Abigale Greenwald had a choice.
Since about the end of November, she had been working as a certified nursing assistant at Holton Manor, a nursing home in Elkhorn.
But the coronavirus pandemic was in Wisconsin, and such facilities would be particularly vulnerable to an outbreak. She was just a student working there through the Elkhorn Area School District’s youth apprenticeship program.
So, she didn’t need to continue at Holton Manor if she felt uncomfortable.
And yet, this was her calling. Her parents left it up to her.
She was “dead set” in her decision.
“I love my job,” she said. “If I’m going to have a career in the health field, then I need to be able to work when it’s at its worst. So, I wasn’t going to let COVID stop me from working.”
Greenwald isn’t the only Elkhorn student working at Holton Manor. Her close friend, Kaylee Bakko, also a senior, is working there on weekends as an activity aide who plays games and keeps company with the residents.
She said she started in late March or early April, not long before the facility reported its outbreak.
Elkhorn School District officials wanted to recognize Greenwald and Bakko for their brave work during the pandemic.
“I am very impressed,” said JoAnne Pella, career and technical education coordinator at the high school. “I just can’t say in words the admiration I have … Our community needs to know about this.”
Still, Pella worries about all her students. There are about 40 or 45 students in work-based learning programs, and she said only maybe six of them lost their positions because of the pandemic.
The worry keeps her up at night sometimes. But she knows life is full of risks.
Holton Manor realized that risk when on April 20 it became one of the publicly identified facilities with a COVID-19 outbreak, which at the time was defined by Walworth County health officials as three or more “residents or staff from the same unit with illness onsets within 72 hours of each other.”
A previously unnamed Walworth County facility that has a COVID-19 outbreak is Holton Manor in Elkhorn and not the Birds Eye food processing plant in Darien, whose outbreak came as a “surprise” to the county.
Bakko and Greenwald got the news via email. They said they felt some fear, but ultimately, they trusted themselves and the facility enough to stay safe.
County health officials said last month that the outbreak at Holton Manor was more controlled than were the others at Holton Manor’s sister facility, Geneva Lake Manor in Lake Geneva, and the Birds Eye food processing plant in Darien.
Greenwald and Bakko both praised how Holton Manor has kept everyone safe during the pandemic.
And they are both particularly careful upon returning home—getting changed before coming in, showering right away, wiping down surfaces they touch and the like.
Bakko said her mom has been a nurse her whole life, so she understands the need to stay safe. In fact, she said her mom works at Lakeland Health Care Center, which county health officials said had a staff member who tested positive.
Greenwald worked a lot in April. She didn’t have as much schoolwork to do, so she was working more than 40 hours in some weeks.
“I was exhausted like all the time,” she said. “But it was definitely worth it. Also, I know now that I can handle all that stress.”
She loves the residents and seeing them smile when she says good morning. She fondly remembered Mother’s Day when families would visit through windows and hang flower baskets for residents.
Bakko feels thankful that she can lift residents’ spirits. They play cards, color and sing songs.
She said it feels hard to leave them at the end of a shift, but it also feels rewarding.
“Knowing that I’m making their day makes me feel a little bit better about working there,” she said.
Ultimately, Greenwald wants to be a delivery and labor nurse. Bakko loves kids and wants to go into teaching.
This might not have been the end to their senior years that they envisioned, but both of them have plans to attend UW-Milwaukee in the fall.
And for the summer, they want to get more hours working at Holton Manor.
Richard Quinney is determined not to let the story of his family farm disappear.
Sometime this summer, he will make sure a sign goes up off Quinney Road, noting the spot in Walworth County where his great-grandparents settled in 1868.
Three years ago, Richard sold most of the 160-acre family farm in the town of Sugar Creek to a neighbor.
But he could not imagine losing all the fields, woods and pond he explored as a child. He needed a firm connection to the farm that has nourished and grounded him for all of his 86 years.
So Richard secured a 5-acre portion, which includes land homesteaded by John and Bridget Quinney, who fled Ireland during the potato famine.
