WalCoSunday2016   StatelineNewsLogo2017   MessengerLogo2016


Wednesday, 28 December 2016 09:21

Enduring memories: Holiday in their homeland

We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:

Snow at Christmas was a novelty for Razel Germain when she came to the United States in 2009 from her home in the Philippines — where Christmas Day temperatures average around 80 degrees. Last year, Razel became a U.S. citizen through the Immigration Legal Service Ministry at Faith Community Church in Janesville, where she lives with her husband, Dave, a Filipino-American. While the Germains have made their home here, they both fondly remember Christmas in their native land:

Razel: “I grew up in the islands, the seventh of eight children in a big family. When I was growing up, my parents could not afford to buy all the (expensive) foods Dave’s family had, but on our table, we had foods like fruit, boiled eggs, spaghetti, rice. It was simple, but as long as we were together in the family, that was good.

“People make lanterns — that’s a big thing in Philippines. That’s how you feel the spirit of Christmas.

“And everyone from adults to small kids goes from house to house caroling, bringing some instrument like a guitar or even a spoon to bang against something — any instrument they can use while they are caroling. When I was a kid, I went caroling to make money and it was fun.”

Dave: “When I was growing up in the Philippines, we lived in a compound with five to seven houses in it and a lot of close relatives. Usually on midnight on Christmas Eve, everybody — probably around 15 to 20 people — would get together for good food. My favorite was a round cheddar cheese called quezo de bola.

“You miss that big family gathering on Christmas Eve. You can really feel the spirit of Christmas in your home.

“I remember from Dec. 15 to the 24th, there were usually groups of kids who caroled in front of your house. We gave them change or candy.

“Church services started the morning of Dec. 16 and there would be a Mass every day up to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Lots of people go to church. That’s a big tradition in the Philippines.

“And shortly before Christmas there were always fireworks lighting up the sky and lasting to New Year’s Eve.”

We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:  

A special part of Christmas for Jessica Pauline Schmitz, an interpretation and experience coordinator at Old World Wisconsin, the living history museum near Eagle, is a recipe that connects her to generations of family:

“One of my favorite Christmas holiday memories is the gathering that my grandmother held every year as a way to spend time as a family and pass on our family’s ethnic traditions. She would have everyone gather at her house and make us hundreds of aebleskivers — a Danish fluffy pancake ball — and kielbasa. While these two dishes are usually not traditionally served together, they represented parts of our family’s heritage. It was an occasion to indulge in delicious treats as well.

“The recipe my grandmother used was passed down from her mother and has been passed down through the women in my grandmother’s family for generations. The aebleskiver recipes are generally the same, but each family has their particular version and way of making them. It requires a specific pan that looks like a solid frying pan, with small wells in it, to fill with batter.

“My grandmother taught me how to watch the edges until they were just right and to quickly flip them using her special fork, so the batter didn’t splatter everywhere.

“My grandma has since moved out of her house and in with my parents, but it is a tradition we still try to do every year. Now I am allowed to flip the aebleskivers on my own, and my grandma has even bought me a pan of my own. I am so thankful to my grandmother for passing on the things her mother taught her, and our family’s cooking heritage, to me.”

We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:

Tricia Alexander, a Lake Geneva resident, award-winning musician and the music ministry creative manager and administrator at the Unity Spiritual Center of Woodstock, Illinois, can still recall a Christmas decades ago when she learned about the power of faith, compassion and love:

“I was just a girl in love with a boy. 

“Across America then, because of the draft and the war in Vietnam, for many of our young men, it was a time of difficult decisions: to serve the military or go to Canada.

“Tommy was among the conscientious objectors, but he found a way to stay that felt good to his heart. He served in the Coast Guard. His training was the first time ever that we were apart, so you can understand how excited we were when he found out that he would be off for a few days at Christmas. We started planning my trip immediately.

“I was 20 when I traveled to meet him — to Carolina, I think. Even though it was my first flight and my first time traveling alone, I felt no fear, no anxiety — only incredible happiness knowing within a few hours, I would see him again. Then while I was in flight, he got new orders that would keep him on the base for Christmas.

“There were no cellphones in those days. I found out when my flight landed and there was a note waiting for me saying that he couldn’t leave the base. I was to take a taxi to the motel and he would call me as soon as he knew what was happening. 

