Splash: Reporter excited to be back; hopes for times to improve

GREEN LAKER REPORTER Joe Schulz is looking forward to getting his donut inner tubes out again this year once the COVID-19 pandemic gets more under control. Katherine Swapp photo

by Joe Schulz

Normalcy is defined as “the condition of being normal; the state of being usual, typical, or expected.”

Good Lord do I miss normalcy, and I figure most do right now because COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down.

Around this time last year, I was preparing the first issue of The Green Laker, filled with a sense of anxiety because it was my first staff gig in journalism.

But as I get ready for the first issue of this year’s Green Laker, I’m filled with anxiety for very different reasons.

This time around, I know that the folks at the Ripon Commonwealth understand that I’m still a student and that I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’ve also established a relationship with quite a few people in the area from my reporting last summer.

What’s giving me anxiety this time around is the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Back in March, I was attending classes at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and helping run the student newspaper, The Advance-Titan, when I was tasked with writing a story about the university’s response to COVID-19.

At that time, no UW System institutions had canceled in-person classes. The day after we sent the paper to the printer, UW-Madison and several other UW System campuses closed; and the day our physical newspaper hit the stands, UW-Oshkosh announced that it would be cancelling classes.

When I’m not running around being a reporter, I work for a convenience store in Oshkosh. And during the first few weeks of the pandemic, there was an eerie feeling among our staff.

A couple of weeks into Gov. Tony Evers’ initial Safer at Home order, one of my co-workers was tested for COVID-19. Ultimately, her results were negative. Still, the incident sent chills down everyone’s backs.

Even worse, my co-worker said the only reason the Winnebago County Health Department was able to test her was because she had asthma. If she hadn’t had a pre-existing condition, she wouldn’t have been tested due to a lack of testing capacity. 

During all of this, college had moved online, and so had my school newspaper.

Sure, I was still writing and reporting on the pandemic for the student newspaper and the Oshkosh Herald community paper, but by April I desperately missed my friends. A once-a-week Zoom call just doesn’t compare to late nights down in the office.

In the midst of the chaos that life had mutated into, Jonathan Bailey, editor of The Green Laker, called me. He told me The Green Laker reporter job was mine if I wanted it. That call turned out to be the lifeline I needed.

Joe Schulz learns from Pineapple Hill Orchard owner Greg Becker last year. Schulz is looking forward to getting to know more people this summer. Katherine Swapp photo

Immediately, my mind went back to a simpler time. I remembered Todd Sharp riding circles around me as we looped Green Lake. I remembered watching the fireworks at Deacon Mills Park on the 4th of July. I remembered swimming at Hattie Sherwood.

I realized, I missed “The Good Life” that the sign brags about. I jumped at the opportunity to come back and tell stories about this community during an unprecedented time.

After returning to Green Lake, I’m optimistic about this summer.

It’s bound to be much different, but after speaking with event coordinators I believe that everyone in the area wants to return to some semblance of normalcy this summer.

I have faith that we can do it. But it’s going to require us to do the little things right, like washing our hands, doing our best to follow social-distancing guidelines and staying home if we feel sick.

As one of my old football coaches liked to say, “if we do the little things right, no one can beat us.”

Who knows when we’ll be able to return to the way things were before the virus hit. But in the meantime, if we do those little things right we can, hopefully, return to some semblance of normalcy and make the most out of this summer.

For everyone’s sake, I hope we do a better job doing the little things than my high school football team, which tragically finished my senior season with a record of 0-9.

But I have faith in our community. Let’s do the best we can with what we’ve got, and I’ve got a feeling we’ll get that normalcy we’re all itching for.