Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Homeless in Oshkosh

Peter Thomas Gruenberg is his name. He asked me to use it. He said: "Use my entire name, 1st, middle, and last". "I want everybody to know what is going on." Mr Gruenberg is not happy. He became homeless and a few days later was kicked out of Father Carr's Shelter. He asked me to put his story out where everyone could see it. Here goes...

Pete is a long time Oshkosh resident somewhere around age 50. He is tall with black hair, glasses, and a mustache. He told me many times as I talked with him that he has no criminal record. He doesn't. I checked. He has fallen upon hard times. He went to Father Carr's and things began to look up. He came in with a full beard and looked pretty scruffy. Carr found him some disposable razors and told him to get rid of the beard. He also told him that he would pay for a much needed haircut. That was good news for Pete. Pete knew that he needed to look decent to get a job anywhere. He spent half an afternoon getting rid of that beard and also trimmed his mustache. He felt good. He was looking forward to getting a haircut the following morning. He felt good that someone would foot the bill for razors and a haircut.

He never got that haircut. Instead he was booted out of the homeless shelter. It seems the culprit was his mustache! Yes. He was booted out of Father Carr's Place 2B because he didn't shave his mustache, something that has been part of 'him' for over 30 years.

Suffering a foot problem, which had been partially addressed at Carr's Medical Clinic, Pete had hobbled downtown and went to the Salvation Army to see if there was any way that they could help him. Pete told me that Captain Johnny of the Salvation Army thought that there was a possibility that he could find something for him, possibly in Milwaukee.

Then Pete disappeared. No one has seen him. I would like to assume he is OK. I am not going to pry and ask Captain Johnny what happened to him...that's personal and none of my business.

Peter Thomas Gruenberg was a familiar face in downtown Oshkosh, someone you might see coming into the American Family Table in the morning for coffee. He doesn't deserve the jolt of being forced to cope with unfamiliar surroundings.

Pete does not agree with what some of the people in town say about Father Carr's. Pete says: "I would rather be on the street than at Father Carr's" ---a reference to the fact he has no criminal record.

Pete's other comment: "Carr will rot in Hell!"

Monday, November 28, 2005

Ellen Olena Nyeggen

Note: This is my response to recent comments negative to the Hmong community around Oshkosh. I commend those who defended the Hmongs.

Ellen Olena Nyeggen was my maternal grandmother (1892-1937). She was the first-born daughter to a Norwegian immigrant family in rural Spring Valley, Wisconsin. Her middle name 'Olena' is the feminine version of 'Ole'. My grandmother would say: "It's Olena! Never Lena!" She was bilingual and in her parents later years she wrote letters in Norwegian to the relatives back home. I learned from my mother that Ellen could never tolerate a Norwegian slur, or joke. I know children can be brutal and that was the case here. It was the kids in school who taunted the Norwegians about their funny accents, their church, and their clothes.

Who were these kids? I found the answer some years ago in a photograph in a book titled: "Rock Elm Centre ---The First 100yrs". Rock Elm, Wisconsin was her home during her childhood and that is where she went to school. The Photo was a 1910 school picture. Scanning the names of these children I counted 3-Nyeggens and quite a few English sounding names. Three of the kids carried the last name: Ingalls. The Ingalls were the Nyeggens next door neighbors. The Ingall's dad was born in nearby Pepin, Wisconsin a couple months apart from his more famous cousin Laura. They were 10th/11th generation English-Americans. It was the Ingalls and other long time English-Americans who picked on and berated my Norwegian grandmother (and the Germans, the Swiss, the Danes, and the Irish, and all the rest). "Little House in the Big Woods", set just north of Pepin, Wisconsin might be a cute book, but the pain and suffering the non-English newcomers went through was not!
Got Hmongs for neighbors? Get to know them, embrace them and encourage them. They are no different than my Norwegian grandmother.