“So I waited in a strange motel room out in the middle of the empty countryside, feeling very sad and lonely. It was after midnight when he called to say that he might be able to come late in the day on Christmas, but only for a few hours.

“When I got off the phone with him, I decided I needed to make Christmas right there for Tommy and me.

“It started simply with a pillow case covering the little table in my room. I unpacked and set out the gifts I brought for him, all wrapped, beribboned and ready to be opened. It was beginning to look a little bit like Christmas in my room.

“The next morning, as I walked outside to the restaurant next door to the motel, I noticed lots of very little pine tree-like plants growing in the area. I decided that after breakfast, I would go Christmas tree hunting.

“It was between breakfast and lunch and was pretty quiet in the restaurant. I got into a conversation with the waitress, explaining what happened and how I decided to make Christmas for Tommy and me, even if we only had a few hours together.

“The restaurant owner, the chef and the waitress all opened their hearts —and their cupboards — to me. They loaned me red cloth napkins, a white tablecloth, lots of aluminum foil to make ornaments, scissors, a couple of candles, an empty wine bottle and two wine glasses. 

“The chef came out of the kitchen with a basket of dinner rolls, butter, jam, cheese, all wrapped up for safe keeping, along with a couple of little plates with some silverware. 

“I was able to pull one tiny pine tree out of the ground — roots and all.  Once the empty wine bottle was washed out and had a red cloth napkin swirled around it, it made the perfect stand for a beautiful little Christmas tree.

“Tommy called while I was making the ornaments to let me know that starting at midnight, he would have a 24-hour break. We would be able to spend Christmas together after all!

“As I hung up the phone, a prayer of gratitude rose out of my heart. I looked around that motel room with tears in my eyes.  Everywhere there were touches of Christmas: a little decorated tree, candles, gifts, even food. Thanks to a handful of kind and compassionate strangers, Tommy and I were going to have a wonderful home-away-from-home Christmas. 

“Tommy and I had many Christmases together, but none are as memorable or as dear to my heart as that one.”

After a number of years, their lives amicably went on different paths, Alexander said.

“In the years that followed, I pursued a career in the arts and spent about 35 years on the road. Everywhere I went across America, Canada, Scotland, England, Wales, India, I found people eager to help, to learn about me and to invite me into their homes.

“Almost 50 years later, my heart is still full with gratitude for the waitress, chef, restaurant owner and motel clerk who made me ready to welcome all the people and experiences that followed.”

We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:

Sheri Disrud, the volunteer coordinator at Beckman Mill in Beloit, has a box full of Christmas past in the form of ornaments her now adult children crafted when they were young:

“I had four children, and while they were growing up, my husband at that time was in retail and he was at the store all the time.

“I had to make Christmas with my little kids and we had fun doing it. One day we would make cookies — you know, the decorated cutout cookies, and we’d have a big mess in the kitchen. Another time, I’d get out scraps of paper, glue, glitter and pipe cleaners. I’d tell the kids they had to make me an ornament for the tree. One of them made a Christmas tree as an ornament and decorated it with candy-type things. Another made Christmas tree light bulb ornaments. One year they even made a snowman, gluing on cotton balls to make it fluffy and gluing buttons on.

“They were young — 3, 4 years old — and they made some cute ornaments that are very special to me. My oldest child is now 54.

“I lost a bunch of those ornaments, but this year I found a box of 15 of them. I was so excited. It was so much fun to remember those times.”

Friday, 23 December 2016 10:18

Enduring memories: Through a child's eyes

We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:

Christmas through a child’s eyes

For Nancy Russell, a longtime Walworth County Board supervisor and Lake Geneva resident, a Christmastime tradition growing up in Chicago was peering in the fantasy-filled windows of big downtown department stores decorated for the holidays:

I’ve lived in Walworth County for over 40 years, but I was born and raised in Chicago.

“When my sister and I were very young, my mother would take us on the bus, elevated train and subway ‘downtown’ to walk up and down State Street and view the Christmas windows in every store. There were a lot of great stores then: Carson Pirie Scott, the Boston Store, the Fair Store, Goldblatt’s, Sears and the biggest and best of all, Marshall Fields. Usually there was a theme or story that the big stores carried out through each of their windows, and it was different every year. We’d watch children, elves, animals, snowmen, trees and clocks moving separately and within the exhibit. Then we’d decide which windows we liked the best or if last year’s were better.

