You may have had your eyes checked in the former Wauwatosa City Hall

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It’s known as the Hoyt Building in Wauwatosa. It also served as an early City Hall building, as the city as it was becoming established.

These days it is home to Be Spectacled, a boutique optometry practice in Tosa. But bookended between its municipal uses and its current tenant, the building was home to a few well-known retail stores including Drews Variety and a Ben Franklin.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

This week on Urban Spelunking, we visit the building in the heart of the Wauwatosa Village and update you on the future plans, plus give insight into the hundred-plus years of history on that site.

Listen to this week’s episode below and read OnMilwaukee Bobby Tanzilo’s story here.

Harwood Avenue as seen in 1968. Photo courtesy of Wauwatosa Historical Society via OnMilwaukee.

Editorial note: Be Spectacled is a longtime underwriter of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

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Sustainable clothing brand offers a new way to tell a story

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Victress Vibes, co-founded by Courtney Hellendrung and Alaina Landi, is a sustainable hand-printed clothing brand aimed to share the stories of women. It all started in 2017 when they both met and they realized there was a universal thirst for empowering messages on graphic tees but according to Hellendrung, something was missing. 

“We were like, ‘That’s so cool that this is at the forefront of our societies, these women empowerment messages you can find everywhere,’” said Hellendrung. “But what are you learning from this? What is the tangible thing? We came up with a way to create shirts inspired by women and accompany them with QR codes that allow you to scan your shirt and read about the women.” 

Beyond just sharing stories about women, the brand is also sustainable and offers unisex sizes from XS – 4XL. With their recent brand launch party, Landi said Victress Vibes have carefully selected four women to represent.

“We focused on a Japanse artist, a Mexican-American social justice warrior, an African American writer and a British mathematician,” said Landi.

Those women are Yayoi Kusama, Dolores Huerta, Maya Angelou and Joan Clarke.

Victress Vibes have three pillars they target; accessibility, sustainability and giving back to the community.

“Something that is really important to us is to support the community that supports us,” said Landi. “Our mission is to donate five percent of each purchase to organizations that support women and girls in STEM, art and business.” 

“We want to be a part of the Milwaukee community; we want to create a larger community that’s centered around cool women,” says Hellendrung.

Courtney Hellendrung and Alaina Landi, co-founders of Victress Vibes | Courtesy of Victress Vibes

When I had a conversation with Courtney and Alaina, they told me about their upcoming initiative, Hometown Heroines, where individuals in Milwaukee can nominate local women they know and love to become a victress. It’s an exciting way to celebrate and learn more about amazing women making a difference here right at home.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

DACA ‘dreamer’ and her former teacher share emotional story of how their paths crossed

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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is back in the news this week as the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments for terminating the Obama-era program.

DACA protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants from deportation who arrived here as children. But the fates of those so-called “dreamers” are uncertain as the current administration works to end the program.

88Nine hosted a Community Stories live event at No Studios, in partnership with Ex Fabula, on Nov. 5. Photo credit: Erin Bagatta.

With this topic as a backdrop, 88Nine recently hosted an event at No Studios, in partnership with Ex Fabula, called “Coming To Milwaukee: Immigrations Stories.” The program featured personal storytelling from a diverse array of Milwaukee residents, with an equally diverse range of immigration statuses.

Arleth Villagran (left) and Michelle Streed take share personal stories on stage. Photo credit: Erin Bagatta.

One of the speakers was Arleth Villagran. She is 22 and attended a small charter high school in downtown Milwaukee. She is a “dreamer” and took the stage alongside her former high school teacher and advisor, Michelle Streed.

Hear their story, unedited, below.

Arleth Villagran and Michelle Steed take the Ex Fabula stage together.
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

DACA student shares the realities of immigration in Milwaukee

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More than 1 million immigrants arrive in the United States each year and Milwaukee’s diversity is because of the immigrants that live within our city. This year we partnered with Ex Fabula and Nō studios to bring a Community Stories Live event called “Coming to Milwaukee, Immigration Stories,” where multiple Milwaukeeans share their experiences with immigration. Iuscely Flores is a UW-Milwaukee student, she came to America when she was four with her parents from Durango, Mexico. When she was nine, they settled in Milwaukee.

