28 Years Ago Tonight, Halloween, Presidential Whistle-Stop Campaign In Stevens Point

It was a Saturday, Halloween, and the last weekend of a presidential campaign. But not 2020, but rather 1992.

October 31, 1992, was a cold and blustery day across Wisconsin.  Light snow flurries swirled through the air as many thousands stood for hours at the old train depot in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.   The presidential campaign that year was winding down, and even though President Bush was campaigning with David McCullough’s latest book Truman in his hand while reminding voters that he too could win the election as Harry did in 1948, the polls were all indicating the opposite.  In later news accounts and books, all would discover that it was that frigid day in Wisconsin when President Bush was told of his fate by his internal pollsters. In spite of that, there were still campaign stops to be made, as Bush was traveling Wisconsin by train while working over-time at trying to making his Truman moment come true. 

A Republican friend of mine at the Capitol had secured tickets for my mom and dad along with most of my immediate family, including nieces and nephews who wished to attend what turned out to be the most incredible campaign rally I have ever witnessed.  We had arrived very early which allowed us to stand in the very front near the podium allowing the young ones in my family to have a moment they will never forget.  I have been lucky to be up front at many of these election moments over the years, but nothing compares to the sights and sounds of President H. W. Bush arriving on the train to greet the people.  Being a lover of history this was a moment that made time seem to move backward as the loud engine and sharp whistle brought a President to that little depot.  I had at times wondered if my folks thought my involvement in politics was worth the time and energy which I had put into it.  But that day as I watched their  faces I had my answer.  This had impressed them!  

At about 5:00 P.M. off in the distance, the lonesome sound of the train was heard and the crowd exploded with cheers.  As the big locomotive brought the long line of train cars into the depot the President and his family were waving and ready to embrace the folks who were friendly in spite of the national mood.  The crowd was highly partisan, as it should be, for such an occasion.  I was mesmerized by the historical and grand moment that this old-fashioned campaign rally had generated.  Nothing will ever surpass that event.

While my nephew Troy and I had actually shaken hands with both President Bush and Barbara in Waukesha that summer at another rally at the rope line up front (where Bush was also talking of winning like Truman) we were not so lucky in Plover.  But it did not matter as we all walked away after that wonderful afternoon to find a small restaurant to eat and un-thaw at for a while.  We had all witnessed something that is left to the history books, and nostalgic memories of those who lived the 1948 campaign and saw trains used in national campaigns.

How COVID-19 Spreads In Rural Wisconsin

This week I talked with a public school employee who had a rather stark response to my question of how long it was expected for that school to remain open once it commences classes next week.

Without hesitation, the response was right to the point.

“Two weeks”.

Today as I looked at my home county newspaper and it was once again apparent the medically prescribed safeguards requested so to stem the spread of the virus are not being practiced by many people.

The first photo that struck my attention was one with the caption which started, “Plainfield’s Tri-County students are seen waiting for the bus to arrive….  There are ten people and two masks.  And the saddest statement is the ‘adult’ in the middle of the photo seeming to be blissfully unaware.


“All ages swarmed around….” was the second phto that alerted me regarding an event to raise money for local concern.  Not a mask on anyone.


Then I saw this reminder online today about how people can help spread the infection with friends and strangers alike over several days this weekend.


Too many of our medical professionals work long hours and endure huge amounts of stress so to do their part to keep the public as healthy as possible. Many citizens statewide have played their part in staying closer to home, wearing a mask, and self-distancing.  Then there is a huge swath of the state that seems wedded to the idea they can act in any fashion they desire and not care one iota for the well-being of anyone—not even themselves.

This is truly a damning indictment on the caliber and fiber of too many of our fellow state residents.

Recalling Robbys Restaurants


My recollections regarding Robbys restaurants have bounced about this week.  With the pandemic, there is more time for the mind to wander and land on parts of the past that are not often thought about it.

Such as a place where eating in the back seat of the family car was something I considered a great deal of fun.  As a young kid, I was not aware that Robbys in Stevens Point was a chain of burger restaurants. What stood out to me was that we were able to eat a burger and fries in the car!  ( I know, how much more of a small-town feel can there be?) But that was something I loved.  I recall one evening eating in the backseat when it was dark and rain was pelting the car windows. A fond memory, indeed.

The photos on this page are ones I was able to scrounge off the internet and are not the location in the “Points” as my Grandma might say.  It would seem that the Stevens Point restaurant was located not so far from their high school.


I recall the rooflines and under them were yellowish lights that today I would describe as giving the place a glow and warmth.  As a boy, it was just fun to have our car pull into a parking stall.


