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One day early this spring, Ashland resident John Urling asked his wife Shelia to take him for a ride.
This was unusual in that John was in the terminal stage of pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that would claim his life on May 30.
Nevertheless, thinking John wanted to show her the muddy water on the bay caused by recent spring rainstorms, Sheila agreed to drive him around.
While driving, John suggested they swing by the Super H food store at 511 Main St. E. to take a look at the recently erected mural honoring students and faculty of Ashland's Catholic parochial schools. Sheila, who taught at Our Lady of the Lake school for 33 years, was eager to see the mural.
"They pulled up and Sheila started to go through the portraits, knowing many of the people on the wall," said family friend Maribeth Monroe, who is also a member of the Ashland Mural Walk board of directors.
The Mural Walk is a non-profit organization that oversees the painting and upkeep of the 20 murals that grace the buildings and offices of Ashland. The Catholic Schools mural is the latest of the works to be installed.
"At the end of the mural was her own portrait and she just turned to John with a look of sheer surprise," said Monroe.
"I looked at John and said 'Oh my God, it's me!'" Sheila Urling said.
"John said the mural was a little bit of immortality, that it would be around long after both of us were dead," Sheila said. "And he passed just a week after that."
Urling had arranged to have his wife's portrait included with others who were
involved in Catholic education, a lasting token of his love. When the word got out, friends of the couple kicked in and paid the $500 price to have the portrait included in the mural.
It seems appropriate that the memories of St, Agnes grade school, Holy Family and St. Mary's school, and DePadua high school should have brought such joy to John and Sheila Urling.
"The schools were the heart of the Catholic Community in the Ashland area," said Monroe.
Monroe, who spent 11 years in the Ashland Catholic schools, said the students were an unusually close-knit group.
"We knew each other practically all of our lives," she said.
The mural depicts the school's buildings when they were in their prime as well as clergy members, faculty and students who played prominent roles in its history.
But no matter how detailed the painting, it couldn't capture some aspects of the school.
"A couple of years before I graduated, they started uniforms, pleated wool skirts, no matter how hot it was. We would all roll them up so we could have short skirts and Sister Henriella at DePadua High School would walk the halls and tell us to pull our skirts down to where they should be," Monroe said.
Monroe said Sister Henriella would check for proper length by making the girls kneel and making sure the skirts touched the floor.
"She ran a tight ship, but we just loved her," Monroe said, noting that the no-nonsense nun was one of the first to have her portrait sponsored for the mural.
Mural artist Sue Martinsen said in the process of creating the mural, she heard many stories about the nuns.
"They would tell the stories about the nuns, and everybody would laugh, but at the end of it they would finish with respect," she said. Former students often spoke of the sense of self-discipline they learned from the nuns and priests and others at the school.
Sheila Urling was often asked by friends why she taught so long at the Catholic school, when it was well known that the pay was relatively low for teachers at the time.
"I would tell them they had the best kids, they had the best families, the best support," she said. "When you had that it was like a big family. Why would you want to go somewhere else? They carried me through many things, the loss of family members, and other tragic situations. Of course I would stay there."
The legacy of the Catholic schools was celebrated Saturday when the mural formally was dedicated, followed by an all-class reunion of former DePadua high school students at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church.
The weekend also marked the end of an era, as the final Franciscan mass was celebrated at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church on Sunday. The Franciscan order has watched over the St. Agnes and Our Lady of the Lakes congregation since the 19th Century. It will be replaced by a number of priests who previously served at the church and will be coming back to the area.
Monroe said she was amazed by the confluence of the historic mass, the mural dedication and the DePadua all class reunion.
"None of it was planned," she said. "But it has all come together like it was intended to be that way."
IRON RIVER — Battle Axe Saloon owner Eric Olson was worried when he learned that thousands of reportedly trouble-making Rainbows were descending upon the area, and even more worried when he went down with a leg injury that is keeping him away from his business.
That was a couple of weeks ago. Since then, he has watched receipts at the bar and grill go up thanks to Rainbows, and he even has a couple of them working for him at home while he recuperates.
"My personal opinion is you couldn't find a nicer group of people," he said.
Fears about trouble from participants in the national Rainbow Family Gathering — an annual, disorganized meet-up of peace activists and nature-lovers that has gone on since 1972 — have failed to materialize as far as some Iron River businesses are concerned.
That's not to say there haven't been a few incidents — and not solely on the side of the Rainbows. But for the most part, Iron River's tourist economy has been happy to get a summer boost from the gathering.
Olson, for example, volunteered after getting to know a couple of Rainbows, as participants are known, to haul recyclables from the gathering in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to the dump and has allowed Rainbows to use his office's fax machine and printer.
Down the street at Iron River Foods, general manager Patrick Dooley said although
he hasn't detected a significant bump in business, most of the Rainbows who do come into the store are pleasant and he hasn't had any issues or reasons to call the police.
The same could not be said Monday at the Cenex in Iron River.
Cashier Megan Smith said quite a few Rainbows come to the convenience store looking for water or to use the bathroom, and most of them are just fine — although some are prone to dumpster diving.
But Monday afternoon a Rainbow came into the store with his dog —canines are represented in huge numbers at the gathering — that wasn't wearing a vest indicating he was a service animal.
Smith told the Rainbow next time he came to the store he couldn't bring in his dog unless it was a service animal. The scene eventually turned ugly, and cashiers called the police.
