On July 15, 1980, a powerful windstorm hit our area, with the Eau Claire airport registering wind speeds of 112 mph before the measuring device was torn apart. Knocking out power for a week, the storm damaged homes and littered yards and streets with downed trees. While the storm brought people together in neighborhoods across the community to share the hard work of cleaning up trees and fixing damaged homes, it also created the necessity of sharing food from fridges and freezers that would otherwise spoil.
On the 400 block of Lincoln Avenue in the heart of the Third Ward, neighbors ran generators to keep a makeshift kitchen feeding the recovery effort for over a week. The camaraderie inspired a block party called the Storm Party, an evening potluck held annually on July 15 which marked its 34th year this summer. The tradition has lasted a generation, despite the fact that only a few people who were on the block in 1980 still live there. Thankfully some of the block’s newest and youngest residents have hosted the Storm Party in recent years, which by tradition alternates from one side of the street to the other each year. The host simply leaves fliers at each house on the block a few weeks prior to the party and folks show up that evening as if the block had a dinner bell that rang just once a year.
Getting a chance to meet one’s neighbors sometimes requires the discipline of an annual event. The promise of beer and some good stories also helps. One of the many legends told at the Storm Party is that a neighbor on the block worked at the since-defunct Walter’s Brewing Co. and provided neighbors and volunteers on the block with an ample supply of beer from the brewery to help fuel the recovery. Thus, now that Walter’s Beer is being brewed again at Northwoods Brewpub, this summer began what neighbors hope to be an annual tradition at the Storm Party: The brewpub donating Walter’s beer just like old times.