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Unforgettable stories feature feathers, races and chases

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Gazette Staff
January 2, 2010

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


Some articles are drudgery; others are a delight.


Some become favorites that reporters will never forget.


Here are some articles Gazette reporters chose as favorites from 2008:


Reporter: Frank Schultz
Headline: "Beer and Bibles: Tiny congregation seeks God at Willowdale Saloon"
Date published: Oct. 3
Synopsis: Kathy Price and her small band of Christians have created a church for people who don't feel comfortable in a church but do feel comfortable sitting at a table with beers on it.

I admire the courage and chutzpah it takes to break from the mainstream and try something different.


Reporter: Gina Duwe
Headline: "Tri, tri, tri again: Group offers inspiration, encouragement to female athletes"
Date published: July 12
Synopsis: The story featured the Milton Girls Gone Tri, a group of women who train together for triathlons.

My coworkers can attest to how much I was inspired when I came back from my coffee shop interview with four of the women. "I really want to do a triathlon now," I exclaimed to my coworkers. "Who's in it with me?"


These 40-something women who have pushed each other to do things they didn't think they could do made me feel like I could train for events that sound pretty daunting, like triathlons. When the weather turns warm again, I'm going to enter some 5K races for the first time ever. The ultimate goal—at some point—may be a mini-triathlon. Oh dear, did I just put that in writing?


Reporter: Anna Marie Lux
Headline: "Visitor is in rare air: Hummingbird creates stir at Rock County home"
Date published: Oct. 20
Synopsis: I have had the privilege this year of writing about a woman with multiple sclerosis, who scaled Mount Everest. I also wrote about many other brave people, who scaled the equivalency of Everest in meeting personal challenges head-on.

But on a raw winter's day, my mind wanders to a rare visitor in the yard of Emily and Larry Scheunemann. Larry called me in October to tell me about a tiny rufous hummingbird at the feeder. Normally, the birds nest in the western mountains all the way to Alaska. So this one was definitely off course.


From a window in the Scheunemann's house, I had a birds-eye view of the little buzz bomb. At times, the bird even seemed to hover long at a blossom so I could look hard at its iridescent feathers. The beauty took my breath away. And so did the mystery. Why was the hummingbird in Wisconsin? Where would it go when it left? Why could I not take my eyes off it?


The creature, weighing little more than a penny, stayed in the Scheunemann's yard in Lima Township for 44 days. Then, the hummer disappeared during a stretch of mild November days. Gone but not forgotten. All who saw it are warmed by its memory in the bleak of winter and reminded that somewhere flowers still bloom and hummingbirds still cause people to pause in wonder.


Reporter: Marcia Nelesen
Headline: "Man wants change in chicken ordinance"
Date published: Nov. 16
Synopsis: My favorite story of the year started when a resident David Innis walked into the Gazette and said he wanted to keep a few chickens in city limits.

Another resident in 2007 had brought up the issue, which requires an ordinance change. But an article I wrote then raised no reactions, and it dropped off the radar screen.


But Innis knows his way around the system. He contacted each council member and found two who said they'd get it on the agenda for discussion. After the article ran, a Facebook group surfaced that had organized for the same purpose. Allison Rollette said supporters were ready to take the issue to City Hall, but Innis beat them to the punch.


I have heard that at least one council member is adamantly against the idea at this time, so I'm looking forward to feathers flying in council chambers.


It's always fun to cover meaty discussions.


Reporter: Ted Sullivan
Headline: "Woman shot; suspect caught after chase"
Date published: April 22
Synopsis: The Fourth Ward homicide was the most memorable story I covered this year for several reasons.

The slaying was big, breaking news that happened minutes before the Gazette's deadline. Adrenaline flowed as reporters tried to gather information for that afternoon's paper.


When I arrived at the homicide scene, I saw the victim's young son sitting outside on the steps. He had just witnessed his mother's murder. It was a moment I'll never forget.


When the victim's friends and family arrived, I watched them learn of their loved one's death, cry and scream. Those moments will always stick with me.


Meanwhile, the murder suspect was leading police on a high-speed chase. He returned to the scene twice, with several police cars chasing him.


I was standing on the sidewalk, and the suspect drove by me. He was alleged to have just fatally shot someone, and I thought he might pull a drive-by shooting. I took cover behind a tree because I feared getting killed.


Throughout the morning, I interviewed police officials, possible witnesses and the victim's friends and neighbors at the scene. Because of the paper's deadline, I had no time to return to the office and write the story. I relayed information I learned via cell phone to reporter Ann Marie Ames, who was in the office typing away.


