Former BHS teacher wins writing award

By Andrew Pantzlaff * The Brillion News

BRILLION – In the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest, The Brillion News has been a regular winner in the best “Local Column” category.

That good fortune comes through the talents of Ed Byrne, who has written a weekly column at The Brillion News for the past five years and has picked up numerous top-three honors along the way.

Byrne’s most recent award in the WNA’s contest came this past February when he finished second place in his competitive circulation division.

Interestingly enough, though, it turns out the writer who took first in 2014 also has ties to Brillion.

John Gibbs, a former Brillion High School teacher in the 1970s, won top honors for his column writing at the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout. It was his first such award.

The “Independent-Scout” is part of a 10 paper consortium in Southwest Wisconsin, and publishes news in Gays Mills, which is Gibbs’ home town.

Gibbs taught in Brillion from 1973 to 1977, before moving back home to Gays Mills to teach agriculture. There, he taught at North Crawford High School for 30 years before retiring.

During his teaching career, Gibbs would often submit content to the local paper to help promote the activities of his students.

“As part of being the Ag teacher, I’d send in items to the paper for FFA things, and photo captions and things like that. I tried to get the students to do it, but I always ended up doing it,” Gibbs said.

This helped build some contacts with the newspaper, and also helped him explore his writing skills. Gibbs said he also likes to read, so he’d start writing book reviews on certain books from the library.

After retiring from teaching, fate gave him a chance to take a new journey with his writing.

“There was a woman here, Pearl Swiggum, who wrote for the paper for 42 years. Her column was in the State Journal, too,” Gibbs said, explaining that Swiggum turned 90 in 2004, and was retiring her “Stump Ridge Farm” column.

At that time, the Independent-Scout put out word that it was seeking a new columnist, so Gibbs sent in some of his work.

“I submitted a couple columns, and they chose me,” he said.

Gibbs has now been writing his column ‘Drift from a Driftless Place’ each week for the past 11 years.

Approaching 600 weeks of columns now, Gibbs’ work has covered a variety of topics. In a recent newspaper article highlighting Gibbs’ impressive award, it notes a sampling of the tales Gibbs has spun, including “an alligator in the Kickapoo Valley, reflections on the joy of napping, and thoughts on how to stay young-at-heart.”

Gibbs also addresses nature often in his writing, as well as memories of the people he’s met, the lessons he’s shared or learned while in the classroom, tributes to friends and places, and much more.

Generally his writing for the local Gays Mills readership focuses on hometown matters, but Gibbs has referenced Brillion occasionally.

This past December, he wrote about memories regarding Brillion’s Rudy’s Cafe (printed here following this story).

Overall, it can be challenging to find new things to write about week after week, and Gibbs admits that sometimes he catches himself retreading territory from time to time.

When that happens, he tries making a list – a go-to when inspiration is scarce.

Most of all, Gibbs just likes to have fun with his writing.

“I get a lot of good feedback, which I appreciate, but I just enjoy doing it. I try to make it non-controversial; just make it entertaining and informational,” Gibbs said of his columns.

To do so, that generally means staying away from politics, religion and vulgarity in favor of more light-hearted, homegrown observations.

To read the full story, please purchase the May 7, 2015 print edition of The Brillion News. 

Rudy’s Lunch

By John Gibbs

Today I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite eateries: Rudy’s Lunch of Brillion, Wisconsin. If not my all-time, number one favorite, Rudy’s Lunch is definitely in my top ten, lifetime. So far. This will be a flashback to the early 1970’s when we lived in Brillion and patronized Rudy’s frequently.

Rudy’s Lunch sits very close to the intersection of Highway 10 and Brillion’s Main Street, which is also County PP. Brillion is located in northern Calumet County between Appleton and Manitowoc. It is also located between Green Bay and Chilton. In other words, it is a busy crossroads in a prosperous area of the state and a great location for a no-nonsense, working-class restaurant.

Rudy’s didn’t seem like a restaurant or a café in the traditional sense. “Lunch” seemed to describe it to a T. It was a small place with about 8 seats at a counter and seating for another 14 at 3 and a half booths, all in the space of a room not much larger than the size of a single garage. The small kitchen at Rudy’s was located off of the dining area in a T-shaped wing.

I’m not a foodie, exactly. Or at all for that matter. I’ve been called a lot of things (and accused of several more) but foodie isn’t one of them. I look at food more as fuel than as an all-encompassing and time consuming experience and while I realize that a meal can be so much more than a pit stop on the road of life, most of the 1,095 meals I eat in a year are, well, pit stops.

A typical customer at Rudy’s would find a seat at the counter and was met, usually by Rudy himself, who would be holding an empty coffee cup in one hand and a full coffee pot in the other. Within seconds of sitting down, often with a simple nod or a “Yes, please,“ a customer had coffee if he or she wanted it, and they usually did. The menu at Rudy’s was simply a sign on the wall, another way of streamlining the service, and the list of culinary possibilities was short. Without prompting, Rudy would normally spout something like, “Today we got roast beef, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy!” at which point most knowing regulars would say, “That sounds good” and, again, within seconds, be presented with a piping hot plate lunch that looked like it was prepared in advance, especially for them. If an uninitiated diner hemmed and hawed or, heaven forbid, ordered a hamburger done a special way, they definitely got the feeling that they were upsetting the flow of the natural order of things at Rudy’s.

I went to Rudy’s for lunch one day and witnessed a Green Bay TV station reporter and cameraman filming a story on the Rudy’s Lunch Experience. They documented the speed of service, the quality (and quantity) of the food, and the reasonable price of the food, no doubt for a “local color” segment of an upcoming broadcast. As if Rudy needed any advertising. His little “lunch” was always busy. I think the total elapsed time, in and out the door, for the reporter’s lunch stop was something like 13 minutes. Rudy’s was not a place to dawdle or linger over your meal. It was a hit and run eating place for busy people such as truck drivers, farmers, and salesmen.

Out of curiosity, I Google-earthed (is that even a verb?) Rudy’s to see if it was still in existence. I was glad to see that it’s still there but a bit sad to see that it has now grown to about the size of a 4-car garage. It’s also called Rudy’s Diner now and looks like a place where a person could dawdle a bit over dessert. I guess that’s progress but I still hold some fond memories of the old Rudy’s.

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