This is her full story.  

Iuscely Flores on stage | Courtesy of Erin Bagatta

“I am undocumented. I have DACA, but I very much side with my undocumented community because DACA is not enough. I came to the U.S. when I was four with my parents; we migrated from Durango, Mexico and we traveled to a couple of places within the States then finally when I was nine we kind of settled in Milwaukee. Proud product of MPS, and then some UW-Oshkosh, some UW-Milwaukee. It’s kind of expensive, so I have a year left. 

“I really like to think my family was the epitome of the American Dream. My dad was a contractor, he was was a business owner, he installed carpet all over Wisconsin. We would drive through Lake Drive and he would point, ‘I installed carpet over there, I installed carpet over there! I installed carpet over there!’ His last project was his biggest; he worked for MSOE and as a contractor and also not as a unionized man, I knew they were exploiting him and he knew that too, but he was putting tortillas on the table so it didn’t matter.

“My mom, she was the beautiful American housewife, I would come home from school and she would have fruit for me while I was doing my homework, she really couldn’t help me because there were language barriers but we had to fundraise to get traditional folklore outfits to perform and she made 500 empanadas and we had enough money for the folklore uniforms and just outfits. The performances were wonderful and she chaperoned the whole thing and choreographed some of it. It was just amazing how much involvement she still had regardless of the language barriers. Because my dad was always working they always assumed my mom was a single mom because she always came to my conferences by herself.”

Flores heartbreakingly describes the moment her father told her about his difficult decision, one that ended up changing his family’s lives forever and one he made in order to protect his family.

“But three days before Christmas of last year my parents self-deported. At first, I was really angry, right? What can I do to keep my parents here? What is this process going to look like for me? Being undocumented, I really had to prep them and be like, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do? I won’t be able to see you for ten years. If I want to walk down the aisle my dad won’t be able to walk down with me. If I want to bear children my mom won’t get to feed her grandchildren.’ 

“I knew that the longing that I feel when I go on vacation somewhere for Milwaukee, my dad felt for Mexico. I had to understand that this had to happen. We went to the Mexican consulate and my dad was like, ‘Well, I want to self-deport, can you help me?’ This man has been working for the Mexican consulate for fifteen years and he’s never met somebody that wants to self-deport. He can’t believe it and neither can I.

“Three months before my parents actually self-deported, I was on Google and just searching, ‘How to move back to Mexico? How to self-deport?’ and within all that, I found that most of these websites were catered towards white people that were moving to Mexico because some of them were like, ‘How to avoid paying taxes in Mexico? How to get the best dental system in Mexico?’ So I just knew this was something that wasn’t really made for my parents.

“I was like, ‘Are you really sure?’ Just reminding them why they left, like ‘you left because the North American Free Trade Agreement just generated way more poverty and in Mexico. It influenced drug cartels and organized crime’ and my dad said, ‘I’d rather be free and poor than rich with no liberties.’ And him being a contractor and just always driving, place to place he was this fearless man but then with the political climate he became a little fearful and he had to do what was best for his family.

“Instead of being pulled over by somebody that was collaborating with ICE, he chose to prepare me. And by preparing me I mean, he built his own trailer to move back to Mexico. I would come home and the base was done. I come home again, he had the walls done. I would come home again, this was the last thing that we did, I helped him hold down a pillar as he welded as he prepared the doors for closing. 

“The American Dream that my parents ever so vividly provided for me started to become a nightmare. I really just believe that it is too late to feel sorry for people in my situation and the time to really act is now.”

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

COA’s after school program engages kids through STEM learning

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The COA Youth and Family Center, established in 1906, has been serving low-income families and children in Milwaukee for 113 years. The center is divided into three divisions: early childhood development, youth development and community development. The youth development sector focuses on pre-teens and teens through afterschool and summer programs, one being Kohl’s Explore Your Future, an afterschool STEM program. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

On Nov. 8, which is also national STEM day, COA hosted a daylong expo at the Goldin Center. The goal was to spark an interest with kids, ages 8-14, while learning and perhaps even finding subjects like math and science fun.

