Every day, The Gazette’s obituaries carry the stories of those we lost.
It’s often difficult for family members to put their love into words. That’s not surprising. What with funeral arrangements and the realization that life will go on but never again be the same—well, that makes the task of finding the best words seem both overwhelming and trivial.
But some families are able to pull it off. When that happens, the rest of us get a glimpse of the extraordinary lives of the ordinary people around us, including:
Herminia Vasquez, 83, better known as “Minnie,” was the first face that UW-Whitewater students would see before starting their day.
For 30 years, Vasquez worked as a food service cashier at UW-Whitewater’s food service.
“Always quick with a sweet smile and some funny comment, she was voted ‘favorite employee’ many, many years in a row, not only from the company for which she worked, but campus wide,” according to her obituary.
That sweet smile was genuine, but she was a woman who had worked hard and sacrificed everything for her family.
She was born in Laredo, Texas, to migrant farmers. She married Eutimio Vasquez in 1958. In 1959 she moved to Whitewater to build a new life.
“They were migrant farmers, too,” her daughter Gloria Vasquez-Leemkuil said. “But they decided to stay in Whitewater because the schools were better, and there wasn’t as much crime.”
It wasn’t easy to be a Hispanic family in Whitewater in 1958.
“There was a lot of racism,” her daughter said. “They were turned down for a lot of housing. They just turned the other cheek and kept moving forward.”
At first, Spanish was spoken at home.
Vasquez-Leemkuil might have grown up bilingual, like her three older siblings, but school teachers told her mother it would be better for the children if they didn’t speak Spanish at home.
That was that. Vasquez-Leemkuil grew up speaking English.
Her mother told her children to “ignore it” or “ignore them” when her children encountered difficulties. Whatever it was, the sacrifices made for a good life and a good education were worth it.
“I don’t want to say that she was tough, but she was stoic,” her daughter said.
She and her husband eventually became the first Latino Whitewater residents to build their own home in the city, and that was a point of pride for them.
“As a mom, she wasn’t playful,” her daughter said. “But as she got older, she got softer. I think she was less afraid of looking weak.”
In the end, Vasquez-Leemkuil and her mother became best friends.
“She made me laugh,” Vasquez-Leemkuil said. “She was always cracking jokes about her cancer.”
Clifford “Cliff” H. Schiefelbein, 84, of Elkhorn.
Schiefelbein taught in the Elkhorn Area School District from 1963 to 1967, and in 1969 he became an elementary school principal at Westside Elementary School. He later served as principal at Tibbits and Bowers, a post he held until he retired in 1999.
In addition, he also served as president of the Elkhorn Lions Club, the Matheson Library Board and on a committee that oversaw the work of UW Extension’s educational work in Walworth County.
On his obituary tribute wall, www.haaselockwoodfhs.com, people remembered his care for children and teachers and compared him to Mr. Rogers.
His family asked that memorials in his name be made to St. John’s Lutheran Church or the Westside Elementary School’s PTA.
John F. Kozlowicz, 77, of Whitewater.
Kozlowicz served as professor and chairman at the UW-Whitewater’s political science department from 1968 until 2005.
He was he was fondly known as “Koz”, “Dr. Koz” and “Prof Koz.” He received more than a dozen teaching awards during his career. After his retirement, he continued to teach online and as a professor emeritus through the fall of 2018.
“He found great joy in navigating students to pursue their highest potential,” his obituary said.
Thomas Charles Ray, 69, of Janesville. His obituary describes him as a “good man,” a simple phrase that carries weight.
“While at high school, Tom met Mary Sullivan, the love of his life. This relationship would prove to be a poor man’s fairy tale consisting of free meals from the local churches while at school, a courtship of adventure and romantic outings, a proposal with a cigar band ring, and marriage on January 27, 1973,” his obituary said.
For him, family came first. That meant being active in the 4-H community, working long hours, building an addition on to his house for his parents to move into later in life and teaching his children “everything he knew from building houses, to working on cars, to starting a campfire and roasting marshmallows.
Tom taught them to take risks, dream big, and follow their own hearts no matter what direction it takes.”
