OAK CREEK — For many motorcycle riders, getting their bikes blessed each year before the riding season is the most important ritual. It’s one of the safeguards bikers use to make sure they’re protected while they’re on the road.
Thousands of riders and their friends and families attended the 36th Annual Original Bike Blessing, hosted by the Road Runners Motorcycle Club, Saturday in Oak Creek.
Music, merchants and motorcycles filled the grounds of American Legion Post 434, 9327 South Shepard Ave. The bike blessing began at about 2 p.m.
The event was canceled last year due to the pandemic, but Ed “Seven” Cassel, member of the Road Runners MC, said the spirits are high now that everyone is back together.
“Most of them, I haven’t seen in about a year now,” Cassel said. He’d been stopped by numerous friends walking through the bike blessing. “We’re happy and excited.”
According to the Road Runners MC website, the Original Bike Blessing event is the oldest, continuously run bike blessing in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. It was first held in 1986 and it’s tradition to host it every first Sunday in May.
“Riders, by nature, are a superstitious lot,” Cassel said. He noted many riders also hang guardian bells on their bikes, which ward off “evil road gremlins” who can jinx a rider’s journey.
Kelvin Porter of Milwaukee was in attendance with his wife and his friend, Michael Stelzner, to get their bikes blessed.
“We all want to be safe,” said Porter.
Of getting his bike blessed alongside Stelzner, Porter added: “Brotherhood is back.”
Cassel said there are other bike blessings event where all the bikes get blessed at once. At the Road Runners’ event, a priest individualized his blessings to each rider.
The Racine County HOG Chapter was among one of the many motorcycle clubs at the bike blessing.
“In our world, we’re on the highway a lot,” said Tony Johnson, a member of the HOG Chapter. “Some of these guys will put 25,000 miles, or 500 miles.”
Either way, Johnson said, a bike blessing is customary.
The bike blessing also promoted awareness of bikers on the road, said Cassel. Signs were scattered about the Legion Post’s grounds, warning all vehicle operators to pay attention to the road — it could save a life, especially a biker’s.
On Friday, a 38-year-old motorcycle rider from Whitefish Bay died in a collision with a pickup truck in Mount Pleasant. The driver of the pickup truck was unharmed; the motorcyclist died at the scene.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation reported an average of 2,149 motorcycle accidents each year from 2014 to 2018. In the same years, an average of 77 motorcyclists died annually, and an average of 1,888 were injured each year.
“Everybody has to be aware of their surroundings, motorcyclists and cars,” said Dina Hubrich, another member of the Racine HOG Chapter.
Cassel said in most motorcycle accidents, the drivers involved say, “I never saw that motorcycle.” He said he hopes hosting bike blessings and inviting anyone to celebrate — whether they own a bike or not — helps everyone be smarter.
Porter said that technology, specifically the patterns of drivers’ phone usage, is one of the reasons why motorcycle accidents happen. According to the state DOT, 25,596 inattentive-related crashes occurred in Wisconsin in 2016.
“That’s one of the reasons that we have loud pipes and loud music,” Porter said, explaining that it’s so that drivers can be more aware of bikers.
UNION GROVE — Peter Hansen, a business owner who rose to the highest levels of Racine County government, is being remembered as a selfless public servant.
Hansen, who served more than 30 years in local and county government, including as county board chairman and county executive, died April 27 at the age of 72 following a three-year battle with cancer.
In recognition of Hansen’s years of service, county officials are considering renaming the County Board meeting room as the the Peter L. Hansen Racine County Board Chambers.
Just two days before Hansen died, he was visited at his home in Union Grove by a who’s who of Racine County politics, including County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, who told Hansen of the proposed renaming honor.
Former County Board colleague Pamela Zenner-Richards said everyone in the house — including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester — took turns greeting Hansen in his living room chair and expressing their admiration for him.
“It just showed the respect that he garnered,” Zenner-Richards said.
