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Anthony Wahl 

Siblings Kayla, left, Kyle Walker race down the hill with their cousin Chandler Lynn, behind in blue, while out sledding with their family at Riverside Golf Course on Tuesday, Jan. 1.

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They quietly made a difference: Remembering those we lost in 2018


At the end of the year, the media look back at the notables who died.

Such stories focus on celebrities, politicians, business people and individuals who were big fish—and, occasionally, sharks—in big ponds.

Locally, some of those who died had made a difference quietly in their roles as parents, grandparents, volunteers, artists, teachers, farmers and other professions.

They’re not the names everyone will remember, but their work and their spirits will continue.

Alys Gredler

Alys Marie (Lyon) Gredler,

91, Janesville, artist

Her obituary indicates she wasn’t able to turn her attention to art until after she raised her four children.

In an artist’s statement for a 2014 show at Raven’s Wish Gallery, Gredler wrote “I have been drawing and painting since I was a little girl. I have always been fascinated by nature and color.”

Her first watercolor class was with Warren Gunness, a watercolorist who taught traditional painting and the use of pure color.

“I was hooked,” Gredler wrote.

Her artist statement included this quote from Alan Alda: “Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been.”

Alys was a member of the Janesville Art League, the Wisconsin Watercolor Society, the Wisconsin Regional Arts Association and was awarded prizes for her work. Alys took classes at L’Atelier Art Studio in Janesville, and eventually became a source of encouragement for other aspiring artists.

Fittingly, her obituary asked for donations to the Janesville Art League to establish and maintain an Alys Gredler memorial scholarship for high school artists.

She died Aug. 15, survived by her four children and her husband of nearly 70 years, Gerald Gredler.

Laurie Bartz

Laurie J. Bartz, 61,

Janesville, teacher,

librarian, advocate

for youth

Bartz worked at the Hedberg Public Library for more than 30 years, and for much of that time she served as young adult librarian. She was the kind of grownup who could converse with tweens and teens without condescension—always a mistake—and without trying to act cool, which is embarrassing for all parties involved.

As part of the Hedberg Public Library’s latest renovation efforts, she advocated for larger and better space for young adults.

Bartz served on the board of Janesville Mobilizing for Change, a group formed to address youth mental health issues and drug and alcohol use.

In 2013, Bartz was named a UW-Rock County distinguished alumna, and at a graduation ceremony several years later, Bartz advised graduates to “go on from here and get as much education as possible.”

Bartz also taught summer school for the Janesville School District and in the elementary grades at Rock County Christian School.

Her obituary indicates her children and grandchildren remember her as “a loveable and empathetic person who always brought a smile, a game, and a book to every occasion.”

Bartz died June 18, survived by her parents and her three children.

James Ramsdell

James Richard (Jim) Ramsdell, 64, Janesville and Bayfield, woodworker, traveler, teacher

Ramsdell once rode his motorcycle in the halls of Craig High School, according to his obituary. If the stories about him are to be believed, he was a man with unrestrained energy and enthusiasm.

Ramsdell started his career as a woodworker for Ossit Furniture, the former church furniture company in Janesville. He became a custom woodworker, and many local Victorian homes feature his work, according to his obituary. His sculptures have been in a number of shows, including the prestigious Birds in Art exhibit at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau.

In the 1990s, Ramsdell went to Alaska.

“In the solitude and immense beauty of the land, Jim rediscovered his love of nature and animals and spent the next 10 years connecting to the wonders of the world,” his obituary reads.

He also continued his work as an artist. The Alaska Sealife Center in Seward commissioned him to create a 50-foot hanging sculpture of a pod of porpoises.

Ramsdell established to educate children and adults about wildlife. The exhibits featured his artworks and addressed the creative process and the ways humans interact with animals.

To see more of his work, visit ourshared

Ramsdell died May 4, survived by his partner, Lori Schneider.

Ruth Dodge-DuCharme

Ruth Ida

Dodge-DuCharme, 96, Darien, advocate for agriculture

Dodge-Ducharme grew up on a farm in rural Delavan. The farm was first owned by her grandparents and then her parents. A year after marrying Donald Dodge, the couple bought the farm, becoming the third generation of owners.

Throughout her life, she served the rural community as a member of the town of Johnstown zoning board, the Rock County 4-H Association, the Wisconsin Pork Producers and Rock County Pork Producers. She was a 4-H sewing leader for 40 years. In 2012, she was inducted into the Rock County Agribusiness Hall of Fame.