“They hear the word science so they have a negative connotation, just because some schools still teach science in a very traditional way,” said COA STEM Program Director Lina Nguyen. “Whereas our program focuses more on the hands-on experience, I want them to think, ‘I am having fun, and it is STEM.’ A lot of them don’t even realize that they are doing something academic when they are doing our programming.” 

The expo offered 18 captivating stations that related to STEM. There was a chemical reaction table that made fake snow and a shaving cream rain cloud station. Tom Schneider, COA’s executive director, said the expo was meant to inspire kids to think differently about STEM.

“The sort of myth out there is kids come to an afterschool program and play basketball,” said Schneider.  “People don’t have an image of an afterschool program being science, technology, engineering and math yet. You should see the excitement of kids when they learn to program a robot.”

Other than capturing the attention of kids, Nguyen said one of the major components of the program is equity, the idea that all kids — regardless of race and gender — have access to quality education.

“It’s really important for students of color, low-income background students and especially girls, just because a lot of girls from a young age are not directly told, but implicitly told, that they can’t do it,” said Nguyen. “It’s really important that we try and spark interest in STEM with all kids.”

When I attended the expo, there were over 100 kids mesmerized from their experiments. The room had a palpable energy that there can be endless possibilities within STEM, and that path can be one for everyone.

Listen to the audio story below.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Celebrating 61 years of family tradition at Milwaukee’s famous Three Brothers restaurant

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When you walk into Three Brothers restaurant in Bay View, you know you’re about to experience something special. The aroma of home cooked food, prepared from precious family recipes, greets you instantly, carrying with it decades of tradition.

Photo credit: Royal Brevvaxling

The restaurant has been serving traditional Serbian cuisine — at the same location in Bay View at 2414 S. St. Clair St. — for 61 years. From the burek, a baked dish made with layers of phyllo dough and savory filling, to the hand-rolled grape leaves, stuffed with rice and braised in white wine, you’re sure to experience tastes of the Mediterranean with a unique Milwaukee story.

Grape leaves filled with rice, served with traditional cheese and olives.

Milunka Radicevic runs the restaurant now, carrying on the legacy of parents and grandparents. Her family continues to live in the apartment above the eatery, and just about everything else inside is the same as it been for the last several decades.

Milunka Radicevic behind the bar.

Original wooden chairs surround each table, gracefully showing their wear, while formica tables and mismatched china reinforce the charming family aesthetic. Behind the bar, an original photographic mural remains — just as it did when the bar was a Schlitz tied house — while a still-working, revolving Schlitz globe light fixture hangs from the ceiling.

Evidence of the restaurant former Schlitz affiliation on proud display. The globe still rotates!

On this week’s episode of Urban Spelunking, OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo and I share a meal with Radicevic. She shares more history from inside the space, including a beautiful story about how she preserved her grandmother’s original butcher block after her passing.

She also tells us about her family’s reaction to winning a coveted James Beard Award in 2002, made even more special as a family of immigrants.

Radicevic’s grandmother’s butcher block now houses the restaurant reservation book.
Milunka (center), Bobby (right) and myself are all smiles after sharing a delicious Serbian meal.

Be sure to read Bobby’s complete story at OnMilwaukee.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Vision Forward’s Dining in the Dark fundraiser offered insight into vision loss

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Vision Forward, celebrating 100 years, hosted its Dining In The Dark dinner at Bacchus on Sunday, Nov. 3. Proceeds from the dinner help Vision Forward fund training, therapy and education options for children, youth, adults and seniors impacted by vision loss. 

The dinner was quite the unique experience. Have you ever tried to navigate a situation with your eyes closed? Well, we ate a four-course dinner completely blindfolded.

There was a sea of various sized tables throughout Bacchus and my husband and I were ushered to an intimate table of four. Our dining companions Mellissa and Steve were already seated and, after our introductions, we were instructed to put on our blindfolds. I hadn’t really studied the table that closely yet, but did observe there were a lot of tall stemmed glasses. Yikes. I started to feel a bit nervous; I didn’t want to be “that” person who knocks a glass over and creates the domino effect.   