Beverly June Schaber, 88, of Janesville, was remembered as being active in her children’s PTA and scouts. She served as a Girl Scouts leader for many years, as well as being a Cub Scouts den mother.
“She spent numerous nights camping with the scouts over the years,” her obituary noted.
Schaber was a founding member of Faith Lutheran Church and served there as a Sunday School teacher, ladies circle member and president of the Women’s Club.
Often, it just takes a few lines to say every thing you need to know about a person.
William Dale Neuman, 65, of Janesville.
“Bill was a skilled welder, proud of his work but to point out that his job did not define him .... Bill was generous to a fault (the absence of his Girl Scout cookie order next year will surely be noticed by many) and often reminded others about the importance of family and showing up for those in need.”
Sylvia F. Barden, 95, of Janesville.
“Her love of outdoors, walking and riding her bike continued well into her 90’s. Cold weather or winter couldn’t slow her down; she simply ‘put on another layer.’”
Josef Braeu, 71, of Janesville, “is now creating beautiful gardens in heaven,” according to his obituary.
Braeu started Edelweiss Landscaping & Nursery in Duluth, Minnesota, but following retirement, he and his wife, Debbie, “moved to Janesville, to be near family and enjoy Zone 5.”
“Zone 5” refers to the agricultural zones that gardeners use to determine what can be planted and how long the growing season will be. The area around Duluth is either Zone 3 or Zone 4, depending on how close you are to Lake Superior.
“In lieu of other expressions of sympathy, you may wish to consider planting a tree to honor his legacy,” his obituary said.
Lois M. Ketterhagen, 91, of Janesville and Boulder, Colorado.
“She embraced entertaining and found a reason to celebrate the smallest news about someone or a daily event, and did so by throwing a party to show her support. To honor Lois, the family suggests cooking a fabulous meal and sharing it with loved ones,” her obituary said.
The family suggested that donations in her memory be made to the Whitewater Food Pantry, a fitting honor for someone who understand the importance of a share meal.
President Donald Trump starts the new year knee-deep in daunting foreign policy challenges at the same time he’ll have to deal with a likely impeachment trial in the Senate and the demands of a reelection campaign.
American troops are still engaged in America’s longest war in Afghanistan. North Korea hasn’t given up its nuclear weapons. Add to that simmering tensions with Iran, fallout from Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria, ongoing unease with Russia and Turkey, and erratic ties with European and other longtime Western allies.
Trump is not popular overseas, and being an impeached president who must simultaneously run for reelection could reduce the time, focus and political clout needed to resolve complex global issues like North Korea’s nuclear provocations. Some foreign powers could decide to just hold off on finalizing any deals until they know whether Trump will be reelected. Trump himself has acknowledged the challenge in his Dec. 26 tweet:
“Despite all of the great success that our Country has had over the last 3 years, it makes it much more difficult to deal with foreign leaders (and others) when I am having to constantly defend myself against the Do Nothing Democrats & their bogus Impeachment Scam. Bad for USA!”
At the same time, there is widespread expectation that Trump never will be convicted by the Republican-controlled Senate, so 2020 could well bring more of the same from the president on foreign policy, said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.
“America still has an awful lot of power,” said Neumann, a three-time ambassador and former deputy assistant secretary of state. “With a year to go, a president can still make a lot of waves, impeachment or not.”
For Trump, 2019 was a year of two steps forward, one step back—sometimes vice versa—on international challenges. Despite claiming that “I know deals, I think, better than anybody knows deals,’’ he’s still trying to close a bunch.
Trump scored high marks for the U.S. military raid in Syria that killed the leader of the Islamic State, but U.S. military leaders worry about a resurgence. He is credited with coaxing NATO allies to commit to spend billions more on defense, but along the way has strained important relationships.
His agreement on a “Phase 1” trade deal with China has reduced tensions in their ongoing trade war. But the deal largely puts off for later complex issues surrounding U.S. assertions that China is cheating to gain supremacy on technology and China’s accusation that Washington is trying to restrain Beijing’s ascent as a world power.
A deeper look at the state of play on three top foreign policy challenges on Trump’s desk as 2020 begins:
The U.S. is watching North Korea closely for signs of a possible missile launch or nuclear test.
