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Janesville homeless shelter makes change to address housing crunch


Melissa Ostenson has been homeless with four children—all younger than 10—for many months.

She has no family or friends she can turn to.

“It’s me and the kids against the world right now. It’s hard. It’s really hard,” she said Wednesday at the House of Mercy shelter in Janesville.

Tears came to her eyes as she described how the children’s father left them and gives no support, and how she has tried to find a place to stay and child care so she can work.

She has been on a waiting list for the Section 8 low-income housing program for two years, she said.

“You try everything when you’re homeless to dig yourself out of the hole, for your children,” she said.

Now she feels hopeful as the House of Mercy is helping her get benefits through the W-2 program, Wisconsin’s version of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Months ago, Ostenson and the kids stayed at the House of Mercy shelter for 30 days, the maximum allowed.

She also has used hotel vouchers from local service agencies, and she stayed at the Twin Oaks shelter in the town of Darien for that shelter’s maximum of 60 days.

She was accepted back at the House of Mercy again about a month ago, and she’s still there because the shelter changed its policy last week, increasing stays to 60 days.

“I was so thankful. It was a real relief, especially having these four and worrying about where we were going to be next,” she said.

Ostenson’s family and other homeless families face a severe lack of affordable housing in Janesville, advocates for the homeless say.

House of Mercy clients have found it harder and harder to find their own apartments in 30 days, said shelter manager Tammie King-Johnson.

“We could not in good conscience exit people onto the streets with nowhere for them to go,” King-Johnson said.

The change brings House of Mercy in line with other shelters in the area, which already allow stays of 60 or 90 days, King-Johnson said.

Five families were nearing the 30-day limit when Mercy changed its policy, King-Johnson said.

The extra time will allow them a chance to explore housing in communities outside Janesville, she said.

The decision also will mean fewer openings for others who are homeless. House of Mercy is a 25-bed facility with a waiting list of about 100, with an average 35 to 40 of them high-risk homeless who are sleeping in cars or other places not fit for habitation, King-Johnson said.

The decision was based on a variety of factors, including the fact that the homeless population has changed in recent years, King-Johnson said.

More homeless people are elderly, sometimes frail or with medical problems, King-Johnson said.

They often are on limited incomes, can’t work because of health problems, can’t afford what they were paying in rent, and lack family or friends who can help them, she said.

King-Johnson said House of Mercy refers people to other shelters or to agencies that give hotel vouchers. But other shelters are full, and money for vouchers has run out.

Janesville’s ECHO charity is the major supplier of hotel vouchers in the city. It stopped giving out vouchers recently because of a lack of money, Executive Director Karen Lisser said.

ECHO is operating on a loan after running out of money, so it had to cut expenses, Lisser said.

A big donation or reimbursements ECHO is waiting for could change the situation, she said.

Some homeless people don’t have vehicles, so they can’t go to the parking lot the city of Janesville recently established to allow them to sleep in their cars. And sleeping in cars would worsen health problems for some, King-Johnson said.

Some people need to keep their medications refrigerated, she said.

Housing projects planned in Janesville should help with apartment availability, King-Johnson said, but that will take time.

Ostenson, meanwhile, said she would keep trying.

“Never give up,” said daughter Ieana, 5, as she cuddled next to her mom.

“That’s our family motto,” Ostenson said.

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Friends of Milton Pool raises money for more bleachers, falls short of big goal


The Friends of Milton Pool group has raised enough money to complete just one of three projects it hoped to sponsor at Milton High School’s future pool.

The nonprofit committed July 31 to donate $45,844 to build 100 extra seats at the new pool, for a total of 550 seats.

Mike Price, former Friends of Milton Pool president, at a July 16 board meeting said the group wanted to raise $1.75 million for additional bleachers, additional storage and a warm-up lap pool for the district’s future aquatic space.

For planning purposes, the money had to be committed by July 31, said Stephen Schantz, building and grounds supervisor for the district.

“I think it is a tremendous accomplishment to raise that amount with such short time,” Schantz said.

Added seating in the pool is a “tremendous improvement” to the base pool design, Schantz said.

The district has not yet received a check from the organization. Schantz said he is unsure when the check will be needed or what penalties could be imposed if the organization failed to come up with the money.

Friends of Milton Pool will continue to raise money for pool amenities that will not affect the pool’s structural design such as sound systems, scoreboards or other items, Schantz said.

The Gazette was unable to reach Friends of Milton Pool President Jenny Quade for comment.

Milton School District residents approved building a new pool as part of a $59.9 million referendum this spring. The new pool is slated to open fall 2021, Schantz said.

