This story appeared on Page 1 of the Jan. 26, 1991 edition of the Racine Journal Times. It was based on observations during my second trip to Germany during the Persian Gulf War.
By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times
U.S. BASE, SOUTHERN GERMANY — Some of the first casualties of the Persian Gulf War were the emotions U.S. troops and families stationed in Europe, as they worried about loved ones in Saudi Arabia and expressed resentment toward anti-war protests back home.
In the first-week of combat between U.S.-led allies and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces, one U.S. base in Germany displayed fear, anguish, anticipation and a host of other emotions.
People at the base clearly were in anguish. Many of them have relatives deployed in Saudi, as they call it here. Most of the deployed soldiers are in combat units.
Members of the Army’s VII Corps artillery units from this base are now at forward positions in Saudi Arabia. They would be in the thick of it if the United States starts a ground offensive into Kuwait.
“God Bless our Soldiers in Saudi Arabia,” proclaimed a banner inside one of the many post exchange shops on base. Employees wore yellow ribbons in remembrance.
At the U.S. Army hospital here, one nurse in the outpatient clinic said her husband was just deployed to the front lines.
“I’ve just been pulling my hair out,” she said, adding that she has been glued to the TV set, watching Cable News Network’s coverage of the war. She said she fears a ground war is inevitable.
Discussion on the Army’s base shuttle bus turned to one active-duty soldier, who was supposed to be sent home last week because his unit was deactivated as the United States prepares to shut down some of its bases.
Three days before his plane was supposed to leave, he was told to report for duty in Saudi Arabia.
Fear has also become a staple in the daily routine.
The threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. bases is considered very real, and the military has employed many tools to reduce the risks.
Commercials on Armed Forces Radio and Television warn against speaking about military matters in public, for fear terrorists could be listening. It was reminiscent of the old war slogan, “Loose lips sink ships.”
Soldiers were also warned that Arab terrorists may try to buy military uniforms or identification cards.
Military families were told to venture off base sparingly, and try to blend into the German population as much as possible, lest they attract undue attention.
But the post commander appealed to parents not to pull their children from Defense Department schools on base. Many families here and elsewhere in Europe kept their children home in the wake of hostilities and terrorist threats.
Security was at a peak level, called “Threatcon Charlie.” That puts scores of heavily armed military police at every entrance, checking IDs and searching for bombs. At least two forms of photo identification were required, and every bag and package was searched.
There was growing resentment among soldiers and families as they watched news reports of anti-war protests at home.
Some soldiers who oppose Operation Desert Storm wondered aloud where the protesters were over the past 5 ½ months, when the United States built its war force in the Gulf. Others said it hurt knowing while they were overseas serving their country, some back home didn’t appreciate it.
The growing number of military reservists shipped here to fill in for regular troops sent to the Middle East complained of shabby treatment by regular Army personnel.
Some reservists said regular troops seem to resent the citizen-soldiers, and treat them accordingly. Reservists are performing a host of support duties, such as medical care, transportation and administration.
“The sacrifices we have made are not acknowledged by the regular army,” one reservist said. “They seem to consider us a burden.”
One thought was universal here — a desire for the war to end quickly. For military families, that will mean loved ones come back to Germany. For reservists, it will mean going home.
(Reporter Joseph Hanneman, who covers government and higher education for the Journal Times, travelled to Germany to visit his wife, Susan, an Army reservist called to active duty at the U.S. base in Germany.)
Feature image atop the story: A sculpture outside the museum at the former concentration camp near Dachau, Germany. Photo taken during my second trip to Germany in 1991.
One beautiful young lady truly stands out among the 160 pages of the 1922 Ahdawagam. What is an Ahdawagam, you ask? It is the name of the school annual, or yearbook, at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids. Ahdawagam is an Indian word that refers to the “two-sided rapids” along the Wisconsin River.
The specially featured young lady was touted for her musical talents and participation in a wide range of student activities. She is Ruby V. Treutel (1904-1977) of Vesper, Wis., before she became Ruby V. Hanneman as the bride of Carl Henry Frank Hanneman (1901-1982).
It is indeed a treat to stroll through the pages of this early 1920s book, 98 years after it was published. It was a very different era, and these young people seem so mature and serious. Although maybe that is because we came to know them much later in life.
Ruby’s first appearance in the book is near the front, in the senior portrait section. Right between Irene Timm (“Timmy”) and Florence Van Dyke (“Flo”). No nickname is mentioned for Ruby. The listing has five lines describing her school activities: Glee Club, Ahdawagam staffmember, Dramatic Club, Mask and Wig Club (founding member), Gamma Sigma musical society, and a performer in the school operetta for three years. Ruby’s slogan certainly fits the woman we came to know: “Music hath charms and so has she.”
She is next listed in the “Class Mirror” section. Her answers included: Heart = Carl; Mind = Church’s (pharmacy where Carl worked); favorite occupation = singing; wants to be = opera singer; and “ought to be” = second Galli Curci. The last item is a reference to Amelita Galli-Curci, the Italy-born coloratura soprano who was an acclaimed opera singer in the early 20th century.
