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Reporters share their favorite stories from 2021

Gazette reporters write so many stories, they can be forgiven if they forget which ones they wrote the week before.

Yet some stories leave a mark. Certain circumstances and characters are unforgettable for one reason or another. These are those stories in 2021, selected and explained by each Gazette reporter whose hardened shells were cracked wide open.

Sara Myers

Anthony Wahl 

With a little push up from her father Charles Glissendorf, Stacey Glissendorf welcomes her dog, Princess, up onto her lap while inside her apartment in Janesville. Stacey suffers from Neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2), a rare disorder characterized by certain types of noncancerous tumors that form within a person’s body or brain, has lost hearing and most of her sight and was placed on hospice.

Headline: Janesville woman on hospice hopes to make a difference through humane society fundraiser

Publish date: Oct. 28, 2021

Synopsis: Janesville native Stacey Glissendoorf has been suffering from the rare disorder Neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2) since she was 16. Now at age 35, she has begun hospice care and is looking to make the most of the time she has left by putting together a fundraiser for the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin.

Reporter’s thoughts: I feel like I should preface this by first saying, I started at The Gazette in June. So, I unfortunately didn’t have a whole year of stories to look through for my favorite.

Nevertheless, it was difficult to choose a favorite story this year. But Stacey’s story jumped out the most to me. Gazette photographer Anthony Wahl and I met with Stacey, her friend and caretaker Jeremiah and her parents at her apartment. To communicate with Stacey, I wrote questions on a whiteboard she had nearby.

She is mostly deaf, but if you listen to her closely you can hear her say some words with excitement. Specifically, when I asked her what her favorite dog breed is, she said “Dalmatian” so loudly there was no denying what she had said.

Despite her circumstances, Stacey was so positive. The small things bring her the most joy, including her sweet dog Princess who fell asleep on her lap during the interview. Her love of animals is beautiful and a means to overcoming the hardships of the disorder she’s had most of her life. Ultimately, her positivity touched me and that is why this was my favorite story I wrote this past year.

Scott Froehlich

Anthony Wahl 

Members of the Milton marching band wore black and white ribbons in remembrance of assistant director John Schroeder while competing in the 36th Annual State Marching Band Championships this fall. Just two days prior, Schroeder collapsed at the end of a practice and was unable to be revived.

Headline: Milton High marching band competes days after assistant director’s sudden death

Publish date: Oct. 17, 2021

Synopsis: Just days after the sudden death of longtime assistant band director John Schroeder, the Milton High School marching band placed third in a statewide competition.

Reporter’s thoughts: My favorite article of 2021 was by no means a fun story to cover, but I won’t soon forget witnessing a heartfelt performance by a mourning marching band.

Witnessing the band members marching onto the field, seeing their solemn and stoic faces, I sensed that—while they were focused on the task at hand—their hearts were a mile away. Shortly after their final number was finished, the students walked off the field and allowed me into their post-show gathering.

It was at this moment when the floodgate of emotions opened and the loss of Schroeder seemed to really hit home. Band director Nathan Czech’s speech captured the essence of the moment and I nearly teared up myself watching everyone’s reactions.

Perhaps the most moving moment was speaking to Schroeder’s son, whose touching ode to his father tugged at every one of my heart’s strings. The band’s third-place finish does not do justice to the amount of energy and raw emotion that went into that afternoon’s performance.

Neil Johnson

Anthony Wahl 

Fly fishing guide George Kaider slowly reels in his line while out in the waters of a small river in southern Rock County. In 2020 Kaider started a fly fishing-based guide service that takes customers on two southern Wisconsin for full-day and half-day fishing adventures. The most sought after are the smallmouth bass and Northern Pike in those waterways.

Headline: Lake Geneva man starts his own fly-fishing guide service.

Publish date: May 7, 2021.

Synopsis: Lake Geneva resident, school guidance counselor and local fishing guide George Kaider didn’t make fun of a Gazette reporter when he confessed to not knowing how to cast the line on an 8-foot-long fly-fishing rod.

Reporter’s thoughts: Kaider might be the only fly-fishing guide in the area.

It was the first time I’d ever experienced the unfamiliar sport of fly-fishing. But Kaider was the first who didn’t impatiently snatch fishing, hunting or camping equipment from my hands and shout at me, “Geez! That’s not how you’re supposed to do that, ya dummy!”

