The Fox Cities Book Festival started the Wisconsin Wednesday series on its social media feeds in late 2018, with the intention of celebrating authors with ties to Wisconsin throughout the year. The festival has featured local-born and bred talent – past and present – such as the beloved poet, Ellen Kort (who founded the festival in 2006). It has also show-cased nationally-renowned and internationally-acclaimed writers such as Thai journalist, Pongsak Payakwichian, and famed author/screenwriter, Neil Gaiman.

During the month leading up to the 2019 festival, Wisconsin Wednesdays are devoted to showcasing the many talents coming to the Fox Cities Book Festival. This week we highlight those presenters making their own mark upon the history and culture of Wisconsin. Each brings a new angle and sheds light on a different part of our state’s unique style and community of arts and humanities.

Barb & Ken Wardius

When people think of Wisconsin a few iconic images come to mind: America’s dairlyand, home of the Packers, the paper industry, breweries and brats, and county fairs. Just below the surface of these quintessential elements, another element of Wisconsin culture often flies under the radar. Lifelong residents, Barb and Ken Wardius, set out to shed a light on (no pun intended) the rich history of Wisconsin lighthouses.

First bitten by the “lighthouse bug” decades ago in Door County, Wisconsin, Ken and Barb Wardius – authors of Wisconsin Lighthouses: A Photographic and Historical Guide – began accumulating Wisconsin lighthouse photographs and explored the history of these marvelous maritime beacons. They’ve also written books on the Cana Island Lighthouse, the Wind Point Lighthouse, and the North Point Milwaukee Lighthouse.

Lighthouse photography and research are specialties the Wardius’ take particular pride in. Later this would lead to the publication of four books involving Wisconsin lighthouses as well as lighthouse programming.

Based out of suburban Milwaukee, Ken and Barb are sought after lighthouse authors and speakers. Their lecture presentations are ideal for the lighthouse buff, nautical enthusiast and anyone who enjoys breathtaking photography.

The Wardius’ also have a wide-ranging photographic collection of Wisconsin lighthouses. Their photos have been published extensively in books, magazines, calendars, corporate reports, brochures and on the internet. They organize lighthouse tours around the state, have been guest on Wisconsin Public Radio, and featured by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Arial shot of Kimberly Point Light house, along the shore of Lake Winnebago, in Neenah, Wisconsin

The Wardius’ will be presenting “Wisconsin Lighthouses” on Thursday, October of 10th at the Neenah Public Library, just one mile from Kimberly Park, home of “the Neenah Light,” Fox Valley’s one lighthouse. Their presentation covers nearly 1/3 of the lighthouses in the state, including Wisconsin Point Light in Superior, the Apostle Island’s Sand Island and Michigan Island Lights, Cana Island Lighthouse in Door County, Rockwell Lighthouse on Lake Winnebago, Rawley Point near Two Rivers, Old Port Washington, Wind Point in Racine and many more.

Kurt Dietrich

Photo credit: Ripon Commonwealth Press

If anyone has a finger on the pulse of the Fox Cities Jazz scene, it’s Kurt Dietrich. The Professor of Music and Performing Arts has taught at Ripon College since 1980, after graduating from Lawrence University, and later receiving his master’s degree from Northwestern University and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At Ripon College, Professor Dietrich directs the Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the Jazz Ensemble, teaches brass instruments and a variety of courses.  He is also an accomplished and prolific trombonist. He has published several books, including Duke’s ‘Bones:  Ellington’s Great Trombonist (1995) and Jazz ‘Bones:  The World of Jazz Trombone (2005).  He has also contributed to Annual Review of Jazz Studies, Black Music Research Journal, International Dictionary of Black Composers and other publications.  He regularly writes reviews of books and recordings.  Dietrich was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Chapter of the International Association for Jazz Education in 2006.

In his latest book, Wisconsin Riffs:  Jazz Profiles from the Heartland (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2018), Dietrich interviewed scores of artists, inquiring on their specific favorites, influencers, and their own representative works. Dietrich devoted an entire chapter of Wisconsin Riffs to the Fox Valley. John Harmon (jazz pianist and widely commissioned composer), Zach Harmon (drummer, educator, and composer), Janet Planet (jazz singer) and her husband Tom Washatka (saxophonist, composer, arranger, recording engineer, and producer for Stellar Records) were among the many local musicians from the valley who enjoyed more than just a moment in the spotlight in Dietrich’s latest chef d’oeuvre.

