In case you weren’t aware, Eau Claire has a connection with one of the (mighty) finest songwriters of our time. Will Jennings – nomination-getter and winner of multiple Grammies, Academy Awards, and Golden Globes – may have only taught at UW-Eau Claire for three years, but hey, he’s still one of our own, right? Working with popular artists like Barry Manilow, Whitney Houston, Jimmy Buffet, B.B. King, Mariah Carey, Steve Winwood, and Eric Clapton, Jennings left his musical fingerprints all over the music and film scenes of the '80s and '90s. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re probably familiar with some of his hits like, “Higher love,” “Tears in Heaven,” and a little Celine Dion ditty called “My Heart will Go On." In fact, there’re so many hits, one could almost write a love poem* entirely from his lyrics. So I did. Keep reading to swoon ...
If you’re among the many of us who dread lengthy drives, it’s time to add a little pizazz to your traveling routine. Wisconsin Public Radio’s recent post tells the story of Jeff Kunkle, co-founder of the Vintage Roadside Project, and boy does he know how to make the most out of a car ride.
Kunkle found his calling when he and his wife took a road trip through central New York eight years ago. The pair noticed that many former roadside attractions – kitschy museums and tourist traps, diners and drive-ins, motor courts and motels, and more – had closed, and local community members didn’t know the history behind the sites. Kunkle and his wife were struck with curiosity and a desire to preserve these American classics, and thus, Vintage Roadside was born.
Kunkle said that his work includes tracking down memorabilia from attractions (usually mom-n-pop style businesses) that have closed, and he has even met a number of the sites’ former owners. While the height of roadside attractions in America was the 1930s, there are still many around today, and we even have one or two in our own backyard.
The Kunkles strongly urge everyone who is able to get out and immerse themselves in the widely unknown culture of roadside attractions. And lucky you, Wisconsin is jam-packed with them. Happy roadside-ing!
There’s always a hearty serving of restaurants to be found in Wisconsin, but don’t hungry Midwesterners deserve more? If you really want to treat yourself, and turn a meal into something more than just an obligatory energy renewal, pull up a chair at one of these unique Wisconsin eateries.
Where: Door County
Claim to Fame: The goats
Not only does this landmark eatery take its Swedish theme seriously, but everyone knows about the goats atop the building. Although the lively roof ornaments are partly responsible for the business’s continued success, it’s probably best this trend didn’t catch on. Website.
Claim to Fame: The animatronics
I like to consider this place the little sister of House on the Rock. Essentially, it’s like they took all the quirky animatronics that didn’t fit there, found a niche-less deli. and bestowed upon them the gift of new life. Website.
P.S. Try not to stare at the dancing feet too long.
Claim to Fame: The taxidermy
Hunting and fishing are fairly popular in Wisconsin, so taxidermy in and of itself doesn’t garner much fascination. But this place really knows how to do it. Cases upon cases are filled with woodland creatures yodeling, boxing, and wearing silly hats. Silly hats! Website.
Claim to Fame: The rocks
Yes, rocks aren’t that interesting. At least, not until you put googly eyes on them. Banking on this (rock solid) truth, the walls and floor of this small café are filled with all those art projects no one really wanted. Website.
Claim to Fame: The organs (and not the vital kind)
What could possibly go better with thin crust pizza than organ music? Instead of the usual cover bands or jukebox, the owners have been providing top notch organists for their guests’ entertainment since the '70s. Website.
Keep reading for 2 bonus eateries!
Past winners have come from all over the state, including Menomonie, Hudson, and Rice Lake, but not Eau Claire or Chippewa Falls (hint hint).
There’s growing recognition in the Chippewa Valley and elsewhere that the arts can be key to invigorating our communities. Now in their sixth year, the Arts in the Community Awards were created to recognize elected officials and other local leaders around Wisconsin “who champion innovative arts, arts education and/or creative economy programs, projects and opportunities in their communities.” The awards, presented by Arts Wisconsin and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, are given annually to two individuals, one from a community larger than 20,000, one from a community smaller than 20,000. Past winners have come from all over the state, including Menomonie, Hudson, and Rice Lake, but not Eau Claire or Chippewa Falls (hint hint). According to Arts Wisconsin, “Nominees and their model programs or projects should demonstrate leadership through creative approaches to integrating the arts with civic strategies and have broad and diverse community support.” If this sounds like someone you know, the deadline is fast approaching: Nominations are due via email by 5pm Wednesday, Aug. 13. To learn more, visit www.artswisconsin.org or contact Anne Katz, executive director of Arts Wisconsin, at (608) 255-8316 or email@example.com.