A few chapters later, in the Music and Drama section, we find Ruby’s stronghold. She was president of the 87-member Glee Club, which encourages development of musical talent. The club also performs an operetta each year.
Just pages later we find Ruby in the group photo for Gamma Sigma, which draws the most musically talented students in the school. She was among the founding members during the 1921-22 school year. The group offered regular public singing and instrumental performances.
Ruby played the lead role in the Glee Club operetta production of Sylvia. The club and the performance were directed by Elizabeth Bradford, Lincoln High School’s musical supervisor.
The operetta was no small-time school production. It received a preview article on the society page of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune on Jan. 17, 1922. Sylvia was originally slated to be performed at Daly’s Opera House in Wisconsin Rapids. Two weeks before opening night, the opera house burned to the ground. Firefighters were hampered because the hydrants near the opera house were frozen and water had to be pumped from the Wisconsin River. The fire forced the operetta production to relocate to Lincoln High School for the Jan. 27 performance.
The Daily Tribune published an extensive review in the Jan. 28 issue. The reviewer sang the praises of Ruby and her co-performers. “Miss Ruby Treutel scored in the title role, as the haughty sweetheart of the court poet. As an actress, she showed unusual ability in every situation,
“but it was as a singer that she won the hearts of the crowd completely.”
Ruby shined with her rendition of “Unto Thy Heart” with a violin obligato by Esther Levin. The number “seemed to appeal to her listeners especially, for they accorded her enthusiastic and well-deserved applause,” the Daily Tribune review said.
We’ve documented elsewhere on this site the musical talents of Ruby Treutel Hanneman. She performed in various theaters, starting when she was just 17. In April 1921, Ruby “brought down the applause of the house time after time” with her performance in the play “The Fire Prince,” according to the Daily Tribune.
Ruby’s next yearbook appearance is on a photo-collage page. She and future husband Carl are doing some kind of goofing around. The photo isn’t real clear, but it appears Carl is either playing some kind of stringed instrument or wielding a fishing pole or a sword. See what you think. Many of the photos in the collage seem to be related to the operetta.
It is impressive to see how dressed up these students are on every page of the yearbook. Ladies in dresses and the young men in suits and ties. Fashion was the rule of the day.
Finally, Ruby is pictured among 17 members of the Ahdawagam yearbook staff. She served as editor of music and drama.
Ruby’s final mention in the book is on a list under the heading “The Great White Way.” All of the people on the list were described as lights (“head light,” “flashlight,” “candle,” etc.). Ruby is listed as “Star Light.”
Carl gets the last word. He appears in the alumni section, where he is listed for his job as a druggist at Church’s Drug Store. Carl graduated from Lincoln High School in 1921.
The staff box for the yearbook says it was Vol. 10 for the Ahdawagam. The editor-in-chief was Viola J. Nash. The book was produced by the Hein-Sutor Printing Company of Wisconsin Rapids.
I just love this image. Back in 2007 I was photographing a variety of things from Mom and Dad’s house, at my mother’s request. I came across this birthday card from October 1979. It was from my grandfather, Carl F. Hanneman, to my Mom, on her 47th birthday.
What I found touching was that Grandpa Carl still sent a little cash gift to a daughter-in-law who was nearly 50. He signed the card “Grandpa” even though he was her father-in-law. I loved that my mother never cashed the check — not wanting Carl to spend the money from his very fixed income. She kept the card and the check. Precious.
It’s funny how these memories pop up so unexpectedly. I saw this photo two days ago while searching for something totally unrelated. Mom has been gone to Heaven for 18 months. Grandpa Carl for 38 years. Yet finding this photo brings them right back to me, just as if this card were received earlier today.
This story appeared on Page 1 of the Jan. 18, 1991 edition of the Racine Journal Times. I filed the story from the U.S. Army base in Augsburg, Germany.
By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times
U.S. BASE, SOUTHERN GERMANY — Heavily armed military police patrolled in front of a U.S. Army base elementary school Thursday, with battle helmets on their heads and M-16 semiautomatic rifles slung over their shoulders.
It was an unmistakable sign that the United States had entered a war with Iraq, and that any U.S. citizen — even children — was a potential target for terrorists.
As Germany slept Wednesday night and early Thursday, U.S. and allied war planes screamed into Iraq as the offensive began to drive Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.
And overnight, this large military base in southern Germany transformed from a bustling community into an armed camp, where tension was high and fear so palpable you could almost taste it.
The Army was taking no chances amid terrorist threats against U.S. facilities around Europe and the Middle East.
At every housing facility, school and entrance to the base, military police were out in force. The grim-faced soldiers wore bullet-proof vests and carried high-powered weapons. The protective gas masks were clipped to belts at their sides.
An MP, his rifle on the seat next to him, rode the school bus with children as the vehicle darted off and on base, taking students home. This military base is home to more than 2,500 children.
And while children were being zealously protected, they also were not beyond suspicion. Youngsters returning home from school were required to show ID cards before entering housing complexes.
