Reader mail: favorite churches, getaways

Between Plain and Loganville, in southwestern Wisconsin’s Sauk County, is hilly terrain that seems idyllic and never-ending. The coulee area is magnificent – yes, even in these last few days before the trees and groundcover green.

Highway 23 zigzags up, down and around clumps of woodland and fields of cattle. There are horses with sun-kissed coats, handmade signs to sell fresh eggs, tractors and farmers hard at work. It is not yet dry enough for any creature or device to kick up a dust.

This Sunday drive occurs one day after the pope’s death, and the destination will be a Catholic church. I whiz west onto one county road, then another, and another. A couple of hilltops after the 1,100-acre White Mound County Park (full of limestone and named after a village that no longer exists) is a small cemetery and a tidy white building with stained glass windows.

This is Our Lady of the Fields, and we can thank Dave Woodruff of Wausau for telling us about it. This was his Irish grandmother’s church.

“It’s simply beautiful inside,” he writes. “The walls, ceiling and altar include gorgeous woodwork. The altar includes a large, centrally placed painting of the Virgin Mary.

“The smell of incense and the old woodwork have mesmerized me since I was a child. Her painting is very soft and lovely; I am always transfixed by her gaze.”

Amazingly, the church was open. Two men were picnicking at a table in front of it; one has been coming here for decades, even though he lives 60 miles away.

There are 14 pews, enough to seat 60-70 people. Traditional rosaries hang on the wall. “Please take a pocket rosary and let your fingers do the talking,” a scrawled note says.

Our Lady of the Fields, built in 1903, is a sister church of St. Patrick’s, which is nearby. Call (608) 546-2482 or go to www.madisondiocese.org to learn more.

Roger Schrantz of Madison also wrote recently, about his favorite churches: the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee (www.thebasilica.org); Frank Lloyd Wright’s Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Wauwatosa (www.wrightinwisconsin.org); Boynton Chapel, Baileys Harbor, a Norwegian stavkirke at Lawrence University’s Bjorklunden (www.lawrence.edu/dept/bjork); and St. Joan of Arc Chapel, at Milwaukee’s Marquette University (www.marquette.edu/chapel).

If you enjoy these types of excursions, check out “Sacred Sites of Wisconsin” and “Sacred Sites of Minnesota,” ($18.95 each, Trails Books) by John-Brian Paprock and Teresa Peneguy Paprock, who live in Madison.

Each book has more than 350 sites – chapels to effigy mounds – that are considered holy.

Reader mail is great. Here are more snippets:

Judie Suleski of Waukesha wants to hit the road with a good guidebook in hand. The state’s free materials are “nice, but useless – too many booklets, too specific and they do not show all of the wonderful things Wisconsin has to offer in a concise, easy-to-read book – a book specifically designed for road trips,” she writes.

What to do? Consider “The Great Wisconsin Touring Book: 30 Spectacular Auto Trips” ($21.95, Trails Books) by Gary Knowles of Madison. The former state tourism communications director knows Wisconsin’s nooks better than anybody.

“There are so many destinations within reach of residents in central Wisconsin,” writes Kari Ann David of Marshfield. “Example: People can’t believe we camp on an island and it’s only 1 ½ hours from home (Brunet Island State Park, Chippewa County).” Go to www.dnr.state.wi.us to learn more.

She also mentioned her family’s memorable trip to Crisp Point Lighthouse, Paradise, Mich., last summer. They camped and took care of this Upper Peninsula lighthouse for a weekend. For more, go to www.crisppointlight.org or call (906) 492-3206.

Kay Searl of Fond du Lac suggests taking a tour of Rawhide Boys Ranch, near New London (Waupaca County). The Christian residential program for at-risk male teens began in 1965; former Green Bay Packer quarterback Bart Starr was one of the founders.

“You will be very impressed with the area, and with the accomplishments of the boys,” Kay writes. Tours of the grounds are by appointment. Fund-raiser fish fries at Rawhide’s Frontier Café are from 5-8 p.m. April 22, July 22, Aug. 19, Sept. 16 and Oct. 21. To learn more, go to www.rawhide.org or call (920) 982-6100.

Recent observations about customer service hit a nerve with frustrated readers throughout the state. “Part of me wants to send the article to the Chamber of Commerce, but they would never understand it,” wrote one man from south central Wisconsin. I’m staying away from those cat fights, at least for now.

Marcia Theel of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum notes that “At Your Service: The Northwoods Way” has been developed to better acquaint people in the Wausau area with local tourism outlets. The program is offered quarterly.

“Your article was dead accurate with its focus on how important good customer service skills are in the tourism industry,” she writes.

Thanks very much to all of the other readers who have shared their own observations about tourism. You want to know more about wineries, family activities, doll museums and caves in eastern Minnesota. I’ll keep that in mind as the year goes on.

Every once in a while, a name from the past resurfaces, too.

“I am an antique tractor collector,” writes Jim Twohig of Campbellsport, in response to a column about the “Farm Life” exhibit in Eau Claire. “I would like to invite you to our little antique tractor show that we have near Armstrong” (Fond du Lac County).

The event is called Empire Threshing, it will be Aug. 27 and “this is a show where the good old boys like Billy Bergin would show up and spend the day reminiscing.”

The reference was to my father. Jim spent a few years hauling milk from farms to Baker Cheese Factory. For more about the show, watch www.fdl.com, call (800) 937-9123 or contact Jim at gtwohig@excel.net.