It’s the sound of the season.
You hear it as you walk toward grocery stores and malls.
Ring, ring, ring.
Ring, ring, ring.
You see it when you approach the entrance: hanging red kettles and volunteers clad in red vests.
Those sights and sounds are a Christmas tradition as recognizable as Santa Claus and candy canes, and they’re the signs of the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign. It began officially in Janesville on Friday morning at Festival Foods.
Ringers will be stationed at 21 locations across Rock County, including in Milton, Janesville, Evansville, Edgerton and Beloit, through Christmas Eve. Volunteers will man the kettles every day except Thanksgiving and on Sundays.
This year, the local Salvation Army has an ambitious fundraising goal during the campaign: Raise $425,000.
“We wouldn’t mind at all if we surpassed it (the goal),” Maj. Tom McDowell said Friday.
McDowell and his wife, Maj. Julie McDowell, are in charge of the Rock County Salvation Army. Now that the season has begun, Tom McDowell said The Salvation Army is open for volunteer ringers.
“We need lots of ringers. We have thousands of hours available,” he said.
But why? What’s the benefit of being a ringer?
“It gives somebody an opportunity to raise funds that they can recognize are going to a local family or individual ... to help them in some of the most difficult times that they face.”
The Salvation Army is a Christian-based ministry that helps the homeless and those in need. Each weekday, The Salvation Army in Janesville serves anywhere from 50 to 100 meals, Tom McDowell said. The meals are free and given to families and individuals.
Tom McDowell said the Red Kettle Campaign is one of the most important fundraisers for The Salvation Army. Last year, the Rock County branch raised $396,000 during the season from the kettles and private donations.
The money raised goes toward helping local families in need through meals, food baskets, social services such as rent subsidies, utility payments and even some housing. The money from last year’s campaign provided 18,054 hot meals, 7,747 food pantry orders, and 3,506 personal or clothing items, according to The Salvation Army.
Tom McDowell said there is an “immense need” for help in Rock County.
A donation in a local kettle could go to any number of services or families in need, he said.
“When you face that kind of immense need, you do as Mother Teresa said: You address the one that’s in front of you. Try to meet that need, and you keep looking for opportunities.”
There’s a sweet legend about this town: On a blazing summer day in the 1850s, a lumber mill crew with a wagon and ox took a break under a grove of tall evergreens. The air was cool, the pine needles fragrant.
“Boys,” said the team boss, “this is paradise.”
Thus, more than 170 years ago, Paradise was born. From the start, it was enriched with gold mined from nearby hills and lumber harvested from the forests. Over generations, thousands lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise’s place in American history.
In a matter of hours last week, it all disappeared.
Nearly 10,000 homes. Hundreds of shops and other buildings. The Safeway supermarket. The hardware store. The Dolly-O-Donuts & Gifts, where locals started their day with a blueberry fritter and a quick bit of gossip.
This California town of 27,000 literally went up in smoke in the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century. The death toll is in the dozens, and many more are missing. And memories are all that’s left for many of the survivors.
Driving past the smoldering ruins of downtown, Patrick Knuthson, a 49-year-old, fourth-generation local, struggled to make sense of what he was seeing. He pointed out places that once were, and were no more: a saloon-style pub, his favorite Mexican restaurant, a classic California motel, the pawn shop, a real estate office, a liquor store, the thrift center and auto repair shop, the remodeled Jack in the Box burger outlet, entire trailer parks.
At the ruined Gold Nugget Museum, the ground was crunchy and hot, a few birds chirped nearby, and a half dozen soot-covered deer stood eerily still under a blackened tree.
Paradise was a town where families put down roots and visitors opted to stay. Children could bike to the park, go fishing in the town pond, or shoot bows and arrows at the nearby archery range. As they got older, they would kayak in the canyons or hike in the forests after school.
“We could tell the kids to go outside and play and be back when the street lights come on,” said Kaitlin Norton, whose uncle is still missing. She does not know if her home still stands.
Like all places, Paradise had problems. There were issues with addiction and poverty, but residents felt safe.
And while prices were rising, it was still affordable for many in a state where housing costs have soared.
“You would never miss a meal here,” said Terry Prill, 63, who often sought lunch and dinner at community churches. “The people are good people. They don’t look down at you.”
The pace was relaxed. Neighbors waved to each other in the morning, shouting hello as they headed off to work on tree-lined, winding streets and cul-de-sacs. Families kept tidy gardens and planted vegetables, trading their bounty up and down the block.
Louise Branch, 93, said Paradise was a lovely place to retire.
“It’s a slow town, really. People have yards and dogs,” she said. “I especially liked it in the fall when the trees are full of color.”
Parks burst with bright-orange California poppies and wildflowers in the spring and soften with light snow in the winter. At 2,500 feet, on a ridge that rises above deep canyons carved by the Feather River and Butte Creek, Paradise offers cool respite from hot, dry weather in the valleys below.
Spanning the creek was the Honey Run Covered Bridge, built in 1886. It was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and was the only covered bridge in America with three unequal sections. It, too, is gone.
Glenn Harrington raised two sons in Paradise. He found it so picturesque he started the Visions of Paradise page on Facebook; image after image chronicles the town’s history and spirit, seasonal colors and many festivals.
Each spring, there were Gold Nugget Days, marking the discovery of a 54-pound lump in 1859. The Donkey Derby in nearby Old Magalia would get silly, as locals re-created how miners heaved the famous chunk of gold into town. The highlight was a parade of homemade floats.
“My daughter’s going out for the Gold Nugget Queen this year,” said Krystin Harvey, whose mobile home burned down. “Well, it’s been going for 100 years, but we don’t know—there’s no town now.”