Dietrich will be presenting on Wisconsin Riffs: Jazz Profiles from the Heartland at the Neenah Public Library, Thursday, October 10, 2019 from 6:30pm to 7:30pm.

Lee Reiherzer

From the Fox Cities historical speakeasies to modern, craft breweries, Lee Reiherzer has covered it all. And he’s nowhere near done. Reiherzer has been documenting research and blogging about local breweries since 2010, and as of last spring, he still had hundreds of stories to cover. He told the Oshkosh Northwestern in an article published on April 5th, 2019, “When I started writing about the history of beer in this area, I thought a couple of years and I will exhaust that. I have this list of well over 100 different stories I haven’t gotten to about beer history in this area.”

Reiherzer’s blog delves into the fascinating culture (at times, counter-culture) of beer brewing, from the foot of Lake Winnebago (Fond du Lac), to it’s north shores (the twin cities of Neenah and Menasha). He co-authored the book, The Breweries of Oshkosh: Their Rise and Fall (2012) with Ron Akin.

“Oshkosh, Wisconsin has always loved beer. Over the course of more than 120 years, the city has been home to over a dozen breweries; from small, neighborhood brewhouses to large, industrial beer factories. Richly illustrated with more than 300 images – most of them in full color – this is a lively history of the city, its beer and the people who made it.”

Just last spring released Winnebago County Beer: A Heady History.

“Winnebago County has long been a bellwether of Wisconsin beer making. In the mid-1800s, German immigrants launched small breweries in Butte des Morts, Menasha, Neenah, Oshkosh and Winneconne. By the 1950s, breweries such as Walter Brothers, Peoples and the Oshkosh Brewing Company had a combined output of more than 100,000 barrels of beer annually, and iconic brands like Gem Pilsener and Chief Oshkosh were known across the state. This rich tradition continues today with the rise of modern craft breweries in Omro, Oshkosh and Neenah. Local author and founder of the Oshkosh Beer website Lee Reiherzer reveals stories behind the breweries, past and present, that fostered an enduring beer culture.”

On October 11th, 2019 at 3:00pm to 4:00pm Reiherzer will present “A History of Beer and Brewing in Neenah and Menasha.” During his presentation, Reiherzer will cover the entire history of beer and brewing in the twin cities of Neenah and Menasha. From the cities first breweries of the 1850s to the craft breweries of today, this is a story filled with surprising turns and has, at times, been marked by conflict. The beer-rich history of Neenah and Menasha has largely gone missing from the history books, but it’s a story well worth the telling.

Kristine Hansen

From lighthouses, to beer, to jazz music, the 2019 Fox Cities Book Festival offers Fox Cities residents a taste of all things Wisconsin. And a menu of the state’s history, arts, and culture wouldn’t be complete without at least one item for the “Dairyland” column. Enter foodie and culture-writer, Kristine Hansen. Her quest (and taste) for the cheesy, led her to a fascinating study of all things cheese, from the state known best for its curds and whey.

Hansen is a freelance writer based out of the Bay View – a sleepy neighborhood with a laid back beat, located within Wisconsin’s biggest urban center, Milwaukee. She writes on food and wine, design and culture, travel, and essays on topics ranging from grief to racial segregation in Milwaukee. Her work appears in,,, and, Midwest Living Magazine and Milwaukee Magazine. She has written for TIME Magazine, Wine Enthusiast Magazine,,, and the Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler websites. She also has written content for her own brands, including Timberland and Meijer.

Hansen’s style is cogent and smart, while filtering her experiences through a whimsical, inquisitive lens.

In her own words, “It’s rare to not be dreaming about my next trip or meal. I enjoy immersing myself in a cultural community, whether it’s Mennonites in Belize or winemakers in Bordeaux. I’ve even braved dog-sledding in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula while on assignment for Midwest Living. Quirky stories thrill me, too: for TIME Magazine I shed light on hotels that loan out pets. Closer to home (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) I profile interesting personalities, including female organic farmers, and write about beautiful homes, such as this Frank Lloyd Wright property.

Hansen traveled around Wisconsin, researching her book, Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State’s Best Creameries.

She has also co-authored The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee & Tea.

“When I’m not writing for others I write for myself. My current project is a novel set in Sonoma County, California, largely inspired by my time in this precious part of the country.”

Hansen is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She also volunteers, chairing a program connecting writers with agents and editors.