At each gate leading to the base, cars were stopped and searched. Guards looked in trunks and under hoods; they pushed large mirrors under vehicles to check the undercarriages for bombs.
No one, soldiers of all ranks included, escaped scrutiny.
At the entrance to the post exchange, 55-gallon drums filled with concrete were lined up to prevent cars or trucks loaded with explosives from reaching the building, which is usually filled with soldiers and family members.
Barbed razor wire was laid along the length of the sidewalk. Visitors had to pass through an armed checkpoint and were only allowed in the building with two forms of photo identification. Bags were searched.
Inside the PX, yellow ribbons hung fro the ceiling outside the cafeteria. Many soldiers from this base — including medical units and some of the heaviest armor units in the U.S. Army — were sent to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield, transformed Wednesday into Operation Desert Storm.
At the commissary (the Army’s version of the grocery store) aisles normally crowded on a weekday were deserted. Families, it seemed, preferred to stay home this day.
Area car dealerships that cater to U.S. soldiers closed early, and one U.S. club posted a sign that it would not be open Thursday, a day the sign labeled “Doom’s Day.”
Even the Burger King just outside the boundaries of the post was surrounded by armed guards. Only persons with military ID cards were allowed to eat.
At the U.S. Army Hospital, soldiers, nurses and visitors crowded around a television set in the internal medicine department, watching live cable news network accounts of the air attacks on Iraq and Kuwait.
Faces were stern. No one spoke. The expressions told of concern and relief that the operation had finally started.
Hospital officials refused to discuss the hospital’s role as a possible airlift treatment center for wounded soldiers. A reporter was told he could have access to medical staff only if he did not discuss Operation Desert Storm.
But it is widely expected here that the medium-size hospital would be pressed into service if casualties in the Middle East become heavy.
Soldiers said mobile hospital beds arrived in recent days to expand the facility’s capability.
And members of the 44th General Hospital, an Army reserve unit from Madison, began arriving here Thursday to fill in for medical staff shipped to the Middle East.
Bases all over Germany were setting up temporary hospital facilities to handle the wounded. German hospitals say they would assist with casualties. And the U.S. Veterans Administration was making ready 25,000 beds in the United States for possible casualties, according to local news accounts.
Elsewhere on base, soldiers listened to Armed Forces Radio for news about the start of the war. In between news dispatches, soldiers called in to request songs. Some were love songs for family members stationed in Saudi Arabia. Others, with titles like “We Will Rock You” and “Heads Will Roll” were dedicated to combat soldiers at the front.
(Joseph Hanneman is the state government/higher education reporter for the Journal Times. He flew to Germany last week to visit his wife, Susan, who is a reservist called to active duty there. Both live in Racine.)
This article sat atop Page 1 of the Racine Journal Times on December 25, 1990. It was one of the few times I wrote about my personal life in the pages of the newspaper. The memories are still vivid nearly 30 years later.
By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times
For many Americans, Christmas Eve was spent gathered around the tree with family members, exchanging gifts and enjoying the holiday spirit.
But for my family, there really is no Christmas this year.
Instead of wrapping gifts, toasting with a glass of eggnog or listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” my wife of three weeks, Susan, and I spent our first Christmas Eve together saying goodbye.
Tears streamed down my face as I watched her board a bus Monday at Fort Sheridan, Ill., as her Army Reserve unit shipped out on its way to Europe and Operation Desert Shield.
It seems for the U.S. Army, there is no Christmas either.
The Persian Gulf crisis could not wait.
Fort McCoy, Wis., where my wife’s plane will depart today -— Christmas Day — could not wait.
Reserve units from Illinois and Wisconsin, which will board planes and leave on the one day of the year that symbolizes peace and brings together families, could not wait.
It could not be Dec. 26, or 27. It had to be on Christmas.
It was necessary, they say. I just wish I could believe that.
If I have just one Christmas wish this year, it is that the people of this country think about what is happening in the Persian Gulf.
As you open your gifts today and hear songs about “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men,” think about it. This year, those words should carry extra meaning.
As Christmas dinner is served, don’t forget what this crisis is doing to the citizen-soldiers of the military reserves, or the sacrifice they are making. Remember their families, who this year spend the holidays filled with worry and uncertainty.
And realize that the impacts of this crisis go well beyond what most people have heard.
When George Bush decided to turn up the heat and mobilize more reservists than have been called since the Korean War, he affected more people than most of you will ever know.
My situation is painful, but I am very lucky. My wife will not be in Saudi Arabia, scorched by heat, bored by the desert and worried about war. I thank God for that every day.
Our story is far from unusual. Since the reserves were first called up in August, our lives have been under a cloud.
The specter of being sent to Saudi Arabia filled every day with worry. Every day that should have been full of excitement as we planned our wedding was shadowed by fear that the ceremony would not take place.
We heard a million ticks of the clock during those months, but we made it to our wedding day, Dec. 1. We forgot about the Army for a while. We went on our honeymoon.
But we cut it short and came home when her unit was activated.“That’s all right,” we said, “we will still have Christmas.”