Pyongyang had threatened to spring a “Christmas surprise” if the U.S. failed to meet Kim Jong Un’s year-end deadline for concessions to revive stalled nuclear talks. Trump speculated maybe he’d get a “beautiful vase” instead. Any test flight of an intercontinental ballistic missile or substantial nuclear test would further derail the diplomatic negotiations Trump opened with Kim in 2018.
Washington didn’t accept Kim’s end-of-year ultimatum, but Stephen Biegun, the top U.S. envoy to North Korea, said the window for talks with the U.S. remains open. “We are fully aware of the strong potential for North Korea to conduct a major provocation in the days ahead,” Biegun, the new deputy secretary of state, said recently. “To say the least, such an action will be most unhelpful in achieving lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
In recent months, North Korea has conducted a slew of short-range missile launches and other weapons tests.
In 2017, Trump and Kim traded threats of destruction as North Korea carried out tests aimed at acquiring the ability to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S. mainland. Trump said he would rain “fire and fury” on North Korea and derided Kim as “little rocket man.” Kim questioned Trump’s sanity and said he would “tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”
Then the two made up and met three times—in Singapore in 2018, in Vietnam last February and again in June when Trump became the first U.S. president to set foot into North Korea at the Demilitarized Zone.
While the get-togethers have made for good photo-ops, they’ve been devoid of substantive progress in getting Kim to get rid of his nuclear weapons.
Trump has held out North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on conducting nuclear tests and trials of long-range intercontinental missiles as a major foreign policy achievement. “Deal will happen!” he tweeted.
Trump’s former national security adviser doesn’t think so.
“The North Koreans are very happy to declare that they’re going to give up their nuclear weapons program, particularly when it’s in exchange for tangible economic benefits, but they never get around to doing it,” John Bolton told National Public Radio.
Tensions with Iran have been rising ever since Trump last year withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran had signed with the U.S. and five other nations. Trump said the deal was one-sided and gave Iran sanctions relief for rolling back, but not permanently dismantling, its nuclear program.
After pulling out of the deal, Trump began a “maximum pressure” campaign, reinstating sanctions and adding more that have crippled Iran’s economy. His aim is to force Iran to renegotiate a deal more favorable to the U.S. and other nations that are still in the agreement.
In response, Iran has continued its efforts to destabilize the region, attacking targets in Saudi Arabia, interrupting commercial shipping through the critical Strait of Hormuz, shooting down an unmanned U.S. aircraft and financing militant proxy groups. Since May, nearly 14,000 U.S. military personnel have deployed to the region to deter Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country’s nuclear experts are testing a new type of advanced centrifuge. Iran recently started exceeding the stockpiles of uranium and heavy water allowed by the nuclear deal and is enriching uranium at a purity level beyond what is permitted. Tehran’s violations, which it says are reversible, are an attempt to get France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia—the other nations that signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—to offer new economic incentives to offset the American sanctions.
The White House says its pressure campaign is working. The Iranian economy is collapsing, inflation is high. And crushing U.S. sanctions blocking Iran from selling its crude oil abroad have helped fuel nationwide protests.
Earlier this month, there was a rare diplomatic breakthrough when a Chinese-American Princeton scholar, Xiyue Wang, who has held in Iran for three years, was freed in exchange for a detained Iranian scientist in the U.S.
Trump said the prisoner exchange could be a “precursor as to what can be done.”
Iran says other prisoner swaps can be arranged, but there will be no other negotiations between Tehran and the Trump administration.
It’s no secret that Trump wants U.S. engagement in Afghanistan to end, but critics have expressed concern about giving too many concessions to the Taliban or if they will honor any agreement that could end the fighting.
In what appeared to be a breakthrough Sunday, top Taliban leaders agreed to a temporary cease-fire nationwide, but didn’t say when it would start or how long it would last. A cease-fire, however, could provide an opening for a Taliban peace agreement with the United States that would let Trump bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan, where they have fought for more than 18 years.
The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. A key part of a pact would include the Taliban agreeing to participate in all-Afghan negotiations to decide what a post-war Afghanistan would look like.
Such negotiations are expected to be contentious and touch on the rights of women, free speech and changes to the Afghan constitution. They also would determine the fate of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and heavily armed militias run by Afghan warlords who have amassed wealth and power since the Taliban was ousted from power after 9/11.
