Recent articles in the paper about the Kenosha Theatre have had a tendency to focus on me, Jeff Baas. I guess it helps to put a face on a story to use the voice of one person. I understand how it helps to humanize. But, I am very uncomfortable with a single focus on me because the story of the Kenosha Theatre isn’t about me. Sure, I’ve been a constant. But that is only because I was one of a few partners that decided long ago to see this thing through. When the story of the restoration of the Kenosha Theatre is really told, it is a story of community. Focus on only one person misses so much.
The story cannot and should not be told without recognizing so many people whom I respect and whose belief and imagination has been the fuel that continues to fill our spiritual tanks when it seems like the odds are against us and the naysayers would rather see an important part of our community’s past razed and forgotten:
The Original Citizen’s Group Lou Ruganni, Rita Rosselli, Louise Kautenberg, Rebecca Wickman, Danny Fansler,& Ed Skau, whose infectious enthusiasm for the theater was a major part of our partnerships decision to put our houses on the line and buy the building to try and save the masterpiece that is the Kenosha Theatre. George Connolly, a banker straight out of “It’s a wonderful Life” who believed in his community, without whom the theatre might be gone today. The late Alderman George Fitchett helped us get our first Community development block grant. In many ways we’ve let these early visionaries down by not getting the project done already. In the early days, when we were behind on taxes and trying to get the apartments done, we were new to the pressures and made several mistakes. All of those initially involved should know that their efforts and our commitment to honor them still drives us today.
Howard Brown once came up to me after a local meeting and said he “Admired what we were doing because we were working from our hearts” Those were among the many words of encouragement that filled the sometimes near empty tank of spirit that kept us going even after my brother Tim lost his two year old son to illness and money was scarce. Tom Gehring, John Rogowski, Mike Marifern, Jeff and Rick Jacob stepped up to the plate to work with us to make major strides. Paul Chilsen and Polly Gall, worked tirelessly to help get a new roof. Former Mayor Moran put together a task force that proved the building was worth saving. Dave and Ralph Houghton and the other members of the task force guided us with their belief and spirit. Bev Jambois, Kathy Madrigrano, Patty Fitchett, Trish Petretti ,Joy Mathews, Steve Hovey, Rich Lori, Bill Boettcher, Katie Rivett , Jamie Jacob, Jean Schoenborn and Ron Larson are Non-Profit Board members past and present who gave and give so much of their time to realize a vision for our community. Jim Glover , Randy Cook and other current volunteers, (I’ll get everyone’s name from Bill our Volunteer coordinator and get you on this list too) who worked on restoring doors and plaster and cleaning the debris from the roof replacement. All of the contractors like Kim Scheve who put in extra effort, knowing they were working to save a landmark. We certainly need to thank Diane Infusino and our locally owned Southport bank who re-financed the building after our bank of 18 years was bought by a faceless entity and decided not to participate in our efforts. Volunteers and donors like The Rotary Club West, Ed Bauman, Dan Stika, Dick Ginkowski and Abe Baas who all came forward and offered their assistance. Seeing Ed Bauman sweep the stage made me realize the generational importance of the building . Dale Wambolt has been a vocal supporter along with Jason Rimkus on Kenosha Community Media.
There have been the city department heads like Ray Forgianni ,Vernon Gerth, Jim Schultz, Mitch Engen, Jeff Labahn, and others who, in the spirit of working together helped us prioritize the buildings needs and gave valuable guidance. Of course, our partner Terry Scheve, who,together with his father Jim, worked when the going was really tough in the beginning. Our Fathers Donald Baas and Jm Scheve didn’t live to see their son’s efforts reach fruition but, those moments of our families working together when the odds were stacked against us were defining moments of life for me and I’m sure for my brother and Terry as well. We all hope our mothers can be there for the grand opening. Our wives have had to understand that Saturday was “theatre day” since before we were married. Support of family is important beyond description. Now, there is Ray & Nanette Shepardson and Steve Kolber who have restored theaters before and are helping us with the benefit of genius and experience. Their relating of other communtiy’s success stories demonstrate to us that we are not all collectively crazy to believe that a restored theatre will help revitalize in so many ways.
I know I’ve left out so many and my eyes well up with pride when I think about all of those who have selflessly come together to help restore a building that has the name “Kenosha” . It is that spirit that makes a city a community. And I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with each and every one of them. We still have a long way to go to see the dream become a reality and now is the time for members past and present to call their alderman, talk to neighbors and let them know the story of the Kenosha Theatre that is woven so tightly into the fabric of our community. A community that we call home. The late Randy Paucsh said, “it’s not how long you live , it’s how well you’ve lived”. All of those listed above are living their lives well and are the threads that make that fabric of community stronger. So, when you see an article that says “Baas said” It isn’t about me at all. I am speaking for so many that understand that working together a community can accomplish almost anything.