Creating the “world’s largest” of something may seem a daunting task, but that didn’t deter these Wisconsinites. From beer to logs, our state can boast the largest ever known! Or at least, no one has claimed otherwise!
La Crosse - Composed of six storage tanks for City Brewery (owned by the city of La Crosse), these cans not only have the look but are actually filled with beer. People who are faithful to this landmark will tell you that the new vinyl coverings are nothing compared to the original paint job. But hey, a ridiculously huge six pack is a ridiculously huge six pack, folks.
Birnamwood - Where better to have the world’s largest badger than in the Badger State? Grinning merrily with his clawed hands in the air, this badger was once atop a gas station, but after changing hands, now sits in front of a ... gentlemen’s club.
Glidden - Weighing around 3.5 tons (or 7000 pounds), this is a log worthy of its own shelter. Cut by local lumbermen, the tree itself was estimated to be between 450-500 years old. You know what else was happening back then? History.
Woodruff - In homage to a penny drive for a local hospital, the world’s largest penny was erected and has been a photo op ever since. It isn’t the most faithful rendition: it’s not made of copper, there’s nothing on the back and to be honest ... the front isn’t all that and a bag of chips either.
Sparta -If you’re in the area, you’ve got to ask about Ben Bikin. He’s a jolly fellow who likes to ride ol' timey bikes, and tell you about Sparta. Worried you might miss him? You can’t. He’s a 32 foot tall sculpture fixed to a speaker box.
Monico - Now this “world’s largest” took some serious skill, time and determination. A humble Wisconsin man took it upon himself to design and build his own planetarium in his backyard. Still not all that impressed? He painted 5,000 stars in their precise location and with their specified luminosity. Good job Frank Kovac.
Woo! From The Leader-Telegram (7-24-14): "The sculpture, titled “All in the Same Boat,” was recovered shortly after noon today [July 24] in downtown Eau Claire. ... The sculpture was found undamaged. It is being stored at the Eau Claire Community Foundation until it can be re-installed."
From the Eau Claire Police Dept. (7-24-14): "On Thursday, July 24, 2014, the Eau Claire Police Department received information from a community member as to the whereabouts of the stolen sculpture. Eau Claire Police Department Detectives responded to this location and recovered the sculpture. The sculpture appeared undamaged and was returned to the Eau Claire Community Foundation. ... This theft is still under investigation and the Eau Claire Police Department Detective Division is following up on additional leads. No arrests have been made at this time. ... Anyone with further information regarding the theft is asked to contact Detective Kyle Jentzsch at 715-839-6020."
Unfortunately, another sculpture has been stolen from Sculpture Tour Eau Claire. The $11,000 sculpture taken in May of 2013 (from its pedestal in front of Stella Blues on Madison Street) is yet to be recovered. A $1500 reward is offered for information leading to the return of this latest sculpture – entitled All in the Same Boat, shown above. Check out the press release below, sent out Wednesday by the Eau Claire Community Foundation ...
Check out this cool video about Riverwest 24 – a bike race that's so much more than a bike race. Held annually in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood, the race sends competitors through an urban course, challenging riders to complete as many laps as they can within a 24 hour period. There are awards in a number of different categories including solo, tandem, and team. The route a rider takes is up to them, as long as they hit a set of checkpoints on each lap, much like traditional "alley cat" urban bike races such as the Chippewa Valley's own Valley Cat.
Things get interesting on the Riverwest 24 course at "bonus checkpoints" placed throughout the course. Every year organizers design a set of surprise checkpoints where riders can add laps to their scores by completing odd challenges, such as sloshing down a Slip & Slide, receiving an embarrassing haircut, or getting a (real) tattoo.
Competitors end up riding past groups of cheering spectators, live bands, and even through block parties, as the race has evolved into a kind of neighborhood festival. So it transcends the idea of a bike race and reaches into the realm of community building. As the event's website states ...
The RW24 was born through community block watches throughout Riverwest. It is a way for our neighborhood to welcome new people, strengthen relationships within the community (and beyond), and show everyone why Riverwest is amazing. From riders to volunteers, organizers to community sponsors, everyone brings a different talent and interest to the table. There is no way a few people talking about a bike race in their back yards could have come up with something like this. A whole neighborhood made this.
This year's Riverwest 24 – its 7th installment – begins on Friday, July 25. Check out the website for more details.