“We’ll see if they want to make a deal,” Trump told U.S. troops on Thanksgiving Day when he visited Afghanistan for the first time. “It’s got to be a real deal, but we’ll see. But they want to make a deal.”
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned from the Trump administration over his opposition to the president’s decision to remove troops from Syria, said the Taliban have not proven trustworthy in the past so instead of “trust and verify,” the U.S. should “verify and then trust.”
But he added: “I think the president was right to start the negotiations with the Taliban and I think he was right to call it off when the bombings occurred.”’ Trump canceled the talks in September when violence didn’t abate during U.S. talks with the Taliban.
And even as the militants agreed to a cease-fire, an attack in northern Afghanistan killed at least 17 on Sunday and last week an American soldier was killed in a roadside bombing, also in the north.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who visited Kabul this month, said Trump might announce an American troop drawdown from Afghanistan before year’s end. Graham said that beginning next year, the president could reduce the 12,000 U.S. troops to 8,600, which he thinks is enough to make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a launching pad for another 9/11-style attack on the U.S. The Taliban have said any peace agreement must include getting all American troops out of the country, where more than 2,400 American service members have been killed.
Rock County residents who plan to ring in the new year by scoring a little recreational marijuana in Illinois might have to hunt around the Land of Lincoln to find the psychoactive plant.
At least for the time being.
A law change will make cannabis—flowers, edibles, oils, tinctures and other products—legal for recreational sale and use in Illinois starting Jan. 1.
Near the Wisconsin/Illinois state line, two medical cannabis dispensaries in Rockford, Illinois, have said they plan to start selling recreational cannabis products to walk-in customers this year. But there’s some indication that at least one of the Rockford dispensaries might not jump into recreational sales the moment the calendar rolls over to 2020.
The Gazette reached out to a handful of medical cannabis dispensaries in northern Illinois. Some of them—and in some cases the marijuana-growing labs that own and operate the dispensaries—were guarded about discussing recreational pot sales. Others did not respond to repeated inquiries.
Mapleglen Care Center is one dispensary on Rockford’s south side that’s already licensed to sell recreational marijuana and plans to do so in 2020.
A dispensary owner did not respond to inquiries. But a staff member who declined to be named told The Gazette that the dispensary might wait several days or weeks after Jan. 1 before it goes live with recreational pot sales.
“We’re just kind of pushing the start date back,” the employee said. “It’s not a specific set date. It’s going to be probably later in January.”
The staffer deferred further comment to the dispensary’s owner, who was not immediately available.
“Nobody has to go (live) January 1. It’s kind of when dispensaries are ready. I think each dispensary is going to be ready at a little bit different time,” the employee said. “There’s a just bunch of different stuff that each dispensary has to take into account.”
Among the “stuff” dispensaries might contend with: supply.
A Chicago Tribune report estimated that the medical cannabis market, which has operated in Illinois since 2015, has about 55,000 clients. Analysts expect that in 2020, when recreational use becomes legal, the state could see demand from as many as 1 million Illinois customers.
Currently, only a handful of Illinois growers are licensed to grow marijuana for medical or recreational use. In the six months since the state set the law change in motion, new and existing growers have been navigating a licensing process, but scaling up production will take time.
The Tribune reported that because Illinois dispensaries are allowed to sell only pot products produced in Illinois, a sudden rise in demand could strain suppliers early in 2020. It could take several months of growing pains before increased production begins to balance out with demand.
That could mean spotty availability—and possibly higher prices—for casual pot buyers.
Meanwhile, licensed medical dispensaries that are approved for recreational sales must prioritize medical clients with prescription cards over recreational customers.
Under the law, dispensaries could face a $10,000 fine for giving medical customers short shrift because of recreational sales.
In response, some dispensaries might try to gauge immediate demand or hold off on recreational sales in the early days of 2020, until the initial wave of demand from state and regional customers eases.
Timothy Durkee, a Rockford alderman who represents the ward where medical marijuana dispensary MedMar is located, said he has not heard “word boo” from MedMar on whether it will launch recreational sales Jan. 1.
