buying the brands to conduct onsite employee interviews if they choose to do so, the release states.
Ben Meadows provides equipment, gear and supplies to the forestry and natural resources market. AW Direct provides equipment, gear and supplies to the towing industry.
Ariens continues to explore options to divest Gempler’s, which sells to landscape, agricultural and horticultural markets, the release states.
Ariens says it expects to complete all transactions from its Janesville operation by December.
“The business will continue to operate as usual, and all employees will retain positions until that time,” the release reads, contradicting Ariens’ letter to the state.
The Gazette was unable to reach Ariens for comment Tuesday.
“The difficult decision to divest of these brands is to ensure we focus our resources on the tremendous growing demand for Ariens and Gravely brands of lawn and snow equipment,” the release states. “The past three years has provided record growth in this core business. It will allow us to concentrate capital and talent in our manufacturing operations.”
Ariens announced on Friday a closure of its plant in Nebraska, affecting nearly 200 employees. Production at the Auburn, Nebraska, plant will be moved to the company headquarters plant in Brillion, Wisconsin, the company said.
Ariens Co. is a privately owned and operated corporation established in 1933. In addition to the direct-marketing brands, Ariens manufactures outdoor power equipment under the Ariens, Gravely, Sno-Tek, Countax and Westwood brands.