Dan Stika lives a full life doing the things he loves and giving back to the community. He has lived in Kenosha for all of his seventy-six years. After he retired, Dan decided to obtain his undergrad degree. He enjoyed the experience so much that he went on to get his masters, which he completed at the age of sixty-eight.
He is the author of the Cordelia Harvey biography, When Lincoln Met Wisconsin’s Nightingale. Besides being a published author, he is a volunteer and tour guide at the Kenosha Museum, an old time radio performer with RG Productions, part of the performing group known as Voices and Verses, a television producer on Channel 14, a board member for the Friends of the Library, and an active volunteer with Downtown Kenosha, Inc. Besides that, he is pretty much a couch potato. (His words, spoken in jest.) He doesn’t hunt, fish, or play golf because he doesn’t have time. He reminded me, “Things don’t come to you. You have to go out and look for them and you don’t have to get paid for everything.”
Dan and I sat down for a chat, appropriately, in the atrium of the Kenosha Museum. I knew he was a history buff and was heavily involved in the community and I knew I liked him, but I hadn’t put my finger on why. So, I did my best to try to find out what makes him tick.
One of the first things out of his mouth was, “I hate the words, ‘no’ and ‘can’t.’” He proceeded to tell me that CAN’T stands for Certainly Am Not Trying. So, it didn’t take me long to find out he is a determined person who obviously enjoys life to its fullest. There are two things he seems to enjoy more than anything else: giving back to the community and interacting with people. That’s why you may have run onto Dan when he was the MC/auctioneer for a fundraiser at the Racine Art Museum or the guy dressed like a pirate at Boofest.
Dan is a walking repository of historical Kenosha factoids. His interest in history developed out of a natural curiosity about how things developed and why events happened. Not surprisingly, he is a huge cheerleader for Kenosha’s museums.
He knows things other people don’t, like, the first group of union soldiers from Wisconsin came from Kenosha, and they didn’t wear blue uniforms, they wore gray, even though they fought on the side of the north. The same First Wisconsin Calvary was instrumental in capturing Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.
Dan is currently spending several hours a day researching the Rhode Theater. You probably didn’t know that the Rhode Theater is in its third building. The original was built in 1891 and the current building was constructed in 1927. I think I feel another book coming on.
He remembers the days of the bustling, industrial Kenosha that was home to Simons Bedding and American Motors. In those days you could leave one job and immediately pick up another. He remembers the busy port and the First Ship Contests, when people made their best guess about when the first cargo ship would come to port in the spring. He remembers the broadcaster, Walter Winchell saying once Nash Motors leaves, Kenosha will become a ghost town. He remembers when the smokestacks came down on the lakefront and the land was reclaimed for what has become the crown jewel of Kenosha.
Dan doesn’t long for the good old days or give any credence to those who complain about the museums or the streetcar. He is proud of what is happening in Kenosha.
On a personal note, I have been trying to figure out how to be happily retired. It’s a whole new ball game because a lot of things that used to contribute to my happiness are gone, i.e., the sense of purpose that came from a job that I loved and the sense of belonging that came from doing it with people I loved. Those things were something that was automatically built into every day. Now I have to take the initiative to find activities and relationships that give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
So, it was providential for me to have my little chat with Dan who has gracefully made that transition from active employment to active enjoyment.
In the Kenosha News the title was changed to, Active Enjoyment, but I like this one a little better.