Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Little Bit of Gratitude

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

If there’s one thing I can say about the year 2020 that I think will be echoed by pretty much everyone on the planet, it’s been a rough year in so many ways. The coronavirus pandemic turned our world upside down in late winter and it feels like it will never end. And here we are at Thanksgiving time, being advised to stay home and not gather with our families and friends.

The thing that has kept me sane through all of this year’s challenges has been to find a little bit of gratitude each day. It’s really not that hard when you get the hang of it. Some days, it’s as simple as appreciating one tiny bird outside my window. Recently, the Red-breasted Nuthatches have returned from the north and I am so grateful for them. They make me smile every time I see one on the peanut, birdseed, or suet feeders.

And some days, it’s something totally unexpected, like passing someone on my neighborhood walk whom I don’t even really know, but who stops for a minute to say something kind. One afternoon, a neighbor I’d never met thanked me for wearing an orange vest to help drivers see me. And starting this summer, sometimes a runner would pass me who had such a happy spirit. At one encounter in early September, we had exchanged our first names. Yesterday this person approached on the other side and stopped to acknowledge me, even remembering my name and telling me I had a really nice name. For these encounters, I am truly grateful.

And then there is the simple blessing of hearing the little girls next door playing outside, often giggling or even screaming. Hearing children’s voices fills my heart with joy. A couple days before Halloween, their mother told me they were sad about not being able to trick-or-treat in the usual manner. And then she asked me if I would be willing to let them come over and trick-or-treat on my porch. I agreed and set up a surprise for them…my scarecrow, George.

They were enthralled with him and spent a lot of time rearranging him and high-fiving him. The only problem was that he did his job so well that he scared me at least a dozen times over the month that he was sitting on the front porch. I kept forgetting he was out there by my front door. But every time he startled me, I laughed out loud and this filled me with gratitude that something so simple (and silly) could keep away the weight of the challenges we are all facing.

One of the things I have really missed this year has been the ability to spend physical time with my family and friends. Despite this, I am grateful for photos and memories of our past outings and gatherings and all the methods we have at our disposal to stay in touch during the pandemic. I know that, when we can gather again, these meetings will take on more importance and will be given even greater priority as we return to our busy lives. My hope is that we will retain the recognition of the importance of downtime and time spent with those we love. And I look forward to the next day of shunpiking on the backroads of this great state with my friends!

Being so isolated during this almost year-long (so far) pandemic has made it difficult for people to do normal things like look for a new job or establish a new friendship. However, in early September, I was given an amazing gift from the Universe. Over the past 15 years, I have done several volunteer projects for the Aldo Leopold Foundation and have such respect for their land ethic and conservation mission. It’s a great group of people and they have treated me like I truly matter.

In late August, I requested a phone meeting with their development director to discuss planned giving and we quickly slipped into such down-to-earth, easeful conversations. This was something totally unexpected and a true gift, especially during these challenging times. And, as a bonus, I was given permission to photograph on the private Leopold Memorial Reserve. When the pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror, I plan to visit the Leopold Center to reconnect in person with the staff there.

Finally, I am more than grateful for the peace and comfort of being able to connect with nature every day. Wisconsin is such a beautiful state in every season of the year. And you don’t have to go far to find a variety of landscapes. What a gift Mother Nature has given us! Even as the days get shorter and most people feel it will be a long, dark, and cold winter, it’s important to get out and absorb some of nature’s healing energy. All you have to do is bundle up. I guarantee it will invigorate you!

Just remember that a little bit of gratitude goes a long way in helping us through the challenges of everyday life as we know it today.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Serenely Beautiful Holy Hill

By Phyllis Ringelstetter Buskager

Far above the farm fields, and nestled in the trees atop the highest elevation in southeastern Wisconsin called Holy Hill is the Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. Located near Hubertus, Wisconsin, on 435 acres, this religious pilgrimage site is visited each year by about 500,000 people from all over the world. Many come to meditate, or to worship, or to pray for healing. Some come as tourists, to admire the architecture of the Basilica, or to enjoy the serene beauty of the hill and surrounding area.


The idea for this blog post came from a recent email exchange with our aunt, one of our Dad’s sisters. In that email exchange, she reminded us of some family history information that we had forgotten about – that our grandparents traveled over 100 miles from their home in Sauk County, Wisconsin to Holy Hill and Milwaukee for their honeymoon in May of 1919. She’s not sure what their mode of transportation was; possibly they drove or possibly they took the train to Hubertus and Milwaukee. Our aunt tries to make an annual fall visit there, which she did again this year. She said she thinks that she especially likes to go there because of our grandparents’ honeymoon visit to Holy Hill.

