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Kevin "Lich" Polich went to the resort town of Breckenridge, Colo., for a winter to be a ski bum.
After graduating in 1989 from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a degree in criminal justice, the Ashland native harbored hopes of getting into the FBI. Instead he fell in love with Colorado's Rocky Mountains and began building log homes and working in the plumbing trade to support himself.
Polich admits that becoming a builder/plumber-ski bum is a long way from being an FBI agent, but the biggest twist in his life's path happened when he became a founding partner in what was to become one of the nation's most inventive craft-distilleries.
"After I finished college I moved straight out to Breckenridge and I've been here for 30 years," he said. "I went to Colorado every year when I was in college during Christmas break to ski, and I knew I wanted to move to Breckenridge at some point in time."
Polich became involved with the craft distilling in an oblique fashion. Through a real estate agent friend of his, he became acquainted with a doctor who wanted to join the nascent craft whiskey movement and open his own distillery.
"So we opened a distillery," he said.
Polich is now part owner and partner of the Breckenridge distillery, involved in product development for its eight varieties of bourbon, four vodkas and its gin, spiced rum and bitters brands.
"My unofficial title is 'booze hustler,' he laughed.
The other owner and chief executive officer is Bryan Nolt, a radiologist who was inspired to found the
operation after a distillery tour of Scotland.
Breckenridge distilling began marketing artisanal bourbon and vodka in 2011, and it wasn't long before their product was riding the crest of the movement that prompted an explosion in microbreweries across the U.S.
"It was perfect timing for us," he said. "At that time there were maybe eight or nine distilleries in Colorado. Now there are about 100. I would not want to be doing this now as a new distillery."
Since its start, Breckenridge's has stood out from the crowd, gaining a national following in every state in the union and in 70 countries, Polich said. It has also won four straight best American blended categories in the World Whiskies Awards competitions, and the Bourbon of the Year in 2011 from the International Wine and Spirits competition. There have been many other awards as well.
"It was fantastic for us. We had a great whiskey with our bourbon; people were really interested in it," Polich said.
One of the whiskey's fans is Ashland businessman Scott Bretting.
"It's a smoother bourbon whiskey," he said. "He has a couple of different series that are a little older age class, and the older it gets, the smoother it gets. The younger whiskey has a little snap to it. It's a good product."
What separates Breckenridge bourbon from the crowd is its comparatively high use of rye, along with the corn and barley that are more traditionally associated with bourbon. The rye gives the whiskey a distinctive spicy flavor that singles it out as something special, Polich said.
The other component that stands out is the water that flows from the snow-packed peaks surrounding Breckenridge.
"Just like in Kentucky, the water is crucial to the taste of your whiskey," he said. "We have the perfect minerals that make our taste so good."
The flagship bourbon is a blend consisting of the locally produced product, combined with whiskeys from Indiana and Kentucky, locations steeped in whiskey-producing tradition.
Polich is bringing those flavors home for a tasting July 26 at Super One Liquor. He will attend with a number of offerings produced by the distillery.
"It's a proud moment for me," Polich said. "Ashland is my roots. I am proud to be from there, and when my friends can go to the liquor store and pick up a bottle of my bourbon or vodka, it's pretty awesome," he said.
Super One liquor store manager Tom Tardiff said he was delighted to have a former resident come back representing a prestigious brand.
"It will be nice to see him again," he said. "It will be nice for local people to know there is a local guy who is doing this, and doing good with his product."
That is also one of the reasons Bretting likes Breckenridge.
"I've known Kevin all of his life and I still have coffee with his dad Mike every day, he said. "It's great to see a hometown boy when I go skiing there with my boys."
These Rainbow words of goodbye replaced the greeting "welcome home" Monday as the Rainbow Family Gathering decamped after a weeklong get-together in the woods south of Iron River.
Cars no longer lined miles of Canthook Lake Road in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and silence had once again descended where Rainbows — as the people who attend these gatherings are known — had chattered and welcomed each other "home."