“It was necessary for me spiritually,” Richard explained, “to keep a part of the farm—that I have always called The Old Place—close to me in my daily life.”
Today, Richard of Madison is creating a nature preserve on the private site.
In addition to placing a historical marker, he will construct paths, remove invasive species and landscape around three large stones moved there to provide seating for people seeking solitude.
Someday he hopes to share the preserve with the public and make it a place where children can explore and learn. But now, the preserve is a way of keeping his family’s story alive.
If you talk to Richard, he will tell you that growing up on the farm with loving parents and a brother has been “the primal center of my life.” Even when he lived far from it.
But Richard was never destined to be a farmer. Nor was his brother, Ralph.
Early in life, Richard knew he wanted to see the world beyond the country life he experienced as a child of the late 1930s and 1940s.
Once, during a weekend home from college, Richard’s car got stuck in the driveway during a snowstorm. When his father, Floyd, maneuvered the tractor in place to pull him out, Richard shouted into the crisp winter air: “I’m leaving this God-forsaken place, and I’m never coming back.”
Richard spent his career as a sociologist and taught at universities in the East.
In 1983, he accepted a professorship at Northern Illinois University and moved back to the Midwest to be near the farm and his mother, Alice. He retired as professor emeritus in 1998.
His father died in 1969. When his mother died in 1999, he and Ralph inherited the farm.
For a time, he and Ralph improved the land through organic farming. They tried to keep it as a working farm, even though both had long since moved away.
But after Ralph died, Richard was the last one remaining of the four generations to live on the farm. He was forced to ask the question: “What is a family farm if there is no family on the land to farm it?”
Richard decided to sell the family home and most of the farmland in 2017.
A prolific author, he wrote eight books about the farm over the years to share his moving memories. Among them are “Journey to a Far Place,” “For the Time Being,” “Where Yet the Sweet Birds Sing,” “Of Time and Place” and “A Lifetime Burning.”
“I became the one who would be like the ancient mariner, the teller of tales to anyone who would listen,” Richard wrote in “Of Time and Place.”
After years of publishing with commercial publishers, he founded Borderland Books in 2005 as an independent publisher of quality books.
Today, Richard travels weekly with his wife, Solveig, to The Old Place.
Last weekend, he listened and watched intently from a well-positioned bench as migrating palm warblers flooded the pond and grove of trees at the bottom of the hill where his great-grandparents settled.
As summer comes, white wild indigo, prairie dock and sky blue aster will hug the landscape.
Richard hopes family descendants will know this place as their source of beginning in the new world.
He also hopes the few remaining acres will offer refuge and happiness for those who seek reflection and renewal, including himself.
“Loss of the family farm after generations of the family on the farm brings heartache and sorrow,” Richard said.
“But loss is the price for holding dearly to that which you love.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donald C. Augustine
Charlotte V. Ellingson
Edith “Guri” Henderson
Harry E. Larsen
Frieda F. Lubkeman
Mary Jo Matz
William “Bill” Palmer
Bruce J. Pollock
Matthew J. Schmidt
Jean Margaret Ward
Wisconsin has been the battleground for political proxy wars for nearly a decade, the backdrop for bruising feuds over labor unions, executive power, redistricting and President Donald Trump.
Now, six months before a presidential election, the state is on fire again. With a divided state government and a polarized electorate, Wisconsin has emerged as a hotbed of partisan fighting over the coronavirus, including how to slow its spread, restart the economy, vote during a pandemic and judge Trump’s leadership.
In recent weeks, every political twist has been dissected by the parties, political scientists and the press, all searching for insight into which way the swing state might be swinging in the virus era.
Democrats had the most significant recent win, a contested statewide Supreme Court race. It gave them a claim on sense of momentum after making gains in the 2018 midterm elections. But Republicans this past week won a special election for Congress, albeit in a GOP stronghold, and successfully had the governor’s stay-at-home order tossed out by the state Supreme Court.