The Holy Hill website provides an extensive history of this holy place. It’s believed that Holy Hill was discovered and mapped by Jesuit missionaries who were working in the area in the late 1600’s. In the mid 1800’s, a French hermit named Francois Soubrio found an old diary and a parchment map dated 1676 while working as an assistant to a retired professor in Quebec, Canada. The diary told how the author had placed a stone altar, raised a cross, and dedicated the hill to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Irish settlers were the first to call the area Holy Hill and the name was first formally used in 1863 when Fr. George Strickner was dedicating a log chapel as the first Shrine of Mary – Help of Christians.

For thirty years, local priests were assigned to care for Holy Hill. Fr. Ferdinand Raess was the caretaker for eight years beginning in 1875. Fr. Raess oversaw many improvements during that time, including grading the road to the top of the hill to allow teams of horses to haul building materials to the top.

Fr. Raess also hired a local artisan, George Klippel, to build the first stations by the side of the graded path. These stations were simple wooden crosses with pictures of Christ’s passion attached.

In early 1879, Fr. Raess worked with a Milwaukee Architect, H. C. Koch to draw plans and cost estimates for a second shrine church. Getting the bricks and materials to the top of the hill by horse teams was going to be extremely difficult. John Rover, a brick maker from Sheboygan found quality clay on a corner of the hill so bricks could be made there. And during the excavation of the hill to level it for the foundation, enough fieldstone was found to build the church foundation, reducing the number of horse-drawn trips required. Construction work began in the spring of 1879 and the church was completed for a cost of $5,000.

The new church was seventy-six feet long, forty-six feet wide and the walls were twenty feet high. The roof was steep with a steeple and gilt cross on top. The chapel elevation was about sixty-eight feet.

From 1883 to 1893, Fr. Nicholas Zimmer, pastor of St. Kilian’s in Hartford was the caretaker of Holy Hill. He added a bell tower and a 1,200 pound bell (the largest of the three bells used today), three Gothic altars, and the second set of stations made from brick. Fr. Zimmer was succeeded by Fr. John Bertram in 1893. Fr. Bertram added the first Lourdes grotto, a new pipe organ, and oversaw many necessary repairs.

After Pope Leo XIII declared Holy Hill a Shrine in 1903, many more pilgrims began coming to Holy Hill by taking the train to Hartford or Richfield and then traveling to Holy Hill by horse-drawn carriage. Many came to pray for Mary’s intercession to the Lord for their healing. Pilgrims often left crutches and canes at Holy Hill as evidence of prayers answered, a practice that continues to this day.

Because of the increasing number of visitors, the Milwaukee Archdiocese officials decided that Holy Hill should be cared for by a religious order. In June of 1906, Holy Hill was placed in the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars from Bavaria, an order dedicated to Mary and well suited to care for her shrine at Holy Hill. The Lourdes Grotto in the next photo reproduces the scene of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France in 1858. Holy Water is available at this grotto during warmer months.

In 1914, a sculptor from Milwaukee, Joseph Aszklar, was commissioned to create the third and present set of the Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill.

These are life-sized statues made of Bedford Stone and each scene is set in a fieldstone grotto.  It took the artist fourteen years to complete the stations, finishing in 1928.  This means that our grandparents’ honeymoon visit in 1919 occurred five years into this 14-year effort.  At that time, they could only imagine how grand the finished project would be.  And the beautiful basilica that now stands atop Holy Hill hadn’t been commissioned yet, so they would have visited the second shrine church, which no doubt seemed glorious to them.   

In 1925, construction of the third and current shrine church of Our Lady – Help of Christians was begun. On September 8, 1925, the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, the final services were held in the second shrine. It was a tearful and moving time for many. In order to construct the new shrine church, the second church was razed and Fr. Bertram’s Lourdes Grotto was also destroyed. During construction, a small chapel on the grounds was used, the St. Thérèse Little Flower Mission Chapel. Considered possibly the most popular saint of recent centuries, she was a Discalced Carmelite nun from Lisieux, France, who died in 1897.

The cornerstone of the third and present shrine church was placed on August 22, 1926 by Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer. Written in Latin, the inscription translates as follows: “Because of the increased numbers of those honoring the helper, the Blessed Virgin Mary, l am already the cornerstone of the third temple on the summit of this mount. In the year of Our Lord 1926.” With construction complete, the new Shrine of Mary – Help of Christians at Holy Hill was dedicated on July 19, 1931. This Romanesque Revival Catholic church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the center of the sanctuary of the current shrine church is the main altar, which took two years to build. The altar proper is sculptured from Tavernelle marble and weighs more than forty tons.