Between scrambling to put wedding gifts away and move into our home, our days have been filled with tension and bureaucracy. Power of attorney had to be decided, many forms filled out.
She will take a more than 40 percent pay cut from her job by being on Army pay. Forty percent cut, but no relief from creditors. Our interest rates are reduced a bit by Uncle Sam, but the bills keep coming.
So we will sell one of our cars. We don’t have to, but we have this crazy idea about having enough money for phone bills, and for plane tickets when I go to visit.
But again, we are lucky. She will be stationed where there are phones, and where a husband can fly in and see his wife.
We are lucky, because we don’t yet have children who will see their mother taken away on Christmas Day. She’s not one of the single mothers who was forced to find care for her baby because the Army called her to duty.
We don’t have a new house to worry about, or mortgage payments to make, like many reservists.
And we have had time together. It took getting up at 4 a.m. each day to make sure she reported promptly by 5:30 for duty, but we had time. Time to talk, and prepare, and pray for the day this whole thing ends and everyone comes home.
We got so close to Christmas, we felt sure we would be safe for the holiday. Surely, I thought, even the Army believes in Christmas. Now, I know better.
But we are lucky, I keep telling myself. And in the end, I know I will see the wisdom in those words.
But standing on the wind-whipped pavement of a cold military base on Christmas Eve, I don’t feel very lucky.
(From the Dec. 25, 1990 issue of The Journal Times, Racine, Wis.)
Television reporter Tom Hanneman thought he was going to die on May 19, 1979 when a combatant in a violent feud between factions of the Red Lake band of the Chippewa Indians held a gun to his head and threatened to pull the trigger.
Hanneman and cameraman Keith Brown of WCCO-TV Channel 4 in Minneapolis were getting video footage of a fire on the Red Lake Indian Reservation when they were attacked by an armed 20-year-old man. While Hanneman sat in a rental car, his cameraman was outside. “We came to the main road and wanted to get a final shot,” he said at the time. “A short time later I heard a ‘smack’ like a rock hitting the pavement.
“It was a bullet. Keith said it missed his head by about two inches.”
A tribal member armed with a pistol approached the journalists and ordered Brown to smash WCCO camera equipment valued at $60,000. He then ordered the men to lie down on the road. “He tormented them by holding the gun at their heads ‘cocked back and saying he is going to blow our heads off, how would we feel,'” Hanneman said, according to an account in the Minneapolis Star. “I thought I had had it.”
While Hanneman and Brown were prone on the pavement, the man got in their car and tried to run them over. “He got in the car and started coming at us,” Hanneman said. “I got up and put my hand up and tried to talk to him. He told me to get back down. But when someone tells you to lie down and is trying to run over you, I didn’t want to stay down.”
The gunman eventually left with the rental car. A nearby family offered the journalists refuge, and then helped them get to Bemidji, Minn.
Earlier that day, an armed faction of dissidents raided the Indian Bureau of Law Enforcement building on the Red Lake reservation and took four police officers hostage. They later set fire to the building and a number of law enforcement vehicles.
On the WCCO 10 p.m. news that night, Hanneman recounted the terrifying day. A transcript of the dramatic interview is below. A video of the newscast (from TC Media) is at the end of this story.
WCCO Anchor Don Shelby: Tom, tell us your story.
Hanneman: “We found the main road leading into Red Lake was blocked by a Red Lake fire truck. We got out of the car to shoot some scenes at the police station, which was still smoldering. At that time we heard shots fired and some ricochets off the fire truck that we were standing next to. Obviously we were being shot at. We threw our hands up and a group of Indians came over and wanted to know what we were doing and we explained.
“We left that area to go and shoot some more scenes. Keith Brown drove to a back route to shoot the police station, and also a police car that was aflame, an abandoned police car. He went into the woods and came running back a few minutes later. They had fired on him and the bullets hit the water right in front of his feet.
“We had three incidents that happened this afternoon, Don, the third was by far the worst. We were about ready to leave the area and Keith was going to shoot the final shot of the main street. I was in the car. Keith was outside with the door, the back door open. At that moment I heard what sounded like a rock hitting the car. It was a bullet. It hit the door, ricocheted up and Keith said it missed his head by no more than two inches. A man again came at us with a pistol, ordered us out of the car, and at gunpoint had Keith smash our videotape camera and the tape recorder onto the road.
“He then had us lay in the road in the median, threatened to blow our heads off holding the gun at our heads, tormented us for a while and then got into our rented car, turned around toward the road, sped up — what seemed to be an obvious attempt to run us over. I got up. I just couldn’t sit there and let him go at me and he told me to lay down, and drove by and again threatened us many times with a gun to our heads. He finally left the area, telling us to stay. A short time later he drove off a few blocks and parked, went into an area.
“We got up, just, we were afraid if nothing else that a passing car might hit us. Didn’t really know what to do until someone that lived right in the area, in a trailer home, yelled for us to come over. We were a little concerned that, we didn’t know what we were getting into at the time, Don. We went into hishome and (he) gave us refuge. A half-hour later took us, swept us out of town into Bemidji and we got out safely.
