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Lucy & Tom Krajna, photo by Barbara Miner

Lucy and Tom Krajna

Want to get a strong reaction from Lucy Krajna? Begin your opinion about what matters in this area with the statement, “I’m a Riverwest pioneer. I’ve lived here for 9 (5, 8, 11) years,” and feel the walls shake. “I remember, when I first came here, a horse and wagon going through the alley (calling out) ‘Ra-a-a-gs! Ra-a-ags!’ And they’d sharpen your scissors. Talk about pioneer. So, don’t tell me about the river west,” declares Lucy. More on that later, but first let’s introduce you to the Krajnas (pronounced Cry-na). Lucy’s the one with the big mouth. (I’m sorry Lucy! You said I could quote you on that one!) Tom’s the quieter side of the team, but no less earnest. They’ve been living in Riverwest for all of Tom’s life and most of Lucy’s. Loretto, an iron-mining town in the U.P., was Lucy’s birthplace. Her grandparents came there to mine. Her father was also a miner and helped to start the first union. But there weren’t many jobs to be found in the small town whose main industry ended in, approximately, 1946. Lucy found her way to her aunt’s house on Fratney immediately after high school. Tom was born on Pierce and Meinecke. His family moved around the area until purchasing a house on Dousman, where he spent most of his childhood. He attended St. Gall’s Grade School, formerly at MLK and Center, and Riverside High School. St. Mary Czestochowa was their church and all six of their kids attended grade school there. They were highly involved in both the church and school. Lucy recalls, “That church made this neighborhood go round.” Lucy recounts the history of St. Mary’s. The congregation originally met in the building that housed the school and now holds Messmer Preparatory. “Then they started, with nickels and dimes, buying bricks,” she says. “They built the church this way.” She’s not very happy with the decision to incorporate St. Mary’s and St. Casimir under one name. “It’s the Polish people, mainly, that put that church together brick-by-brick. And they named it after something that was very sacred to them, the Lady of Czestochowa, and they should not lose that identity.” In 1972 Lucy took on the running of the church rummage sale to raise funds to renovate the school’s bathrooms and hallways. That first year they made $2,000. By the time she stopped doing it, twenty years later, they were bringing in $40,000. “The neighborhood was all together (in this),” explains Tom. “A guy donated a truck to use and we picked up refrigerators, stoves, couches.” For a few years Lucy and her friend Sue also ran the church festival. She had similar outstanding success in improving profits, from $13,000 to more than $55,000 in three years. One year they held a reunion of all the school’s alumnae since 1913. One lady, still in the neighborhood, came from that first graduating class. “We had a huge choir, says Lucy, “and a Mass, of course. There were, like, 500 people at the Mass. It started off with all the priests who had ever been priests there, who were still alive, walking in to do the Mass. This beautiful choir sang ‘America the Beautiful.’ And people were sobbing and crying.” She understatedly adds, “We had some great festivals.” Tom was a firefighter in those days. At the urging of his firefighter brother-in-law he quit his job at the Electric Company and joined the Department. Hired to the job at 29, he spent a while being taunted by the other “cubs” for his advanced age but got on well with the older guys. “I think I’ve worked in every firehouse in the city,” says Tom. “I drove the truck, the engine, paramedics, rescue squad, chief ’s car, back of the ladder.” Lucy’s busy life of motherhood and organizing changed as the result of a knock at her door from Jim Moody, who was running for State Assembly. “I wasn’t into politics,” she admits. “To be truthful I didn’t even know who my alderman was.” But Moody called her a couple days later, having learned from her neighbors about her organizing skills, and before she knew it she was managing his campaign. Lucy continued working with Moody for several years. She took a break from politics only to be pulled back in when a firefighter, Greg Gracz, made an unsuccessful run for mayor. During that campaign she and Alderperson Annette Scherbert had become friends. When Scherbert needed a fill-in assistant for a couple weeks she offered the job to Lucy. “So I did it, and I really, really loved it!” she enthuses. At City Hall she’d become acquainted with the other aldermen and was asked to fill in when they needed help, to the point where she became a full-time employee. When Paul Henningsen’s assistant left he said, “I want you.” “So, I worked for him for a time,” she says, “but we all know that story.” Next to bring her on as assistant was Bob Bauman, whom she works for at present, even though she retired three years ago! They threw a big retirement party for her, attended by even the mayor. But when her replacement didn’t work out Bauman asked her to come back, and she did. Someday Lucy really will retire. They’re talking about Winneconne, where two of their kids and some of their 14 grandchildren live, as a future home. Meanwhile, they’ll keep enjoying their cozy home with their sweet little dog, Coco, in the Riverwest that they both love. But please, don’t tell them your agenda is the right agenda because you’re a Riverwest pioneer of several years. They’ve been around too long for that.

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