Dodge-DuCharme and her husband were members of the Flying Farmers, and their farm in Johnstown features an airstrip for small planes. She was named the “Queen” of the organization in 1991, and in 2013 she was named VIP of the Year for her service to the organization.

Dodge-Ducharme died March 27, survived by her children.

James “Jim” Campion, 80, Milton Junction and Janesville, journalist, believer, teacher

Campion served in the military for two years in the early 1960s and then attended Maryknoll College in Illinois. Later, he did graduate work in journalism at UW-Milwaukee.

He started his missionary work as a Papal Volunteer in Latin America, and he later joined the Maryknolls as a lay missionary. The Maryknolls are a Catholic organization that lives and works with the poor in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

For a period, he served as the editor for the New Berlin newspaper. But he was drawn back to the Maryknolls, where he was able to use his journalism skills.

He helped the fledgling Burmese Internews collect and distribute news. The organization was started by nine independent media groups exiled from Burma and living in India and Bangladesh.

“The project provided a rare opportunity for professionally trained journalists from traditionally independent tribal groups to collaborate and assist one another in getting and communicating accurate information,” his obituary reads.

In an interview with a Maryknoll publication, he described the heart of his ministry as the “Gospel, telling the good news.”

Campion described himself as “motivated by the ever-renewing lives of those I write about.”

Campion died May 24, survived by three siblings.

Jeanine L. Johnson

Jeanine L. Johnson,

70, Beloit, activist,

bookstore owner

Johnson spent her childhood summers traveling the United States, and she seemed willing to make a good life wherever she was.

When her husband was deployed to Guam as an Air Force B-52 pilot in the Vietnam War, she went with him.

She also felt at ease speaking her mind. Her obituary describes her as a “strong political activist and a champion for women’s rights, Jeanie never shied away from fighting for those who needed advocacy.”

Johnson and others at Our Saviors Lutheran Church established breakfast clubs for the children at Hackett School in Beloit long before such clubs became commonplace.

“This mission work is right outside the doors of the church,” Johnson told The Gazette in a 1988 story about the program.

“She learned to read the Bible through the eyes of the poor,” her obituary reads.

Johnson died Nov. 12, survived by her husband of 49 years, Andrew; a son, and other extended family.

Ronald Gene Van Able, 82, Janesville, teacher, referee and bike repairman

For nearly five decades, Van Able refereed WIAA sports, including football, basketball, volleyball and wrestling. That’s a lot of excitable kids, coaches and parents.

His career, too, was spent with kids and young adults. He started his teaching career in the Hortonville School District, served as a school counselor in Brodhead and then taught psychology, sociology, human relations and police science at Blackhawk Technical College.

In retirement, he started the Bikes for Kids Program, picking up abandoned bikes and buying used ones at rummage sales. He’d repair them and then pass them along to kids or adults in need.

“As a youngster, poverty prevented him from having a bike,” his obituary reads.

In a 1994 story in The Gazette, Van Able said nothing about those experiences but described his work in modest terms.

Hundreds of bikes passed through his hands during his time with the organization he founded. Each one was carefully and lovingly repaired before being passed on to its new owner.

He died Aug. 18, survived his two children, a brother and two nieces.

Congress leaders invited to White House for border briefing


President Donald Trump on Tuesday invited congressional leaders from each chamber to the White House for a briefing on border security today as the partial government shutdown wore on over funding for a border wall, with Trump tweeting: “Let’s make a deal?”

The briefing was scheduled to happen the day before the Democrats take control of the House, but the exact agenda wasn’t immediately clear, according to a person with knowledge of the briefing who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The invite comes after House Democrats released their plan to re-open the government without approving money for a border wall—unveiling two bills to fund shuttered government agencies and put hundreds of thousands of federal workers back on the job. They planned to pass them as soon as the new Congress convened Thursday.

Trump spent the weekend saying Democrats should return to Washington to negotiate, firing off Twitter taunts. He then revised his aides’ comments to state that he still wants to build a border wall. And last week, he blamed House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for the impasse that led to the shutdown.

On Tuesday morning, after tweeting a New Year’s message to “EVERYONE INCLUDING THE HATERS AND THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA,” Trump tweeted, “The Democrats, much as I suspected, have allocated no money for a new Wall. So imaginative! The problem is, without a Wall there can be no real Border Security.”

