PRESS EDITORIAL: The event that signalled the start of the Embrace the Lake Era

Saturday, July 21, 2018 is the 54th anniversary of the start of Port Washington’s Embrace the Lake Era.
    This same Saturday is also the 54th anniversary of Port Fish Day. This is not a coincidence.
    The first Fish Day in 1965 marked the day the community officially turned eastward and saw Lake Michigan as its future.
    For many years before that day, the lake was seen more as a liability than an asset. The harbor was crude and dangerous, unsuitable for recreational craft. The surrounding lakefront land was cluttered with industrial buildings. In the mid-20th century, when Fish Day was born, it was still burdened by the blighted ruins of those buildings.             Many residents thought of the lake mainly as the source of cold, damp springs, frequent fog and soot blowing off of the power plant coal pile on what is now Coal Dock Park. Some city officials and real estate developers viewed the city’s location on the lakeshore as a disadvantage that hindered expansion.
    When the late Bill Schanen Jr., the publisher of Ozaukee Press who was the first Fish Day chairman, invited a group of businessmen and civic leaders to a meeting to propose a new summer celebration, the goal was to create an event that would demonstrate to residents and visitors that the Port Washington lakefront could be a place where there was enjoyment to be had beside a Great Lake that was both a magnificent natural resource and a community treasure.
    Today’s lakefront and the adjacent downtown—thriving, bustling and, thanks to the splendid marina, parks and harborwalk, beautiful—are themselves measures of the success of Fish Day.
    Fish Day, of course, did not directly cause the transformation of the harbor district from neglected and abused to a place so appealing and aesthetically satisfying that it now drives the city’s growth and prosperity. But it showed the way and contributed to the dynamic that has made the hopes of the celebration’s founders a happy reality.
    As a community event, Fish Day has few peers anywhere. Its amazing longevity is testament to the consistent good work of volunteer organizers who serve in an independent nonprofit organization whose only purpose is to keep Fish Day successful.
    Most remarkable, Fish Day supports itself—no city subsidies or tourism grants needed. More than that, it supports the entire community by giving participating service groups the means to raise funds with fish stand proceeds that are distributed for good causes.
    For many Port Washington residents, Fish Day is a much anticipated rite of summer, enjoyed for its eclectic (and really long) parade, for the good excuse it provides for annual reunions that have become legendary in some families and, of course, for the ritual open-air lunch of fish and chips.
    Some residents, it’s true, are less enthused about the big day. That’s understandable, for it certainly causes disruption of ordinary small-town goings-on. How could it not when year after year it more than doubles the population of the city for a day? Noise, traffic gridlock and an advanced state of hubbub come with the event.
    The best remedy for anyone bothered by this is to think of the good accomplished by the day with the money it generates for community benefits ranging from scholarships to park amenities–and its role in starting the Embrace the Lake Era.
    While we are on the subject, it is well to remember that when the first Fish Day was held, an abandoned and unsightly Wisconsin Chair Co. building still stood at the edge of the north harbor slip. It was razed soon after and the site was left open to provide public access to the waterfront amenities that would be built there as the Embrace the Lake Era progressed.
    How unfortunate, then, that as the 54th Fish Day is held on Saturday some the progress of that era is threatened by a misguided development called the Blues Factory that would put a view-blocking building back on that same north slip site—a building, incredibly, designed to resemble the manufacturing plant that disfigured the site during the first Fish Day.
    That’s a disturbing thought—but don’t let it spoil your Fish Day fun.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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