Longtime editor at Prairie du Chien Courier Press to retire

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Hawk catching and banding was one of my favorite and most interesting activities that I covered for the Courier Press. This is a photo from last year.

By Ted Pennekamp

 

When I began I never thought this day would come, but Father Time is relentless, and he has dictated that it’s now time to hang it up. I have been thinking about retirement for more than a year, and now I can have more opportunities to enjoy doing the things I want while I’m still healthy enough.

It’s been an interesting experience for more than 22 years in Prairie du Chien and about 33 years overall in the newspaper business, including three weeklies and two dailies.

There have been many changes at the Courier Press over the past 22 years, including new ownership and going from two newspapers a week to one. 

There should be some exciting times in the future for the Courier Press. One change on the horizon will be the use of QR codes which will make the hard copy of the newspaper more interactive with readers. Many years ago, I took several photos of the people of Prairie du Chien coming together to help each other saw trees and limbs in order to remove them from their yards after a severe wind storm had knocked them down. I also made a video.  A QR code was placed in the corner of one of the photos, and when scanned with a cell phone, people could view a brief video of the aftermath of the storm. The video was a hit. Management has seen the potential for QR codes once again, and so they are expected to be used in the newspaper in a variety of ways in the near future. 

There are many people I would like to recognize for helping me to do my job better over the years. 

I would like to thank the great staff at the Courier Press who have helped me in an effort to give our readers the news they want and need and to help promote all that the community, the county and surrounding area have to offer. It’s always a team effort. 

I also greatly appreciate the administration and staff of the Prairie du Chien, Wauzeka-Steuben, River Ridge and Seneca school districts for their help over the years, as well as the help provided by the personnel of the city of Prairie du Chien, county departments and employees, township personnel and the many people who work for all of the municipalities of Crawford County and parts of neighboring counties.

The Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Council, Driftless Development, the Main Street program (in its many forms), the Historical Society, the Wisconsin and Iowa DNRs, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and many other organizations, businesses and individuals helped greatly as well so we could put out a newspaper for and about the people who populate this exceptional area.

While writing about and photographing hard news, soft news, features, and sports, I’ve had the opportunity to do some interesting and fun activities. Sometimes I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid to do some of these things. Along the way, I’ve met plenty of interesting characters and made a few lifelong friends.

During my time in the newspaper business, I got paid to go skydiving, hot air ballooning, and attend sporting events such as NBA basketball games and PGA Tour golf tournaments, including the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2010. The course was beautiful and the clubhouse with its free vittles and beverages was excellent as well.  You also get a different perspective watching and hearing an NBA basketball game while seated on the floor under the basket.

One of my favorite activities while working for the Courier Press involved raptor research projects and hawk banding. The great outdoors can’t be beat. Jon (Hawkman) Stravers allowed me to catch a couple of hawks several years ago. I’ve also taken numerous photos of eagles, hawks, owls, deer and other wildlife in their natural habitat over the years.

By far my most fun edition of the Courier Press was our “April Fools” edition of April 1, 2009 which included many tall tales of all types of fabulous things going on in Prairie du Chien. It was undoubtedly one of the biggest selling editions the newspaper has ever had, with many people coming in to buy extra copies.

One of our readers said she will never go inner tubing and put her butt in the river again, what with massive 10-foot-long alligator gar lurking and looking up for a big bite of flesh. 

Some parents from Lancaster expressed concern that the 6-7, 375-pound Bonk, a 17-year-old transfer student from Bulgaria who had 2 percent body fat, was going to injure their players. They thought it might be best for Lancaster to forfeit. 

I can’t remember the exact dimensions I gave Bonk or his massive sister who was a shot putter, but you get the idea. The photos of the gar, Bonk and his sister provided the icing on the cake.

Some people told Jon Kaber of Kaber’s Supper Club that he is the luckiest golfer ever, and that his three holes-in-one in one round don’t count because he didn’t finish the round. Others said they believed the story up until the part towards the end when Jon bought a round of drinks for everyone at Prairie du Chien Country Club. By the way, Jon got a hole-in-one this season, the fifth of his career, true story. Besides, as all of the denizens of the Corner of Knowledge at the Sawmill Saloon know all too well, Jon always wins.

I felt somewhat sorry for the reporter from the Telegraph Herald who got tasked with calling the Courier Press to do an article about the 500-pound alligator gar that commercial fisherman Mike Valley caught. I had to tell him that the story was an April Fools story and was not true. I could hear the wind go out of his sails. He ended up writing an article for the Herald detailing the April Fools edition the Courier Press had just published.     

Among the other activities I enjoyed during my time with the Courier Press was photographing President George W. Bush in 2004 and Vice President Al Gore in 2000 when they each made presidential election campaign stops in Prairie du Chien. I found it interesting how the Secret Service personnel conducted themselves. There were several positioned in the hollowed out former Dousman House Hotel when Gore spoke in Lawler Park. 

It was also fun interviewing NFL Hall of Famers Jerry Kramer (at a special event at the Barn Restaurant) and Dave Robinson who was at the Crawford County Fair. 

Presidents, vice presidents and professional athletes aside, however, I prefer to mingle with regular folks and locally “famous” people. Two locally famous people I had the pleasure to interview and write about on numerous occasions were Olympians Matt Antoine and Joe Delagrave, both of whom couldn’t be any nicer. Prairie du Chien produces class acts. Another locally famous person I’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from is wildlife filmmaker Neil Rettig, who has garnered numerous accolades including Academy and Emmy awards. Of course, it was always exciting to take photos of and write about the numerous state tournament teams and individual participants and champions from area high schools over the years. 

I will also miss characters such as Smokey Mezera, who came to the front of the Courier Press once or twice a summer with his mess o’ catfish and sheepshead and full of animated, wide-eyed, childlike enthusiasm while telling of his fish catching adventures. As we all now know, there’s nothing like the red wigglers at Stark’s Sport Shop.

It’s sad that a lot of people tend to lose their childlike enthusiasm and sense of wonder as it gets crowded out by the serious aspects of life such as jobs, finances and other pressures. Sometimes you just need to get out, let go and have a blast.

So, as an obscure songwriter and Dr. Sidney Freedman both said, “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

So, with that sentiment in mind, come Nov. 4, it’s time for me at age 65 to end my career at the Courier Press and begin the next phase. 

The adventure begins.

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