I’ve seldom had more fun or felt more at peace with a notebook in my hand than the day in May 2021 when Gazette photographer Anthony Wahl and I trucked out to a stream on the edge of Rock County for some early-season fly-fishing with Kaider, who had just launched his new guide service, In the Flow.

Kaider, a teacher and a listener by trade, made the excursion feel like it was something more meaningful than a reporting assignment or a shot at catching a big smallmouth bass.

Kaider actually tries to help people reach an inner calm, a higher plane of Zen-like clarity where time, stress and human urgency seem to evaporate and give way to the sky, the river and the sound of flowing water.

I’m not an outdoor writer, and I’m not a skilled angler. But Kaider made it so easy to understand what I was out there to do on that river. It was less about fishing and more about taking time to let the wind, water and current momentarily pull me away from work and life.

Jonah Beleckis

Anthony Wahl 

Jeremey Duncan was picked as the winner in a creative writing program at the Rock County Jail for his poem ‘The Door.’ The program was then expanded to include the broader jail population.

Headline: Beloit man’s poem on addiction wins Rock County Jail’s creative writing contest

Publish date: June 20, 2021

Synopsis: Jeremey Duncan is sick, but writing is healing. The Beloit man’s poem on addiction called “The Door” won him the Rock County Jail’s expanded creative writing contest.

Reporter’s thoughts: This was my last story at The Gazette, but Jeremey was one of the most memorable people I met in my five years as a reporter here. I almost didn’t meet him, too.

It was a crazy last week, and I was preoccupied with wrapping everything up. Jeremey and I spoke on the phone, and I almost left it there. But at the last second, I rushed to the jail with our photographer, who also filmed Jeremey’s recitation of the poem in person.

He was charming, funny and thoughtful. Seeing him recite his poem was way more powerful than reading the text of it. There’s no replacement for being proximate to the people we write about, even if it’s brief.

Editor’s note: Jonah Beleckis left The Gazette in June 2021.

Frank Schultz

Anthony Wahl 

Alan Callies, Randy Gurney, Lisa St. Clair and Robert Wendt, left to right, stand outside The Sutherland House in Janesvillethis summer. The 169-year-old historic home owned by Callies has been the location of the Sutherland Family Party, a lawn party celebrating gay pride that took place each summer from 1997 through 2019.

Headline: Party of love: Historic Janesville house a longtime safe place for gays

Date published: Oct. 4, 2021

Synopsis: The residents of Sutherland House on Janesville’s near-east side have held an annual party to celebrate local gay-ness for the past 31 years.

Reporter’s thoughts: I could list a couple dozen stories I thoroughly enjoyed reporting during my last year as a Gazette reporter, from the feature on a joyful chainsaw sculptor who told me “Sawdust is my glitter” to the eye-opening reactions of locals of Asian descent to the national wave of anti-Asian violence.

The Sutherland House story opened my eyes to a local subculture that gets little notice in the news media. The best part for me was meeting current and former residents of an historic house. What a warm, welcoming, thoughtful group.

The second-best thing was learning interesting snippets of local history. Sutherland House could be called the Tallman House’s little sister.

At the same time, the story reminded me that LGBTQ culture in Janesville and much of the rest of America was, within our lifetimes, a thing so many people hid—and some still hide—in order to avoid hate and discrimination.

Editor’s note: Frank Schultz retired from The Gazette on Oct. 25.

COVID caution urged before New Year's Eve bashes

While New Year’s Eve party plans were being finalized by area restauranteurs and venue operators, county health officials recommended residents avoid large gatherings or get tested for COVID-19 before joining fellow revelers.

“Rapid (home) antigen tests are a good option for timely results if they are available,” said Jessica Turner, spokesperson for the Rock County Public Health Department. “People should stay home if they are ill, have tested positive for COVID-19 or if they are unvaccinated and have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask in any indoor setting, Turner said.

With that said, several restaurants and venues are holding New Year’s Eve bashes with food and live music to bid goodbye to 2021 and welcome 2022.

In Downtown Janesville, Genisa Wine Bar at 11 N. Main St. is offering a four-course meal starting at 4 p.m. A few tickets were still available Thursday.