Don Shelby: How does it look up there now Tom, your last sight of the place?
Hanneman: “Most of the residents of Red Lake have left the area. It seems that a group of maybe 100, 150 Indians are in town. They’re all armed. It seemed to be a deserted town with just a few people running around firing guns.”
Don Shelby: How about the FBI? Have they arrived on the scene?
Hanneman: “They are there now. They have blocked off the main road into Red Lake at this time. They were nowhere to be seen at 3:30, 4 o’clock this afternoon.”
Don Shelby: You have not told your story to the FBI.
Hanneman: “No I have not. Not yet. We have just really gotten here and just starting unravel now.”
A few weeks later, the FBI arrested Gordon Wayne Roy, 20, and charged him with assault with a deadly weapon. On July 30, 1979, Roy pled guilty to one charge of assault with a deadly weapon. Five other assault charges were dismissed as part of a plea deal. Police said Roy had been in jail on the reservation when the dissidents stormed the building. They released him, and later that day he accosted Hanneman and Brown.
Five other men were convicted of various crimes in association with the armed takeover of the law enforcement building and the shooting deaths of two youths. Sentences ranged from 10 to 26 years in prison. The violence that day stemmed from a running dispute the dissidents had with long-time tribal chairman Roger Jourdain, according to news accounts.
Seven years later, in September 1986, Roy was arrested again; this time for murder. In early 1987, he was convicted of stabbing and slashing Edward White with a machete after a dispute. Roy was sentenced to life in prison.
Hanneman is a first cousin to the proprietor of this web site. He is a well-respected sportscaster in the Minneapolis TV market and beyond. For more than 20 years he was play-by-play announcer for the Minnesota Timberwolves of the National Basketball Association. He has also worked as reporter and sports anchor for CBS affiliate WCCO-TV and as an analyst for Fox Sports North. Here’s where he fits in the Hanneman tree: Matthias Hannemann >> Charles F.C. Hannemann >> Carl F. Hanneman >> Donn G. Hanneman >> Tom Hanneman.
The story of the Hanneman house in Mauston and its ties to the historic Mauston Brewery was retold in a 2019 issue of Breweriana magazine. The article was written by Mauston historian Richard D. Rossin Jr., a friend of these pages.
In the brewery history magazine, Rossin tells the story of the Mauston Brewery, which operated at the corner of Morris and Winsor streets from 1868 to 1916. He also recounts the Hanneman family story of a tunnel that was said to run from the house at 22 Morris Street under Winsor Street to the former brewery site.
Rossin said when he first encountered the tunnel story, he and a group of friends rang the doorbell at the Hanneman house to ask about it. My grandmother, Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977), answered the door. She took the children back to the pantry just off the kitchen. She showed a trap door in the floor, which was slightly different in color from the surrounding floor boards. Ruby told the children the tunnel ran from a cistern beneath the pantry across the street, Rossin recalled.
That’s a slightly different tale than the one I recall hearing from Grandpa Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) and my Dad, David D. Hanneman (1933-2007). I recall as a child going down very steep stairs into the basement, where Carl had a bar. He showed us a large archway in the north wall. It was filled in with bricks. He said behind the wall was a tunnel that at one time ran across the street. I don’t remember any mention of the Mauston Brewery. According to Rossin’s research, the home across the street once owned by Dr. Samuel Hess Jr. had a beer cellar with a similar stone archway.
I recall as a child someone pulling up that trap door in the pantry and allowing us to peer down into the deep darkness of the cistern. I think we were told it had been used to store rainwater but was no longer functional. It only added to the allure of the old house, with its stained glass accent windows, four-footed bathtub and a “secret” servant’s staircase from the kitchen to the upstairs.
What we know as the Carl and Ruby Hanneman home was built around 1893 by Charles F. Miller, owner of the Mauston Brewery. Miller took full control of the brewery in 1888, according to Rossin’s article, and sold his interest in 1901. Miller and his wife Frederica had six children. Miller died in August 1907 at age 54. Mrs. Miller lived in the home for nearly two more decades. She remarried in the 1920s and sold the Morris Street property.
Myrtle Price bought the house in 1932 and began renting it to Carl Hanneman in 1936. The Hannemans bought the home from the Price estate in the 1950s. They raised three children there: Donn Gene (1926-2014), David Dion and Lavonne Marie(1937-1986).
It was one of those days that heightens the senses, tests emotions and really brings home the meaning, beauty and challenges of life. The first day of school in Racine was arguably like countless other August days in Wisconsin. Except this time it was my 6-year-old son Stevie heading off to a new life.
Much to my surprise, it was I who felt the impact. And ironically, I was the one who learned the most that warm August day.
While I had worked all summer to prepare Stevie for what it would be like to start first grade, I wasn’t ready for how it would affect me. I’d never thought much about it, frankly. Why should it be any different than kindergarten, or day care? But by the end of this hallmark day, I came to realize many things, not the least of which was just how much I love and admire my children and my wife.
