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Wilke: It’s critical for Lake Mills to get full-time staffing for EMS, fire department

LAKE MILLS — The Lake Mills City Council had its first look at six options for emergency medical services presented by City Manager Steve Wilke June 7.

The memo, crafted by Wilke, had been available for viewing by council members and the public for several days prior to the official meeting.

No action was taken on choosing an EMS model and the council expects the topic to be discussed at future meetings.

While there was no substantial discussion on the proposals, Wilke pointed out that the biggest challenge for emergency medical services will be staffing.

“I think the staff is singularly the most important issue that we’re going to deal with here and how to put that in place, and keep it operational and meet the demands of the community,” he said.

Wilke said he tried to deal primarily with staffing when determining the options. He referenced a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that indicated the staffing model currently used by the Lake Mills Emergency Medical Services (LMEMS) of paid-on-premise and paid-on-call no longer works.

He said that in 2013, LMEMS had 31 advanced EMTs (AEMTs) on staff; this year, the organization has 11 who are at that level.

The city manager noted the Lake Mills Fire Department has two paramedics, two emergency medical responders, three AEMTs and 18 EMT-basic on staff.

“The rosters for both agencies are getting pretty thin, particularly during the daytime,” Wilke said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for us to consider seriously how we’re going to deal with that.”

He said the best option is to have full-time staff, which are among the options he presented to the council.

The city manager said he believes three of the options will be the most viable in the long term: consolidating the fire and LMEMS into one department, consolidating the two departments at a more gradual pace, or creating a separate EMS department in the city and having it cooperate with the fire department. Each option requires hiring additional full-time staff.

“The key is picking up those six additional full-time employees and how we’re going to fund that,” Wilke said.

Furthermore, he said, the city also will need to find a way to keep the full-time employees with the Lake Mills departments. According to the city manager, one of the ongoing challenges with the fire department is staff leaving once they are trained through Lake Mills and they join a fire department in a different community.

Council Vice President Liesa Kerler noted that with many EMS now needing full-time staff if it would cause difficulties in finding qualified candidates to fill the full-time positions.

“It just makes me wonder if we’re going to be assuming some level of transition,” she said. “I’m not saying specifically the gradual option you’ve listed, but there may be challenges in trying to staff up right away.”

Wilke feels there will be some staffing challenges right away, but in the long-run the city will end up with a more stable operation. To a certain extent, he said, there will be a substantial number of applicants between current members of the LMEMS and Lake Mills Fire Department.

The city manager would like to keep Jefferson County administration involved in the ongoing EMS conversation.

Wilke said the county would be able to serve as a tax levy sponsor to fund the emergency services. He explained that the state allows the county to levy for emergency services, which allows it either to run its own emergency services or, as Jefferson County has been discussing, offer funding to municipalities’ emergency service providers similar to the library payments.

“They would look at the amount of expenses we have and then, based on the types of expenses, they fund us a certain amount,” he said.

In this structure, the city manager said he would anticipate the city receiving $100,000 per year from Jefferson County if Lake Mills continues to run a $500,000 operating budget for fire and EMS.

“It might be more than that, but it’s hard to know right now,” Wilke said.

If the county would not levy the taxes, the city might have to go to an operational referendum where residents would vote on whether to exceed the local tax levy to fund the EMS and fire. He said the council would need to approve a referendum question in August to make the November ballot.

“Overall, the need for additional funds needs to be discussed with the towns,” Wilke said, adding a meeting with the town chairmen is set for June 16. “I also want to be able to have conversations with other cities in the county. … I know they’re all under stress.”

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Ribbon cut on Jefferson's new story walk, Conservancy park trail

JEFFERSON — An unkempt property full of dead and dying ash trees and weeds has been transformed into a recreational gem in the heart of the City of Jefferson.

The new Meadow Springs Conservancy Park mixes wooded areas with mature oak, ginkgo and other trees with prairie areas newly replanted with native flowers and grasses.

Through it all winds a new one-mile broad, paved trail. A quarter mile of this new loop includes a story walk managed by the Jefferson Public Library and which features books that can be enjoyed by children and families one page at a time as they walk.

Saturday marked the dedication and ribbon-cutting for the trail, attended by neighbors, city planners and employees, developers and community members alike.