But he seemed to shift tactics later in the day, appealing to Pelosi, who is expected to take over as speaker when the new Congress convenes.

“Border Security and the Wall ‘thing’ and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let’s make a deal?” he tweeted.

Whether the Republican-led Senate, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, would consider the Democratic bills—or if Trump would sign either into law—was unclear. McConnell spokesman Donald Stewart said Senate Republicans would not take action without Trump’s backing.

“It’s simple: The Senate is not going to send something to the president that he won’t sign,” Stewart said.

Even if only symbolic, the passage of the bills in the House would put fresh pressure on the president. At the same time, administration officials said Trump was in no rush for a resolution to the impasse.

Trump believes he has public opinion on his side and, at the very least, his base of supporters behind him, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Democratic package to end the shutdown would include one bill to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels—with $1.3 billion for border security, far less than the $5 billion Trump has said he wants for the wall—through Feb. 8 as talks continued.

It would also include another measure to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and others closed by the partial shutdown. It would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.

Democrats under Pelosi were all but certain to swiftly approve the package in two separate votes Thursday. They would take place after the election of a new House speaker, a contest Pelosi was expected to win as leader of the new House majority.

The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the House proposal. Republican senators left for the holidays refusing to vote on any bills until all sides were in agreement. The lawmakers were frustrated that Trump had dismissed their earlier legislation.

The president has not said he would veto the Democratic legislation if the bills were to land on his desk. But a prolonged crisis could hobble House Democrats’ ability to proceed with their agenda, which included investigations of the president and oversight of his administration, including Russian interference in the election.

At least one Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, encouraged Trump to use the budget impasse as an opportunity to address issues beyond the border wall. But a previous attempt to reach a compromise that addressed the status of “Dreamers”—young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children—broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands. Graham said Trump was “open minded” about his proposal.

The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Thursday. Democrats have remained committed to blocking any funding for the wall.

With neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.

Obituaries and death notices for Jan. 2, 2019

Arthur Joseph Graham

Donna Lee Johnson

Raymond Bruce “Red” Lemon

Cynthia L. Nelson

Robert A. “Bob” Reed

Betty L. Sass

Joyce Elaine Schulze

Harris Thacher

James P. Walsh

Gladys M. Wileman

Donald Eugene Wright

Anthony Wahl 

Kyle Walker snowboards down the hill while out sledding with family at Riverside Golf Course on Tuesday, Jan. 1.

Families start new year by mourning those lost to overdoses


Tonya Ramsey understands addiction affects not only those addicted but their families as well.

That’s why she became vice president of Families Fighting Addiction, a nonprofit group dedicated to supporting those who have lost or have known someone with addiction.

At a memorial service Monday afternoon, Ramsey spoke to about 20 people, many who have lost loved ones to addiction. They were gathered in the auditorium at Beloit Memorial Hospital to mourn and reflect upon their losses before ringing in the new year.

At the end of the two-hour ceremony, those in attendance gathered in a circle with candles to pay tribute to those lost. Ramsey led with prayer and was joined by everyone in unison saying “We remember them.”

But not all moments of the afternoon were so peaceful. The room felt like a microcosm of the Rock County community wading through the opioid epidemic.

People were angry, sad, confused and above all else wanting to learn more about what could be done to help those in need. They learned there isn’t a good answer.

Through The Gazette’s coverage of the opioid epidemic and addiction in the last three years, reporters have met people who claim there are not enough resources for those who are addicted.

Monday afternoon’s event showed that concern persists.

Tony Farrell, an outreach coordinator for Rock County, suggested people speak to their county board supervisors to evoke change.

That advice wasn’t enough for many in the room.

One woman left in tears after pleading to Farrell that the county needs more options. She said her three sons are struggling with addiction and she fears every day that she will come home and find her son dead.

Her son is taking methadone, but that hasn’t helped his depression, she said.

Beyond offering empathy, Farrell had few words.

Tracy Burtis, founder of Families Fighting Addiction, said the event was proof that a community action group is needed.

Burtis lost her son Cody in 2017 after he overdosed. He was 30 years old.

Help cannot come fast enough for parents who are scared, Burtis said.

Others voiced concerns about county funding and how police treat those with addiction.

Ramsey said she has seen improvement throughout the county in recent years regarding addiction, but there is still more to do.

“Always remember you are not the only one who misses them,” Ramsey said.