Even after leaving county government in 2015, Hansen continued in public service as town chairman in Yorkville, then as a member of the Union Grove Village Board. He chose not to seek re-election to the Village Board this year.
His term in office in Union Grove expired just one week before his death.
Former longtime Union Grove Village President Mike Aimone said it is fitting that Hansen remained a dedicated public servant almost literally until the day he died.
Hansen never lost focus on the business at hand, Aimone added, and he always showed up for Village Board meetings more prepared than anyone else.
“Pete was a highly respected role model,” Aimone said. “He was always ready to ask the difficult questions.”
Born in Racine, Peter Leroy Hansen graduated from Union Grove High School in 1966, then earned a degree in industrial education from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
He married the former Nancy Filippone in 1980, and the couple lived in Yorkville and later Union Grove. They raised two children, daughter Piper Hansen and son Matthew Hansen.
As owner of Hansen Builders, Hansen oversaw the construction of many residential and commercial structures in Racine County.
His wife, Nancy, recalls that Hansen showed a strong commitment to both his family and his community. His involvement as a political leader, she said, seemed to stem from a simple goal — wanting to help others.
“It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from,” she said. “He had that kindness.”
In 1988, Hansen was elected to represent the Yorkville-Union Grove area on the County Board. He rose in the ranks of county government, taking over as board chairman from 2008 to 2015.
Thomas Roanhouse, the current board chairman, remembers joining the board in 2014 and being greeted by Hansen, who offered heartfelt encouraging words to the newcomer.
“He was so engaging,” Roanhouse said. “I’ll never forget him for that. He was very kind and humble.”
Zenner-Richards, who served alongside Hansen on county board for 17 years, said he brought no personal agenda to government other than selfless public service for those who elected him.
Zenner-Richards called her old colleague and friend a “natural leader.”
“Peter was what we all aspire to in public service,” she said. “Peter was a true public servant.”
In late 2014, then-County Executive Jim Ladwig stepped aside. Under the rules of county government, Hansen ascended automatically from board chairman to the executive position.
But he chose not to stand for election as county executive the following year, and his county government years were over.
He had been elected Yorkville town chairman in 2011, and he continued in that role until 2018, when he and his wife moved to Union Grove. There, he accepted an appointment to a vacant seat on the Village Board, where he served from 2019 until last month.
He also served as a captain in the Union Grove-Yorkville Fire Department, a member of the Wisconsin County Board Association, chairman for the Gateway Community College Board of Trustees, a member of the Racine County Economic Development Corp. board, and a member of the Racine County Children with Disabilities School Board.
Nancy said she and her children used to joke that their father was so busy, the first question when anyone called home was: “Is Dad in a meeting?”
As her husband’s health began to fail recently during his cancer fight, Nancy Hansen approached county officials about possibly planting a tree on county property in his memory.
She was a bit stunned when officials told her they instead wanted to recognize his service by putting his name on the County Board chambers, which are located in the county building at 14200 Washington Ave., Yorkville. Nancy called it a “wonderful tribute” to her husband.
“He loved being on the board,” she said. “He loved everything about it.”
No date has been announced for the County Board to act on the renaming honor.
Delagrave, who succeeded Hansen as county executive in 2015, said he remains grateful for Hansen’s support and kindness.
“Our county moved forward in immeasurable and numerous ways thanks to Peter’s leadership,” Delagrave said. “And he left a legacy that will last for years to come.”
RACINE — After last year saw a modified Independence Day celebration in Racine, the parade is scheduled to return in 2021.
The city’s annual Fourth of July parade back is on this year, it was announced by the 4th Fest of Greater Racine and Downtown Racine Corp. on Monday.
According to Anna Clementi from the 4th Fest of Greater Racine, a nonprofit organization which facilitates and fundraises the annual parade, more information on it will be released soon.
According to a Facebook post by the DRC, the parade will be on its normal Main Street route on Monday, July 5. Fireworks will be on as well.