“This is a culmination of two years of work by a lot of good people,” said Jefferson Mayor Dale Oppermann.

“The project is still a work-in-progress,” the mayor added, noting that it will take a couple of years for the new plantings to really get established and the park to look the way it is designed to.

However, the new park and trail already are attracting a lot of use by area pedestrians, dog-walkers, bikers and skateboarders interested in getting out in nature and taking advantage of the new paved trail.

Oppermann gave special credit to neighboring residents who helped kick the whole project off when they contacted the city about dangerous dead and dying ash trees on the old golf course property which bordered their yards.

Earlene Ronk and her husband Peter were the first to contact the city to see if something could be done about the precarious trees and the scruffy property. (Sadly, Peter since has passed away, but his involvement in the process is marked by a special bench dedicated to him that provides respite along the trail.)

Soon the Ronks were joined by other neighbors who happily signed on to the effort to repurpose the property and make it an asset for the whole community.

Along with the Ronk family’s bench, dedicated in Peter’s memory, neighboring residents Max and Susan Wilde also have donated a bench along the trail, theirs featuring a Shakespeare quote.

Playing an essential part in the process was Madison Golf, which owned the former Meadow Springs Golf Course that had closed a decade ago.

Also playing a major role were numerous City of Jefferson officials, city Parks and Recreation and Public Works Department staff, and the Jefferson City Council.

Later on, Jefferson Public Library, its library board and Friends of the Library group, with the support of donations and a major grant from Theisen’s Home, Farm and Auto, stepped in to plan the Story Walk along a portion of the trail.

None of it would have happened without the initial spur from neighboring residents, the mayor said, followed by the property owner’s willingness to sell to the city.

“In November of 2019, the city had a very rare, one-time opportunity to acquire 35 acres of undeveloped green space located just four to five blocks from our historic downtown,” Oppermann said.

That’s when the city started its work to repurpose the under-utilized and under-maintained former golf course area, with the idea of turning it into a passive recreation area that generations of local residents will be able to enjoy in perpetuity.

A secondary benefit of the city purchasing this property was that it gave Jefferson planners a way to address the chronic shortage of housing in the area, Oppermann said.

After the city acquired the property, the mayor said the first order of business was to take down more than 50 trees which had been sickened fatally after Emerald Ash Borer spread into the area.

Earlene Ronk described how she watched city workers take down the trees and transform the land using a Bobcat, chains and “brute force,” and how, from the start, the transformation has seemed “magical” to her.

Less visibly but just as importantly, lots of planning also was going on behind the scenes, as city planners worked with Vandewalle and Associates on a design for the rededicated areas.

Oppermann acknowledged Bill Pinnow, city engineer and public works director; Cyndi Keller, director of parks, recreation and forestry for the city; and numerous city employees for their role in helping the process along.

As they worked on plans for the property, the city also connected with Loos Custom Homes, a local developer based in Johnson Creek, to see if that company was interested in creating homes along the new conservancy property.

For its part, the company was honored to be asked, with representatives saying that the conservancy property was an “excellent opportunity” to build homes close to existing amenities and a beautiful new natural area.

Representatives said their goal was to provide quality, affordable homes in the right location, and they could not have chosen a better location than right there.

“It will be two years before 14 additional single homes and several duplexes are constructed,” the mayor said.

However, the planning process is well underway.

Oppermann said he likes to think that the founders of the Meadow Springs Golf Course, which started in the 1930s and flourished for many decades where the new park and trail now stand, would be pleased with the new use the property has been put to.

Melissa Anderson, Jefferson Public Library director, said her staff, board and supporters jumped at the chance to place a new Story Walk along the conservancy trail, following the lead of two other Jefferson County communities: Fort Atkinson and Watertown.

The story walk provides weather-protected, page-by-page spots to display a story families and children can read as they walk the trail. The featured story can be changed out from month to month or whenever coordinators feel is appropriate.

“I always had the idea we should do one in Jefferson, and we wanted to take advantage of this moment of opportunity,” Anderson said.

The librarian said that as with the conservancy as a whole, the Story Walk project has been a great partnership between the city departments, business leadership and the community. The fund drive, expected to last months, actually met its goal early and assured the project’s success.

