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Angela Major 

Janesville’s Henry Sweeney (5), right, hurries across the ice during the Jets’ game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, January 31, 2020, at the Janesville Ice Arena.

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United Alloy apparently laying off 39 workers


Just a month after United Alloy announced it was breaking ground on a new Texas plant that would bring a corporate hiring spree to Janesville, the local manufacturer apparently has laid off dozens of workers here.

United Alloy, which makes customized industrial boxes and tanks, announced Friday it was laying off 39 people in Janesville, a city official said.

Economic Development Director Gale Price said United Alloy officials reached out to the city Friday with news of the layoffs. Price said he couldn’t discuss details, but the layoffs come as some manufacturers face a reported downturn in production because of uncertainty among investors.

United Alloy announced in December it planned to break ground this year on a new manufacturing plant in Seguin, Texas, that officials said would mean dozens of hires at the company’s sales and marketing office.

It’s not clear why United Alloy has laid off workers or which areas of the company are affected. United Alloy has a number of welders who work on a factory floor that the company has said is less automated than other local industries.

Company officials did not immediately respond to Gazette requests for comment Friday.

One top financial officer at United Alloy told The Gazette in December she was confident enough in the company’s growth that she was building a new house in Janesville.

She said the company had planned to steadily add jobs here over the next few years. And she said United Alloy would keep its corporate and sales headquarters in Janesville despite its expansion in Texas.

City data show the company averaged about 355 employees last year. As of December, United Alloy reported it had 401 employees.

The layoffs encompass about 10% of United Alloy’s workforce.

Over the last few years, United Alloy forged a set of tax-increment financing deals with the city during a period of expansion in which the company doubled its plant size and added workers.

United Alloy manufactures products for large companies that use its metal boxes and tanks in large equipment and in structural electrical systems.

However, according to late-2019 data from the Institute for Supply Management, manufacturing dipped to its lowest levels since June 2009, when the U.S. economy was reeling from the Great Recession.

That data is based on the institute’s manufacturing index, which in part examines fluctuations in orders for manufactured goods.

Price said he has spoken with local bankers who have talked about a slowdown in manufacturing.

In addition, investors have been rattled in recent days because of the impeachment proceedings, emerging security threats in the Middle East and a coronavirus outbreak in China.

Price said United Alloy’s layoffs are “an anomaly” locally. He said he has not heard of other manufacturers shedding workers.

Price said he also has not heard any talk of a recession. Economists consider a recession any downturn in the economy that lasts three quarters or longer.

He said he had been in touch with workforce officials at the Rock County Job Center over the likelihood that as many as three dozen skilled or semi-skilled laborers might be looking for retraining opportunities.

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Beloved Milton social studies teacher wins statewide award


In some ways, Val Crofts is a lot like everyone’s favorite high school social studies teacher.

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He’s a self-proclaimed history geek. He’s always telling stories. His classroom features pictures of historically important people and has warplanes hanging from the ceiling.

But Crofts’ former students will tell you he’s one of a kind: a teacher who’s also a friend, coach and source of career inspiration.

He can even inspire you to get a tattoo incorporating the first three words of the U.S. Constitution.

Crofts, who teaches AP U.S. government and politics, U.S. history and U.S. military history at Milton High School, recently was named the state’s recipient of the Outstanding Teacher of American History Award given by the Wisconsin Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

He and teachers from other states were nominated for the national award.

“I was pretty excited,” Crofts, 48, said of winning the award. “I’ve admired the DAR for a long time because of the work they do to promote history education and civic education.”

In an interview Friday at school, Crofts called himself a “history geek,” and his freshman daughter, Grace, laughed before admitting that was true. After all, the family dog, a beagle-dachshund mix, is named Winston Churchill.

Geek or not, Crofts’ history expertise has taken him places.

