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Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Brillion, WI -- Small City; Big Heart"

It's been three weeks since I got married, and, as you know, I've been away from blogging since then. I've still posted daily updates on my Facebook page, but my blog has sat silent, waiting for my return. Now that I'm back, though, I've settled into my new home, I've unpacked my boxes, and I've set up my office. I'm ready to get back into the business of blogging.

Originally, I thought I'd begin with a simple post about my new city: Brillion, WI. As it just so happens, though, today was actually Brillion's 125th birthday celebration! And there was a day-long city-wide celebration to commemorate the event... filled with historical displays, nostalgic horse and wagon tours, an old car and tractor show, fire engines, a farmer's market, music, fireworks, lots of people, and an eight-foot-long birthday cake! It was a huge event, the whole city turned out, and I joined the fun.

What better way to get back into blogging, than with a huge party, right?!

I've only been here three weeks, and I'm already in love with this place. The 3,000 people that live here are passionate about their past, determined, hard-working, and extraordinarily welcoming. I can't tell you how many times -- since I've moved here -- that people I don't even know, wave or say hi as they pass. It's a wonderful change from the metropolis that is Milwaukee. There, people don't really care on a personal level. They're in their own little worlds. Go here. Go there. Get there, Get out. Get done. I love Milwaukee, don't get me wrong. I miss living there, but Brillion, it just grows on you. It's a welcoming city. It feels like home. And although I've only been here a short time, I already feel like part of the family.

When it comes to history, Brillion began as a settlement back in 1850. But it wasn't until 1885 that the settlement incorporated as a village and held it's first legal census. At that time, 577 people were living here. In April of 1944, a referendum reclassified Brillion as a city, and it's been thriving as such ever since.

A lot has changed in Brillion since 1885, though. A major fire wiped out much of the city in 1896. Many buildings were destroyed. But the city bounced back. On February 19, 1922, a major ice storm coated Brillion in ice. Lots of ice! Hundreds of poles and trees were knocked down, and telephone service was interrupted and not restored for over three months. And in 1993, the local Spring Creek flooded the city, with some roads under 3-4 feet of water. I've seen photos. It was pretty devastating.

But not all the changes were related to disasters. For many years there was a railroad through the city, connecting Manitowoc to the east with Appleton to the west. Brillion is directly in the middle. As a result, as many as thirty trains (and dozens of hobos) came through or stopped in Brillion each day. Over time, the rail line was sold, the company went out of business, and the trains no longer came through the city. Today, the depot is gone, and the rail line has been converted to a well-maintained hiking/biking trail. Large trucks now fill the role of transportation.

From the very beginning, Brillion has always been a manufacturing center -- which is somewhat unusual for a city that does not reside near a river or coastal harbor. But the once thriving rail line between Brillion's two major city neighbors (25 miles in both directions) helped support this factory center. And even with the railroad gone, manufacturing still manages to drive the local economy.

At one time, Brillion had the largest lime kiln in the entire United States. Perhaps even the world. Railroad trains loaded with air slack lime, perfect for making plaster, were shipped all over the country. By 1944, when the product was no longer used, the company closed. Today, the massive lime kiln facility no longer exists.

The year 1933 saw the founding of Ariens, a company with a long history of manufacturing snow blowers, farm machinery, and landscaping tractors. Today the Brillion-based company continues to serve as one of the "big three" international companies driving the local economy.

In 1941, when the United States entered World War II, the local Brillion Iron Works (founded in 1890) helped the war effort by manufacturing bomb tips and cast iron wheels for Oshkosh Trucks, a nearby company who made heavy-duty military vehicles for the US Military. The Brillion foundry and present-day manufacturer of farm implements continues to this day (as one of the "big three"), and produces roughly 145,000 tons of iron castings annually. They are ranked among the top ten independent foundries in the United States.

In 1970, Bob Endries and his wife, Pat, started a fastener distribution business in the basement of their Brillion home. By 1995, the company had changed it's name to Endries International Inc, and expanded into electrical parts, pipes, valves and fittings, fluid connectors, stampings, corrugated products, wire, and clamps. Today, Endries International has branches worldwide, employs over 600 people, and brings in over $200 million dollars each year. It remains as the third of the "big three" companies still operating here in Brillion.

As I further explored the history of my new home city today, I discovered another interesting thing about Brillion... it has (and continues to) provide the US Military with an unusually strong supply of servicemen and women. A veterans memorial standing just outside the city commemorates the service of these individuals. It also memorializes the 15 men who died in combat in WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and The Korean War, as well as the three who died during peacetime... and one man who died during the Civil War.

I stopped at the memorial today, and there looked to be around one hundred names -- each name on a single brick that paved the memorial. For a small city of 3,000 people, that's a long history of service. And to be completely honest, I'm proud to live in a city with such a history. With four siblings in the military, I come from a proud military family too.

