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Caitlin Sievers / CAITLIN SIEVERS caitlin.sievers@journaltimes.com 

Case High School senior Queila Griffin is a gifted violin player, a black belt in taekwondo and helped to implemented the restorative justice program at her school.


Local
64 years of flapjacks: Pancake Day by the numbers

RACINE — Jerry Andersen, 61, doesn’t have an official title with the Kiwanis Club of Greater Racine, but he’s known unofficially as “The Pancake Master” and “Mr. Pancake.”

Now in its 64th year, Pancake Day rings in spring on the first Saturday of each May. Although the date has been consistent over the years, the event has undergone some changes.

History

The Kiwanis Club was founded in Detroit in 1915, but the Greater Racine chapter didn’t take off until the 1950s.

“This club was brand-new at that point and needed a big fundraiser,” Andersen said.

The Kiwanis Club in Rockford, Ill., was known for conducting a successful pancake fundraiser. In 1955, Racine ran its first Pancake Day, using borrowed pancake machines from Rockford to make the titular flapjacks in Memorial Hall, 72 Seventh St. The price then was $1 for all-you-can-eat pancakes; now, it’s $8 at the door.

The next year, four Racine Kiwanis — Jim Jude of Acme Die Cast, George Aschauer of Twin Disc, Gordy Van Remen of Harris Metals and Bill Nelson of Modine — constructed their own machines with an improved design.

Pancake Day switched venues in 1988, moving up the lakefront to the newly constructed Festival Hall, 5 Fifth St.

When Festival Hall was built in 1987, Andersen said that Pancake Day was taken into consideration. Accessible gas lines were included, making it easier to hook up the spinning pancake machines than it had been in Memorial Hall. Those same machines are still in use today, albeit with a few repairs and improvements.

Advancements

Pancake Day saw its best years in the late 1970s when more than 11,000 people would attend. Today, total attendance is a more modest 6,000.

Many politicians have made stops in the past, including House Speaker Paul Ryan almost yearly (he was unable to attend Saturday), Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Racine Mayor Cory Mason and state Assembly member Greta Neubauer made appearances this year.

The consistency of the event has helped the Kiwanis of Greater Racine refine their planning and execution. All of the tables and chairs will be cleaned up and machines loaded onto the truck within an hour of the last pancake being served.

The money raised goes to a variety of local causes, including the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization shelter, youth sports and the Racine Raiders, and to providing scholarships to graduating high school seniors.

Andersen thinks that Pancake Day is the longest-running annual fundraiser in the region. The Rockford chapter that inspired Racine’s Pancake Day hasn’t served flapjacks since 2008.

“(Pancake Day) is a Racine tradition,” Andersen said. “A lot of people grew up with it. People who brought their kids now bring their grandkids.”


Local
CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT
Jason Meekma: Racine's alderman-athlete

RACINE — It took Jason Meekma less than two years on the Racine City Council to become its president. It also only took him 4 hours, 28 seconds to finish the 70.3-mile Racine Ironman Triathlon in 2015.

Meekma, 37, started volunteering nine years ago at the now-discontinued Ironman 70.3 Racine Triathlon: a 1,900-meter swim, 56-mile bike ride, 13.1-mile run.

He said he remembers thinking from the sidelines “I can do this. I can definitely do this.”

Since then, Meekma said he has finished in the top 10 percent at three different triathlon world championships.

“That was pretty cool,” he said with a mix of pride and modesty.

Ironman field as strong as ever

Scan the list of the top five men’s and women’s professional finishers in last year’s Ironman 70.3 Racine Triathlon and just two of those 10 are returning for Sunday’s competition.

A natural runner, Meekma has had to put more work into biking and swimming. He now teaches others through the sTRIve Triathlon Club.

“Usually runners aren’t the best swimmers, but he put his mind to it,” said Kevin Weslaski, the 55-year-old owner of Image Management and who doubles as Meekma’s training buddy.

Racine, home

Meekma’s “I can” mindset doesn’t stop after 70.3 miles. In April, he was re-elected for a second term as the city’s District 14 alderman; he also is executive director of Focus on Community, a husband and father.

Constantly keeping him balanced, he said, is his “rock star” of a wife, Haley, a physical therapist and the mother of the first Meekma child, a talkative and adventurous 3-year-old named Caleb.

Meekma was raised on the north side, but now resides just off of Durand Avenue. His mother works at the Racine Art Museum, and his stepfather is a machinist at InSinkErator.

