This weekend, Dr. Kristin Grenier-Drenzek was laid to rest, as South Milwaukee lost a dedicated community servant with a passion for healing — and much, much more.
Please join me in keeping her family and many friends in your prayers.
You can see her obituary here, but Kristin’s legacy is much more than words on a page, made evident at her memorial on Saturday. She left an indelible mark on this city. And while I came to know her first as a small business owner — as well as a member of the South Milwaukee School Board and various city committees, including our Board of Health — her legacy extends well beyond that.
She touched so many lives, and leaves us way too soon. Rest in peace, Kristin.
From her obituary …
Dr. Kristin M. Grenier-Drenzek passed away peacefully Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021 at the age of 49. Loving wife of Nicholas Drenzek, Proud Mama of Lauren and Katelyn, Cherished daughter of Duane & Bonnie Grenier, Beloved sister of Jeff (Jodi) Grenier, Susan Grenier, and the late Charles Grenier; daughter-in-law of George and Gail Drenzek, sister-in-law of Doug (Jennifer) Drenzek and Jessica (Michael) Koepcke. Dear Auntie of Benjamin, Maddie, Aaliyah, Leslie and Sophie. Further survived by aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.
Kristin was a loving, caring person whose main goal in life was to help people through her Chiropractic business in South Milwaukee. She met many wonderful people and always did her best to make them feel better. Her beautiful smile, quick wit, and sense of humor will long be remembered.
Over the last month COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County, South Milwaukee, and St. Francis have been steadily declining. Milwaukee County data are also showing positive trends. In reviewing Gating Criteria for Milwaukee County, three of the five indicators are yellow, including Testing, PPE, and Tracing. The Cases and Care indicators are currently Green, indicating that the percent positive of those tested for COVID-19 is less than 5% and less than 10% of hospitalized patients are COVID-19 positive.
The South Milwaukee/St. Francis Health Department has been working in coordination with the Cudahy and Oak Creek Health Departments to provide vaccinations. Hundreds of residents are being vaccinated each week. While the distribution of vaccine is slower than we had hoped, we will continue to work together to maximize our resources.
While the data show promising trends, new genetic variants of the COVID-19 virus and being largely indoors through the remaining weeks of winter could quickly reverse these trends. The Health Department continues to recommend individuals and the community follow the guidance of wearing face masks, staying at least 6 feet apart, avoiding crowds, washing hands, and getting tested for COVID-19 if you are feeling sick.
The Health Department is moving from our Phased Reopening Model to a longer-term plan of Safe Practices Guidelines. These guidelines align with other suburban municipalities in Milwaukee County, along with the elements outlined in the City of Milwaukee’s Business COVID Safety Plan for restaurant and bars. The purpose of the realignment was to provide businesses with tools and information on how to reduce risk rather than general occupancy guidelines.
Further details on the Safe Practice Guidelines are available here.
Key aspects of the Safe Practice Guidelines include:
Public gatherings limited to 50 people;
Occupancy limits for restaurants and bars at a capacity where the number of individuals allows for maintenance of physical distancing and protective measures; and
Occupancy limits for retail establishments, salons and spa services, gyms and places of amusement where the
number of individuals allows for maintenance of physical distancing and protective measures.
It’s still Election Day … vote! Polls are open for the 2021 Spring Primary, and here is a sample ballot, with only the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction superintendent on it. Details here. Note the new polling place for First District residents, for this election only.
The South Milwaukee School District called off classes shortly after 5 a.m. Divine Mercy and Zion Lutheran School are also closed today. Full list here.
Garbage collection is being pushed back one day for the rest of the week, due to the snow. Recycling pickup will remain as scheduled. The Self-Deposit Station is also closed today.
Please join me in welcoming the South Milwaukee Public Library’s new director: Tristan Marshall.
Tristan joins us from Wauwatosa, where she has proven to be an innovator and someone focused on building community relationships. I’m excited to see that experience come to life here, as she leads this important institution forward.
I also want to thank Interim Director Shirley Langbartels for her leadership during these incredibly challenging times. Your hard work during the pandemic has been much appreciated, Shirley.