But now that the Fourth of July celebration of peace, harmony and healing has concluded and Rainbows have struck their camps, they've begun carting out gear and trash in preparation to restore the land to its pregathering glory.
U.S. Forest Service officers and members of the Washburn Ranger Station met Monday with Rainbows to go over plans for the site's rehabilitation.
Jennifer Maziasz of the Washburn Ranger Station said the Rainbows would be
responsible for handling the work, such as filling in the trench latrines, and decompacting large-group sites to a certain soil depth and covering them with forest litter like leaves. The Rainbows also will lay down seeds if necessary.
But first the trash needs to be carted out and sorted.
"It's a slow-moving movie," Rainbow Karen Zirk said.
Although Rainbows are leaving some filled bags of garbage along the side of the road, they are working with the Forest Service to take over the administrators' parking area for temporary trash storage, Zirk said.
The garbage will then be sorted so that recyclables will not end up with the trash at the dump.
Although thousands of Rainbows left the area after the gathering ended Sunday, hundreds remained to help clean up. And they continued their Rainbow pursuits making music, cooking in the kitchens and laying on the love.
Angela Berndt had lost her passion for teaching — a job that requires a deep and abiding commitment — a few years ago and was considering giving it up for a new career after 14 years.
But then she began teaching math at Ashland High School and something surprising happened. The class of 2019 connected with her in ways she didn't know possible and, in doing so, reignited her passion for the job.
"I thought about getting out of education at one point in time, and I think that's part of why I've connected with this class so much," Berndt said.
Berndt started in Ashland when students from the class of 2019 were sophomores, and she had most of them in classes during the following years.
"I love being able to just interact with them, teach them what they need to know in terms of mathematics, but also what they would need to know outside of that as well," she said.
Students often brighten even the gloomiest days with their excitement to talk with her. She also likes seeing the look a student gives when he or she understands a concept for the first time.
Berndt made an impression on nearly everyone in the class, said Romeo Salas, a graduate who formed a close relationship with Berndt during his three years of math classes with her. She engages students in class and makes herself available for anyone who needs help.
"She'll crack jokes, make sure everyone's paying attention, and at the same time, make sure the material is getting through," said Salas.
Berndt delivered a keynote speech at this year's graduation ceremony, revealing her doubts about her chosen career and the role the class of 2019 played in reinvigorating her.
The speech contained shout-outs to some favorite memories she shared with students, such as when Berndt used a laser pen and
made a student fall out of her chair.
Berndt also read from the children's book "I Knew You Could" by Craig Dorfman, which captured the message of her speech: graduates will face hard times in the future but will always have support from the school's staff.
"I thought [the speech] was a good summary of how much passion she poured into our class," said Salas. He bought "I Knew You Could" after graduation.
Megan Robertson, an AHS English teacher, first got to know Berndt through their work together on LINK Crew, a program that helps students make the transition into high school.
"When [Berndt] started working in Ashland, those of us who do LINK Crew were like 'She's perfect for this,'" Robertson said. Berndt is responsible for the main speech to incoming freshman — a talk she delivers with high energy and enthusiasm that she gets from the job.
Salas and Robertson said Berndt's 17 years in a classroom have allowed her to develop methods for connecting to every student.
"She has so many teaching styles in her repertoire per say. It's pretty amazing to watch her work," Salas said.
Berndt and Robertson also work together as instructional coaches, collaborating with other teachers to find new ways to teach. Berndt will be working full time in that role next year, meaning she'll no longer have her own classroom, but she'll observe and co-teach classes.
Berndt's old classroom was more than a place to do work. Robertson often found that current students and even a few graduates would come in during Berndt's prep time to hang out and play games like cribbage.
"That's a lot of her time that she then had to stay later after school to get things done and prepare for the next day," Robertson said.
Salas was one of the many students in his class that often spent time in Berndt's room. He described her room as his "safe space," which is Berndt's goal. She sings, dances, and makes weird noises during class to help students feel comfortable to express their own personalities.
"She really loves her job and really loves the kids that she teaches," said Salas.