What Drove the Surge in “Small Town Wisconsin” Post?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Since this humble blog was launched way back on September 2, 2009, I had minimal expectations in terms of its reach.

Attracting millions of followers? Ha! No way in a crowded digital space dominated by sites like Huff Po, TMZ and Mashable. (Although I understand Gawker faces an uncertain future; see — it pays to be nice some times.)

Maybe with Gawker out of the picture, The PRDude blog will rise in the rankings. Maybe.

Maybe with Gawker out of the picture, The PRDude blog will rise in the rankings. Maybe.

No, I began blogging to chronicle the challenges faced with continuing my career in public relations in the midst of the Great Recession, then added “other stuff” topics to keep things interesting.

Early posts were somewhat cathartic.

So, when I learned a recent post/travelogue generated a whopping (for me) 439 visits plus 68 visits to accompanying images over the past three days, I had to ask: “What was so compelling and fascinating about this post?”

The one in question was published July 23 and featured thoughts and images — all taken by yours truly — from a four-day vacation to communities in east-central Wisconsin.

The “what I learned in small town Wisconsin” commentary was promoted via my social media channels, and I also sent a link to the Heidel House Resort and town of Green Lake chamber of commerce.  But that was more than three weeks ago.

In light of the rioting that plagued Milwaukee a few days ago, I’d like to think that the July 23 post may have been cathartic to some readers, be they from Wisconsin or elsewhere.

And, for those who might want to read more thoughts from The PRDude — or find some solace — there are 309 other posts to read.

Rest assured non qualifies as “Gawker material.”

What I Learned On Our Summer Vacation to Some Small Wisconsin Towns

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The distance was only 180 miles, but it truly was a world away from Chicago.

What? Where?

I’m referring to the four-day summer sojourn — all right “vacation” — Susan and I took earlier this week to get away from it all. Our base camp was the Heidel House Resort and Spa in Green Lake, Wisconsin, a wonderful venue with lots of lake frontage, walking paths, trees and quiet.

The outdoor pool was pretty cool, too.

But what was just as enjoyable was visits to other small towns nearby.  Our daily jaunts took use to Berlin, Princeton and Ripon — the birthplace of the Republican Party, quite coincidental since the Republican National Committee held its gathering in Cleveland earlier this week.

In fact, we learned a lot about small towns and the people who live and work there, as evidenced by the images below.

 

Wis 10

In this era of $6 craft beers made from exotic fruits, bars in small towns still serve beers made with water, yeast and hops. And, I’ll bet a PBR at Buckhorn’s will be less than six bucks.

Wis 9

A rainstorm doesn’t cause nearly the havoc in a small town than it does in a city. Plus, it’s kind of cool to enjoy the summer rain while on a street like this one.

Wis 8

Summer concerts in a small town park along a lake hold something special. Perhaps it’s in the water. Perhaps it’s the people. Perhaps it’s the fact it’s summer.

Wis 7

Looking at water on a summer day in a small town is enjoyable and relaxing. Adding beer to the equation makes it all that much better.

Wis 6

Small buildings can hold big potential in a small town. Just add the right tenant and some striking exterior paint. A new home for someone to make and sell art.

Wis 5

A river runs though many small towns. This one is still relatively unspoiled by development.

Wis 4

People in small towns can be genuine. Four ladies we met in this little park offered to pray for us, plus they offered bottled water on a warm day.

Wis 3

Think people in the big city have a monopoly on creativity? Just look at what’s offered by this small town merchant.

Wis 2

Parking is free in small towns — and there’s lots of it! Drivers leave their keys in the ignition without fear of theft.

Wis 1

And, fittingly, sunsets over lakes in small towns in mid July are magical. We found serenity in taking part in this daily natural wonder.

 

*  *  *

Regular followers know that the PRDude frequently heads north to take in the wonders and splendor of Wisconsin. Here are some past posts:

 

 

 

 

My New Favorite Wisconsin Town: Port, Washington, That Is

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Rest assure, kind readers, that after this post — my latest in the 2015 “summer travelogue” series — I’ll get back to commenting on topics that are fully ensconced in the public relations arena.

Promise.

But had to share thoughts and images from my visit earlier this week to what I’ll christen my new favorite Wisconsin town: Port Washington, or Port as the locals call it. So what about this former commercial fishing village 25 miles north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan commanded my attention? Lots of stuff, as reflected in the photos below.