Durkee said it wouldn’t surprise him if both MedMar and Mapleglen initially held off on recreational sales while they waited out a new year’s crush of buyers.
“I would think the fear would be that patients who need marijuana medically, they could get displaced by the weed tourists,” Durkee said. “I think supply is going to be way outpaced by demand. I think that’ll be the struggle initially. These guys are not going to throw money into it and scale up until they have an idea of what’s going on. They’ll scale up over time.”
MedMar is owned and operated by Chicago-based medical marijuana producer Cresco Labs. The dispensary has said it plans to jump into recreational sales in 2020. Recently, MedMar rebranded itself as Sunnyside Dispensary.
The company also plans to open a second dispensary in South Beloit, about a half-mile south of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line and about a 20-minute drive from Janesville.
MedMar employees deferred comment on recreational sales to Cresco Labs, which could not be reached for comment.
When marijuana dispensaries open their doors for recreational sales in Illinois on Jan. 1, customers will walk into a shopping experience more akin to a Walgreens or Apple store than a stereotypical pot shop with glowing posters, beaded curtains and an incense haze.
Wisconsin residents might have to travel to find recreational marijuana early in 2020. Still, here’s what you need to know before you head to an Illinois dispensary:
Q: Where can I buy marijuana?
A: So far, 32 operating medical marijuana stores around the state have received approval to sell recreational weed.
The state is approving applications from existing dispensaries on a rolling basis, but municipalities have the right to approve or deny recreational sales, regardless of state law. Illinois has yet to start awarding licenses to stores that weren’t already selling medical marijuana.
Q: What can I buy?
A: The marijuana flower—the buds that can be smoked—typically is the most popular item, partially because it’s familiar and people know how to use it. There are also edible chocolates, cookies and gummies, cannabis-infused patches and ointments, plus concentrates and tinctures that can be dropped under the tongue.
Q: Do I need to bring my state ID or driver’s license?
A: Yes. Only people ages 21 and older are allowed to buy marijuana. Customers will be required to show their IDs before entering a store.
Q: How much can I buy if I’m coming from out of state?
A: Visitors, or those with out-of-state IDs, may possess up to 15 grams of marijuana.
It must be kept in a sealed container and inaccessible while driving. Remember, it’s illegal to take marijuana across state lines, so it must be consumed before leaving Illinois. Don’t consume it in your car. Using weed in a car or plane, and operating machinery or vehicles while high, is illegal.
Q: How do I pay for it?
A: Most dispensaries accept only cash. Marijuana is still federally illegal, which means most banks don’t work with companies in the industry. The same goes for credit card companies and payment processors. Many dispensaries have on-site ATMs, and some have payment systems that accept debit or ATM cards.
Marijuana prices can vary, depending on the product and its potency.
With medical marijuana sales, the average transaction at Mission South Shore dispensary in the South Chicago neighborhood is about $80, said General Manager Rick Armstrong. Other Chicago dispensaries charge $20 to $30 for a couple of pre-rolled, ready-to-smoke joints or a 10-pack of cannabis-infused gummies.
Taxes vary by product and by THC content and can range from 20% to 35%, plus state and local taxes. Municipalities also can collect up to 3% in marijuana taxes, and many have decided to do so.
Q: Can I see the weed before I buy it?
A: Usually not. Illinois retailers must keep products locked up before a sale.
Medical dispensaries typically display empty product packaging or have touch screens that customers can use to peruse products and learn about the THC content, effects and flavors of different varieties.
Q: Will I have to wait in line?
A: Probably. Most dispensaries have small waiting areas for customers after they present their IDs to security and before they go into the retail area.
Lines likely will move slowly in the early days of recreational sales, as workers take time to educate customers about available products, said Kris Krane, president and co-founder of 4Front Ventures, which owns the Mission dispensary.
Q: Can I order online?
A: Many stores will allow customers to pre-order online and pay when they pick up their orders. Customers still must show their IDs to get in the store.
Q: Can I light up as soon as I leave the store?
A: No. The law bans smoking in streets, parks and other public areas.
Q: Where is the weed grown?
A: Marijuana cannot legally be transported across state lines, so everything bought at a dispensary in Illinois is grown in the state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.