The tabernacle, which weighs 500 pounds, has a triple crown at the top, representing Christ as prophet, priest, and king.

Besides the natural beauty of this area, there is a great religious significance to the location for this place of sacred pilgrimage. Throughout the bible, God often called His followers to high places for prayer and to speak to them. So it is fitting that pilgrims and tourists alike climb the steep path through beautiful woods to the top of Holy Hill.

The sacred structures and shrines of Holy Hill are located 1,335 feet above sea level on about 40 acres of land that was dedicated to this holy place in the mid 1800’s. The Discalced Carmelite Friars acquired 400 additional acres of the surrounding natural woodland to preserve the contemplative nature of this serene area.

Holy Hill and the surrounding area is a wonderful destination to experience and appreciate the peaceful, serene, natural beauty of this earth that we call home. Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Finding Our Roots

By Phyllis Ringelstetter Buskager

My sister Joann and I started a project a few years ago to learn more about a large collection of family photos that were from our mother’s childhood. Some were in an album that our mother had put together with interesting or funny captions, but not the names of those pictured nor the dates when they were taken. Others were studio portraits, again with no names or dates. And Mom’s relatives had also shared some photos with us.

Our mother passed away over 37 years ago, at a time when we were much younger and very busy with our work and family lives. We now regret that we never took the time to sit down with her to learn more about her childhood and those old family photos that she left us.

So, since we are both now retired and have more time, we decided we needed to spend some time with our aunts (our mother’s sisters). We always enjoy getting together with them and we knew they would be able to help us identify many of the relatives in the photos.

During the past three years, Joann organized several sessions where we spent the entire day going through all of those photos. And to our delight, not only were our aunts able to identify the people and places in many of the photos, but we also got to hear many fun and interesting stories about our mother’s family while she and her siblings were growing up on the family farm.

Our aunts provided us with lots of additional information about our family history including historical information about the farm where our grandfather grew up. The farm is only a few miles from the farm where our grandmother grew up. We learned that our grandfather worked as a farm laborer for our grandmother’s father. In the words of our aunt, “she married the hired man!”

We also learned that in the early years of their marriage, our grandparents rented a farm nearby, on which our mother and her two older siblings were born.  All three of those farms were located in the same Township in south central Wisconsin.  I mentioned above that our aunts told us many interesting stories about their childhood.   Our mother’s oldest sibling (now 92) has always had an excellent memory filled with stories and tidbits of family history.  For example, she was able to tell us that in the photograph that follows, our mother’s dress was white with little red polka dots and the dog’s name was Shep.  How fun to learn those little details! 

After the session with our aunts last summer, Joann and I decided we should try to locate the home farms. One of our aunts had given us information about our grandfather’s home farm that she received from her cousin, which included the location of the farm. And, after comparing old census records with old plat maps, I was able to narrow down the locations of our grandmother’s home farm and the farm that our grandparents rented after they married. Here’s a sample from a census taken in the year 1900.

Then my husband and I set out on a drive to the township where the farms are located. Armed with my research information and our trusty Wisconsin Gazetteer map, we located the farm our grandparents had rented early in their marriage. We also located our grandfather’s home farm, which has been in our family since 1858 and still is today.

I thought locating the farm where our grandmother grew up would be more of a challenge since we didn’t have an address. But when we arrived at the location that I believed was where our grandmother grew up, what a pleasant surprise! There was a Dairy Farm sign in the yard with the family’s name on it – and the name is our grandmother’s maiden name. So, this farm is still owned by family members, too!

After I had located them, Joann and I took a drive by the farms. Later, as we continued to work on the many unidentified photos we had, we realized that the photo we took of the house where our grandmother grew up matched an old photo with a farmhouse we still hadn’t identified! This is the same house as in the photo above, but it was taken from the back side of the house. One of our aunts had told us that our great grandmother’s house had a summer kitchen. We believe the small building on the right is that summer kitchen.

After our sessions last summer and with many old photos still unidentified, we made plans to meet this spring with our aunts to continue learning more about our family history. But the Covid-19 pandemic required us to put a hold on that due to the need to social distance. And sadly, we just lost one of our aunts from a recently diagnosed illness. Now we really cherish those wonderful days that we spent with our aunts and we dedicate this blog post to them. As soon as the pandemic is behind us, we hope to continue our in-person pursuit of family history with our aunts, and to introduce ourselves to extended family members who now own the family farms.

Take the time as soon as you can to talk to your parents and older relatives about your family history and then hit the backroads and explore your roots!

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!