She will be presenting “Wisconsin’s Cheesy History” on Saturday, October 12th, from 11:00am to 12:00pm at the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha. Hansen will discuss her new book, focusing on immigrants and entrepreneurs who have made Wisconsin the number-one state in America for making cheese. She will talk about the personalities behind the cheese and reveal various recipes those personalities have produced.





Scott Wittman

Many Wisconsin and Fox Cities residents experience the vibe of the state through its cultural landscape: festivals and fairs, Packer games and polka music, cheese, beer, and brats. Photographer Scott Wittman experiences what it means to be a Wisconsin resident – more specifically a Fox Cities resident – through an entirely different landscape: the literal one.

Wittman completed his formal training in photography at the Colorado Institute of Art in Denver. In his own words, “I have dedicated my life to preserving the beauty, of people and place, through my photographs and writings. After spending the last nine years operating a studio in the Milwaukee suburbs, I now return to my roots to begin a new chapter in my photographic career.”

Wittman specializes in historical landscape and multi-genre portraiture. He has written and created images for a multitude of publications, businesses, and online platforms. His work has appeared in magazine spreads, advertisements, and hanging on many a family wall, or above a living room mantle. And with the publishing of his book, Lost Fox Cities, his work might now be found on your living room coffee table.

Lost Fox Cities tells the story of the lumber kings and paper barons of the Fox River Valley who transformed a wilderness of vast, rich timber lands and raging river waters into empires of pine, paper, and power.

“Names such as Kimberly, Clark, Paine, Morgan, Rogers and Whiting ushered in an era of opulence shining with steamboat excursions down the Fox River, lavish hotels and movie houses, and palatial mansions in plush neighborhoods. Much of this bygone age exists now only in photographs, written accounts or memories.”

In Lost Fox Cities, Wittman pulls together a multi-layered platform of media: vintage and contemporary photography, journalistic accounts, letters and memoirs. The resulting book has helped recover a vanishing history of the Fox Cities. He will be presenting on Wednesday, October 9th, from 5:30pm to 6:30pm at the Appleton Public Library. Local artist, KC Wilson, will bring the glittering history of the Fox Cities to vibrant colorful life as she creates art inspired by Scott Wittman’s Lost Fox Cities during the presentation.

Wittman spends both his work and free time doing what he loves: road tripping throughout the United States, documenting his adventures and experiences though a photographer’s unique lens, and finding a pictorial answer to the question of what is American heritage.

Wittman lives in Neenah with his wife, Vicky and their three sons, Asa, Jett, and Rhodes. He is the host of the Trippn’ on History podcast, launched in 2018.

Brad Larson

For the past 30 years, Brad Larson has been the Director of the Oshkosh Public Museum. The museum is a local gem, and perhaps one of the area’s best kept secret. The second oldest public museum in Wisconsin, the Oshkosh Public Museum offers a window into the fascinating history of the Fox Cities and an avenue through its rich culture – past and present.

The museum has almost 300,000 objects in the museum’s collections, from quilts to clothing. It also serves as a resource for those who have caught the genealogy bug, holding more than 70,000 historic photographs, along with film, letters, and diaries.

In addition to its exhibitions, the Museum offers a robust calendar of programs and presentations, which promote further understanding and appreciation of local history and culture, and a fun and interesting way to enjoy learning.

“For over 90 years, the Oshkosh Public Museum has been entrusted with the documentation, preservation, care, management, and exhibition of material representing the history and heritage of Oshkosh and the Lake Winnebago region. The Museum is a remarkable resource with amazing holdings, leading the way in defining the culture and heritage of our region.”

The Museum is governed by an eleven-member citizen board, on which festival presenter, Brad Larson sits. He is the author of Voices of History, 1941–1945 and All the Hometown Boys: Wisconsin’s 150th Machine Gun Battalion in World War I.

Larson will be presenting All the Hometown Boys: Wisconsin’s 150th Machine Gun Battalion on Tuesday, October 10th from 10:00am to 11:00am.



Literary Trivia with Gavin Schmitt

Looking for a way to flex your local literary and history knowledge? Think you can out-wit fellow festival-goers in a game of Fox Cities wit and wisdom? Come on down to 313 Dodge Tuesday, October 8th, from  8:00pm to  9:00pm.

Local historian, prolific true-crime author, and festival presenter, Gavin Schmitt hosts an evening of literary trivia sure to draw on what you’ve picked up at the festival, and pique your interest into seeking out more fun facts and knowledge throughout the remainder of the week.

Come join the festival fun! Prizes will be awarded to those in first, second and third place. Adult beverages will be available for purchase from 313 Dodge during the event.