Anthony Wahl 

Milton High School social studies teacher Val Crofts sports a Discovering Democracy sweatshirt as he teaches an AP U.S. Government and Politics class Friday in Milton. Discovering Democracy is a class Crofts created to take students to Washington, D.C., so they could conduct research.

In 2017, he was appointed by then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to serve on the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, a national committee formed to plan a celebration of the Declaration of Independence’s 250th anniversary.

Crofts also created Discovering Democracy, an upper-level political science course that takes Milton students to Washington, D.C., to conduct research. Hundreds of students have met with Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and House speakers through the program.

High school Principal Jeremy Bilhorn said he wasn’t surprised to hear Crofts had earned the award. He said Crofts has the ability to connect with students and get them excited for college.

“He really allows students to discover democracy,” Bilhorn said. “I think certainly his project has created a culminating experience for the social studies department. … He has created that unique experience for students to transition into what it’s like to be a college student.”

Crofts clearly has been a career-molder for many.

Anthony Wahl 

Milton High School social studies teacher Val Crofts shakes hands with a student as he leaves an AP U.S. government and politics class Friday at the school

“Mr. Crofts was one of the best teachers I had,” said 2008 graduate Kristopher Strebe, who is studying history and hopes to work in a museum.

“I was always someone very interested in history ... but he kind of pushed me towards thinking about how I can use history as a career and be successful in the rest of my life,” Strebe said.

Danielle Zimmerman got into politics after taking Crofts’ classes. The 2007 Milton graduate currently works as chief of staff for state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, a Republican from Clinton.

Zimmerman said Crofts helped spark her interest in government. She studied art for one semester in college but then switched to history and politics, two subjects she grew to love in high school.

“He’s fun and interactive, and he makes what could be a dull or hot topic more interesting,” she said.

She added: “He is someone you can trust to come to with concerns and will be fair and honest with whatever you’re going through.”

Kerya Jewett, a 2014 graduate, said Crofts’ style is what made his class different.

“He was able to really pull a lot of mature conversation out of high-schoolers and challenge our views,” she said. “Even though him and I are on very opposing sides of the political spectrum, it was just a very respectful environment and sparked my interest in politics.”

Crofts said his teaching style is student-based.

“For me, it’s always been natural. I think you take the curriculum, which to me I’m really passionate about but maybe they’re not, and I think the conversational style of it brings it to them easier,” he said.

He tries to tell human stories instead of focusing on dates and names.

Anthony Wahl 

Milton High School social studies teacher Val Crofts sits at his desk for a moment while teaching a class Friday. Crofts recently was named the state’s Outstanding Teacher of American History by the Wisconsin Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

“I’ve always been interested in the stories of people in history, and I try to bring that passion to the kids,” Crofts said. “From Lincoln to Churchill to Washington to the Declaration of Independence, I feel like I would be giving a disservice to the people of history if I didn’t make that education entertaining.”

One student who felt that student-teacher connection deeply is Ben Dybas.

Melissa Dybas and her son consider Crofts part of their family, where he is known as “Papa Val.”

“He was instrumental in keeping Ben engaged in school, engaged in learning and getting him interested in going to college,” Melissa said. “I don’t think that (college) would have happened if it weren’t for Mr. Crofts.”

When Melissa was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, Crofts was the first person the family called to help break the news to Ben.

“That’s so hard to find a teacher who actually cares, but he really made Ben feel noticed, appreciated and valued, and I can’t thank him enough,” Melissa said.

Anthony Wahl 

Val Crofts, a social studies teacher at Milton High School, gestures as he talks with students during an AP U.S. Government and Politics class on Friday. Crofts’ classroom features photos of historically important people and warplanes hanging from the ceiling.

Ben has an arm tattoo that reads “We The People” to thank and honor Crofts.

“Every day when you have a class with him, the best part of every day is showing up and seeing him,” Ben said. “If you have a class with him, you’re blessed to be able to spend 45 minutes with him.”

Although Ben graduated last year, Crofts continues to have an impact in his life.