As I watched Stevie get dressed for his first day of first grade at Racine Montessori School, he seemed to grow up right there before my eyes. His nervous look as he slung his backpack over his shoulders and walked to the car stirred old feelings in me, memories of stiff new outfits, hairspray and early morning front-porch pictures. As we drove the 5 miles to school and chatted about what first grade would be like, I saw myself in the back seat. Only braver. Still shy, but more sure.
Things were changing this day. Big things.
I walked Stevie to his new classroom and watched him put his lunchbox on the hall shelf. I felt proud of him. But I was nervous because I knew he was about to pass into a new phase of his life. I stood in the comer of the polished hardwood floor as his new teacher showed him his school supplies and sat at the table explaining the new routine. He looked apprehensive — just how I felt. But he was OK. I gave him a quick hug and kissed the top of his head, just like I’ve always done. I wanted to cry. I wanted to take him back home, roll back time and replay our years together. Iwanted to once again play blocks, to have him crawl on my back, or run to me when I got home from work, shouting, “Daddy!”
Instead I stood in the doorway of this magnificent old brick schoolhouse and watched as the teacher’s aide snapped Stevie’s picture. More kids entered the room. A new school year. Time to go, Dad. It’s OK. We’ve got many more milestones ahead.
Until my dying day I will not forget that scene, a picture of my little boy sitting at that little table in a big place. It’s burned into my memory like a favorite page in a scrapbook, only this page is marked with a teardrop.
As I drove back home, I listened to Elton John sing, “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” on the radio and laughed. Too late. I realized our baby was on his way in life, a journey that would take him through science camps and football games, sleepovers, Boy Scouts and someday, dating. It had never hit me like this before. He’d be home by 4, still my boy. But older. Taller. More handsome.
He’s growing up. Didn’t I see it before? Never like today.
This was quickly becoming a day of epiphany for me. I got home and our 2-year-old, Samantha, ran to give me a hug with her enthusiastic shout, “Dada!” I realized more than ever how much I loved being father, a Dad. I treasured the morning, as Sam and I read books and played Dolly House. “Don’t read your paper, Dada,” she said. Okay, honey. Okay. Let’s read your books. Let’s play horsey. Let’s just sit. One day when I walk you to first grade I’ll stand in the doorway and remember today. And I’ll smile because I was here. I experienced it — and I appreciate it.
After Samantha and my wife Sue left to run some errands, I had more time to think. Clear and vivid thoughts. Almost revelations. Surely I knew all of these things before, but God chose today for me to really see them.
As I looked out our front bay window at the perfect blue sky and sunshine, I felt in my heart how blessed I am. I thought how much I admired Sue. The night before she and Stevie set up orange cones in the back yard and practiced soccer kicks for his upcoming foray into youth soccer. She’djust spent three hours in a clinic for new volunteer coaches for Stevie’s new team, the Bears. No hesitation for her. She and the other would-be coaches waddled around the practice field with soccer balls stuck between their legs, learning creative coaching techniques. I need to take on more things like that with such enthusiasm and energy. I draw strength from her.
I folded laundry, did some work on the computer and listened to CDs. Now James Taylor was singing to me, but this time I didn’t laugh. I listened to the soothing vocals:
Only for a minute, to find yourself in it, to wait by the stream, to drop out of your dream. Look on up, look up from your life. Look up from your life.
I keep hearing the song. I think it’s telling me something, especially on this day.
When Stevie got home from school, he looked different— and I felt different. He excitedly told me about volcanoes and melting ice and magic potion and Frisbee golf. Wow. Keep telling me, buddy. I’m here. I’m listening. All the while, Samantha sat on my lap, chiming in, “I go to school too, Dada. I do that, too.”
We ate ice cream sundaes and celebrated our momentous day. I was certain that I was the one who learned the most that day. For not since Samantha’s birth two years prior or Stevie’s in 1992 have I felt like this. The world stood still for just a moment. Just long enough for me to step off, step back and look.
While I saw many things I see every day, I thank God because on this day, I saw many, many things that I don’t. •
(This article was written in August 1998 with my intention of submitting it to my former employer, the Racine Journal Times. That didn’t happen, and I forgot about it until 22 years later, as I was digitizing some old journals found in the garage. Quite a find, indeed.)
Death is a mighty test of faith, just as much so when the beloved is of the four-paw variety as with one of our departed human family members. I learned this painful lesson anew when saying goodbye to my best little canine buddy, Mr. Puggles.
He came into our lives on October 15, 2004, fresh off of a plane ride from Colorado. He jumped from the laundry basket in the back seat of my car and nipped the noses of our three children. He was a little wild man. We knew right then that our Mr. Puggles would be a larger-than-life part of our family. I’ll never forget that first day home, when the little sprout climbed up on my head as I lay on the floor and pasted my face with wet kisses.
We learned quickly that he needed limits set, as he bolted across the street in our suburban neighborhood and led us on a merry chase. He was fast and would not be captured until he was good and ready. The kids were able to teach him a few things, but Mr. Puggles was usually going to do things his way. We just needed to figure that out.