We ended up with the story in that afternoon's paper, just hours after the homicide occurred.


Reporter: Kayla Bunge
Headline: "Lucky Lindsey finds love"
Date published: April 21
Synopsis: Lindsey, an 8-year-old Brittany spaniel-cocker spaniel mix came to the Lakeland Animal Shelter in Elkhorn in March with a number of ailments after several years of neglect. The shelter staff considered putting her down, but they saw something in the little dog that changed their minds. Lindsey soon became the poster dog for what can happen when people neglect their pets.

Why it was my favorite: A dog taught me that spirit trumps everything.


Lindsey had little to be proud of on the outside. Her skin was sagging, her eyes were red, and her gait was slow. But Lindsey had much to be proud of on the inside. She is affectionate, spunky and strong.


I hesitantly knelt down to greet the little, neglected dog, and Lindsey instantly looked up at me and wagged her tail. Her fighting spirit filled the room, and any problems or worries I had come with that day fell away.


I've often thought about Lindsey since we met in the spring, and I just learned that she still is available for adoption at the shelter. I would love to provide her with a forever home.


Reporter: Shelly Birkelo
Headline: "Janesville man pedals his way into new hobby"
Date published: May 8
Synopsis: After retiring as a high school guidance counselor, 62-year-old Tom Skinner, Janesville, acquired nearly two-dozen bicycles from the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

The self-titled preservationist found bikes in his collection from as far away as Michigan to as nearby as garage sales, flea markets, the dump and people aware of his fondness for vintage bicycles.


His 1938 Black Elgin with a chrome hood ornament is his favorite because it has not been repainted or altered.


Skinner prefers bikes that look old and those that are not perfect and show their wear and tear.


He presents programs about his collection and displayed them at a local historic gas station open house earlier this year.


Why my favorite? After the story was printed in The Gazette, it was picked up by the Associated Press and published in other newspapers throughout Wisconsin and elsewhere nationwide.


After that, Skinner heard from many people—acquaintances and strangers—who wanted to discuss his love of bicycles.


So it wasn't surprising to learn his collection has grown.


It's fun to know this story brought together people of all different backgrounds and places.


Reporter: Stacy Vogel
Headline: "Unemployed worker networks his way to new opportunities"
Date published: Nov. 9
Synopsis: Christian Lopez made as many connections as he could after he was laid off, and it paid off when he found a new job.

After writing so many stories of hardship and misery this year, it felt so good to write about someone who did all the right things and found a new job. I had written about Christian and his wife, Michelle, earlier in the year in a story about dislocated workers, and Mary Fanning-Penny of the Rock County Job Center wrote to me when Christian found a job at Professional Power Products in Delavan.


In interviewing Christian, I could see how proud and excited he was to have a new job, even though it's not his "dream job." The job didn't just fall in his lap; he worked hard to improve his resume and network so he'd know about job opportunities. He had a great attitude. I hope his story inspired people to keep trying, and I hope we see a lot more stories like Christian's soon.


Reporter: Jim Leute
Headline: "We fill our space"
Date published: Sept. 16
Synopsis: Data Dimensions, a well-established Janesville business that specializes in document conversion and management, launched an expansion that will add 50 new jobs immediately and possible create up to 250 in the next five years.

In a year flush with stories about job cuts and plant closures, the Data Dimensions expansion is a favorite on many fronts.


Fifty to 250 new jobs is great news in an economy. And these will be good-paying jobs that will set up the company for even more growth.


Perhaps most significant, however, is the commitment of the company's owners, Mark and Kathy Bush. While considering their expansion, the couple had many options, including incentive-laden packages from other communities and states. But the innovative Bushes found a way to keep the project in Janesville. That's a strong message to others that the impetus for Janesville's recovery can come from within its own borders.


Reporter: Ann Marie Ames
Headline: "A dog's delight"
Date published: July 3
Synopsis: Darien Township grain farmer Wes Hopkins created a 40-acre private dog park on his property near Turtle Creek.

It's not very often that a beat reporter gets to write something that's just plain fun. But for one hour, I escaped the politics and open records requests to walk a couple dogs.


Wes Hopkins chatted away about his conservation efforts, and Jazmyn and Pheebe—a German shepherd and a black Lab—tore around exuding canine joy.


"If only they could bottle that and release it to people who need it ..." Hopkins said about the gratitude of the dog owners who've used the park.


I feel the same way about the joy of those two young dogs surrounded by all that open space.



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