Meanwhile, the district has been renovating its current high school pool to be used while the district works on building a new pool.

The current pool is slated to reopen next week, Schantz said, right in time for the girls swim season to begin. The state health department will inspect the pool Friday and the Rock County Public Health Department will perform its inspection Monday.

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Silly walks and kindness: Rudy Kopp's life was a balance of both


Nancy Kopp started writing her father’s obituary about four years ago.

Capturing Rudy Kopp’s spirit wouldn’t be easy because his life was a collection of superlatives: He did so much, gave so much, and laughed—and made other people laugh—all the time.

How do you describe such a life?

Rudy died July 28 at Wood’s Crossing in Brodhead. Nancy’s obituary of her father ran in the The Gazette on Sunday.

Here’s how it begins: “The old lion is dead.”

It goes on: “He has passed on, kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain, and joined the choir invisible. He is an ex person.”

Nancy read it to Rudy last November, when his health took a turn for the worse.

“I said to him, ‘This is a little bit odd, but I’ve written your obituary. Would you like to hear it?’” Nancy said. “And he said, ‘Sure.’ He laughed all the way through it.”

He told her to run it as she had written it but warned her she would “get some comments.”

Who was this Rudy Kopp?

Gazette File Photo 

A photo of Rudy Kopp doing a handstand that appeared in The Gazette on Nov. 1, 1980.

Well, according to his obituary, Rudy operated a dairy farm near Footville from 1958 to 1992. He could “juggle, husk corn by hand, bend 60-penny nails, survive gas gangrene, cane chairs, quote philosophers and recite in order the names of hundreds of roads throughout southern Wisconsin.”

The list of his accomplishments goes on: “Rudy could start a fire with a jug of cold water, walk on his hands, pilot a plane (and a glider), identify constellations in the night sky, find four-leaf clovers, ride a unicycle, do trick shooting with mirrors and butcher a hog.”

He also was funny. He enjoyed the comedy of Groucho Marx and Monty Python and claimed a lifelong affiliation with the Ministry of Silly Walks.

His philosophy of life, according to his obituary, “was to never void where prohibited and always mind the gap.”

“There’s so much more that could be said about him than the words I wrote there,” Nancy said.

Rudy’s parents came to the United States from Switzerland, where his mother had been a grade school teacher and his father a farmer.

Rudy was one of seven children.

“They were dirt poor during the Depression,” his daughter said. “They were poor, but they were intelligent people. My father always said that no matter how poor they got, they always subscribed to a Chicago newspaper so they could see what was going on in the world.”

As a child, Nancy didn’t spend a lot of time with her father. As a farmer, he worked from dawn until dusk.

“He had a saying: ‘If there aren’t any bones sticking out, you go to work,’” Nancy said.

But she and her father became closer when she was in high school

“Perhaps I got more interesting,” she said with a laugh. “He was so well read and interested in so many subjects, and we could talk.”

Gazette File Photo 

A photo of Rudy Kopp with his dog, Floyd, was printed in the Gazette on Nov. 1, 1980.

In high school and college, Rudy would proof her school papers. That was a big deal in the days before word processors and computers.

“He would sit at the kitchen table and read my papers with a large dictionary next to him,” Nancy said. “If he had a question on a spelling, he’d look it up, or he’d suggest edits.”

Rudy Kopp’s life wasn’t easy.

In 1978, he got his arm caught in the power takeoff of a manure spreader. He would have lost his arm and possibly his life if Dr. Jerry Gredler, a Janesville orthopedic surgeon, hadn’t diagnosed gas gangrene. Gas gangrene is a more serious type of gangrene that affects deep muscle tissue. Kopp immediately was transported to a Milwaukee hospital for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

His neighbors pitched in to harvest his crops.

His character didn’t change after the accident; he was simply grateful for the use of his arm.

He was one of those people with an expansive heart who was willing to put himself out for others, his daughter said.

Their farm in Footville was located on a curve with a slightly banked ditch. In winter, drivers constantly slid off the road and into their yard.

“He would shut down the milking machine and put a chain on the tractor,” Nancy said. “He pulled countless people out of the ditch.”

He was the guy who picked up hitchhikers and helped people who had car trouble. If he couldn’t fix the problem, he would drive them wherever they needed to go, his daughter said.

“It’s just how he was.”

Obituaries and death notices for Aug. 8, 2019

Raymond E. Borchert

Donna Maria Brooke

Fredrick “Rick” Earl Foerster

William J. Hayes

Antonio L. Matava

Arnold E. Quaerna

Mary D. Steen

Joshua Van Winkle