Those in the parade must wear masks, and those attending the parade will be asked to socially distance and stay within family pods, the post said.
The parade will also be shorter — about half as many float participants as normal.
“This year’s Fourth of July parade has a double meaning in 2021. We are honoring our country’s Independence as well as celebrating the end of this pandemic,” said Kelly Kruse, executive director of the DRC. “The Downtown is beyond thrilled to have the parade again. Huge thank you to the Fourth Fest committee and City of Racine for bringing our community together for the best Parade in Wisconsin.”
KENOSHA — An in-house review board met four times to go over evidence before finding Officer Rusten Sheskey did not violate any Kenosha Police Department policies in the shooting of Jacob Blake.
The “firearms-deadly force review board,” comprised of five administrators or instructors with the department, began meeting in late January, about three weeks after Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced there would be no criminal charges against Sheskey for the Aug. 23 shooting. In a news conference announcing his decision, Graveley said an investigator into the shooting found Blake was armed with a knife during the encounter.
Sheskey, who had been on leave since the shooting, remained on leave after Graveley’s announcement while the Kenosha Police Department conducted a review to determine whether he violated department use of force policies.
According to documents released by the Police Department, the in-house review board was comprised of the captain of administration, the second-shift patrol supervisor, the head of the department’s training division, a firearms instructor and arrest tactics instructor.
Kenosha Police Lt. Joseph Nosalk said the makeup of the group followed department guidelines, with the group studying 20 different department policies to see whether Sheskey and the other two officers involved followed department rules.
“It is a hindsight review of different options that could have been taken, but mainly what it does is look for violation of policy. They found no violation of policy,” Nosalik said. “The rest are recommendations that in a perfect world could have been applied.”
The group met four times before issuing a seven-page report March 8 that stated Sheskey and the two other officers at the scene did not violate policy. “There were no disciplinary recommendations made by the review board,” the report states.
Sheskey returned to work March 3, about three weeks after the report was issued, based on a decision by then Police Chief Daniel Miskinis after he reviewed the report. While he returned to work, Sheskey has not returned to patrol. In April, Sheskey was suspended without pay for three days because his loaded service weapon was stolen from an unlocked car in Racine while he was on leave, violating department policy on storing weapons.
The two other officers involved in the Aug. 23 Blake call, Vincent Arenas and Brittany Meronek, returned to work in January.
According to the report, the board was provided with a case review that included video (including squad car video), scene photographers, dispatch recordings and statements from the involved audiences and witnesses.
“The review board found unanimously that Officers Arenas, Meronek and Sheskey’s use of force and deadly force were within policy,” the report states.
The report’s conclusions are based on a description of events that follows that outlined by Graveley in his decision not to issue criminal charges. The report states that Blake had struggled with officers who attempted to take him into custody for a felony warrant. Officers had used a Taser attempting to stop Blake, who was resisting, and that Blake was armed with a knife as he was attempting to get into his vehicle. They found Sheskey believed that the child in the vehicle “was in imminent danger.” Sheskey had seen one child in the vehicle, but Blake’s three children were actually inside the SUV.
“Officer Sheskey reasonably believed that Mr. Blake may also attempt to flee,” the report states, “placing the public and child in the vehicle in harm’s way or holding the child as hostage,” the report states.
Blake has disputed the narrative outlined in Graveley’s report, acknowledging he had a knife but stating that he did not turn toward Sheskey with it.
The report states that Sheskey would have been justified in using a firearm earlier in the encounter with Blake “however Officer Sheskey chose a lower-level use of force option which proved ineffective.”
The report appears to fault Arenas for not being more effective in his efforts to take Blake into custody.
“Officer Arenas will need to recognize continued resistance and assaultive behavior and respond accordingly with the force needed to effectively stop the known violent behavior he faces,” the report states. “Officer Arenas will also need to recognize when a tactic is ineffective and to raise his level of force to achieve compliance quickly.”