And there's one other fascinating thing I discovered about Brillion. This city has had a world-renowned impact upon the design world. Many years back, a stunning collection of over 4,500 rolls, and 1,377 patterns of antique wallpaper dating back to 1850 was discovered and salvaged from a storage building here in Brillion. The papers had never been unrolled, and, as a result, still maintained their original brilliance of color -- unlike most faded specimens in museums. All of the papers were manufactured by American wallpaper companies, deacidified, and encapsulated in Mylar (to preserve the original colors).

Since it's discovery, museums and collections world-wide have taken an interest in this collection of wallpapers. The Cooper-Hewitt Museum -- the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design -- has a sample collection, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England has also purchased a quantity of originals. Additional wallpaper donations have been made to Old World Wisconsin, various collections across the United States, and a few in Canada.

To this day, these rare wallpapers are known as "The Brillion Collection."

Brillion, as I have been learning, is a fascinating little city. It contains unexpected stories down every street, a cultural impact that, in my opinion, rivals that of Milwaukee (although on a much smaller scale), and it has its very own historical society that maintains a significant museum (not typical of a city this size) to exhibit everything.

It's not the small Wisconsin farm town that I expected when I was preparing to move here. No. It's a thriving manufacturing center. A vibrant city of 3,000 people. And, yet, ironically, a sleepy bedroom community providing large classy homes for those who commute to work in Manitowoc, Appleton, and other local outlying areas. It's Milwaukee, only smaller, friendlier, and far quieter.

It's a city, but not a rushing metropolis. It's a small town, but not a grain silo with a few storefronts. It truly is -- as the city's slogan suggests: "Small City, Big Heart".

And for me, Jon Baas -- the latest immigrant -- it's home.

UPDATE:
To learn more about Brillion, check out the Brillion, Wisconsin Facebook page!
facebook.com/BrillionWisconsin

-Jon

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Friday, July 16, 2010

"Jon Baas is Married!"

Yep. I'm married! Kelli and I tied the knot in Tomah, WI this past Saturday (July 10th). It was a beautiful church ceremony (albeit, a little on the warm side), and one shared with 140 of our closest friends and relatives. The reception, dinner, and dance followed at a nearby hotel, and by early Sunday morning, the two of us were in our hotel room, exhausted.

Later on Sunday, we opened a small mountain of wedding gifts at the gift opening, and then hit the road east for Milwaukee. We stayed the night at my apartment, and then on Monday, were joined by the principal and younger pastor from Trinity in Brillion. They helped pack my belongings into a trailer, drove north, and then unloaded everything into Kelli's apartment.

At that moment, I became a resident of small-town Brillion, WI.

A few days have passed now. I'm slowly getting unpacked, settling in, organizing my new office, and becoming acclimated to married life. We haven't planned any sort of Honeymoon. Instead, we'll probably end up doing something special for our first anniversary. What that will be, though, remains uncertain. But we've got a year to figure that out. Right now, we're just enjoying two weeks of vacation -- at home. Kelli doesn't have to be at school, and I don't have any design projects to worry about. Just relaxation and time together... as newlyweds.

I'll blog more as things get settled, but for now... I'm married. Kelli is my wife. And I live in Brillion, WI (near Appleton, Manitowoc, and Green Bay).

A new chapter... has begun.

-Jon

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"Jon and Kelli: How We Met"

[Wedding Countdown: Three days. July 10, 2010.]

Earlier this week, I posted about my marriage proposal to Kelli -- a red ribbon, a happy "Yes!". Today, I thought I'd go back in time even further, and write about how we first met; what brought us together. Boy... meets girl.

Actually, as luck would have it, we both went to college together... at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, WI. I was studying Art and Theatre; she was a transfer student from Martin Luther College (MLC) in New Ulm, MN. Kelli was only in Milwaukee for a year (before returning to MLC); I was in the process of a four-year degree. Both of us had different interests, and rarely came in contact. We knew each other existed, we had some of the same friends, but that was about it.

As it would turn out, one of those mutual friends -- Kim -- would eventually become the wife of one of my roommates. Kim was in Kelli's circle of friends. And she was in mine. She was, quite literally, the reason we met.

Back in college, Kim hung out with her eventual husband and a few other friends of mine who were big into Star Trek/Star Wars role-playing. We'd get together on a Friday night, assume characters in either science fiction universe, and create thrilling adventures until late into the evening. It was what we did. For fun.

At one point, Kim even invited Kelli to join us. Unfortunately, Kelli wasn't all that interested. Such geeky-ness wasn't her cup of tea. So she declined. Little did she know, though, ten years later... she'd be marrying one of those geeky friends!

Time passed. Kelli returned to MLC, finished her teaching degree, and took a call to a small grade school in southwestern Michigan. I finished my art/theatre studies at Wisconsin Lutheran College, and remained in Milwaukee. Neither of us had contact with the other. In early 2008, however, fate came around full circle -- once again, through our mutual friend, Kim.

This time, Facebook was our connection. Kelli was connected to Kim, and over time, and through my interactions with Kim, I started noticing this cute young woman among her friends. I didn't realize who it was, though. Afterall, Kelli and I hadn't gotten to know each other back in college. To me, she was just one of Kim's friends.