“I was never one of the kids who wanted to get out of here,” Meekma said. “When I was growing up, (Racine) was a lot worse than what it is now, in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Racine was not what it is becoming, but it was comfortable; I was comfortable here.”

That said, he’s aware of the issues Racine faces. It has high points — his favorites include the freshwater beaches, economic potential and “borderline thriving Downtown” — but also some serious lows. Meekma finds the positives.

“You come here and sure, there’s crime and sure, there’s parts of town that are run down and not kept as nice, but you have that everywhere else you go, too,” Meekma said. “The reality of Racine is that the majority of people who live here are really nice, kind, generous people.”

The first leg

After graduating with a degree in art and a minor in English from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where he qualified for nationals in track and cross country, Meekma didn’t know what he wanted to do full time.

His first job after college was as a temp at SC Johnson. “That was not for me,” he said.

Next, he worked at a handful of YMCA camps across the Midwest as a counselor and naturalist.

He circled back to Racine six years ago when a job opened up at Focus on Community, a youth substance abuse prevention nonprofit. Five years later, he was named executive director.

Focus on Community doesn’t emphasize drug education, but rather teaches soft skills to steer youth away from potentially destructive choices. Meekma is even recruited kids from the program to train for triathlons, Weslaski said.

“(Nonprofits) are really going to be what helps (Racine) not just stay afloat but to really sail forward effectively,” Meekma said. “And I don’t think people really think that way, yet.”

Crossovers

When asked if he’s competitive, Meekma answered “Yes,” unable to hide with an embarrassed smile.

“If you pit me against other people in other aspects of my life, it doesn’t go well,” he admitted. “My wife will bring out the competitive side of me in board games.”

He’s trying to scratch his competitive itch 70.3 miles at a time.

“For Jason,” Weslaski said, “I think he’s said to himself, ‘I won’t be a pro athlete … but I still want to maintain that triathlon lifestyle, to make running, biking and swimming my hobbies.’”

When he’s training, Meekma will exercise between 15 and 25 hours a week, usually during evenings. Then, he’ll go home, shower, and turn his attention to fatherhood or whatever meeting is up next; his daily schedule can get pretty erratic.

“One of the biggest keys to success is being to put things down when it’s time to put things down,” he said. “The only thing I don’t put down is the family piece; I always carry that with me at the center of my heart.”

If Meekma’s competitive nature stretches into city hall, it hasn’t been necessary. He ran unopposed in both of his alderman races.

“I want to find ways to help other council members, city staff and community members — who are obviously incredibly important in all this — to be more successful, to have more access, to have more information and to find ways to feel more fulfilled in what they’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “That’s what I want to do as City Council president.”

Keeping it casual

In Meekma’s office at Focus on Community, 510 College Ave, there’s a couch, an unused fireplace, a piece of motivational art inspired by the animated film “Up” and a framed Ironman medallion. There isn’t a desk.

Meekma rebuffs the title of “politician,” but said “I’m in that role, so I guess I have to own it.”

As City Council president, Meekma works hard to keep it light on the floor, as contradictory as it sounds. He said he has earned a reputation for being “a bit extravagant” by cracking jokes and intentionally mispronouncing words.

Baby steps

A couple weeks ago, Meekma presented at his alma mater, Racine Lutheran High School.

“The world is still going on outside of you,” he advised the teens, “and if you are so caught up in what is happening with you, you are going to miss all of the other things going on in the world outside of you … don’t let life happen without you.”

His eyes are usually focused on tomorrow and how he’s going to take part in it. Politically, he looks to unify Racinians. Parentally, he looks to encourage Caleb’s energy and imagination. In marriage, he tries to be home the nights he isn’t pulled away by meetings and crises. Athletically, he looks to “the next step:” qualifying for the world championship in the full, 140.6-mile Ironman.

“I don’t think he’ll ever stop running,” Weslaski said.


Brian Andrew is Johnson Financial Group’s chief investment officer.


Christina Lieffring / CHRISTINA LIEFFRING christina.lieffring@journaltimes.com 

Dominique Knight enters the courtroom for an evidentiary hearing on Friday. He is charged with the 2017 homicide of Harry Canady Jr., who was shot on his girlfriend's porch. Donte Shannon, who was fatally shot by police in January, had been one of the key witnesses. Shannon's testimony will not be used as evidence in the case.


Shannon


Canady