Learn more in the following press release.
New South Milwaukee Public Library Director Tristan Marshall Lauded as an Innovator, Able to Build Community Relationships
Tristan Marshall has been appointed the new Library Director for the South Milwaukee Public Library. The city’s Library Board unanimously named Marshall to the position at its February 2 meeting. Marshall becomes only the fourth Library Director in South Milwaukee since the 1970s.
The Circulation Supervisor at the Wauwatosa Public Library since 2013, Marshall is scheduled to start at South Milwaukee March 8.
“We are extremely pleased and excited that Tristan will be leading our great South Milwaukee Public Library,” said Dan Reszel, Library Board President. “She is an innovator, believes in relationship building throughout the community, has an engaging personality, and realizes the funding and public health challenges we are facing in the era of limited budgets and the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Reszel said Marshall’s deep library experience coupled with strong people skills impressed the Library Board.
“She said, ‘I have a [library] job because of the patrons’ during the interview,” Reszel said. “That simple but powerful message is so truly fundamental, and it resonated.”
At the Wauwatosa Public Library Marshall is responsible for the circulation of some 800,000 items per year, a volume second only to the Milwaukee Public Library system. She supervises 27 full- and part-time staff at Wauwatosa. In 2019 Marshall received the Wauwatosa “Mayor’s Award for Customer Service,” an award that all of the city’s many hundreds of public employees are eligible for.
Marshall lives in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood.
Also at the February 2 meeting the Library Board thanked Interim/Acting Director Shirley Langbartels for her valued leadership.
In 2019 the South Milwaukee Public Library had 78,409 patron visits and nearly 7,000 active library users, about one-third of the city’s population. It also delivered 284 programs for children, young adults and adults that were attended by 7,681 people. Find out more at smlibrary.org.
The only primary on the ballot locally is for Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction superintendent. A field of seven candidates will be narrowed to two for the April 6 election. Candidate information can be found here.
Note a new polling place for District 1 for this election only, as residents join District 3 to vote at City Hall.
If you still would like an absentee ballot mailed to you, you should request it ASAP here. At this point, you should return it to the dropbox outside City Hall — not mail it — after you fill it out.
Some great news from the South Milwaukee Police Department, as we continue to head in the right direction on crime in South Milwaukee …
Of course, one crime, every one of these data points, is too many, but the numbers tell a positive story for our city, and it’s something we should all be proud of.
Fighting crime is a community effort, a partnership with our citizens that begins with our police department. I thank our officers for their tireless work in keeping us safe, especially during this most difficult of years.
We are pleased to report that in 2020 we saw some significant decreases in several categories of crime, including aggravated assault, simple assault, burglary and theft. Unfortunately, we experienced a slight increase in robberies and weapons law violations during the year. Overall, crime decreased by 20% from the previous year total.We are including several charts and graphs for your review and we are also including a comparison to previous years so you have some context for these crime and safety numbers. As you can see from the graphs, we are trending in the right direction over the past five years. Additional details will be presented in our upcoming annual report.
Significant changes are coming to South Milwaukee’s bus routes as part of the Milwaukee County Transit System’s MCTS NEXT initiative.
Information on the overall effort can be found here, including a chance to sign up for virtual meetings to learn more about the changes on Feb. 18, 25, or 27, or March 4.
From MCTS …
Our region has evolved over the years, especially when it comes to the locations of job centers, shopping destinations, schools, and residential areas. That’s why, in 2018, the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) started working on a new approach to improve the rider experience and meet the community’s modern needs. The MCTS NEXT system redesign aligns with Milwaukee County’s mission to advance racial equity and enhance the quality of life through great public service. Faster service, more connections, and easier-to-understand routing are just some of the benefits rolling out in 2021 as part of MCTS NEXT.
Changes impacting Routes 15 and 52 in South Milwaukee take effect March 7. See the detailed changes here.