There are places far and wide that our thoughts take us these days as so much of our normal routine is limited due to the virus.  We can lament that constriction of our lives or ponder about things long forgotten.

And so it goes.

Recalling The Life Of Dennis R. Peebles Of Stevens Point

Who was Dennis Peebles?  And why is his story to be found on my blog?

Today James and I traveled to the McDill Cemetary in Whiting, which is near to Stevens Point.  Our purpose was to clean some family headstones with a cleaning agent so to curb the organic growth that mars the look of grave markers.  We had been asked by Aunt Lorene to use the cleaning agent, the same we used at other cemeteries, for her husband’s and extended family stones.  We were putting the project off for a day when the weather would cooperate.

Waking today with the sun so bright and the air so fresh, after what has seemed like never-ending gloomy skies, we knew at once it was the perfect time for a road trip.

In addition to the family stones, my aunt also wanted another headstone to be freshened up.  Her request for Dennis Peebles’ grave to be tended has provided a nice story about decades of kindness as well as a slice of history, too.

Peebles lived with the grandparents of my Uncle Dale for 13 years.  The grandmother, Mrs. Charles Parkhill, respected Peebles and for many years tended his grave.  As the decades passed the torch of respect was passed down so my uncle and aunt made sure grass was cut, flowers placed, and the family tradition continued.

When wondering more about Peebles prior to our trip James did his online research and found an excerpt from the May 22, 1975 edition of the Stevens Point Daily Journal with some background on this man.

He was an old Civil War soldier and a resident of the Town of Plover who died in 1912 at the age of 84.  Peebles is buried in the McDill Cemetery, west of Whiting on County Trunk HH. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Many Civil War veterans lie in the cemeteries of Portage County, with flags fluttering over their graves as Memorial Day approaches.

But Dennis Peebles was black, and black Civil War veterans are a rarity in the cemeteries of Wisconsin.

“Death of Colored Veteran,” said the headline in the Stevens Point Journal of Tuesday,  June 11, 1912, calling him “perhaps the only colored resident of this city,” the story said he had died the day before.

“Those who knew him have nothing but words of praise as to his character,” said the
newspaper article.    A later article, describing his funeral, said, “The number in attendance was very large and the floral offerings beautiful.”   The funeral was held at the Charles Parkhill residence, where Peebles had lived for 13 years.  “Everyone respected him highly,”

His enlistment form, which Peebles apparently filled out himself, says he was born in
Bristol, Vt. was a farmer, and was 36 years old when he joined the Army at Ft. Ann, N.Y., in September 1864.  When Dennis Peebles died, his survivors include his two daughters, who lived in St. Paul.

It should be noted that it was possible Peebles was an escaped slave who gave Vermont as his birthplace to prove he was freeborn.   That certainly was not uncommon for such information to be altered so to secure safety from the threat of slavery.

His Civil War record is extensive. His Battle unit name was 1st Regiment, United States Colored Cavalry

Duty at Fort Monroe and Williamsburg, Va., till May 1864. Reconnoissance in Kings and Queens county February, 1864. Butler’s operations on south side of James River and against Petersburg and Richmond May 4-28. Capture of Bermuda Hundred and City Point May 5. Swift Creek May 8-10. Operations against Fort Darling May 12-16. Actions at Drury’s Bluff May 10-14-15 and 16. In trenches at Bermuda Hundred till June 18. Baylor’s Farm June 15. Assaults on Petersburg June 16-19. Siege of Petersburg till August. Action at Deep Bottom July 27-28. Ordered to Fort Monroe August 3. Duty at Newport News and at Portsmouth and in District of Eastern Virginia till May, 1865. Cos. “E” and “I” Detached at Fort Powhatan and Harrison’s Landing August, 1864, to May, 1865. Moved to City Point, Va., thence sailed for Texas June 10. Duty on the Rio Grande and at various points in Texas till February, 1866. Mustered out February 4, 1866.

There is more to this story as the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern from January 6, 1891  reports.  This news account deals with the death of his wife, Betsy.

Death of a Former Slave.

Mrs. Dennis Peebles, an esteemed colored lady, died here last evening at 5:30 o’clock, from lung trouble. Mrs. Peebles has quite a history. Before the war, she was owned in the family of Governor Wise, of Virginia, where she served as a faithful slave. After the emancipation proclamation she came north, and was later united in marriage to Mr. Peebles, a native of Vermont, and a plucky soldier of the union army. The couple has resided in Menasha many years. The exact age of Mrs. Peebles is not known, but she was about sixty. By her death her daughter Jennie and the husband are left alone. The funeral will be held from the house tomorrow at one o’clock. The Rev. W. W. Warner will officiate.

