Homeward bound

Emily Bialkowski

Managing Editor


The Caledonia School District’s mission is “To provide the best education to empower all learners to thrive in our changing world.” “Adaptability,” touched on in the latter part of the mission statement, is one of the district’s core values.

My life over the last 22 months  – and perhaps longer – has become an exercise in adaptability. I’ve met people in town and in the county whose families are from here and, although they may have gone away to college or gone away for awhile, they return with desires to maintain a lifestyle and familiarity only their hometown can offer. It is an experience I don’t think I’ll ever replicate.

I was raised as a young person in Berwyn, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago. The neighborhood was comprised of mostly Mexican and Italian families, so the “ski” in my last name tended to stand out, as did my family’s height.

At age 14 I moved with my mom and brothers to Wisconsin Dells, Wis., where I graduated from high school. I was never really from Wisconsin Dells.

To actually be from Wisconsin Dells it seemed you needed to own a hotel. But the four years of high school there were enjoyable, and I no longer worried about gang activity or the hazings that awaited all freshmen who entered high school in the Chicagoland area. That said, by my senior year I was ready to get out and start the next phase of life.

I attended a private Catholic College in Madison, Wis., and loved  pretty much every minute of it. I laugh when my eight-year-old says she doesn’t want to go to college. I’m pretty confident that’ll change in a few years. But when I was in college and people asked where I was from, it was always a little weird to answer. I mean, I graduated from the Dells but only lived there for four years – I didn’t feel like I was “from there.” After college I secured a newspaper job in Reedsburg, Wis., a town of about 10,000, a town small enough to know I wasn’t from there either.

A child, home purchase, marriage and career growth all unfolded through the years but despite all that, I still wasn’t really from Reedsburg. Meanwhile, my husband’s life experience was very different.

He’s worked all over the Upper Midwest, but he has also enjoyed the benefit of having a place to call home. He’s from Gays Mills, Wis., a tiny village in the unglaciated part of Wisconsin, just an hour from Caledonia. I learned quickly that Applefest weekend was a sacred time in the lives of those from Gays Mills and that my husband knew everybody. Some people started knowing me as well because the newspaper there still publishes columns from people who submit a list of those who visited.

The fact that you make the newspaper for just showing up at someone’s house completely threw me, so much so that I cut out the clipping, highlighted it and sent it to my mom, who was also amazed by the publication. It reminded me of that Miranda Lambert song “Everybody dies famous in a small town.”

In June 2012 we came to Caledonia, another place where everybody dies famous, and added our unique spin on life to not just the newspaper, but the committees we signed up for and the activities we participated in.

We received a welcoming embrace, but people always wanted to know why we had come. Others who have relocated to Caledonia wanted to know how we were received. It’s an interesting dynamic and one that exists in all small towns, including my husband’s small hometown.

While in Caledonia my husband’s 96-year-old grandmother had finally met the day when she could no longer live alone in Gays Mills. She had done so until the proud age of 93, or maybe it was 94, I’m not sure. Either way, she’s an amazing lady who remains sharp, though kind of perturbed, at the nursing home.

The family’s home has now sat unoccupied for more than a year and requires a great deal of effort among my husband’s family to maintain. You know how these things go. It’s never easy, and unoccupied homes become an emotional and financial drain.

But new hope and another generation of family has stepped up to say they don’t want to see this sense of home evaporate. It’s us, our family.

My husband wants to raise our daughter in a place she can truly say she’s from, something I can hardly argue with since it’s been lacking in my world for two decades.

The Argus will have an interim editor in my absence, one that may seem familar. Our sports coordinator Brady Ambrose has stepped up to help out while ECM Publishers, the parent company to the newspaper, finds the right replacement.

Please continue to send your news items to the emily.bialkowski@ecm-inc.com email address as it is being checked all the time. The staff at the Argus are also perfectly capable of helping whether you have a birth announcement, advertisement or hot news story.

When we moved here almost two years ago I don’t think we ever imagined picking up so quickly, but life unfolds in ways that demand we remain adaptable.

I thank you for the energy you have devoted to your hometown newspaper. I know it seems scandalous to have leadership change, but really it’s just part of  “thriving in our changing world.”