While not located in the library itself, the Story Walk project very much fits in with the library’s mission of increasing accessibility, the library director said, providing resources that benefit the whole community, and, of course, promoting literacy for the youngest children on up.

Rainbow nurse loses two brothers, but finds a calling in life

JOHNSON CREEK — Jodi Badura wonders what her two brothers would be like today and what they would be doing with their lives.

She’s curious if she would have a bunch of nieces and nephews running around. It’s something she finds herself thinking about more and more but won’t ever get to experience.

October 3, 1994, was a day that changed Jodi and her family forever. She was just 16 years old when her older brother, Mark Ballman, was killed in a car accident on State Highway 26 on his way to school. Mark would have graduated later that spring from Fort Atkinson High School.

“Growing up, it was always my brother Mark and me,” said Badura. “He truly was my childhood best friend. We went everywhere together. He’d beat up on me a lot because I was his younger sister, and his friends liked me, and he didn’t like that.”

Mark’s death was sudden and unexpected. He always was supposed to be there with Jodi like he had been, and now he was gone.

When her younger brother Lucas (“Luke”) was born on Jan. 15, 1996, Jodi felt an instant connection.

“He obviously couldn’t replace Mark, but Luke gave us a new meaning for life,” Badura said.

By then, Jodi already had started thinking about a future career in the medical field.

“I always wanted to help and take care of people,” Badura said. “Losing Mark, I couldn’t do anything to change that situation. But being there for people is a way for me to give back.”

In 2005, Jodi started working for Rainbow Hospice Care as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). For seven years in this role, she helped support patients and families going through the end-of-life journey.

“Mark’s death was very tragic,” Badura said. “I didn’t get to hold his hand, but I could do that with hospice patients and their families, and give them that comfort and support.”

Jodi left Rainbow for a short time after completing her LPN degree in 2012 but returned in 2013. Ever since, she’s been working as Rainbow’s Referrals, Admissions, and Intake Specialist and often is the first person patients and families talk to when they need Rainbow’s services.

Jodi kept busy with work and raising her two daughters, but she was there to watch Luke grow up. She also made sure that he knew about his older brother, Mark.

Like most siblings, Luke and Jodi shared a special connection. She always tried her best to look out for her little brother and protect him.

Luke had been battling Crohn’s disease for several years and got very sick a few weeks after graduating from high school in June 2014. In the fall, he went to St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison for numerous blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy, but they didn’t find anything abnormal.

Doctors thought that Luke’s fatigue, weight loss, fever, chills and bloody noses he had been experiencing all were related to his Crohn’s disease. A week later, though, another more detailed test revealed Luke had a rare type of cancer, Hepatosplenic T-Cell Lymphoma.

“I remember walking into Luke’s room and seeing the scared look on his face,” Badura said. “That memory will be in my mind forever. I leaned over, kissed his forehead, and told him that I loved him.”

Doctors believe that Remicade, the medication that Luke took to treat his Crohn’s disease, was the cause of his cancer. After a spleen biopsy confirmed it was cancer, Luke’s blood had trouble clotting, and his blood pressure dropped suddenly. He was rushed to the intensive care unit and placed on a ventilator. Doctors didn’t think he would make it through the next day.

Jodi spent her actual birthday, Sept. 12, in the hospital praying for her brother’s survival. Luke spent nearly an entire month in a coma but continued to find the strength to fight.

At the beginning of October, he woke up and was taken off his ventilator. Jodi and her family felt fortunate to celebrate her birthday with Luke in his hospital bed. Her little brother wasn’t ready to give up and his family wasn’t ready to let him go.

“I remember him saying, ‘What do I have to lose?’” Badura said. “Luke wasn’t afraid to die, but he didn’t want to die and wasn’t ready to die. He was a fighter.”

Luke went through several rounds of chemotherapy and stayed in the hospital until early December. Unfortunately, his health wasn’t improving, and he started getting weaker.

Even the powerful love Jodi and her family had for Luke couldn’t help him conquer the battle he was about to face. As his cancer progressed, Luke made the tough decision to stop treatment. Jodi didn’t want to lose her brother, but she also didn’t want to see him in pain.

“Watching him go through all those obstacles every single day was just really, really hard,” Badura said. “I couldn’t imagine how hard it was for him living it and making those decisions.”