We put on our blindfolds, and the first thing I noticed was that the sounds in the room intensified. I also felt like everything slowed down, and my other senses started to strengthen.  

It was so weird that even though I was blindfolded, I closed my eyes.  Out of the four of us, only Melissa kept her eyes open. 

Our first course was served. I used my fingers to lightly touch the surface of the plated food to try and figure out what it was and how to go about eating it. It was some kind of salad with a chewy protein, crunchy round bits, a veggie that I thought was broccoli and a creamy base. Once we finished this course, we heard clinking on a glass that brought the room to a hush. Our MC Mark Baden encouraged us to guess what the first course was. People threw out many guesses, and it was discovered it was a squid salad with crunchy chickpeas, pickled cauliflower and humus. Yum!

I was delighted by the various textures in each dish. I understand the importance of having texture components in a dish but had never stopped to chew and deliberate on each morsel.  

The second course was butternut ravioli with hazelnuts and after a couple of hit and misses, I got the hang of cutting the pasta and getting it on my fork.

Between each course, a clink of the wine glass would signal us to quiet down and throw our guesses in the ring. There was always a surprise element in each dish that we hadn’t identified.  

The wine kept flowing and we noted that it is important to keep your hands low and move upward slowly. We all did really well with this, and I didn’t hear any glasses break throughout the whole meal.

I smelled the third course before it arrived and felt the sharp steak knife to my right.  I felt the food on my dish with my fingers and determined it was steak and went in for the first cut.  The piece I stabbed and put in my mouth was way too big. I admit I gagged a bit, but it was so delicious, I suffered through it. I took great care to cut smaller pieces from that point forward. Steve mentioned eating kale. Kale? Where’s the kale? The plate seemed so vast that I couldn’t locate all the different elements. In fact, when the server came to clear our dishes, Melissa asked how we had done, if we had all finished what was on our plates. The server said I had the most food left on my plate. What!? That sure doesn’t sound like me. I’m from the clean plate club. Maybe this is a new diet plan to try. Perhaps I should eat each meal blindfolded. When my husband heard that I had food left on my plate, he made a “hmmpf” sound, so I stabbed him with my steak knife!  

Our final course arrived and was a luscious chocolaty dessert — warm, gooey and topped with hazelnut ice-cream. None of us struggled too much with this one.  

This experience reminded me to slow down and participate in life using all my senses. Sight is just one of them and if we only pay attention to what we see, we are missing out on all the textures, smells and sounds that surround us everyday. I challenge us all to take a moment each day, close our eyes and hone in on what else is waiting for us to notice

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Can Milwaukee win another world championship?

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The past two or so years have truly been a roller coaster for Milwaukee sports fans. The Brewers made it to the playoffs for two consecutive years for the first time since the early 1980s, only to lose in game seven of the National League Championship Series last year and the National League Wild Card game last month. Then there are the Bucks; making it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in nearly 20 years only to lose to the Toronto Raptors despite having the best record in the entire NBA by season’s end.

And yet, the zeitgeist of Milwaukee coming out of these years is arguably more optimistic about these teams than they have ever been. Both Christian Yelich and Giannis Antetokounmpo won MVP awards in their respective leagues (with Yelich eligible for a consecutive award for his performance in this last season) and the gap between the city and it’s rivals in the MLB and NBA is almost nonexistent.

But we’ve been here before. The 2000-2001 Bucks, the 2008 Brewers and both teams during the 1980s seemingly were on a path to the top, only to fall short of a world championship every time, whether that was an NBA Championship or a World Series victory.

So, while we are all aboard this hype train that is currently carrying the Bucks to the NBA Finals. Let’s take a step back to analyze the Cream City’s playoff history, our place in the current sports landscape, and whether or not we can overcome the hurdles in front of us so “Is this our year?” can finally become “This IS our year.” for the first time since the Bucks NBA Finals win in 1971.