In the fall, they would celebrate Johnny Appleseed days, gathering at the recreation center for a crafts fair and games. This is when residents would feast on more than 1,000 pies baked with fruit from Noble Orchards, a nearly century-old farm on Paradise Ridge where trees were heavy with cherries, nectarines, pluots and 17 varieties of apples.
“Paradise is everything the name implies,” said Tom Hurst, 67, who grew up there and raised horses at his 7-acre Outlaw’s Roost ranch.
He has relatives in the local cemetery dating back to the early 1900s, and he refuses to talk about the town in the past tense. In fact, some buildings still stand, among them the town hall, the 750-seat performing arts center and the Feather River Hospital, its newer sections damaged but intact.
“Don’t use the word ‘was,’ use the word ‘is,’ because we ain’t done; we’re just getting restarted,” Hurst said.
And yet, there’s so much to mourn.
A month ago, the Paradise Symphony was rehearsing for the local “Nutcracker” ballet, and kids were pulling out their skates as the outdoor ice rink was set to open for the winter. The Paradise Post reported that fifth-graders were building cardboard arcade games and warned of backyard bats with rabies.
Now, crews search for live power lines and gas leaks. Rescue teams pull human remains from cars and homes. Fire crews tamp out smoking piles, and a heavy layer of gray-brown haze hangs over the town.
The toxic, smoky air is a visceral reminder of what’s missing in this place where the skies were so blue by day and dark by night.
“The most cherished thing for me about Paradise were the summer nights my mother and I would sit out on the porch under the clear, starry night,” said Harold Taylor, who moved to Paradise eight years ago, caring for his mother until she died.
Patrick Knuthson said visitors always were amazed by the glittering stars and the meteor showers, brilliant streaks of light that shot across the summer skies.
“We used to tell people all the time, ‘We made sure to turn all of them on for you,’” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to get that back.”
Michael G. Earleywine
Merwin “Muff” Gerhard
Diann Lynn Keller
John Michael Klebba
Aimeé Nicole Van Brackle
One of the key phrases in Rock County’s marijuana advisory referendum, which passed handily Nov. 6 with 69 percent support, asked voters if the substance should be “taxed and regulated like alcohol.”
The concept is simple enough: If you’re 21 or older and possess a valid ID, you could buy marijuana from a licensed retail vendor—just like alcohol.
But Wisconsin’s alcohol regulations are complex, and the policies overseeing the lengthy supply chain before consumer purchase aren’t common knowledge.
In light of 18 successful marijuana advisory referendums across the state, The Gazette took a closer look at how alcohol regulation works and how a similar system might be applied to marijuana.
It should be noted that marijuana remains illegal in Wisconsin. The referendums were only meant to gauge public opinion, but some local legislators are now more supportive of at least medical marijuana after last week’s vote.
The state Department of Revenue governs alcohol regulation. Wisconsin, like other states, has a three-tier system with producers, distributors and vendors making up the tiers, said Tom Ourada, an excise tax specialist for the agency.
Basically, the three-tier system dictates that producers must sell alcohol to distributors, who then sell to vendors. There are exceptions, such as brewpubs or microbreweries that are allowed to make and sell their products on site.
The three-tier setup originated after the Prohibition years, when alcohol distribution was largely regional. Before Prohibition, a small number of providers could control the entire market in one area, Ourada said.
All three tiers in the system are subject to various taxes. Those rates depend on the type of alcohol. Liquor is 86 cents per liter, and most beer is $2 per barrel. Wine has a 6.6-cent tax if its alcohol content is less than 14 percent; otherwise that fee roughly doubles, he said.
Quotas for alcohol licenses from municipalities are based on population. The city of Janesville can give out 97 licenses for bars and restaurants. Only 91 such licenses are currently in use, Janesville Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek said.
The city has full control over alcohol vendor licenses, and Janesville has 24 of those. It does not keep a formal waiting list of license applicants, he said.
Local regulations may be tighter than statewide rules. Janesville ordinance requires a separate entrance for liquor departments at grocers, gas stations and convenience stores, Godek said.
Rock County Board member Yuri Rashkin, who led the effort to get the marijuana referendum on the local ballot, thinks alcohol’s three-tier system might be too complicated for cannabis. He hasn’t looked into the specifics of marijuana regulation but said Wisconsin should look at what other states with recreational or medical marijuana have done.
“Luckily we don’t have to reinvent the bicycle. There are several states, plenty of states, with well-developed infrastructure for regulating marijuana and cannabis,” Rashkin said. “We’re in a position where we can benefit from best practices of what works in other places and make local adjustments.”
Ten states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, and most of those states impose a stiff sales or excise tax. In Colorado, one of the first states to legalize cannabis, a single purchase of a marijuana product might get taxed five different times depending on where it is bought, according to a tax policy research group.
Ourada said a Wisconsin fiscal estimate last year for a full legalization bill in the state Assembly projected marijuana could eventually generate $138 million annually in state tax revenue. That’s more than double the $60.9 million generated in the last fiscal year by the alcohol tax.
Alcohol tax revenue goes into the state’s general fund and does not go toward a specific purpose, Ourada said. It’s unclear whether revenue from a marijuana tax would be handled the same way.
Speaking hypothetically on possible marijuana legalization, Godek said Wisconsin has more than 80 years’ worth of alcohol regulations that have been amended over time. Creating an entire system from scratch would challenge state policymakers.
“You could probably use alcohol licensing as a framework, but alcohol is in some respects a little bit different,” Godek said. “Do you have that three-tier system of marijuana growers, marijuana distributors and marijuana sellers? What does that distribution and sales look like?
“There’s so many different ways to do it. … Our alcohol regulations generally work in the state, and so it would be a good framework to start from. But then we’re getting outside what I have a real good feel for.”