“We will potentially accept walk-ins, but there are not a lot of slots left,” Genisa General Manager Josh Pickering said.

The four courses include kale and artichoke dip with crostini, “Winter Baby” kale salad, three meat lasagna, sage and brown butter gnocchi, panna cotta and much more. Tickets, if they are still available, can be purchased at exploretock .com/genisawinebar. Call 608-728-7964 for more information.

A 1980s-themed party at Holiday Inn Express and Janesville Conference Center, 3100 Wellington Place will start at 7 p.m. Admission is $35.

Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint, 500 Pleasant St., Beloit, will be celebrating with live music from 6:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and dinner from 6 to 9 p.m. Andrew Robinson and the Mike Dangeroux Band will perform.

Lake Geneva’s Geneva National Resort & Club is having a NYE Bayou Bash from 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. with a Creole-inspired buffet of crawfish, shrimp and more. At 9:30 p.m., the 16-piece Underground Sound Jazz will play.

Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 31, 2021 (copy)

Yasuko (Omasa) Andrews

Arnold E. “Arnie” DeGarmo

Benjamin D. Hansen

Charlene L. Hefty

Michael C “Mike” Holley

Robert A. Laukant

Marilyn J. Lewis

Claudia M. Osborne

Nancy A. Stoikes

Sara Woods

Support for bail reform grows at state and local level

Reforming how bail and bond is set received renewed urgency in the immediate aftermath of the killing of six people and injuring of scores more by a man who drove his vehicle into a Christmas parade in Waukesha on Nov. 21.

The driver was arrested earlier that month for running over his partner with the same vehicle. However, his bail was set at $1,000, which the driver paid to be released two days before the parade.

The debate has since widened over how the state handles bail and signature bond conditions—how much money an arrested individual must pay to be released from jail and the rules they have to follow as their cases move through the court system.

Earlier this week, Gov. Tony Evers hinted that he would support efforts to strengthen the state’s bail system.

Janesville Police Chief David Moore also supports bail reform. The system as it stands poses a detriment to the well-being of the community, he said Thursday.

“The serious crime that we have here in Janesville is largely committed by relatively few offenders,” Moore said, justifying the setting of higher bail amounts for these individuals.

In Rock County, there have been several cases of offenders being released after posting a low bond and then committing similar, sometimes fatal, offenses.

As previously reported in The Gazette, Janesville resident Jeremy Mondy was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in Wisconsin Dells last February. Two weeks prior, Mondy received a signature bond, with conditions barring him from coming into contact with the woman he later shot.

Moore said the Mondy case is one of many instances where an habitual offender was jailed, released on signature bonds, only to reoffended shortly thereafter.

Another example, Moore said, was Steven Gipson. He was arrested four times this year for domestic violence with each incident being more violent than the one before.

Gipson was most recently charged with allegedly strangling a victim until the individual was rendered unconscious. Moore said Gipson continues to be released on signature bond despite repeatedly violating court-ordered restrictions.

Another case involves serial burglar Dillon L. Dutcher. According to Moore, Dutcher was at one point arrested for an armed invasion of the home of an elderly couple. Upon his release after being arrested for that incident, Dutcher allegedly committed theft at a Walmart.

He has yet to be charged for either crime. Nevertheless, Dutcher has been charged with 17 different crimes and was consistently released on signature bonds of a few hundred dollars each time.

Another wrinkle to the criminal justice system is what Moore sees as a hamstrung court when it comes to pretrial detention. Unlike federal court, under which judges can impose pretrial detention of defendants, a Wisconsin judge can only consider the likelihood an arrested person will appear in court again at a later date.

“Judges should have the ability to look at the type of crime and the defendant’s history, then make a judgment for the safety of the community and the victim,” Moore said.

“So that’s the challenge,” Moore said. “We don’t take that [into] consideration, and we see time and time again where these people are released and they go out and commit more crimes.”

Moore said his focus is on the safety of residents.

Any change to the bail and bond system, Moore said, should target “select offenders” who commit a defined group of violations. Judges need to be allow to have them detained until they go to trail.

“If we need to place people in jail to assure [residents’] safety, then that’s what needs to happen,” Moore said. “What people tend to forget is there are victims behind all of these crimes, and that can have a profound effect on our citizens.”