Jodi helped Luke create a bucket list of all the things he wanted to experience. And at the top of that list was to go ice fishing one last time. He had missed the deer and duck hunting season when he was in a coma, so Jodi and his family took him up north to his uncle’s cabin, where they spent a few days fishing together and enjoying the outdoors.

Not long after returning home, on Jan. 31, 2015, Luke and his family decided to sign him onto Rainbow Hospice Care’s services. When Luke was at home in his final days, Jodi always was there taking care of him. The family made sure someone always was there for him, so he never was alone.

“I was giving the medications and making sure he was comfortable,” Badura said. “I was his nurse and caregiver at home, and set my alarm every two hours to reposition him because he was so weak and skinny. But Rainbow was great. They gave me the support I needed and the reassurance that I was doing the right thing by answering all the questions I had.”

Luke continued to get weaker and couldn’t get out of bed, but he still had friends coming over to see him. Jodi and the family invited all his buddies over for a guys’ night with pizza and grasshoppers.

“We had to kick the guys out because they didn’t want to leave,” Badura said. “They were all reminiscing, and that was really special for all of them, even Lucas.”

Jodi was there when Luke took his final breaths and died on Feb. 5, 2015, less than a month after his 19th birthday.

“I feel like my work at Rainbow Hospice Care helped prepare me for what comes next,” Badura said.

It didn’t make things any easier, but Jodi got a chance to say goodbye to Luke, something she didn’t have with Mark.

“We don’t say that Luke’s death was any more or any less important than Mark’s,” Badura said. “But the impact that Lucas’ life and death had on us was different from Mark’s. They were two different people.”

With family, friends, and the entire community rallying around Luke and hoping for his recovery, “Team Luke” was born, first as a simple website that shared his courageous story and offered him support. Eventually, it grew into something much bigger.

Family and friends designed “Team Luke” bracelets, which were the color camouflage because of Luke’s love for hunting, and T-shirts that included the words “I Wear Lime Green for Luke,” in honor of Lymphoma awareness. “Team Luke” still is going strong today, made up of people across the community who donate their time, food and money to support others who are going through a tough time, like the Ballman family.

Jodi continues to inspire others by how much she gives back to her community and those in need of a helping hand. She has taken part in fundraising efforts to form a “Team Luke” scholarship that was presented for two years to one Fort Atkinson High School graduate.

She also volunteers and has adopted several families over the years for the Jefferson County Christmas Neighbors program, a local non-profit that helps families and children in need with donations of toys, clothing and food. Despite her busy schedule, Jodi still finds the time to donate what she calls “Sunshine Bags” to local schools, bags that she fills with feminine hygiene products and inspirational quotes.

“During Luke’s journey, our community came together,” Badura said. “Everybody was there to support us, whether it was with meals or picking kids up from school, mowing the yard, or taking care of animals. This is the least I can do to say, ‘thank you’ for that.”

Jodi also makes her own arts and crafts, and sells them at local fairs and flea markets. But her passion and love for photography started after her brother Mark died.

“There could have been more photos of him,” Badura said. “I missed out on a lot of memories that we didn’t capture in a photo with Mark.”

It was a photo she took of her brother Luke for his senior pictures that led Jodi to push herself and develop her own photography business. Now Jodi often donates her photography services to others, so they don’t miss out on those memorable moments.

Jodi discovered that losing a loved one changes your life forever and living life without them is even more challenging. Life goes on all around us, but for those experiencing grief, life seems to stand still.

Sometimes the sadness creeps up on Jodi when she thinks about her brothers. That grief becomes unbearable, and the emotions and tears keep coming. Her heart feels like it’s been shattered into a million pieces, along with a feeling of emptiness. But Jodi knows she needs that time to reflect on her journey through grief.

Jodi honors Luke’s memory by living every day like it’s her last and remembering their good times together.

Whenever she sees a beautiful sunrise and sunset, some breathtaking clouds, a cardinal flying in a tree outside her window, or an eagle soaring in the sky, she thinks about Luke and Mark and imagines they are responsible for nature’s beauty.

“I always look for signs, and they don’t happen every day,” Badura said. “But when they do, those are goosebumps moments for me. There’s a reason they happen. I always think that’s totally Lucas or Mark.”

