Prairie Dog

by Vince Bushell

I know trying to define one’s public persona is near impossible, and it may be presumptuous of me to assume I have one. However, publishing a paper puts me in a situation akin to an ambitious prairie dog that is constantly sticking his head up out of his hole. Sooner or later someone is going to take a shot at the dog. In that vein, the impossible one, I still thought it would be a good idea to fill you in on my, the publisher’s, history and goals. Possibly, this may at least dispel some rumors I have heard around the neighborhood. I came to Milwaukee from Racine in the late sixties to go to UWM. I majored in the biological aspects of conservation. I lived mostly on the East Side near Downer Avenue until 1980. I got divorced around that time and moved to Riverwest, like many folks, for cheap rent. I met Paula Gelbke, fell in love, and bought the building we were renting on Bremen Street. One Fourth of July we heard a marching band early in the morning. We followed it to Gordon Park and found a neighborhood celebration. Before long, we were running the Fourth of July festivities as volunteers. That was the start of my involvement in Riverwest as a neighborhood — a place to live, work, and play. For more than 20 years I worked as a school portrait photographer, taking kids pictures all over southeastern Wisconsin. I also became more involved in the neighborhood. I became a board member and eventually board president of ESHAC, the neighborhood’s non-profit group. I also worked on the East Side News, ESHAC’s paper. The duties with ESHAC were volunteer positions. In 1998 I quit taking school pictures and shortly thereafter took a job with the YMCA to coordinate a neighborhood plan for Riverwest and the Lower East Side. ESHAC had gone out of business, like many housing groups in the city, because of financial difficulties, and the YMCA had taken over some of the programs that the city funded in the neighborhood. From mid-1999 to early spring 2003 I worked for pay for Riverwest out of the YMCA. During that time, and supported by residents’ desires, I started the Riverwest Currents as a newsletter. I wrote a grant that allowed expansion and the formation of the independent paper you are now reading. The grant is gone but the paper is still here and close to breaking even on basic production costs. Paula and I bought what is now the Riverwest Co-op building at 733 E. Clarke St. in late 2000. We bought the building to enable the Co-op to get started. The Riverwest Currents office is above the Co-op. (The Co-op store is owned by its members.) We own two buildings, both with mortgages. We charge the Co-op minimal rent. I am working hard on these projects, and I love what I am doing. So here is a summary. I am a long time resident dedicated to the dynamics of the time and place called Riverwest. I have no kids. I am not rich nor am I poor by my own definition of those terms. I am not employed by anyone right now. I generally want to work on projects that are positive in nature and not reactive. Thus, I have not been a crime fighting activist of the type that is typical in uban neighborhoods. I am best suited to help by working on things like this paper, the Riverwest Co-op, green space issues like the bike trail, etc. Gradually along the way to here and now I have developed a personal mission to devote my efforts to Riverwest, to make it a great place to live, work, and play. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 6 – June 2003