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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In search of Ginger Beaumont

Ginger Beaumont is now the answer to my favorite Walworth County sports trivia question: Who was the first batter in the first World Series, and what connection does he have to Walworth County?

Until now, my favorite Walworth County sports trivia question was: who designed George Williams Golf Course, and in what other sport did he gain his fame (answer at the end).

My search for Ginger Beaumont began in 1994 in Honey Creek. At the time, writer Linda Godfrey and I were doing a series on crossroads towns in Walworth County.

We'd pick a community and hit the streets knocking on doors and asking people about what went on there. After an initial hesitation, we always left with a treasure trove of fascinating stories.

The day we visited Honey Creek, which sits balanced on the border of Walworth and Racine counties along Highway D, we met life-long resident and unofficial town historian Wendell Earle.

He has since passed away, but if there was anything a person needed to know about Honey Creek, Earle knew it.

During our conversation, he pointed to a home across the main street from his farmhouse and said, "You know who lived there, don't you?"

It was Ginger Beaumont, and Earle went on to tell us about Beaumont's exploits in baseball, as well as his close ties to the small community.

He owned a large farm west of town, Center Field Farms, and sang in the church choir of the Honey Creek First Baptist Church.

In the years since then, I remained curious about one of Walworth County's most famous, but at the same time little-known personalities. Earlier this year, in a newsroom conversation with Chris Schultz, a Janesville Gazette reporter who works out of our office, the conversation turned to baseball.

I showed him a few of the clippings I had collected on Beaumont, and Schultz, who wrote this week's cover story, became curious as well.

After dozens of phone calls leading to one dead end after another, Schultz finally contacted Frank Steele and the door to all we needed to know about Beaumont swung wide open.

It turns out I had met Steele several times over the years, never knowing that he knew everything I wanted to know about Ginger Beaumont.

Steele owns the coffee shop in Rochester, and I'd often stop for a hot cup on one of my family's regular trips to Racine, where my wife's family lives.

Little did I know that in the Rochester Cemetery, where several of my wife's relatives are buried, is the grave of Ginger Beaumont himself. Or that a block away from the coffee shop is the home that Beaumont was born in. Or that I've passed by Beaumont's Center Field Farm, just west of the Alpine Valley entrance hundreds of times.

Recently Schultz and I hit the road to re-trace the stomping grounds of Ginger Beaumont.

We had a long visit and a cup of coffee with Steele, who told us about a celebration they had in Rochester in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of the first World Series.

We made a side trip to visit Jim Bonner, Beaumont's second cousin. Bonner remembers playing ball as a boy with Beaumont at family reunions.

Bonner also told us where to find the Beaumont house in Center Field farms.

Although Schultz had the plat map, which showed the general location, we weren't sure exactly which house we were looking for.

When we did find it, the house turned out to be that of Don Kreft, Walworth County assistant highway superintendent, who lives there with his wife. Kreft said he owns all of the old Beaumont farm, which his father bought in 1959.

Most people in Walworth County have never heard of Beaumont, but for those who keep his history, he remains alive, vibrant and still an important part of their communities.

(Sports Trivia answer: Dr. James Naismith, credited with inventing basketball)


Post continued HERE

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Genoa City soldier laid to rest in Bloomfield Cemetery

Cpl. Keith A. Nurnberg of Genoa City was buried Saturday with full military honors at Bloomfield Cemetery.

Although the story of his death was widely reported in Illinois, few in Walworth County were aware that Nurnberg and his wife, Tonya, had moved to Genoa City earlier this year. They were married in December.

Earlier this week, Chris Jordan, Walworth County veterans service officer notified members area veteran's groups, who quickly organized to attend funeral services and support their fellow soldier.

Nurnberg died Sept. 5 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit during combat operations.

He graduated from McHenry West High School in 1999 and was on his second tour of duty in Iraq, according to a story in the Daily Herald.

He was awarded the rank of corporal posthumously.

Nurnberg's survivors include: his wife, Tonya,; his parents, Barbara and Alan Nurnberg of McHenry; a grandmother; and three sisters.

Tonya is expecting the couple's first child in November.

Visitation was scheduled for Friday, Sept. 14 at Spring Grove Funeral Chapel in Spring Grove, Ill.

The funeral was Saturday at St. Joseph's church in Richmond, Ill., with the burial at Bloomfield Cemetery on Highway H.

He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Georgia.

Nurnberg was 26.

Instead of flowers, memorials can be sent to the Tonya Nurnberg benefit account at First Midwest Bank, 3510 W. Elm St., McHenry, Ill., 60050.

More: Ninth Benning soldier from 2-69 killed in Iraq


Post continued HERE

Friday, September 07, 2007

Charity won this horse race, I just held on


I admit I was just along for the ride, so I can't take credit for winning the first Celebrity for Charity Harness Race at the Walworth County Fair.

With jockey Gary Magee on one side and luck on the other, we led wire to wire in the race for a $1,000 dollar purse to be donated to charity.

The winnings went to the Time is Now, a local group whose good deeds in helping our friends and neighbors in need are chronicled each Sunday in The Week.

Each racer was ultimately a winner, with amounts being paid to each of their charities.

My fellow harness racers included:

-- Sheila Reiff, Walworth County's clerk of circuit court, who raced for breast cancer awareness.

-- Reggie Michaels of WSLD radio, raced to raise money for Walworth County food pantries.

-- Dr. Deana Courier, a family practice physician, whose charity is the Agape House in Walworth.

-- David Graves, Walworth County's sheriff, whose winnings will go to the local American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

None of us knew what we had gotten ourselves into as we gathered by the side of the track early Saturday afternoon, but who'd pass up a free ride on a harness cart?

Gabe Wand, on the other hand, did have a good idea of what we had gotten ourselves into. As the president of the Wisconsin Harness Horse Association, he coordinated the event, presenting us to the grandstand crowd and setting us up with our jockeys.

My first stoke of luck was getting paired up with the horse Mamtrix, owned by Bob Mohr of Elkhorn. At least I'd be winning or losing on a local horse.

My second stroke of luck came in the form of jockey Gary Magee, a long-time horseman from Shawano.

Magee had never driven Mamtrix, so he explained that we'd have to put together our strategy in the warm-up lap before the start of the race.

If the horse turned out to be aggressive and wanted to run, we'd go for the lead from the start.

If he was tentative, we'd hold back, but not let the leader get too far out ahead. We'd hope the lead horse tired, then make our move later in the race.

The cart was a two-seater, with two sets of reigns. Magee's led to the horse. Mine were connected to nothing. It was clear that my role was to sit, be quiet and not fall out. Anything more would potentially hurt the team, and certainly wouldn't help.

After our parade lap, we began our approach to the starter car.

Magee kept up a soothing monologue of directions to the horse, making Mamtrix comfortable with his commands.

(Note to next year's racers: Keep your mouth closed. The hooves kick up plenty of gravel.)

As we approached the starter, Magee pulled back as hard as he could on the reigns. "This one wants to go," Magee said. "We're going for the lead at the start."

And that's what we did.

In a way, leading means there's not much of a view. I had no way of knowing where the other racers were.

That was until Reggie Michaels began to close in. But Magee had a plan for that too. Just like in NASCAR, you don't want a fast car drafting behind you going into the last lap.

So Magee eased off near the third post, forcing Michaels to move outside and running full into the wind.

"We'll let him come up, then take off on the final stretch."

All I had to do was sit there, be quiet and not fall out.


Post continued HERE

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