Their birthdays are tough, but she remembers Luke and Mark on those days and finds ways to stay connected to them.

“I try to do fun things that don’t make me sad on those days,” Badura said. “We honor them with cupcakes on their birthday at the cemetery. We sit around and tell stories about them.”

Luke would have turned 26 years old in January, so that birthday, like most of them, was especially hard since the guest of honor wasn’t there to celebrate.

“I spent the day talking to Luke, remembering funny things about him that made me laugh out loud,” Badura said. “Then I sat in the hospital parking lot and remembered the day he was born. I visited his grave, played our song, and shared a beer with him. I enjoyed a steak dinner with my loved ones, and we reminisced while sipping on an ice cream drink in his honor. I shed tears, thinking about how much I miss him. If that’s not honoring my grief, I don’t know what is.”

Jodi feels her brothers’ presence every day and knows they’re not far away. Mark and Luke always will be in her heart. Remembering them is important for Jodi because they had an unbreakable bond.

“Jodi learned that hiding her grief doesn’t work,” said Rainbow Bereavement Counselor Laura Wessels. “She allows herself to be sad or to be happy. Jodi knows she can’t control her life, but she can choose to live in a way that honors her brothers in all the ways she misses their presence in her life. Jodi understands that it’s up to her to honor her grief in ways that help her and her heart.”

Rainbow Hospice Care provides bereavement services and support groups for families and loved ones of hospice patients by allowing them to acknowledge and better understand their grief and loss. Rainbow’s bereavement team also offers community grief support to any individual experiencing grief and loss. Support is available through groups and individual counseling by phone or in-person meetings.

Jodi mourns not only for herself and her family but also for Mark and Luke, who still had a long life ahead of them. She would give anything to see her brothers and hug them both again. It’s even more painful knowing that others won’t ever get the chance to see that same spark that so many people loved about them.

“Mark was loud and obnoxious and the class clown, but he was so entertaining,” Badura said. “He could make everybody laugh. Lucas had a contagious smile, and he would be a professional hunter. He was that talented. Both were very hardworking and would be making a difference somehow.”

Jodi continues to make a difference too, in the lives of her family, friends, co-workers, others in the community, and with Rainbow Hospice Care’s patients and families. Her broken heart never will fully heal. But Jodi finds peace and comfort in knowing that her two brothers, who never got a chance to meet on this earth, are together now, watching over her and her family. And someday, they all will be together again.

“When Lucas was dying, he said ‘I get to meet my brother Mark now,’” Badura said. “He had this strong love and bond with somebody he didn’t even know because of how much we kept Mark’s memory alive.”

Michael R. Jackson, second left, accepts the award for best new musical for “A Strange Loop” at the 75th annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 12, at Radio City Music Hall in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Minnesota man arrested for OWI with minors in Jefferson County

A 31-year-old man from St. Paul, Minn. was arrested by the Wisconsin State Patrol Waukesha Post for operating a motor vehicle under the influence, first offense, with four children in the vehicle under the age of 16.

According to the Wisconsin State Patrol, Jonathan A. Brown was arrested at 2:10 a.m. Sunday on Interstate 94, west of State Highway 26.

Troopers with the Wisconsin State Patrol Southeast Region responded to a driving complaint aired by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Office. The complaint stated a white sports utility vehicle was unable to maintain its lane or speed and was reported to be heading west on Interstate 94 from State Highway 67 in Waukesha County.

A caller reported that the vehicle nearly had struck both another vehicle and a guardrail.

A trooper located the vehicle near Johnson Creek and — after observing driving behavior including driving well under the speed limit and over the center line — initiated a traffic stop west of Highway 26 in Jefferson County.

Upon approach, the trooper observed signs of possible impairment, and standardized field sobriety tests were conducted. The driver then was arrested for operating under the influence first offense with passengers under 16 years of age.

A search of the vehicle recovered a loaded firearm, which was taken as evidence. The children were released into their mother’s custody.

The driver then was transported to a local hospital for a legal blood draw before being booked into the Jefferson County Jail without incident.

The driver is being issued charges for operating under the influence first offense with passengers under 16 years of age and deviation from designated lane.