This video talks about the Route 15 changes. From the website …
Route 15’s routing on the south end will be adjusted. Buses will travel south along 10th Avenue and Chicago Avenue, ending at Chicago & Drexel. Northbound buses will head west on Drexel, north on 15th, east on Marquette, then north on 10th like it is today.
Route 15’s service on Madison Avenue and 5th Avenue will be replaced by Route 52 (see Route 52 details). There will no longer by any service on Columbia Avenue due to low ridership.
Click here to see a map that compares this route’s new routing to its previous routing.
There will no longer be any service on 17thAvenue, Milwaukee Avenue, and Rawson Avenue west of 15th due to low ridership.
The nearest available Route 52 stops for residents in this neighborhood will be southbound 15th and Rawson or northbound Chicago and Marquette. Additionally, residents can utilize Route 15, which also stops at northbound 15th and Marshall or eastbound Marquette and Chicago.
Route 52 service will be added on Madison Avenue (between 10th and 5th) and 5th Avenue (between Madison and Puetz) to replace Route 15 service.
Route 52 service will also be added on Chicago Avenue north of Puetz Road.
It’s been a basketball season like no other, masks and all. But one thing hasn’t changed — the South Milwaukee girls’ run atop the Woodland Conference East.
The Rockets clinched a share of their third straight Woodland East championship with their win against Milwaukee Lutheran last week. Congratulations!
The girls finished the regular season 17-5 and open WIAA play as a No. 3 seed in their Division I region, moving up a division due to COVID-19. The Rockets play No. 6 West Central on Tuesday in South Milwaukee, with No. 2 seed Franklin and top seed Oak Creek (who South Milwaukee beat earlier this season) looming.
Thursday was another sad day for Wisconsin. It was not at all surprising.
In case you missed it, and to summarize …
Thursday afternoon, the Wisconsin State Assembly voted overwhelmingly to overturn Gov. Evers’ emergency order and, in doing so, the statewide mask mandate. This followed a similar vote in the Senate last week — one made before it was revealed that taking this action put $50 million in food aid from the federal government in question. The Assembly, in an attempt to salvage the food assistance, also amended their COVID-19 relief package; the Senate was poised to take up this new bill, sure to be vetoed, on Friday.
But wait! An hour after the Assembly vote, Gov. Evers then issued a new order and a new mask mandate, essentially daring lawmakers to challenge him in court (again) or with new legislation. I’m sure they will.
The end result: We are in exactly the same place we were on Wednesday. And that is a bad place … a place where nearly 500,000 people have died of COVID-19, including 5,992 in Wisconsin and 31 in South Milwaukee; a place where more than 2,100 people — 10% of our city’s population — have had laboratory-confirmed cases; a place where we are still months away from seriously, and safely, reopening our economy; a place where many schools are only just now starting to return to in-person learning; place where we still can’t hold Summerfest, even 18 months after the first cases of coronavirus were reported in the United States.
What we need is a unified approach to fighting a deadly pandemic that does not know nor care about state, county or community boundaries. What we have is a fragemented, disjointed, and polaraized approach that is now pitting state against state, city against city and sometimes neighbor against neighbor.
All branches bear responsibility here, but the actions the legislature have taken in the last week — after almost 300 days of inaction on pandemic issues — are particularly troubling.
I get it — this is not just about government. But government, especially our state government, is in a unique position to lead in fighting back against COVID-19. And it’s not.
Locally, we are doing our best to slow the spread, led by the amazing work of local health departments. We’re working with our neighbors to deliver testing and vaccines, just as we did in the early days of the pandemic as we took more drastic actions like shutdowns and health orders and issued reopening guidance.
These actions are making a difference, but to win this fight we need more. We need more vaccines; we are typically receiving less than half of what we ask for each week from the state. We need a statewide vaccine plan that answers the key question many are asking: “When do I get mine?” We need more testing. We need more financial support for local governments and schools, and struggling businesses and families.
We also need a statewide mask order. Masking works, and I say that not because a Facebook friend tells me it does, but because every respected health care leader and institution I’ve seen says so.
Does masking prevent spread? Has it prevented all illness and death? Obviously not. The better questions are this: How bad would this have been without a mask order, and how bad could it still be if we don’t wear masks?
Lawmakers have made their choice. In voting to end the order and the mandate, a vast majority of Senate and Assembly Republicans decided on-record opposition from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, the Wisconsin Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, and the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments — among many others — didn’t matter. They decided the views of more than 70% of Wisconsinites who support a mask order didn’t matter.
They decided what matters is politics.
Their argument, one lawmaker said, is not about masks, but about “the rule of law,” that the governor does not have the power to issue such emergency orders and mandates. Or, as South Shore State Rep. Jessie Rodriguez said in her recent newsletter: “The resolution does not simply rescind the ‘mask mandate,’ but repeals Governor Evers’ state of emergency, which would include all emergency orders (such as the statewide mask mandate).”
Here I point out that Rep. Rodriguez was one of a handful of Assembly Republicans to vote no on overturning the orders, and I thank her and credit her for doing that. Others should have done the same for this reason: You can’t separate the two issues, not when knowing that taking one action (removing the order) automatically causes the other (ending the mask mandate) to happen.
In other words, you can’t absolve yourself of blame for the results of the actions you take. Isn’t that what we teach our kids? That’s called accountability, and it is lacking in the Capitol these days.
Instead, we get dueling press releases, finger pointing and the blame game. We get lawsuits, superheated rhetoric and namecalling. We get Tweets like this, from the state senator to our west …
I, too, was called a dicator in a blog comment last spring, by someone upset about South Milwaukee’s reopening restrictions. The death threat against me and my family followed shortly thereafter.
This is how COVID wins. This is how we lose. Or have we already lost?
Work on the Bucyrus Club is moving full spead ahead — celebrated in this new video about the project and what it will mean for the city.
The project has also received a major boost from Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which on Wednesday announced the awarding of a $250,000 grant to support the project. The South Milwaukee Common Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday night to accept the funds.
The Community Development Investment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) will support renovations to the Bucyrus Club banquet and meeting center and museum, more than 100 years after the first Bucyrus Club opened in the building.
“A vibrant downtown is key to a community’s overall economic health, and this renovation is expected to bring more visitors to downtown, which will benefit other businesses and the entire community,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC. “This project is another example of the many ways in which WEDC works with communities throughout Wisconsin to enhance their business districts and in doing so, add to their quality of life.”
“This is a transformational project for our downtown and city,” said South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks. “I can’t thank the WEDC enough for their support. These funds will go a long way toward making this game-changing project a reality, and ensuring future generations know the heritage of Bucyrus in South Milwaukee through the Bucyrus Club.”
I am incredibly grateful to the WEDC for its support, which may be the first state economic development grant for South Milwaukee in the history of the city. Thank you, Secretary Hughes.
I also recognize these grants don’t magically happen. I also want to thank city staff for putting the detailed-oriented work in to identify the opportunity and then apply for it.
The South Milwaukee and St. Francis Health Department has launched an information page about COVID-19 vaccinations. Check it out here, and learn more about the rollout plan, and to link to a number of other resources about the COVID-19 vaccination effort. From the page …
What phase are we in right now?
We are currently in Phase 1A which means we are vaccinating health care personnel and those that live and work in long term care facilities. There are an estimated 400,000 individuals statewide that are eligible to receive vaccine in Phase 1A. In addition to Phase 1A, the State has indicated that starting Jan. 18, 2021, law enforcement and fire personnel may also be vaccinated.
If you are an individual that is a healthcare worker or an organization that employs healthcare workers you can register at https://www.healthymke.com/register to be matched to a vaccine provider. You can also contact the South Milwaukee/St. Francis Health Department for more information at 414-768-8055.
What is the timeline for moving through the phases?
The State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services has indicated that the State will move through the phases together, which means that once Phase 1A is complete we will move to Phase 1B as defined by the SDMAC. Although vaccine is slowly becoming available, we all still need to take the necessary precautions to prevent getting or spreading COVID-19. Please stay home when you’re sick, continue to wear masks, limit indoor gatherings, practice physical distancing, and wash your hands often. The combination of a vaccine and prevention measures will help us as we slowly return to “normal.”
Where can I go for the most up to date information about vaccines and vaccination data?
Things are changing quickly when it comes to the rollout of the vaccine, including the potential for nationalizing the effort under President-Elect Joe Biden.
I thank local public health departments like ours for navigating through these dificult times, and leading where others aren’t. With little to no federal help on a rollout plan — even a framework for who should get shots in arms when — it has been left to individual states, and each one seems to be doing this differently, with some moving much quicker than others. All of it seems disjointed.
I’m deeply disappointed with the rollout in Wisconsin — specifically about the lack of a statewide vaccination plan. This should have been developed months ago, with clear answers to the most basic questions — who gets shots in what order and when — and a plan to communicate that clearly and consistently to the public.
Instead, we don’t even have a final recommendation for who is in the next phase, while some areas move to that next phase. This is leaving people to rightfully wonder, “When is it my turn?”
Fingers are being pointed, and politics are being played (of course). Vaccines wait in storage while the virus rages in some parts of the country, with a new variant prompting dire predictions.
We deserve better. We need consistency and coordination at the state and federal levels. We need leadership. We need accountability. We need a plan. Instead, we are getting exactly what we have throughout the pandemic — a too-often piecemeal approach to an effort that demands the exact opposite.
The good news is coming locally. Public health departments stepping up as they have throughout the pandemic to lead where others aren’t. They are working together to get shots in arms in the South Shore and county, just as they did around testing and with other efforts to slow the spread the virus.
Local health departments are saving lives. As we surpass 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Milwaukee, they know we must be unified to confront this historic challenge, so we can return to normal with as little illness and death as possible. Others should learn from them.
Steele Solutions makes mezzanines and catwalks and is expanding operations to South Milwaukee. It is based in Franklin and also has a Milwaukee facility.
“South Milwaukee has always been a hub for heavy manufacturing, and we look forward to helping keep that tradition alive,” said Chief Executive Officer Kevin O’Neill.
“Adding the Big Muskie building to our other two local fabrication plants will help us keep up with the rapid growth our customers are experiencing,” he said in a statement.
Here is my full statement: “This is great news for South Milwaukee. It’s exciting to see new life, and new jobs, come to the former Bucyrus campus in the heart of our city, and build on our manufacturing legacy. Steele Solutions is not alone in deciding to grow in South Milwaukee. So many good things are happening across our city these days, especially downtown, and I’m so happy to see them choose to write another chapter in that unfolding story.”
The South Milwaukee School Board on Monday voted to begin a return to in-person learning, starting with a “hybrid” approach for elementary students on Jan. 18 and middle and high school students a week later. Elementary students would fully return to school on Feb. 1, with middle and high students returning Feb. 8.
I support the decision to return to school, as mayor, husband to a school board member, and father of two district students. I also support the people who made it, the path they took to get there, and the motivations behind their decisions.
Yet districts across the county and state remain divided on this issue. It seems like no two are handling it in exactly the same way. Some districts have been fully open since September. Others have been fully virtual, and will seemingly remain so for some time. And then there is everyone in between, those who have mixed virtual and live schooling in recent months, often in very different ways.
That lack of a coordinated reponse to the virus is not unique to schools. Disagreements have marked every aspect of our response to COVID-19 since last spring.
Almost no part of the work to push back against the pandemic — from decisions on shutdowns and reopenings, to support for struggling families and busineses, to testing, to contract tracing, to adherence to safety measures like masking, to now vaccinations — has been consistent.
We have suffered because of it. Too many lives have been lost, as the pandemic has further divided an already divided nation and state and left local units of government, and their usually part-time elected officials, to fill this leadership vacuum and make the best of complex situations lacking clearly right or wrong answers.
Such is the situation the school board found itself in in recent weeks. Such is the situation we have all found ourselves in for the last 10 months.
You may not support the decisions made, and that is your right. Protest them, if you wish. But please draw the line at personally attacking the individuals making them.
I’d like to think we can at least agree on that, even in these times. Is that possible in 2021?