“Most of all, we looked forward to seeing Santa Claus at Marshall Fields, because I believed he was the real Santa and all the other store Santas were his helpers. He was beautiful in a dark red velvet suit, sitting on a raised platform, everything decorated as only Fields did.”

This week, holiday packages are going out to 157 people whose lives could use a little brightening, thanks to an area program called Christmas for the Kids.

Something for the Kids began in 2006 as a program to provide clothing and other needed items to children being taken into foster care by the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services, according to volunteer Susan Bell.  It quickly evolved into including all families receiving services from DHHS and those in need.

The program is housed at St John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church, 13 S. Church St. in Elkhorn, where it has gradually taken up the church basement.  New and gently used clothing, infant supplies, and household items, toys, books, toiletries and more are collected throughout the year, and distributed to families in need. Matheson Memorial Library/community center participates by collecting items in bins right inside the door to make it easy for people to donate.

In its second year, Something for the Kids added Christmas for the Kids. From six families in 2007, it has grown to 40 families in 2015. Each person in each family receives at least one large bag of new gifts as well as used clothing, shoes, books and more.  Families also receive food boxes and gift cards for food or gas.  

In 2015, 161 people were helped. This year Bell said 37 families were helped, though the number grows.

“We actually got three emergency cases (Dec. 13),” she said.

Bell said program volunteers are from every walk of life and participate by “adopting” people, donating items throughout the year, wrapping packages, shopping and giving cash donations—even tins of homemade cookies “from bakers all over town,” Bell said. In Elkhorn, even organizations have joined in the effort: the Reindeer Run and 4-H do food drives.

Real Estate agents and staff at Keefe Real Estate--which has offices in Elkhorn, Lake Geneva and Burlington--have been donating gifts to area foster children for over two decades.

“About 25 years ago, when I was the managing broker at Keefe and my daughter, Charlotte, was in junior high school, she had a friend who went into foster care," said Lael Vandenburgh, a broker who has worked at Keefe for almost 30 years. "He seemed to be having a positive experience, and yet I wondered what would happen at Christmas. Would he receive gifts from his foster family? I really had no idea how the system worked, but he was a nice boy and so I contacted the head of Walworth County Foster Care.”

Lael discovered the children in the foster care program did not receive Christmas gifts at that time. While some foster families could afford to be generous with their kids, others didn't have the resources.

“It broke my heart,” says Lael. She said that was when she asked the Keefe agents if they would like to play Santa and make the holidays special for foster kids in the community.

This year Keefe employees bought gifts for 47 foster kids.

Employees from Department of Health and Human Services pick up and deliver all of the packages before Christmas and even stay to tidy up, Bell said. “Many volunteers consider their participation in this event as the best way to put them in the Christmas  spirit,” she added.

People start purchasing items during the January sales and bring them all year. Items can also be dropped at the bin in the library starting again in January.

For more information on the program, please contact Mary Koss at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Sue Bell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit Bells Under Glass. 

Friday, 09 December 2016 09:44

Chapel on the Hill offers Living Nativity

The Christian Arts Centre of Chapel on the Hill presents its fourth annual Living Nativity, the story of the birth of Jesus presented through music and narration.

This year's Nativity features a live, outdoor, contemplative scene with caroling, followed by a concert in the Christian Arts Centre. Shows are at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, and Saturday, Dec. 10, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11.

 Tickets are available at 262-245-9122 or at

 The Christian Arts Centre is located at N2440 Ara Glen Road in Lake Geneva.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016 12:01

Photo Gallery: Getting Ready for the Holidays

GETTING Ready for the holidays
Resorts pull out all the stops to create a festive season for visitors

LAKE GENEVA — The holiday season gives visitors an extra reason to spend some time in Walworth County.
Even though the beaches are closed and the water is frigid, resorts go out of their way to put out a festive welcome mat for holiday tourists.
Staff photographer Terry Mayer caught up with several work crews as they brought out the Christmas decorations.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 15:54

Here's to the holidays

ELKHORN — You’ll barely finish your Thanksgiving leftovers before it’s time to dig into Christmas activities in area communities.

Here are few places where you can enjoy the lights and sights of the season.

Elkhorn's 34th Annual Christmas Parade in downtown Elkhorn with special appearance by Santa Clause.

Page 1 of 2



Place An Ad

Placing an ad online is easy, just click here to get started!

Latest Jobs at Walworth County Careers


afcp new

paperchain new