Buck-le up. (I will not apologize for that)

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Former Riverwest tannery to reopen as creative workspace

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Plans are advancing to create a “creative district” on Fratney Street in Riverwest, thanks to a new development. Look for new artist studios and an event venue opening in 2020.

The plans center around a pair of buildings near the intersection of Fratney Street and Vienna Avenue. One building is a former tannery, and the other used to be a foundry.

The 52,000 sq. foot former tannery, 3738 N. Fratney St., is being converted to a shared workspace for artists, creatives and makers. Meanwhile, the old foundry — branded as the Goat Palace — is actively being developed into an event and entertainment venue.

You may have already noticed a massive difference passing the tannery building. Its exterior was covered with white sheet metal until recently, obscuring beautiful brickwork and ample windows.

The tannery building “before.” Photo: Jon Krouse via OnMilwaukee.
And “after.” Photo: Jon Krouse via OnMilwaukee.

That metal has been removed in preparation of the remodeling efforts, and the exterior transformation alone is worth checking out if you’re passing through the neighborhood.

This week on Urban Spelunking, OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo fills us in on the plans to drive the new creative distract forward.

A look inside the tannery building. Photo: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee.
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Life as a second generation Hmong American

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Originally from the mountains of Laos and Thailand, the Hmong people came to the United States in the mid-’70s as political refugees. Roughly more than 130,000 refugees settled in the States after being sponsored from schools and churches.

Milwaukee hosts the fourth largest Hmong population in America.
E Her Vang is one the city’s many second generation Hmong Americans. After I was warmly welcomed into her home, we had a conversation about what it means to be Hmong and maintaining her identity.

Her Vang was born in Fresno, Calif., and lived there until she was four. She remembers her cousins raising pigeons in their garage.

“We went back a couple years ago because my grandma passed and they still raise pigeons in their backyard,” said Her Vang.

Her Vang with her siblings in the 2000s | Courtesy of E Her Vang

Before Her Vang went to UW-Madison for undergrad, she was transferred to Franklin High School from an MPS school. That was when she began to feel that she was different from other kids.

“That was kind of a culture shock because when I was in MPS it was a lot more diverse so I felt more comfortable,” said Her Vang. “When I went to a suburban school it was kind of like, ‘Oh you’re kind of in a lower class and everyone seems ahead.’ You start wanting the same things that you’re surrounded by, so it was kind of difficult for my mother to balance that, too, because I wanted to wear what the kids in that school were wearing and we couldn’t really afford that.”

Her Vang with her family on graduation day | Courtesy of E Her Vang

Her Vang said she recalled that other kids confused her ethnicity and didn’t understand what being Hmong was. She constantly faced questions such as “Where are you really from?” throughout her childhood. Although she may have unaccepted, her family always prided themselves on being Hmong.

When Her Vang’s mother was growing up, within Hmong culture women were supposed to prioritize a domestic role and education wasn’t valued. Although this mindset isn’t as common now, Her Vang’s mother always championed getting an education.

“My parents may feel like it may be too late for them,” said Her Vang. “They were pushing us to do better in this country so that we would have a better life but they would always tell us that we were Hmong and proud of that.”

One Hmong tradition is clan names. In Hmong society there are roughly 18 clan names that trace back to each family’s earliest ancestors. In the case of E Her Vang, her maiden name is Her and Vang is her husband’s last name.

Her Vang on her wedding day | Courtesy of E Her Vang

Beyond Her Vang’s appreciation for Hmong tradition and food, Her Vang says family ties and closeness to her community is the heart and honor within Hmong culture. Home are those who around you.

“If I went to a different state and there was a Hmong family there and I don’t really know who they are and I’m like ‘I’m Hmong, these are my parents’, then they will just welcome me in their house and feed me and find a place for me to sleep,” said Her Vang. “So that hospitality thing is really great in our culture.”

Hmong Americans are the largest Asian ethnic group in Wisconsin and although it is nearly impossible to highlight everything about what it truly means to be Hmong, Her Vang’s story is just one of the many perspectives on living in Milwaukee as a second generation Hmong American.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee