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Sunday, June 17, 2007

The divide between perception and reality

Violence has many victims, one of which is that it reinforces negative stereotypes.

The killings in Delavan last weekend are the latest incident to force a harsh light on Walworth County's Hispanic community.

Along with news that Hispanics were among the victims in last Saturday's shootings came a sense of relief among some that it couldn't happen to them.

Part if it is a natural tendency to try and make sense of a horrific event and to be reassured that something like that could only happen to someone else.

But that same attitude can paint a whole community into a corner in which they can't get out.

Over the past year, the Hispanic community has slowly had forced upon it a perception that increasingly highlights the bad and overlooks the good.

Perhaps this perception goes back to the Star Packaging raid in Whitewater last year in which some Hispanic employees were detained and accused of using false identities. The raid fueled suspicion of local authorities--a suspicion that local police and community leaders continue to try to diffuse.

Then, a week ago, in our story on the a mortgage broker's complex real estate fraud scheme, we learned that many of the victims were Hispanics who could speak little English. They were used as unwitting victims in a scam that bilked banks and skimmed fees.

Now comes the killings in Delavan, and once again the Hispanic community is seen as either victims or victimizers.

In reality, life is not so tidy.

Simply look at the block where this tragedy occurred.

It's a microcosm of how complex a community can be. In homes on one side of the house were the tragedy took place, young families are raising their children.

The other side of the block features a beautifully restored private home.

Across the street and around the corner is a senior housing complex where the old Delavan High School sat.

Down the block are several churches, and across from them Phoenix Park (named for Henry and Col. Samuel F. Phoenix, the founders of Delavan, not the bird, as some out-of-town media had reported.)

In the middle of the park sits the new community band shell. A festival celebration to dedicate the new band shell was scheduled for Saturday.

It's a rich and diverse neighborhood and reflects the type of people that live here.

Walworth County's Hispanic community has its roots in agriculture, from what I've learned over the years. The fertile earth of southern Wisconsin drew farmers from Texas and farther south to work. Those farmers eventually bought farms of the own.

In recent generations, Walworth County has provided economic opportunities in the recreation and service industries that have drawn families here. They in turn have been supported by small Hispanic businesses that thrive in nearly every city in the county.

Over the years, many who cared for the future of Walworth County have nurtured and supported Walworth County's diversity. The parts of the Hispanic community who were new to Walworth County were supported like any immigrant community seeking assimilation into their new home.

It's an attitude that has helped strengthen the identity of Walworth County.

Despite what's happened, it's an attitude that needs to be preserved and nurtured, if we want life in Walworth County to remain vibrant and healthy.

In news reports over the past week, Delavan and Walworth County have often been described as "bucolic." It's not a bad image to have.

But we need to work to keep that image, and the urge to draw broad generalizations based on race sends us down the path we don't want to go.

~Dan Plutchak, editor


Post continued HERE

Friday, June 01, 2007

Perseverance pays off for the vision of Black Point

I've always maintained that little would get done if people knew what they were getting into ahead of time.

Home remodeling projects, running a marathon, even weddings on occasion are just a few endeavors that come to mind.

How many times have you heard someone say, after reaching the end of a long, drawn-out project, "I'll never do that again?"

Ignorance has fueled many a great achievement.

That's not to say people aren't thrilled with what they've accomplished; it's just that they would have thought twice before beginning.

I'll bet William Petersen and his wife Jane, who has since passed away, never anticipated the hurdles they would face following their decision in 1994 to give their Black Point estate to the state of Wisconsin.

Following years of planning, legal wrangling and delays, the estate along the south shore of Geneva Lake will open to the public for tours beginning June 15. Writer Donna Lenz Wright has the details in this week's cover story.

We've covered the ups and downs of the project since it was first conceived more than 13 years ago.

Our first feature story on the estate ran in May of 1998. Writer Anne Celano Frohna, now editor of At the Lake Magazine, and staff photographer Terry Mayer were invited on a tour of Black Point by William Petersen.

Modestly called a summer cottage, the home remained virtually unchanged since brewing magnate Conrad Seip decided to build it along the shores of Geneva Lake in 1888.

We've been in the home several times again over the years, as the project moved slowly forward. A scrapbook of those photos is included with this week's cover story by Donna Lenz Wright.

At the time of that first story, Petersen was optimistic that Black Point would be open to the public in 2000.

But opposition from some of the neighbors sent the project into limbo, and plans for the historic site died and were reborn several times over the intervening years.

The legal battle that ensued wasn't waged by novices either. Both sides went toe-to-toe in every arena they could think of.

The first skirmishes took place before a committee of the Walworth County Board. In June of 1999, the committee denied the conditional use permit necessary to move the project forward. But that decision was eventually reversed and the permit was approved by the county board.

Then the battle moved to Walworth County Circuit Court, where opponents sued, saying the project would violate a restrictive covenant placed on the property in the early 1900s.

A jury, however, disagreed and ruled against the opponents.

The battle for Black Point eventually ended up in the state legislature.

Funding for the historical site had been added and deleted from the state budget several times.

In 2002, the project became caught up in the Capitol caucus scandal when then-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala was indicted for, among other things, shaking down supporters of Black Point for campaign donations.

By 2005, and with every avenue of opposition exhausted, Petersen met with local preservationists, attorneys and state officials in the dining room of the historic summer home to sign over title of the estate.

Now run by the Black Point Historic Preserve, the renovations and preparations have been made to turn the summer home into Wisconsin's newest historic site.

Would the Petersens have gone ahead with their idea, knowing it would take more than a dozen years before the doors would open to the public?

It's hard to say, but because of determination of the Petersens, visitors to the home will be able to gain a rare insight into the grand vision that defined the Geneva Lake from those early years through today.

ooo


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