That appears to have been an isolated incident, and fears that gas stations would see an uptick in people driving away without paying for gasoline — one thing Ashland Police Chief Jim Gregoire predicted — have not been borne out. Smith said drive-off numbers over the past couple weeks have not been "out of the ordinary."
As far as many Rainbows and Olson are concerned the massive influx of police officers and heavy-handed law enforcement is the biggest problem surrounding the gathering.
When Olson drove a bar employee to the gathering after work at about 3 a.m., it took him three hours to make the four-mile trip down Canthook Lake Road because police stopped him five separate times — once for failing to use a turn signal and four times for no reason whatsoever, he said.
Rainbows had warned him to obey all traffic laws because, they said, police are eager to stop Rainbows.
After the three-hour ordeal Olson emerged with a warning for not having his driver's license on him. But it's possible he got off lightly because he's local, he said.
The "overpolicing" of the gathering bothers the bar owner the most. "These people are being persecuted for utilizing our forest. This isn't the government's private property," Olson said.
Jon Willis, a Minneapolis Rainbow who helps Jesus Kitchen — one of several communal food services at the gathering — concurred Monday during his supply run into Iron River's Hardware Hank. He said the Rainbows' experience with police leaves much to be desired.
But Willis feels welcome in Iron River, which hosted a tense informational meeting attended by more than 200 people on June 20.
Dave Schedler, a worker at Hardware Hank, said locals act like they expect problems from Rainbows, but he hasn't seen any.
He said one man did solicit money from a passerby outside the business's front door, and a car had been burglarized in town, but no one could lay the crime at the Rainbows' doorstep.
At the other end of the spectrum, Schedler said a Rainbow came in and spent big money on a new chain saw.
With the weeklong celebration of peace over the Fourth of July finally underway with about 4,500 Rainbows present as of Monday, fears of trouble-causing Rainbows are subsiding as they make friends — and spend money — in Iron River.
Ashland resident Don "Ocky" Jaskowiak still the time he and a buddy snuck up to the top of the Soo Line Oredock in the middle of the night, walked all 1,800 feet out to the end and snuck unto the warming shack there.
"It was a pretty dumb thing to do. If we had taken one wrong step, we wouldn't be here now," he recalled of the youthful indiscretion.
The two boys got away cold with the stunt and even left a pair of quarters hidden in the rafters of the shack, with a half-formed scheme of how they would come back in 50 years to retrieve them.
"Those quarters are down at the bottom of the lake by now," Jaskowiak mused.
Many Ashlanders have their own special memories of the concrete dock, now reduced to just its deck. But what remains is taking on a second life as a new boardwalk to the end of the structure begins construction this summer.
That part of the first phase of the dock's reclamation will renew access to one of the most spectacularly scenic spots on the Ashland waterfront. It will also allow fishermen access to one of the best fishing spots on the bay, a spot that generations of anglers used illegally ever since the oredock ceased operations in 1965. That all ended about 20 years ago when an impenetrable steel curtain wall was built at the base of the dock.
The wall is gone now — demolition of the oredock itself was completed in 2013 after the dock had sat idle since 1965 — and once the walkway is in place fishing will return as part of a redevelopment effort that will transform the dock into a waterfront icon.
"Part one involved installing the six historic light towers from the top of the dock, which will be reused as light towers," Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hudson said. "We are hoping to get electricity to them this summer."
At the end of the 1916 portion of the dock, where it joins the 1924 section, some of the soil has been removed for plantings that will be
placed there. A bridge, the beginning of a walkway giving access to pedestrians, has been constructed. It leads to the first four diamonds-shaped holes through the deck of the 1924 section, giving visitors a dramatic view of the lake waters underneath the dock. One of the dock's ore chutes, which were used to funnel iron ore from train cars to waiting ships, will be placed as a donor tribute wall, listing donations made for the dock's second life.
The next phase will involve construction of the walkway itself.
"That is the big one for most people," Hudson said. "That will entail putting precast concrete down for the walkways along the existing concrete, and creation of three bridges that will cross over diamonds, as well as creation of an elevated walkway that will go down to the very end and a platform where people will be able to hang out on."
The walkway and all of its components have been designed with high water levels in mind, so the current record-high water in Lake Superior should not be an issue, Hudson said.
The completion of the project is set for the end of summer 2020.
"I know that seems like a long way away, but we are still waiting for one other funding source, the Wisconsin DNR Stewardship fund. I asked for $300,000; we will see what we get."
Hudson said residents so far seem to approve of the improvements.
"We have really received a lot of affirmation on it from people who have come to visit it," she said. "We have really done some amazing things with our waterfront."
Wisconsin Secretary of Administration Joel Brennan confirmed that judgment
Friday when he visited Ashland to award a grant.
"There are people around this region for whom this dock has a history that is hugely important, and there has been a lot of money already invested in its future," he said. "It is the state's responsibility to invest in those things, and get them moving on the right path. It is important that the state be a partner in that."
Hudson said changes to Ashland's waterfront over the past 10 years have been remarkable.
"We've really turned our industrial waterfront into a nice recreational space," she said. "It's not complete, but we have a vision and we have city staff and community members who want that vision to happen."
Jaskowiak said a lot of that community vision comes from people whose memories are filled with events that occurred at the waterfront, particularly at the oredock.
"A lot of people had family who worked on the dock or on the railroad, or the ships that came to the dock. The dock has a big connection with a lot of people in Ashland," he said.