This year marks my 30th in Verona.
It also marks my last year as the pastor of Salem United Church of Christ.
I will be retiring from this position in August. Since this may be my last appearance on this page, I want to pay tribute to the city I have come to love.
My wife, Sherrol, and I began falling in love with Verona the first time we drove through town. The story is too long to tell here, but we were driving home to Illinois after visiting a town in Minnesota that had a pastoral vacancy.
It became very clear to us that we did not want to move to that town, and we were disappointed on our return trip. Sherrol, then and now, navigates as we drive and rides with an atlas open upon her lap. When we reached Madison, she said, “Isn’t there a church in Verona that is open? We’re close. Let’s go look.”
For some strange reason, neither Sherrol nor Mark could remember that Salem stands on Mark Drive. So we followed our noses through several neighborhoods until we found the church. We were immediately struck by the town’s beauty.
Salem’s pastoral search committee, the group charged with finding a new minister for the congregation, kept telling us about the wonderful quality of Verona’s schools. Candidly, I became a little tired of hearing it and determined that the schools were going to have to work hard to live up to all the hype.
I must say the schools proved to be all that and more. Our three children, two of whom started school here, and our oldest who began second grade here, had wonderful experiences.
One of our daughters enjoyed through the school a chance to job shadow Justice Shirley Abrahamson one day and to shadow over the course of several days a UW professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Our son enjoyed through the school a connection with Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a connection that lasted for several years and summer jobs, and led to having lunch with former Vice President Walter Mondale and then-Senator Joe Biden.
Our oldest daughter was told by her first grade teacher in Illinois that she would never be very good at math. Beginning in second grade and carrying through high school here in Verona, she excelled and went on to major in math and chemistry in college. She earned a PhD in chemistry at UW Madison and is now a professor in Maryland.
How are the schools now? I will leave that to others to decide. All I know is that there is a wonderful, hard-working lunch lady at Glacier Edge Elementary who has a genuine heart for the kids who come through her line.
Thirty years ago when I arrived in Verona the local food pantry was a simple and small closet in the basement of Salem United Church of Christ. While I am sad to see the need for a food pantry persists and grows, I am delighted to see what it has become.
I had no real hand in its development into the Badger Prairie Needs Network, but I am proud to have been an encourager along the way. BPNN’s life convinces me that people with commitment who work faithfully in partnership with one another can accomplish much that is good. This sentiment extends not only to those who labor at the site but also to the many generous businesses and individuals of Verona who contribute gladly and heartily.
One of the first purchases we made on that first visit of ours to Verona was a Verona Press. We hoped the local newspaper would give us a good picture of the town. Incidentally, making this purchase took us on our first happy foray into Miller and Sons, which in itself gave us a flavor of this town and helped us to fall in love.
I had no idea then the connection I would be able to develop with the paper, especially these last several years and my position here on page four periodically. Several editors have been at the helm of the newspaper across these 30 years, and each one was kind to me in their own way.
But I single out Jim Ferolie and his editorial skills. Several of you have sent me notes or spoken to me in person about my little “Community Voices” essays. I am grateful for your remarks, but you should see what my writings were like before Jim worked his magic! I have come to appreciate his skills.
So, thank you, Verona! Thank you for all the ways you have been good to me, for the ways you have helped to shape me, and for the ways you helped to shape my family. All of us are grateful.
Sherrol plans to continue at the school but I am retiring from the church. We live in Belleville now, so I will no longer qualify as a “Community Voice.”
But I’ll be back! Sherrol and I each have a little stretch of property across from what is now Sugar Creek Elementary School. Once planted there I don’t expect I’ll move again.
I shall have come home.