As 2008 wore on, I started interacting with Kelli more often. We'd leave comments, join in the same discussions, share common interests on Facebook. Shortly after she took her teaching call up to Brillion, WI (summer of 2008), we rediscovered our college connection, and started getting to know each other a bit more. A friendship developed.

Now that Kelli was a Wisconsin teacher, her yearly state-wide Lutheran teacher's conference was held in Milwaukee -- not far from where I lived. In fall 2008, while she was attending that year's conference, she stopped at my apartment for a visit. We had a great time and decided to get together in person more often. As a result, our friendship grew.

Around Christmastime the next year (November 2009) Kelli came down to Milwaukee to do some shopping. She wanted to hang out with me, but we couldn't settle on an activity. Finally, I suggested that I just tag along as she did her shopping. She liked the idea, simple as it was, and so she shopped... and I kept her company.

That evening, after finishing her shopping early, we had some time to spare before she had to drive back north to her apartment in Brillion. She suggested a movie at the local movie theatre. We settled on the cute animated Disney robot romance, "W.A.L.L.-E."

The next day, Kelli and I spent some time talking. About our friendship, visits, the day before (shopping and "W.A.L.L.-E."), etc. And then it hit me. We... she and I... would make a great couple! A compatible romantic couple. Kelli had come to this realization well before I did, and was quietly enjoying my revelation, but she agreed. Dating was a great idea. We'd take our friendship to a romantic level, and see where it went from there.

Two months later, I proposed. And she said yes.

The rest... is history.

-Jon

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

"Tuesday in Review"

Last day working for my landlord before I leave Milwaukee. Hot day. Muggy. Spent a few hours painting exterior wood work and door frames. Paint color: white. Drank lots of water. Baked in the sun. Sweated profusely. Finished the project. Enjoyed a refreshing salad and air-conditioning at Rocky Rococo. Came home. Did some more packing. Heading to bed at a reasonable hour.

-Jon

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

"America The Beautiful"

Happy 234th Birthday, United States of America! Long may you be "...one nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all!"

-Jon

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

"Jon and Kelli: The Proposal"

In exactly seven days -- one week, I will be married. July 10, 2010. As I blog us toward the joyous event (and my new-found status as "husband"), I thought I'd take a few moments and write a little about how it all began. My proposal. The day Kelli said "yes".

It was January 2, 2009. Kelli and I had just returned "home" from spending Christmas and New Years with family (mine in Minneapolis, MN, and hers in Tomah, WI). We were back in Brillion, WI -- at her apartment. It was a quiet Friday, nothing much going on. Movies and relaxation. I had been planning to propose sometime after the Holidays. I had all the details worked out; I knew what I wanted to do. But it had to be low-key... simple... just her and me. As we sat on the couch in her living room watching a DVD, the moment was finally right.

Looking back, she says I was "a little fidgety". I probably was, although I'm sure I was trying hard to hide it. That's usually how I operate in moments like that. But whatever the case, I finally got up the nerve. I downplayed my nervousness, paused the movie, turned to face Kelli, smiled, and told her there was something I wanted to give her.

She probably knew what was up by that point, but I pushed on.

I reached into my pocket... and pulled out a piece of ribbon. I didn't have the funds at the time to present her with an expensive engagement ring, so, I had searched long and hard for the next best thing. Something unique. Something different. Something... memorable. I wanted it to be a piece of ribbon that was her favorite color (red), yet something that stood out from your ordinary breed of ribbon. I settled on a red one with gold accents. It seemed appropriate.

Holding that red ribbon in my hand, I asked Kelli to marry me. She said "yes". Didn't even hesitate. I carefully tied the ribbon around her wrist, and she kissed me. Happily. Sweetly. From that point on... we were engaged.

Over the months that followed, we started making plans for the wedding. We shared the news, selected a date, organized the details... and yes, finally found Kelli an engagement ring of her own. A beautiful princess cut ring that will eventually be welded together with her wedding ring.

And the ribbon I proposed with... what became of that? Well, back when Kelli and I were still dating (before the proposal), I designed a special hardwood mahogany keepsake box lined with velvet for her to keep small objects in. Small objects that hold memories of us. Small objects like the red ribbon I proposed with.

It wasn't a flashy public proposal. I didn't have the resources. It wasn't a glittery ring. I didn't have the money to buy one. But... it was simple and creative. It was personal. And she liked it.

And that makes me smile.

-Jon

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"Cosmetic Peacocks by Laurel Roth"

Artist Laurel Roth takes a unique approach to art... she uses cosmetic supplies. Press-on nails, false eyelashes, nail polish, barrettes, that sort of thing. And she used these everyday items to create a stunning set of peacock sculptures!

Take a peek, and enjoy!

-Jon

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

"Where's Jon?"

You've probably noticed my absence from blogging. Yeah, I know... distractions have pulled me away from my musings. Not quite what I intended. But, fear not, it's only temporary. I've been spending time preparing for my wedding (on July 10th), and packing up all of my belongings for a move north shortly thereafter.

It's going to be a busy July for me. Hectic even. But hang in there. I'll be back to writing within a day or two. And I'll bring everyone up to speed. Stay tuned!

-Jon

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Jon Baas

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