Sadly, Betsy is not buried alongside her husband.  She is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Neenah, Wisconsin.

Today James turned Peebles’ headstone from dark gray to colored marble as the photos show.   The grand aspect to the agent we use for cleaning is that it continues to brighten and remove grime and growth as the rains and snows come along and continue to wash against the stone.  Some of the Civil War markers we have worked on in the Hancock, Wisconsin cemetery are a testament to D2, recommended for use by the National Park Service.



When the work on the stone was done we added a new American flag from our home, as we did for Uncle Dale, who also has a fresh look on his marker.



UW-Stevens Point Woes Result From Disdain For Higher Education

It is not every day that the front page of The New York Times has a byline from Stevens Point, Wisconsin.  This weekend, however, the Sunday edition published, below the fold, a story on the diminishing role UW-Stevens Point is playing with liberal arts degrees. 

I read the story with interest having grown up roughly 40 miles from the campus, and mindful that many of my peers attended the college as it was close to home, allowed for a wider view of the world than offered in their rural towns, and was affordable.  As I read the many column inches in the news article, however, I grew more sad.

To remain financially viable the university made a move which created state headlines.  History, French and German will be eliminated as liberal arts programs and replaced with an emphasis on classes to allow for profit-making careers.   On an equally painful note, the story also reported, tenured faculty members could lose their jobs as a result.

What is troubling about this story is that the decades-long rants against higher education are coming home to roost.  And as a result we, as a nation, are losing far more than we are gaining.

For too long we have heard that professors at places of higher education are ‘egg-heads’, liberals, and that degrees only allow for a new generation of elitists. We have heard too many times from conservatives the word ‘indoctrination’ when speaking of colleges and universities.   If not that term then the other diatribe to be used against those who teach and learn is ‘political correctness’.

Higher education serves a far more important purpose than to secure employment and allow for the climb up a career ladder.  There should be no mistake concerning the importance of allowing the educational process to help students evolve from their hometown views into the expansive world of knowledge and critical thinking that the humanities were designed to foster.   To short-circuit that process with an emphasis solely on what will be ‘useful’ to graduates as wage earners, or for political purposes so elected officials can pontificate about a smart return on taxpayers’ investment in higher education, are truly maddening.

I am concerned without the teaching of the humanities at places like Stevens Point the mindset of high school graduates will not be advanced beyond whether, or not, something is a moneymaking skill.  To dismiss the diverse world from the curriculum at small universities, is to limit the deeper understanding which a more globally connected world demands.

With the constant derision about higher education comes the ease for Republicans to undervalue, and at times dismiss, the role colleges and universities play in our nation.  The continued use of such rhetoric makes it easier for budget cuts, which are unwarranted and hurtful to the campuses.  According to the Time’s story that is painfully obvious in relation to UW-Stevens Point.

The state, which had provided half the university’s budget in the 1970s, was now covering only 17 percent of it.

Those cuts, along with the lack of a strong counter-argument more in tune with the longer-term needs of our state and country, has produced holes in higher education.   It is not only students who suffer, but also the very structures and foundations of our republic.  Without a truly educated citizenry the nation can not remain stable.

Recall from your own history classes that ancient Greeks considered it a bedrock belief that a full understanding and appreciation of the humanities was the threshold for self-government.   Then, like now, there is a requirement to know certain things in order to perform one’s civic duties.  The humanities are the key to developing the capacity of a free people to govern themselves.  When a republic has lost that essential ingredient there is only direction it can head.

One of the deep concerns I have specific to UW-Stevens Point is the decision to remove history from the list of possible majors.  I have stressed repeatedly on this blog why history matters in the large context, and especially to college students.  Students need a liberal arts foundation, not to be successful, but rather to be informed citizens.  That point can not be over-stressed.

Prior to college it would be a small percentage of high school graduates who could prove they had the essentials of a liberal education so to ponder and dig down with success  into problem solving.  But with such an education those graduates can be taught how to research primary sources, how to sort fact from opinion, how to collate and assemble information, how to focus, how to distill information, how to collaborate with other researchers, and how to write effectively.

In essence, teaching students how to think.

We want students to have higher education in the humanities so to learn how to think more critically and then live life with purpose.  We need them to be better citizens. We need them to know they are a part of a global world of ideas and contrasting perspectives.  But if all we achieve from higher education is a better way to earn a living will mean we have not only cheated them, but also our country.