But no one is making predictions about Wisconsin in November, other than to note that the latest fight over the fallout from the coronavirus could be the most important of them all.
“The jury’s still out,” said former Gov. Scott Walker, perhaps the figure most closely associated with Wisconsin’s political turbulence. The Republican had previously said the economic recovery favored Trump carrying the state. On Friday, he said the November presidential election will be a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
“One, how do you feel about your own health and health of your family,” Walker said. “Two, how do you feel about the health of the economy, particularly your own job. ... If people are still freaked out, then I think it’s always tough for any incumbent.”
Taking their cues from Trump, who has called on states to “liberate” residents from stay-at-home orders and get back to normal, state Republican lawmakers challenged Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ order in court. Similar maneuvers have been tried in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the other Rust Belt states that backed Trump in 2016 and handed him the White House.
But only in Wisconsin have Republicans gotten what they wanted, suddenly taking ownership of the state’s coronavirus response and, with it, new political risk. While some Wisconsinites rushed out to bars to celebrate the court’s ruling, many in the state were confused about the new patchwork of restrictions. Meanwhile, a solid majority of Wisconsin residents have said they support Evers’ handling of the crisis, according to a new Marquette University Law School poll.
Democrats were quick to cast the issue as much larger than the previous partisan feuds.
“By November, a significant fraction of Wisconsinites might be close to someone who has been hospitalized or even died because of coronavirus,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler said. “And those are, unlike passing news cycles, the things that can create scars that change how people view politics in their own lives.”
As in other states, the virus has moved beyond Wisconsin’s big Democratic cities. Brown County, home of Green Bay and a number of meat processing plants, has become Wisconsin’s fastest-growing coronavirus hot spot.
In 2016, Trump easily carried the county. But in last month’s election, Democrats’ choice for the state Supreme Court, Jill Karofsky, won Brown County, part of her surprisingly strong showing in an election plagued by long lines at polling places and widespread worries over whether it was safe to be voting at all.
Evers tried at the last minute to postpone the election, but Republicans refused. Again, Wisconsin’s drama was projected on the national stage—and mined for lessons about organizing, mail-in voting and ballot access.
“Republicans in my district were begging us not to hold an in-person election,” said state Rep. Robyn Vining, a Democrat whose district spans western Milwaukee County and GOP-leaning suburbs. “People who said they had voted Republican their entire lives were furious.”
Whether Republicans will take out any frustrations on Trump is far from clear. The Marquette University poll this week found Trump has a 47% approval rate in Wisconsin, virtually unchanged from March. The poll also registered the impact of the state’s decade of political battles—an intense polarization.
“There’s not much of a middle in Wisconsin, at least as far as Donald Trump is concerned,” said John Johnson, a research fellow from Marquette University Law School.
The state was a hotbed of tea party opposition to Barack Obama’s administration in 2010, sentiment that helped Walker win office and move to cut public-sector unions’ bargaining rights. The effort ignited mass Capitol protests in Madison and prompted a bitter recall election a year later. Walker beat it back and went on to win reelection in 2014.
His tenure hit at the heart of Wisconsin’s once-progressive tradition. In addition to his labor legislation, he enacted deep tax cuts and prevailed over a challenge to Wisconsin’s legislative redistricting—leaving the state with districts heavily gerrymandered to favor his party.
Since Trump’s narrow 2016 victory in Wisconsin—the first by a Republican presidential candidate since 1984—Wisconsin has become home to a permanent campaign. Democrats began a year-round organizing initiative that led to a comeback with Evers’ narrow defeat of Walker in 2018.
Republicans, too, have invested in organizing in the state, particularly in hunting for new voters in the rural counties where Trump made strong gains over past Republicans candidates.
The Trump campaign says its staff of 60 turned its attention this week to a special election for a congressional seat in northern Wisconsin.
State Sen. Tom Tiffany won the seat by 14 percentage points. Trump carried the district by 20 percentage points in 2016.