But a few other random thoughts:

1. This Town Has Hills. In fact, there are seven hills in Port. The geography made for interesting (and at times, challenging) walking tours around town to visit places like the old light house and the St. Mary’s Church campus.  But the good people of Port installed a convenient public stairway network to facilitate pedestrian travel and exploration.

2. Really Nice People. Really. From the lady at the Chocolate Chisel ice cream shop to the staff at ZuZu Pedals where I rented a bike for a few hours to the young guy at Smith Brothers Coffee Shop who brought me my delicious salmon wrap for lunch, everyone I met were genuine and welcoming. The people of Port demonstrated small town friendliness at its best.

3. Preserving the Past Well.  As noted by some images below, Port has kept its architectural and maritime heritage intact. Yes, there are many modern buildings, and there’s even a big power plant along the waterfront, but they blended well into the streetscape.  (Okay, the power plant is a bit imposing, but it has four towers, so I called it the “Titanic.”) Learn more by visiting the Historical Society website.

4. Yes, There’s a Harbor and Lots of Water. Well, it wouldn’t be called “Port” Washington without, well, a port. And the town has one, although now it’s a bustling marina with lots of charter fishing boats, pleasure power boats and sailboats.  Strolling along the marina is a great way to relax and watch water, birds and of course, boats. Lots of people fish off the break walls.

The view of Franklin Street from my room at the Holiday Inn Harborside.

The view of Franklin Street looking north from my room at the Holiday Inn Harborside. The steeple of St. Mary’s Church can be seen from most places in town.

As noted, they like to preserve history in Port, including this cool old light house.

As noted, they like to preserve history in Port, including this cool old light house. It’s also a museum.

What a way to spend a summer Sunday evening: At a church-sponsored chicken dinner at the Veteran's Memorial Park.

What a way to spend a summer Sunday evening: At a church-sponsored chicken dinner at the Veteran’s Memorial Park. The band even played “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

The town is built among hills, kind of like Rome, I've heard. Public stairs help you reach the top.

The town is built among hills, kind of like Rome, I’ve heard. Public stairs, many adjacent to private homes, help you reach the top, where there are great views of the Lake and more.

The view from Upper Lake Park. Try to match that anywhere in the Midwest.

Looking north from Upper Lake Park just above the beach. Try to match this view anywhere in the Midwest. Try to match it anywhere there’s a large body of water.

The Ozaukee County Courthouse is under renovation.

The awesome Ozaukee County Courthouse is under renovation. The stone masons working on the project were serious guys who spoke Italian.

Yes, there is an awesome harbor in Port Washington. Looking west with St. Mary's in the distance.

Yes, there is a working harbor and marina in Port Washington. Looking west with St. Mary’s in the distance.

A great way to get the blood pressure down: Watch the daylight fade from the marina.

A great way to get the blood pressure down: Watching daylight fade from the marina. Ahhhh!

A final thought: Each work day I board a rapid transit train to get to and from work. At rush hour, the cars often are at capacity of around 80 people. Spending a few days in an unhurried place like Port Washington proved the perfect antidote for the complexities of modern urban living.

Want to revisit my past sojourners to the Dairy State?

Okay. My next post will tackle a public relations topic. Promise, but hope you enjoyed this travelogue. The end.

 

 

The Yerkes Observatory: A Celestial Travelogue at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Little did I know that our tour of the historic Yerkes Observatory along the shores of Lake Geneva, the resort community 90 or so miles north of Chicago, would hit home personally in these two ways:

1. The Observatory was funded by a guy — Charles Yerkes — who made his second fortune in Chicago.

2. Mr. Yerkes, who lived quite the colorful life, was a pioneer in the development of Chicago’s rapid transit rail network.

Loyal followers know that I am a real Chicago guy, and currently I use my public relations and communications skills to support research completed by a transportation research unit at a leading university here. So, it was quite fascinating to learn more about the Observatory, its benefactor and link to Chicago and Chicago transit.

You can learn more about Yerkes from their website. But below are images taken Saturday while Susan and I joined some 40 others in a tour of this fascinating facility, part of the University of Chicago.

Welcome to Yerkes.