“He’s just the best guy. He’s an awesome dude. He’s hilarious, and I consider him one of my best friends now that I graduated. He treats students like real adults,” Ben said.

“He deserves all the awards in the world.”

Obituaries and death notices for Feb. 1, 2020

Eugene L. Bauer

Janice Mae Grenawalt

Lysbeth May (Ferguson) Kelly

Dennis A. Powers

Linda Sue Vanstone-Myers

Trump acquittal now likely Wednesday; Senate nixes witnesses


The Senate narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon witnesses for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial late Friday, all but ensuring Trump’s acquittal in just the third trial to threaten a president’s removal in U.S. history. But senators pushed off final voting on his fate to next Wednesday.

The delay in timing showed the weight of a historic vote bearing down on senators, despite prodding by the president eager to have it all behind him in an election year and ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke by phone to lock in the schedule during a tense night at the Capitol as rushed negotiations proceeded on and off the Senate floor. The trial came to a standstill for about an hour. A person unauthorized to discuss the call was granted anonymity to describe it.

The president wanted to arrive for his speech at the Capitol with acquittal secured, but that will not happen. Instead, the trial will resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting is planned for 4 p.m. Wednesday, the day after Trump’s speech.

Trump’s acquittal is all but certain in the Senate, where his GOP allies hold the majority and there’s nowhere near the two-thirds needed for conviction and removal.

Nor will he face potentially damaging, open-Senate testimony from witnesses.

Despite the Democrats’ singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands and will make this the first impeachment trial without witnesses. Even new revelations Friday from former national security adviser John Bolton did not sway GOP senators, who said they had heard enough.

That means the eventual outcome for Trump will be an acquittal “in name only,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a House prosecutor, during final debate.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress as he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid as leverage as the ally fought Russia. He is charged with then blocking the congressional probe of his actions.

Senators rejected the Democrats’ effort to allow new witnesses, 51-49, a near party-line vote. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted with the Democrats, but that was not enough.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called that decision “a tragedy on a very large scale.” Protesters’ chants reverberated against the walls of the Capitol.

But Republicans said Trump’s acquittal was justified and inevitable.

“The sooner the better for the country,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant. “Let’s turn the page.”

The next steps come in the heart of presidential campaign season before a divided nation. Democratic caucus voting begins Monday in Iowa, and Trump gives his State of the Union address the next night. Four Democratic candidates have been chafing in the Senate chamber rather than campaigning.

The Democrats had badly wanted testimony from Bolton, whose forthcoming book links Trump directly to the charges. But Bolton won’t be summoned, and none of this appeared to affect the trial’s expected outcome. Democrats forced a series of new procedural votes late Friday to call Bolton and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, but all were rejected.

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton has written that the president asked him during an Oval Office meeting in early May to bolster his effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to a person who read the passage and told The Associated Press. The person, who was not authorized to disclose contents of the book, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

In the meeting, Bolton said the president asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and persuade him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president’s political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The revelation adds more detail to allegations of when and how Trump first sought to influence Ukraine to aid investigations of his rivals that are central to the abuse of power charge in the first article of impeachment.

The story was first reported Friday by The New York Times.

Trump issued a quick denial.

“I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, to meet with President Zelenskiy,” Trump said. “That meeting never happened.”

Key Republican senators said even if Trump committed the offenses as charged by the House, they are not impeachable and the partisan proceedings must end.

“I didn’t need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing,” retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a late holdout, told reporters Friday at the Capitol. “But that didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she, too, would oppose more testimony in the charged partisan atmosphere, having “come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate.’’ She said, “The Congress has failed.”

Eager for a conclusion, Trump’s allies nevertheless suggested the shift in timing to extend the proceedings into next week, acknowledging the significance of the moment for senators who want to give final speeches.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the offer to Schumer, but it was not yet final.

Under the proposal, the Senate would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday.