Little Free Library founder is a storyteller

Little Free Library founder Todd Bol

It’s been said that a prophet doesn’t get much honor in his hometown or his own household.

OK. Jesus said that, according to the gospels of Matthew and Mark, after the leaders of the Nazareth synagogue took offense to his teaching.

So the comparison isn’t perfect. Nobody in Hudson or Todd Bol’s family is offended that he started the Little Free Library movement, as far as I know. And while the little libraries popping up everywhere are quite a phenomenon, they’ll never match what Jesus started.

But it is true that for guy who has generated so much press across the nation and around the world, Bol has remained relatively unheralded in Hudson.

I wrote a story about him and the Little Free Libraries three weeks ago, but didn’t have room to tell it all. Here’s some of what got left out.

The 57-year-old grew up in Lake Elmo, Minn., one of five children of a St. Paul chiropractor and a teacher who stayed home to raise her kids.

He attended UW-River Falls after graduating from Stillwater Area High School, and went on to work in international business development for 30 years.

Bol met his wife, Susan, at UW-RF. The way he tells it, he fell madly in love the instant he spotted her in the student center.

“I told her she had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. And I told my best friend I was going to marry that woman,” Bol recalled.

He said he followed Susan from the student center into the library and told her that he wanted to get to know her.

Susan said it would be difficult, because she had a fiancé.

“I said, I don’t want to get to get to know him,” Bol laughed.

The Bols have two grown children. Allison, 28, is a health care analyst for Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She has a bachelor’s degree from UW-Eau Claire and a master’s degree from UW-Stout. Son Austin, 24, graduated top in his class in chemistry at UW-Eau Claire and has applied for entry to the University of Minnesota medical school.

It’s no wonder that Bol likes books. He’s an avid storyteller.

Around six years ago, the Bols purchased a modest, two-story house on North Street, overlooking the St. Croix River and Lake Mallalieu in the distance.

How that happened is another story.

They were living in a rented place in St. Mary’s Point, Minn., and looking to purchase a house. Bol had identified multiple neighborhoods along the river from the north side of Stillwater south to around Afton that were attractive to him.

There were 30 specific properties that he decided to bid on if they ever came on the market. Their North Street house was one of them.

The problem was, he made an offer on the house before Susan saw it. She explained to him in no uncertain terms that husbands don’t do that.

But Susan, a speech pathologist for the Stillwater Area School District, came around when she saw the view from the house. “We’ve always lived on water. She thought it was nice,” her lucky husband said.

Bol said their decision about where to live had boiled down to either Stillwater or Hudson. The tall condos on the north side of downtown Stillwater weren’t to their liking, and a factor in them choosing Hudson.

“I like Hudson. It’s sweet. It’s helped to have joined the Rotary, because I’ve always been an international guy,” Bol said. “It’s connected me more with the local businesses. You get to feel the heartbeat of the community through Rotary.”

The Little Free Libraries, Bol says, are — at the heart — about community.

“We are often told that the Little Free Library is the water cooler of literacy,” he said when I interviewed him for the Star-Observer story. “This kind of accomplishes what so many people are trying to do… they are trying to start grassroots movements where people are talking to each other, engaging, and educating and learning.”

In an increasingly digital world and one in which the media and political and religious leaders are often pushing us apart, people have an almost primal desire to connect with others, Bol said. “I think, naturally, left to our own (inclination), we really want to connect.”

I’m not certain of the timeline, but around when the Bols came to Hudson, the company he was working for wanted him to move to Cincinnati. He opted for a severance package and the St. Croix Valley instead.

That’s what gave him the time to get the Little Free Library organization off and running. The genesis of the Little Library is another story — and an amazing one to me.

“I was building things on my deck. I don’t like doing nothing,” Bol said. “I built a little library in honor of my mom and put it in our front yard.”

June Bol liked to read and often tutored neighborhood children.

“My mother was engaging. She could make you feel the best about yourself. She really meant it when she asked how you were,” Bol said.

When his mother died in June of 2001, Bol followed an American colonial practice of giving those who attended her funeral a gift. It was a necklace that said, “June A. Bol, a dancing spirit, 1927-2001.”

“Now my mother is dancing everywhere, because I feel like the spirit and the energy of my mom is in each one of those little libraries all over the world,” he said.

There’s still more this story, but space and a normal attention span doesn’t permit its telling here. Rick Brooks, the UW-Madison outreach program manager and Dane Buy Local co-founder, plays a major role in it.

Bol and Brooks met when Brooks came to Hudson to lead a workshop on sustainable communities and shopping locally. Brooks like him because he thought he was nuttier than him, Bol joked.

Brooks gets the credit for envisioning the mass appeal the Little Free Libraries would have. After putting up a few in Madison, they realized all they had to do to promote them is let people see them, he said.

School plan has a hurdle to cross with the city

Getting the city of Hudson to rezone the former St. Croix Meadows dog track for a new secondary school won’t be a slam dunk, if the discussion at the Jan. 23 City Council meeting is any indication.

I don’t know why this came as a surprise to me. In hindsight, one could assume that taking 130 acres of commercially zoned land off the tax roll would raise some questions from city officials.

Dennis Darnold, the city’s community development director, made clear that Croixland Properties’ rezoning application would get a thorough review by the Plan Commission before a decision is made by the City Council.

Darnold expected the commission to devote at least two meetings in February to the review, and said the process could stretch into March.

Croixland Properties submitted the rezoning application, but it was accompanied by a letter from an attorney representing the Hudson School District, Joseph J. Langel of Minneapolis.

Langel explained that the school district has entered into an agreement to purchase the dog track property, but the property has to be rezoned from general business district to
public or quasi-public district for it to be used as a school site. A school isn’t a permitted use under the city’s B-2 zoning.

Langel also passed along Croixland Properties’ request that the rezoning go into effect only
if and when the school’s purchase of the property is finalized.

That, of course, will depend on whether school district residents approve the land purchase in an April 3 referendum.

The City Council rejected the idea of conditional zoning. Darnold advised against it, saying he could recall only one time when the city had made a rezoning contingent upon a property sale.

All other requests for conditional zoning have been turned down, Darnold added – most recently, one by the former owner of the site where the Uline distribution center will be
built.

Croixland Properties, of course, doesn’t want the zoning changed if the sale to the school district doesn’t go through. Having it zoned for public use, without a public buyer, would make it virtually worthless in a financial sense.

I assume that the Havenick family of Miami continues to be a major owner of the dog track
property. Fred Havenick was president and CEO of the St. Croix Meadows Greyhound Racing Park that opened in 1991 and closed in 2002. He died in 2004.

Leon Reitnauer of Miami signed the application for rezoning. An internet search showed him to be a business associate of several members of the Havenick family.

B.L. Nordstrand is listed as the registered agent for Croixland Properties Limited Partnership by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Burt Nordstand, the founder and president of the Hudson-based SSG Corp., was a partner in the dog track.

The Department of Financial Institutions’ website lists six times when partners were added to Croixland Properties between 1988 and 1990.

At the City Council meeting, Alderperson Lee Wyland wanted to know how much tax revenue the city would lose if it rezoned the dog track property for a nontaxable use.

St. Croix County property tax records shed some light on that.

The dog track’s total property tax bill for 2011 was $93,696. The city’s portion was about 25 percent of the total, or $23,424.

The school district itself would lose the most tax revenue. Its portion of the total for 2011 was 47.4 percent, or $44,412.

Darnold pointed out that the dog track property could potentially generate more tax revenue if it was developed for other commercial uses.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the rezoning application on April 9. The hearing will follow the referendum election and the Plan Commission’s recommendation on the rezoning.

My guess is that the council will hear plenty from opponents of the plan to build a secondary school on the dog track property – as well as from supporters of the idea.

Get ready for a rock’em, sock’em political year.

The real economy vs. the stock market

The buzz about the release of the Hollywood film version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on Dec. 21, plus the lingering Occupy Wall Street movement, reminded me of my
favorite passage in the novel by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson.

One of the main characters, investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, is interviewed by the host of a TV show after breaking a story about a corrupt business empire. The news of the crime had shaken the Stockholm Stock Exchange, which, Larsson writes, “found itself in freefall and a handful of financial yuppies were threatening to throw themselves out of windows.”

Blomkvist is asked what responsibility his magazine bears for the financial crash.

“The idea that Sweden’s economy is headed for a crash is nonsense,” Blomkvist replies in the book.

“We’re experiencing the largest single drop in the history of the Swedish stock exchange – and you think that’s nonsense?” the TV host asks.

“You have to distinguish between two things – the Swedish economy and the Swedish stock market,” Blomkvist answers. “The Swedish economy is the sum of all the goods and services that are produced in this country every day. There are telephones from Ericsson, cars from Volvo, chickens from Scan, and shipments from Kiruna to Skovde. That’s the Swedish economy, and it’s just as strong or weak today as it was a week ago.”

He continues: “The Stock Exchange is something very different. There is no economy and no production of goods and services. There are only fantasies in which people one hour to the next decide that this or that company is worth so many billions, more or less. It doesn’t have a thing to do with reality or with the Swedish economy.”

The TV host asks Blomkvist if he’s saying that it doesn’t matter that the stock market is
plunging.

“No, it doesn’t matter at all,” the magazine editor says in the novel. “It only means that a
bunch of heavy speculators are now moving their shareholdings from Swedish companies to German ones. So it’s the financial gnomes that some tough reporter should identify and expose as traitors. They’re the ones who are systematically and perhaps deliberately damaging the Swedish economy in order to satisfy the profit interests of their clients.”

The TV host again asks Blomkvist if he doesn’t think the media bears some responsibility for the financial crisis.

“Oh yes, the media do have an enormous responsibility,” he replies. For at least 20 years financial reporters had failed to scrutinize the suspect enterprise and its leader.

“On the contrary, they have actually helped to build up his prestige by publishing brainless, idolatrous portraits. If they had been doing their work properly, we would not find ourselves in this situation today.”

The passage made me think of Jack Welch, the chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001.

While Welch wasn’t involved in any illegal activity that I know of, his loyalty to America certainly is suspect. And he, too, was aided by a fawning business press that bought
every line of his self-serving baloney.

Also known as “Neutron Jack,” Welsh would fire 10 percent of GE managers each year – the ones some corporate brain trust decided were the lowest-performing. I have my doubts
about whether they really were. There’s a lot of politics in most workplaces, too.

In his book “Jack: Straight From the Gut,” Welch bragged about eliminating 112,000 GE employees between 1980 and 1985. Some 81,000 were laid off and the rest went with the businesses that GE sold.

Wall Street cheered every time an American corporation reduced its workforce or sent jobs overseas, or south of the border, during those go-go days.

It was always a wise decision for the company to have shed expenses and improved earnings for the shareholders. What it meant for the workers and America wasn’t mentioned.

Former U.S. senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota chronicled the era (which continues to this day) in his excellent 2006 book “Take This Job and Ship It: How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America.”

Welch’s management practices were copied thousands of time over, and millions of
American jobs were shipped aboard or eliminated.

Thousands of products once proudly made in America – Huffy bicycles, Radio Flyer wagons, Ralph Lauren shirts and trousers – are now produced overseas.

Dorgan tells the story of fired Huffy workers in Celina, Ohio, whose last task was to take the American flag off bicycles and replace it with a decal of the globe.

Other countries have trade policies to protect workers. Ours protect wealth.

It’s come back to harm the real economy in the United States. Unemployed people don’t have much buying power, and require more government assistance.

And how are things going in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker promised that eliminating bargaining rights for public workers and cutting government spending would lead to an economic revival?

Not so hot.

The state led the nation in job losses in October, according to a story in The Capital Times online newspaper. Quoting U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the newspaper said
Wisconsin had 9,700 fewer jobs in October than it did in September.

Last month, the governor’s own administration predicted that the state would fall short of his campaign promise to add 250,000 private-sector jobs by the end of his four-year
term.

As of September, the state had added just 29,300 since Walker took over as governor at the start of 2011. The number is now down to 19,600.

Visit to St. Croix Off Broadway was a revelation

'Boeing Boeing' cast

Hudson native Kelsey Hansen, top left, plays a flight hostess from Atlanta in St. Croix Off Broadway's production of "Boeing Boeing." The other actors, clockwise from Hansen, are Lydia Orvis, Augusta Lane, James Plante, Jacleen Olson and Mark Bradt.

It was long overdue, but last Saturday night (Oct. 15), my wife and I finally took in a show at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, located in the Best Western Hudson House Inn.

We went to see Hudson native Kelsey Hansen in “Boeing Boeing” – and are glad we did.

The 1960s farce by Marc Camoletti offers a lot of laughs and was well-performed by the cast of six professionals.

Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis starred in the 1965 film version of “Boeing Boeing.” That gives you a pretty good idea of the type of entertainment you’re in for if you decide to attend a show. Four performances remain –Friday and Saturday nights, Oct. 21-22 and Oct. 28-29 – according to the theatre’s website, www.stcroixoffbroadway.com.

It’s a fast-paced comedy about an American businessman living in Paris who has three fiancées. The fiancées are all airline flight hostesses (in the parlance of the day). He’s able to keep them all happy with the help of a flight-schedule book and an exasperated housekeeper. That is, until the airlines buy new, faster Boeing jetliners – and the hostesses’ stays in Paris overlap.

Bernard’s (James Plante) old college friend from Green Bay (Mark Bradt) comes to visit at the same time, and as they say, hilarity ensues.

Bradt, who came out to schmooze with the diners/audience before the show, was particularly good in the Jerry Lewis-role of a nerdy innocent who warms up to the jet-setting lifestyle – and German hostess Gretchen (Augusta Lane), in particular.

The timing of the cast was perfect, which was a feat considering the snappy dialogue and quick entrances and exits of the hostesses.

Hansen, who wowed audiences in Hudson High School productions, has grown as an actor. Her Gloria, the belle from Atlanta, was spot on – right down to the sharply cut red hostess uniform and matching heels.

James Zimmerman, a UW-River Falls theater arts professor, is the owner of St. Croix Off Broadway (with his wife, Jill) and directs the plays.

He’s recruited former students for actors, including Hansen, Plante and Bradt in “Boeing
Boeing.”

St. Croix Off Broadway is in its sixth season. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t
supported it in the past, and suspect there are a lot of Hudsonites like me. I intend to mend my ways. What I saw was quality theater, right here in town.

The price of dinner and a show ($52) is no doubt a hindrance to some. You can reduce it attending just the show ($40), and still have the ability to enjoy a glass of wine and
dessert (at an extra charge).

Next up for the dinner theatre is “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant,” which opens Nov. 25.

Bear hunting story upsetting to a reader

Not everyone enjoyed reading about a 648-pound (or more) black bear being killed near North Hudson.

Julie Irving, a resident of Krattley Lane in the town of Hudson, called the Star-Observer to dispute one of the statements in the story that ran in the Oct. 13 Hudson Star-Observer. She was also unhappy to see photographs of the dead bear in the newspaper.

“That bear would spend four, five or six hours in our yard, lollygagging, sleeping,” Irving said, countering the report that sightings of the bear were rare.

“I have thousands of pictures of that bear alive. It’s sad that a dead bear would make the front page when they are so beautiful to watch when they are alive,” she continued.

Irving said she cried when she saw the photographs.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen something in the paper that has kind of brought me to tears,
because it is just like, wow. We had known this bear. He was kind of like a little pet to us. I know you probably don’t understand that. Every time he came around it was a thrill. And he’s gone,” she said.

The headline read, “Monster bear bagged near NH (North Hudson).” But the bear was no monster to Irving. She described him as “majestic” and “the most wonderful bear.”

Irving said she understands “the hunting side of it, too.” She knows Lon Feia, the hunter who felled the bear on Oct. 9 with a slug from a shotgun.

“He’s a friend,” Irving said. “So this is nothing against him. It’s just that, gosh, for it to be on the front page like that – and such a big deal to have a picture of a dead bear. It’s just incredibly sad, I think.”

I’m pretty ambivalent when it comes to hunting, but I sympathize with Irving. It does seem odd to admire a wonderful animal and then shoot it.

To quote a Star-Observer co-worker: “You don’t say, isn’t that a beautiful building? And then blow it up.”

Deer hunting makes more sense to me. I see the need to control the population, and I’m fond of venison sausage. Who knows? Now that I own a little patch of woods up north,
I might take up deer hunting myself some day.

I have less sympathy with Irving’s suggestion that the taking of the bear didn’t warrant
being in the newspaper – or at least on the front page.

As is ususally the case when readers tell us that a story isn’t news, it’s the one getting the most attention.

The bear story has been picked up by other media websites, and as of Friday morning had
thousands of hits on www.hudsonstarobserver.com. It had close to seven times the number of hits as the next most-popular story about a North Hudson woman charged with stealing prescription drugs.

There’s a lot to be learned from raising chickens

On warm summer mornings, I often awoke to the sound of cans clanging in Bud Pedersen’s milk house across the street.

During the evening milking, an occasional beller would come through the open barn doors. A bossy was anxious to have her udder relieved – or for her serving of silage.

I grew up listening to the music of the farm on the other side of Butternut Avenue in the
village of Luck. The sporadic putt-putt-putt of tractors, the clanking of the hay elevator and the mooing of our four-hooved neighbors were all part of the symphony.

So I bring some bias to the hopefully concluded discussion in the town of Hudson over whether chickens – more specifically roosters – should be allowed on residential property.

On Sept. 6, the town board held a public hearing on a proposal to ban roosters from parcels of less than three acres in size. A resident of Tanney Lane reportedly had complained about the crowing of a rooster that was part of a neighbor kid’s 4-H
project.

One thing led to another, and before you knew it, Foghorn Leghorn’s neck was on the chopping block. One person’s music is the next person’s noise.

Hudson Town Board Chair Jeff Johnson discovered the growing popularity of raising chickens at the public hearing.

All the pews in the Town Hall were full, Johnson told me in a phone call last week. He assumed people were there to weigh in on the controversial Booster ball fields issue.

Then speaker after speaker rose to the chickens’ defense.

Near the end of the hearing, Johnson asked for a show of hands from audience members who had chickens.

“Just about every one of them raised their hand,” Johnson told me. “I said, well, all right, I
think the best idea we had is not to change this thing. We’ll just keep allowing it.”

“So it was a learning experience,” he added. “It was learning about how so many people are
raising chickens out in the town.”

Johnson is hoping most chicken owners will be reasonable, and take measures to quiet a rooster that crows at 5 o’clock in the morning. I would guess that will require locking
them in the coop until a reasonable hour.

It all brings to mind one of my favorite childhood memories.

My dad pastored a small Assembly of God church (no longer there) at the corner of Main Street and Butternut Avenue in Luck.

Church members, many of them country folk, would often provide us with vegetables from their gardens and meat from freshly slaughtered animals. One day, Mrs. Pigman called
and asked my mom if she would like a couple of chickens.

Mom said sure, and was surprised to be presented with a pair of live roosters in a gunny sack the following Sunday.

I pleaded for their lives to be spared. It being the spring of the year, Mom and Dad
relented.

That summer was a learning experience for me. I discovered that if you blow your nose on the ground a rooster will eat the snot.

Ours were free-range chickens. Dad would sometimes have to hose the chicken poop off the church sidewalks on Sunday mornings. He should have bounced me out of bed and
to do it.

The roosters roosted in the row of willow trees between the parsonage and the swamp. The
willows were maybe 25 feet from my upstairs bedroom window. I learned about
those 5 o’clock in the morning cock-a-doodle-doos.

In mid-summer, one of the roosters went missing. Mom was telling Mrs. Johnson about it over the phone when Mrs. Johnson said, “That’s funny, a chicken has been running
around our house the past couple of days.”

It turns out the wayward rooster went home with the Johnsons after prayer meeting on Wednesday night. He made the five-mile trip to the other side of Milltown in the
undercarriage of the Johnsons’ car.

At the end of the summer, I was surprised to learn that my parents had planned only a temporary reprieve for our roosters. Both Mom and Dad were farm-reared, and had plenty of experience moving chickens from the yard to the plate.

I was a 10- or 12-year-old boy and had mixed feelings watching Dad stretch the roosters’ necks across a block of wood and chop off their heads with an axe. One made a final
run for it – headless.

There was nothing amusing about the executions to my younger sisters, who didn’t witness them. They cried at the last supper in disbelief that my father – whom they
worshipped – would commit such an act, and then expect us to eat our pets.

Mom got off easier, even though she had plucked the birds and put them in the frying pan.

I don’t know what the moral of this story is, but I’m glad youngsters of all ages in the town of Hudson can continue to experience the joys of rearing chickens. It’s earthy,
that’s for sure.

The myth of ever-increasing taxes

Gov. Scott Walker did it.

Tuesday morning, April 26, his office e-mailed an opinion piece to state newspapers saying: “We need property tax relief. For too long, middle-class taxpayers have been stuck with the costs of paying for more and more government.”

A while back, I vowed that I was going to set the record straight the next time I heard a politician rail about supposed ever-increasing taxes.

It just isn’t so in St. Croix County, at least.

Anyone can go the county’s website, www.co.saint-croix.wi.us, and discover it for themselves.

Click on “Go to Land/Tax Information” on the right side of the page under “Quick Links,” and then “Go to Tax & Assessment Data.”

Enter only the name of a municipality, click search, and tax records for all of the parcels in the municipality appear. Or you can enter the address or parcel number of a property, and the records for just that property will appear.

I’ve lived in our North Hudson twin home for close to seven years. The first year that my wife and I paid property taxes there was 2005, and the bill was $3,066.

Our tax bills for the next three years were smaller than the first one, reaching a low of $2,921 in 2007. Our obligation bounced upward in 2009, and then settled at $3,163 for 2010.

Our average bill over the six-year span was $3,056, ten bucks less than we paid in 2005.

That doesn’t fit my definition of “more and more.” I wish all of our expenses were that well contained.

What’s happened is that politicians have been highly successful at cutting taxes.

Grover Norquist, president of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, laid out the plan some years ago with the oft-quoted statement: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Cutting taxes is always popular. Who doesn’t want to pay less? The problem is that three decades into this experiment we’re running out of money to provide needed services.

Politicians like to equate government budgets to household budgets, pointing out that households usually curtail their spending when their income declines.

But how many breadwinners do you know who routinely ask for a pay cut? And what family doesn’t look for ways to boost its income when it is having trouble meeting expenses?

That’s been the game. Cut taxes and then say: “We’re broke. We don’t have the money for social programs and education.”

The high-enders, of course, don’t need Medicare or BadgerCare or Social Security or food stamps or public education. They can pay their own insurance premiums, eat lobster and prime rib, and send their kids to private schools.

Federal and state tax rates are the lowest they’ve been since the income tax was started in the early 1900s. Remember when President George W. Bush slashed taxes for the wealthy, and the economic nirvana it was supposed to produce? Instead, we got a financial meltdown in 2008, followed by the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

State, county and local representatives should know, too, that they’re peddling misinformation when they imply that taxes are on the rise.

State Rep. Dean Knudson, a city of Hudson resident, paid $333 less in property taxes ($3,637) for 2010 than he did for 2004 ($3,970). Fellow Assemblyman John Murtha of rural Baldwin paid $137 less for 2010 ($2,893) than he did for 2004 ($3,030).

County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer’s 2010 tax bill ($4,224) was $47 less than what he paid for 2004 ($4,271). Standafer is a fellow North Hudson resident.

North Hudson Village President George Klein’s 2010 property tax ($3,876) was $569 less than his 2004 tax ($4,445).

All the easy cuts have been made after a decade of government downsizing. That’s why we’re getting the extreme measures out of Madison and the pushback against them. There will be pain.

That brings to mind another Grover Norquist quip – if you can believe what you read on the Internet.

“We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals – and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship,” he once said, according to the website thinkexist.com.

‘Thanks a million!’ the governor says

Gov. Scott Walker reminds me of the central character in an ancient morality play. A hero of great promise succumbs to hubris, “exaggerated pride and self-confidence,” which leads to his downfall.

I’m talking, of course, about the governor’s 20-minute phone conversation with a Buffalo, N.Y., website reporter posing as multi-billionaire conservative businessman David Koch.

It was a rare insight into who the governor is off mic. The picture wasn’t pretty. We heard a fellow full of braggadocio – and at least some self-delusion. The people were with him, he said, despite throngs of protestors circling the capitol and soon-to-follow polls showing disapproval of his plans.

The Republican Rasmussen poll in a March 2 survey found 57% disapproval of Walker’s job performance and 43% approval.

Among independents, who favored Walker by a large margin in last November’s election, 62% now believe he is leading the state in the wrong direction,  the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute found in a Feb. 27 survey.

Asked whether Walker should “stand strong” or negotiate with the Democrats, 65% of Wisconsinites in the WPRI survey wanted him to negotiate. Only 33% said he should stand strong.

More disturbing, however, was Walker’s statement that he considered sending troublemakers into the crowds of protesters around the capitol, presumably to stir up violence.

The phony David Koch (Ian Murphy of the Buffalo Beast) suggested it, and Walker replied, “You know, well, the only problem with that – because we thought about that.”

The problem with it in Walker’s view wasn’t that it would be wrong – that in becoming governor he swore to uphold the laws of Wisconsin – but that it wouldn’t achieve the desired political result.

“The guys (protesters) we’ve got left are largely from out of state and I keep dismissing it in all my press comments, saying ehh, they’re mostly from out of state,” Walker tells the phony Koch. “My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused, is that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all these problems.”

The first part of the statement is a flat out falsehood. Take a drive to Madison and a walk around Capitol Square and you’ll realize that the vast majority of protesters (I’d say more than 95%) are from Wisconsin. I talked to a social studies teacher from Cambria and a retired minister from Spooner; listened to a community activist from Tomahawk and watched a parade of firefighters from Beloit or Janesville led by bagpipers.

The out-of-staters carried signs identifying their union locals. They were a very small percentage of the crowd.

The governor’s admission that he and his advisors considered inciting a disturbance is profound and should be roundly denounced by all political leaders of any party.

Somehow, the governor has been let off the hook on this. Really, governor? You and your inner circle considered sending hooligans into a crowd of Wisconsin nurses, government workers, prison guards, firefighters, police officers, teachers, university workers, students, pipefitters, painters, carpenters, steelworkers and auto workers (many there with their children) to incite violence?

I’ve been painfully plodding through “The Coming of the Third Reich,” a fairly new history of the rise of Nazism in Germany by Richard J. Evans. Any hint of adopting the tactics of the Nazi storm troopers who created mayhem at rallies of opposing political parties is beyond the pale for me.  It is simply unacceptable in our democratic society – especially for a state governor.

Walker’s apologists say he was only humoring a billionaire contributor, and clearly rejected the idea of planting troublemakers. If that’s true, he lied to the phony Koch by saying he considered sending in the goons. It’s no good any way you look at it.

The transcript of the call reveals how little the phony Koch had to talk.

He asked about the latest developments and our governor was off and gushing, detailing how he planned to trick the missing 14 Democratic senators into returning, bragging about his TV appearances, and how he “dropped the bomb” about his plan to bust the public employee unions to his cabinet the night after the Packers won the Super Bowl.

Now he says Wisconsinites elected him to do what he’s doing, but there are a lot of prison guards, firefighters, police officers and teachers who voted for him who didn’t know that ending collective bargaining was part of his plan.

A political pundit whose name escapes me said Walker, in the phone call, sounded like a middle manager reporting to the CEO.

I agree. And considering the money David Koch and his older brother, Charles, spent to help get him elected, Walker probably thought they deserved a report.

The Koch Industries PAC contributed $43,000 to Walker’s campaign. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which spent $65,000 assisting Walker. The governors association also spent $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

The call ends with the phony Koch offering to fly Walker “out to Cali” (California) after he has crushed his political opponents.

Again, the governor has a lapse in ethics. He doesn’t say, thanks, but no thanks. I can’t accept gifts for political favors. He says, “All right, that would be outstanding.”

“Thanks a million!” he says in parting.

That’s probably close to what Walker has gotten from the Koch brothers, another pundit has suggested.

There’s a lot to dislike about both the governor’s budget repair bill and his proposed 2011-13 budget. You can learn more about the bills online at www.madison.com or www.jsonline.com.

The rest of the story

Dave Glasspoole wears his University of Minnesota cap and a Gophers men's basketball T-shirt on a visit to a prison in Kenya.

I meet interesting people during the course of my work. Sometimes, their personal stories are as intriguing to me as the one I’m reporting.

That was the case with Dave Glasspoole, who stopped into the Star-Observer office one day in early January to tell us about a trip he had taken to Africa.

Glasspoole’s story about Harvestime Outreach Church’s mission trip to Kenya and Uganda had plenty of appeal, but I also found his life story interesting. And that didn’t make it into the newspaper article.

The 71-year-old Glasspoole is a retired 3M Co. chemist.

He grew up on the river in Wabasha, Minn., and is a graduate of St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona.

A big-time University of Minnesota basketball fan, Glasspoole told me he did most of his basketball playing in the intramural program at St. Mary’s.

“I don’t know how I ever graduated, I played so much basketball,” he said.

But he did – in 1961. He went to work for 3M shortly after, and spent his entire career with the company.

Glasspoole first moved to Hudson in 1962. He remembers driving here soon after he landed the job with 3M because he had enjoyed living on the Mississippi as a youth and was attracted to the St. Croix.

Donny Colbeth, who owned the Mobil gas station at the corner of Third and Vine streets, was the first person he talked to in Hudson. Donny assured him that he could find a nice place to rent in Hudson.