As a growing puppy, he loved to ride in the car. This was before he learned about trips to the vet’s office. The kids would sometimes tease him, “You want to go for a ride in your very own car?” Yeah-yeah-yeah oh-boy-do-I-ever!!” So we usually piled into the car or the minivan and took him for a ride “in his very own car.”
Mr. Puggles could be naughty. He even had a “naughty face” that often gave a clue that chances were high for mischief. He once chewed a hole in our denim couch and proceeded to pull out much of the white bunting in the cushions. This exercise came to be known as “puff clouds” and, my oh my, did Mr. Puggles like puff clouds. He needed good exercise, but he barked so incessantly at everyone in the neighborhood, we had to do our walks after dark. He still barked.
His personality changed a bit in October 2006 when we adopted Madison, a fawn Pug who was rescued from one of those hoarder hell homes we all read about now and then. Madison was a street tough; used to having to fight for food. She attacked him a few times, and the sounds created nearly caused some of us cardiac arrest. Eventually they found common ground, as long as Mr. Puggles gave up his toys on demand. They ate in separate rooms under supervision. In time they both mellowed and became best buddies.
Mr. Puggles was not one to be bothered with niceties such as going to the bathroom outside. He started by jumping from the bed at night and going into the closet to relieve himself on the carpeting. Frequent trips outside were the only solution. Over the years, the carpeting in most rooms was replaced with hardwood flooring. Much easier to clean! We had to keep him away from the bottom of the Christmas tree, since he would drink the water and then have to pee more. I recall one time outside when I was talking to my daughters and Mr. Puggles was standing nearby. A minute later I looked down and he was peeing on my shoes and pant leg. At least he didn’t tell me it was raining.
Mr. Puggles was a pretty good sport. Samantha and Ruby sometimes tried to dress him up for Halloween, but any costumes were short lived. Stevie dressed him up as a character from the television show Futurama, with a cape and boots. Less than 5 minutes into the Halloween celebration and the boots were history and the cape was wound around his neck. Mr. Puggles and Madison were kid-friendly dogs who liked to sit in laps, or better yet, fed a stream of doggie treats.
Perhaps Mr. Puggles’ most valued role was that of comforter. Through many very difficult times, he was my God-given solace. There’s nothing quite like curling up in bed and having one Pug nestled just behind my legs and the other with her rear right against my neck. I wasn’t going anywhere without them knowing it. He was generous in affection, quick to forgive a harsh word, and always there with a wagging curly tail when I returned from a business trip.
The first signs that he was aging came when I lived in Georgia in 2012 and 2013. We’d be out for a walk and he would start dropping poops out like a Pez dispenser while he walked. It took me quite a while to figure out this was not intentional. Some of that nerve control was weakening. I noted it with concern, but quickly convinced myself that he would not have to worry about aging.
Mr. Puggles and Madison came with me on quite a few changes of address. They were good sports and didn’t complain about the uncertainty. During some very difficult times, we lived in hotel rooms and even spent a few crazy weeks camped in our car. None of it fazed them. If we were fed and stayed warm, it was all good. Dogs are such selfless companions. I thank God for that.
Even as Mr. Puggles’ rear legs began to fail, we still found ways to enjoy the outdoors. I bought a hip harness from a web store that caters to disabled pets. It gave his Pug caboose just enough help to still be able to roam about the yard, marking every tree and barking at falling acorns and the occasional brave squirrel. I felt slight pangs of dread as his face turned from jet black to salt and pepper. I would not want to face losing him, so I pushed those thoughts aside.
He had terrible health scares over the past year and a half. In March 2018, he stopped being able to pee and I had to rush him to Madison Veterinary Specialists. They did surgery on his bladder, which was almost completely full of what they described as “sand.” Eventually I learned those were “struvite stones,” which often form as the result of an infection. Since he wasn’t as able to fully empty, his risk of infection rose. The surgery was successful. To keep him from dribbling, I put a belly band with a bladder pad in it around his lower mid-section. He didn’t mind at all.
Over the past year, he and his new little sister Mickey had to get used to me coming and going a lot. Evenings it was off to spend a few hours watching television and visiting with Mom, who was in her final months with us. Back home after 10 and it was a late dinner, and sometimes, rawhide treats while camped out on the bed. It’s an incredible comfort having canine companions who hang on my every word like it’s REALLY interesting; who cuddle up close when I’m sick and act like I’m the best each time I come home.
The past two months were a drain. Bladder infections and upper respiratory troubles had us back and forth into the emergency hospital. This caused Mr. Puggles’ back legs to weaken a bit more. But I’d pick him up, go outside and hook up those hip holsters and he still did OK. (Later on I sat and watched security camera footage of me carrying him back and forth across many weeks.) He had trachea surgery at the University of Wisconsin to relieve his worsening breathing problems. The operation was a great success and I hoped we’d get him back to health.
Saturday, July 27 was destined to be one of the saddest and most difficult of my 55 years on this earth. I had rushed him back to the UW with labored breathing. He was placed in an oxygen cage. Scans showed pneumonia caused by him aspirating food or water into his lungs. It would be touch and go to battle yet another infection. But it wasn’t to be. With breathing getting harder, I either had to authorize a ventilator (which rarely ends well) or make another decision.
Mr. Puggles laid quietly on the exam table at the UW vet hospital. Tears streamed down my face as I petted his head and said his name. When he heard my voice, he lifted up his little head and looked at me. My heart broke into a million pieces. I kissed his soft little ear and whispered, “I love you so much, little buddy. You’re going to go home to God.” He lifted his head and looked at me again with big brown eyes. I’ve never seen that look before. It seemed to carry deep meaning; something you would not expect from a pet. The look seemed to say to me, “It’s OK. You took good care of me. Take heart. I will be here in God’s time.”
As he closed his eyes in sleep, I sobbed so hard I thought I might vomit. Tears flowed like they never have before. I felt this deeper than just about anything else in my life. It is said that St. Peter cried so hard and often after betraying Jesus that furrows developed on his face where the tears flowed. I might just have those same furrows before my grief subsides at the loss of my best buddy.
I later received a sympathy card from the staff at UW Veterinary Care. They took great care of him. One of the interns who cared for Mr. Puggles during his two stays ended her note with this thought:
“All good dogs go to Heaven — and Mr. Puggles was a very good dog.”
We decided to bury him at my sister Marghi’s house. She has a nice wooded back yard; the kind of place he loved to spend time in. I went to the UW clinic again to pick up his body. They had placed him in a little cardboard box that resembled a casket. On the cover, written in marker, was “Mr. Puggles” along with a hand-drawn red heart. I carried him to my car and started to drive to the pet memorial company to have terra cotta paw prints made.
I opened the box and looked at his little Pug self, motionless as if frozen in time. The whole drive I had my right hand on him, petting him and talking to him as if he were still here. I apologized for times I lost my temper, like when he’d wake me at 3 a.m. and want to have an early breakfast. But mostly I said “thank you” for nearly 15 years of companionship and unconditional love and support. As I stroked his soft little ear, I recalled all of the nicknames I had for him, and how often I made up little songs about him that probably drove him batty.
We had a good final conversation. Those who have pets will understand the depth of pain one feels in losing a friend so giving and innocent. More tears flowed and we made that drive to his final resting spot, under a maple and a pine tree. I set his box on the ground, took off the lid and tucked him in with a new dog blanket. I told him something I said every morning when he tried to get up early: “It’s OK, buddy, you can keep sleeping.” I put his favorite lion toy up near his head. On his blanket I placed a St. Benedict crucifix and a green scapular.
As I sprinkled Holy Water on the grave and on his box, it all welled up inside me. This would be a great test of faith. We are taught that our pets are not endowed with souls. Yet they stand watch over us and care for us like the angels. They love with the brave and sacrificial love of the great saints. Mr. Puggles gave everything to me and my children. He spent himself to make our lives brighter. I just have to believe Our Blessed Lord has made provisions for such a beautiful life.
My consolation came as I read prayers that are typically used to bless Catholic burial grounds:
God, Creator of the world and Redeemer of mankind, who wondrously dispose the destinies of all creatures, visible and invisible, we humbly and sincerely beseech you to hallow, purify and bless this cemetery, where the bodies of your servants are duly laid to rest, after the labor and fatigue of this life come to and end…”
There is was in the first line of the prayer. God, who “wondrously dispose the destinies of all creatures.” All creatures. God gave us animal companions for a reason. These selfless beings become an invaluable part of the family. I believe in His goodness, God will give us back our canine and feline companions in eternity. For he made them as part of his wonderful creation, which he declared from the beginning to be good.
On this day, that thought brought a measure of comfort to a grieving, wounded heart. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Puggles. May we meet again one day in an unending field filled with warmth and love.
The hospital staff wrote this on his burial box.
Tucking him in for the last time.
A new blanket and a favorite toy for the journey home.
A reader flipping through the pages of the La Crosse Tribune on March 4, 1950 might just have missed a great sports action photo buried on Page 10, the back cover. It’s a great photo because it shows real action — and it doesn’t hurt that one of the key players is David D. Hanneman of Mauston High School.
March 1950 was high school basketball tournament time. Mauston High School was one of the host venues for sub-regional tournament play for Wisconsin’s public schools. The action photo was actually from March 3, 1950, the second day of the sub-regionals; a game in which Mauston knocked off Hillsboro 45-37. In the photo, Hillsboro center Allan Wheeler grabs a rebound over the outstretched arm of Hanneman, wearing No. 24 for the Mauston Bluegold. Although he did not score in the contest, Hanneman, the Mauston center, held the prolific scorer Wheeler to just 9 points. Just a day prior, Wheeler scored 22 points in Hillsboro’s loss to La Crosse Central.
Mauston ended its season after going 1-1 at the sub-regional tournament. In the first game on March 2, Tomah stormed back from an 11-point deficit to clip Mauston 40-36. Tomah won the sub-regional title the next day by whipping La Crosse Central 67-47.