My Memories Of Barbara Bush In Wisconsin

Everyone feels glum upon hearing the news former First Lady Barbara Bush has died.  The vast majority did not personally know her but it seems we all, in some way, feel connected to her.  She would have sat for a cup of coffee, kicked off her shoes, and been able to chat with ease—and laughed heartily, too.  That is how I always imaged her.  Someone on the national stage and yet accessible as a person if the opportunity had arrived.

Of all the politicians who have some to Wisconsin George and Barbara Bush were the ones I saw most often, and were able to ‘press the flesh’ with on rope lines.   I can assure you, having grown up in rural Wisconsin, and reading history books about national politicians and their families, that my first encounter with a major politician was most memorable.

It was a spring Saturday morning in 1988 at Madison.  I was standing alongside staunch Republicans while having the time of my life.  The presidential primary was nearing and Vice-President Bush was sparring for votes with Senator Bob Dole.  On the stage in the hotel stood George and Barbara Bush.  I had never before been so close to such a powerful couple.  Of course many in the crowd were chatting about the woman who stood and smiled, waving at times here and there at people she recognized.  It was following the address Bush made to the party faithful when people pressed forward and handshakes were given by the Vice-President and Mrs. Bush.  I was truly thrilled as a young politico to shake each of their hands.

Barbara Bush and Vice-President George Bush Madison 1988

The most politically romantic campaign rally I ever attended–and grasping fully nothing of its kind will ever compete–was on October 31, 1992 when President Bush and the First Lady made an old-fashioned whistle stop in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

It was a cold and blustery day across Wisconsin.  Light snow flurries swirled through the air as many thousands stood for hours at the old train depot.   The presidential campaign that year was winding down, and President Bush was campaigning with David McCullough’s latest book “Truman ” in his hand while reminding voters that he too could win the election as Harry did in 1948.  In spite of the polls there were still campaign stops to be made as Bush was working over-time at trying to making his Truman moment come true.

A Republican friend of mine at the Capitol had secured tickets for my parents and family, including nieces and nephews.   We had arrived very early which allowed us to stand up front near the podium allowing the young ones in my family to have a moment they will  never forget. (It needs to be noted that in 1946 this is where my mother’s family had debarked upon their arrival from Ozone, Arkansas.)

At about 5:00 P.M. off in the distance the lonesome sound of the train whistle was heard and the crowd exploded with cheers.  As the big locomotive brought the long line of train cars into the depot the President and his family were waving and ready to embrace the folks who were fully-charged for a campaign pitch.  There were many of the Bush grand kids bouncing about with exuberance and Barbara was doing her best to keep them somewhat under control.

While nothing will ever surpass that event for political charm there was one other rally that stands out as it was the first time I was able to shake hands with a President and First Lady.

My nephew, Troy, and I drove to Waukesha in the fall of 1992 for a large outdoor Bush rally.  We arrived a bit late, and were stuck way in the back of the crowd.  I really wanted to be the best uncle possible so following the impassioned plea for re-election I took the lead along the perimeter rope line as we edged our way through the throngs.  We maneuvered ourselves until up front along the roped section not far from the podium. It was there we waited for a couple minutes and then the hands of a President and First Lady were making contact to our right.  And then it was our turn!

There are no words to describe the feeling of pressing the flesh with a president. I recall looking into his eyes.  And it goes without saying the warmth and smile of Barbara as she moved along the line created the feeling as if she could linger and the conversation would be instantaneous and easy.

Barbara Bush was not a politician but had the first ingredient required—an ability to connect with people.

That is what makes us all feel sad upon hearing about her death.

Ending Wisconsin Primary On A Higher Note

The bombast and endless campaign commercials in Wisconsin are now over–at least until the general election begins.    Late this afternoon to escape the last hours of coverage until the votes started to be counted I watched a 30-minute campaign film from Richard Nixon’s 1968 race for the nomination.  It was recently aired on C-SPAN.

In spite of black and white film and dated in how such presentations are now undertaken it was refreshing to watch.

There was Nixon standing onstage at UW-Stevens Point prior to the primary with a clean cut crowd in front of him.  It was there he offered a funny comment.

Once when he was seated with Bob Hope the comedian turned and said “Dick, if we both faced each other and went nose to nose it would be a great ad for Sunny Valley.”

It was simple, corny, and yet after what we endured with Donald Trump this past week it was just perfect.  A nice way to end the current Wisconsin Primary season by recalling one from the past.

Video: Stevens Point Air Show Crash