Welcome to Yerkes! You can quickly ascertain that the architect was not a minimalist when it came to style and symbolism.

Yes, they have smaller telescopes here, too.

Yes, they have smaller telescopes here, too.

Susan touring the small museum.

Susan touring the small museum, which includes art, artifacts and insight on the lives of the astronomers and their families.

A view of the the Observatory from grounds behind the main entrance.

A view of the the Observatory from grounds behind the main entrance. Yerkes opened in 1897.

Our outstanding guide (man in blue sweatshirt) was passionate and the proverbial fountain of knowledge.

Our outstanding guide (man in blue sweatshirt) was passionate and the proverbial fountain of knowledge on Yerkes — the man and the Observatory.

That's one pretty big telescope, for sure. And, it still works.

That’s one big telescope, for sure. And, it still works!

If you look really close, you'll see the Yerkes Observatory dome across the still frozen Geneva Lake.

If you look really close, you’ll see the Yerkes Observatory dome across the still frozen Geneva Lake in the town of Williams Bay.

Some final personal thoughts: They don’t build ’em like this anymore, and more people should visit this great place, because there’s much more to the Lake Geneva area than water and resorts.

Why I Love Wisconsin in Winter

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka the PRDude)

The tourism board for our neighbors to the north had a slogan that really resonated with me, especially this time of year, with the madness of holiday cheer and crass commercialism at its zenith.  It beckoned me to “Escape to Wisconsin.”

So that’s what I did this weekend:  Packed up the Camry, drove north and spent two nights just over the border from Illinois, but worlds away from a mindset perspective.  Besides, I had vacation days to use up and didn’t want to just hang around the house.

Wisconsin has been in the national spotlight lately with the efforts underway to recall Gov. Scott Walker, and the Governor’s push to reduce the power of unions.  The PRDude addressed the latter in this February post.  But despite its new-found national prominence, Wisconsin remains for me a pretty cool place to visit, especially with the crowds gone, the roads empty and the air fresh and crisp.

My Wisconsin sojourn is illustrated by the images that follow.  But let me share a few thoughts about the Dairy State:

Me and Wisconsin.  We go back a long way. To the beginning, in fact. Family legend has it this way: My late uncle Eddie (who I’m named after) and aunt Helen (a truly wonderful person) ran a small resort on Silver Lake, a quiet little town an hour-plus from Chicago. My older brothers would spend parts of the summer at the resort, Happy Bill’s it was called, when my parents announced they were bringing up a surprise.  They thought it would  be a new bicycle. It was me.

Wisconsin Bars.  The center of any small Wisconsin town is the local tavern. Or, make that taverns.  There must be some kind of law that requires a specific number of bars per hundred or so persons.  The good ones have not jumped on the microbrew bandwagon just yet, and brands like Old Style and that western transplant Coors are all you can get.  There’s usually a few musky, walleye or Northern pike on the walls, a 10-point buck above the door and lots of knotty pine.  I stopped at one in New Munster for an Old Style.  I felt at ease.  The Packer game was on TV, but they were losing.  But there was conversation, and the patrons made this F.I.B (expletive Illinois Bastard) feel welcomed.

The Natural State.  My home state has some nice lakes, rivers, streams, woods and prairies.  But there’s something more “exotic” about the natural stuff in Wisconsin.  I spent time hiking along the Fox River and ended the day watching the sun set over Geneva Lake, a clear, deep lake that’s home to members of the Wrigley family, other billionaires, millionaires and even some common folk. They all can take in the same natural splendor that I remember from decades ago.  Things change in Wisconsin, but a lot of what nature provides stays the same.

Now, on to the show:

Horses in the barn of my friends Tom and Mary Jane at their home in Union Grove.

My friend Tom in the driveway of his home.

"There is beauty in the sliver, singing river..." Bob Dylan.

St. Alphonses Catholic Church in New Munster, Wisconsin.

The corner of Main Street and Wrigley Drive in downtown Lake Geneva.

One of the grand homes overlooking Geneva Lake.

This view was taken along the hiking trail that rims Geneva Lake.

All dressed up for the holidays was this former mansion, now a hotel and restaurant.

Do you have any “Wisconsin memories” to share?  Have you “escaped” someplace this holiday season? Let’s start a dialogue.