Glasspoole and another single guy from 3M rented the upstairs of a house on Division Street in Swede Hollow.

Later, Glasspoole and his wife, Eileen, built one of the first houses on Chestnut Drive and were neighbors to Donny. The two men were friends until Donny’s death in 2002.

The Glasspooles moved away from Hudson in 1980. Because of his love of river life, they bought a house on the Mississippi next to Hwy. 10′s Suicide Curve between Prescott and Hastings, Minn.

When they lost the house to a highway project, they moved to a place two houses away from where he had grown up Wabasha.

Eileen Glasspoole worked at 3M, too, and in 2000 they built another house on Spruce Drive in Hudson. When the Glasspooles retired, they decided to make Hudson their full-time home.

Glasspoole’s life-long love of basketball drew him to the Howard Pulley Pro Am Summer League games in St. Paul six years ago.

There, he struck up a friendship with Al Nolen Sr. before Al Jr. became the point guard for the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team.

Al Jr. gets player tickets to the Gophers’ away games. Glasspoole occasionally travels with Al Sr. and his wife, Mary, to the games.

Glasspoole was behind the Minnesota bench when a Gopher hit a last-second shot to beat the Badgers in Madison last season.

He said Tubby Smith’s wife, Donna, was so excited about the win that she grabbed his cell phone away from him and shared her joy with Eileen.

Glasspoole has a request in to Tubby to send instructional materials to a pastor in Uganda who wants to teach the young people in his community how to play basketball.

Glasspoole wore his University of Minnesota cap wherever he went in Kenya and Uganda. Sometimes he had a Gophers T-shirt on, too.

Al Jr. is the sparkplug of this year’s Gophers team, Glasspoole says.

“If they go anyplace, he’s the point guard.”

A son of Norway

I’m feeling like I belong in Hudson these days.

When I came to the Star-Observer in late summer of 1997, my youngest sister mentioned to me that Hudson was the first stop for my grandfather O. Edward Hanson when he arrived in the U.S. from Norway in 1905.

Grandpa had an older brother, Hagbart, who had already settled in Hudson, Lonna said.

Later, I learned about the late Willis Miller’s amazing card file of Hudson residents, listing biographical information and the dates and page numbers of articles about them that appeared in the Star-Observer.

I asked Willis if he remembered Hagbart, who died in 1954. He knew who Hagbart was, and added that he had four daughters, the youngest of whom, Borghild, was still living.

Borghild was a lovely girl, said Willis, who was three grades ahead of her during their years in Hudson’s public schools.

“Let’s go see what his card says,” Willis said, and led me to what was then the basement of the newspaper office, where he kept the card file of deceased Hudsonites.

I found Hagbart’s card, but was puzzled to see Hanson spelled with an e – Hansen. I asked Willis if he was sure this Hagbart was my great-uncle. “Oh, those Norwegians,” he said. “They spelled their names any way they wanted.”

Indeed, my grandfather Edward was listed as a brother of Hagbart on the card. Hagbart had worked as a skilled craftsman in the Omaha Railroad car shops in North Hudson for many years.

I met Borghild (Hansen) Ruesink before she passed away in 2005. She shared photographs with me of her father and my grandfather when they were young men in Hudson. I made copies of the photos, as well as some letters that had been exchanged between Borghild’s mother, Ragna, and my grandfather’s sister Thea.

Grandpa was 18 and Thea, 20, when came they to the New World on a steamship that sailed down the St. Lawrence River and deposited them at Quebec, Canada. They had $16 between them.

My sister has been doing some genealogy work in preparation for the 50th Thanksgiving Day dinner reunion of my grandparents’ 12 children and their families - and now the third and fourth generations. (Not everyone attends, but enough do to require renting a hall.)

I’ve learned that I also had a great-great uncle in Hudson. His name was Chris Larson. He worked in the car shops for 35 years.

Hagbart was a deacon and usher at Bethel Lutheran Church.

During his year in Hudson, my grandfather worked for Hans J. Olson, who also had emigrated from Ullensaker, Norway.

My sister was able to track down a ship passenger list showing my grandfather’s name as Ole E. Hansen. In a new land, he opted for the more dignified O. Edward Hanson.

I don’t blame him for not wanting to be just another Ole. You’ve heard the jokes.