Block on Shorewood Boulevard named neighborhood of the year

Feb. 23, 2011

Shorewood — What's it like to be a newcomer in the Shorewood Neighborhood of the Year?

Tracy Nickolaus moved into the 2600-2700 block of Shorewood Boulevard three and a half years ago.

The welcome started shortly after she and her family walked into their house.

"The movers were unloading boxes off the truck and people were coming to the door to say hello," she said. "I was almost immediately invited to a lot of places by people I didn't know. People were very inclusive. It was a very warm welcome."

The block is one of five entries in the first Neighborhood of the Year contest sponsored by Shorewood Connects Neighbors.

Project Facilitator Sue Kelley said Shorewood Connects Neighbors, an offshoot of Shorewood Connects, wants to create neighborliness by creating organized watch groups.

"Those help make Shorewood a safer place for seniors," she said.

Something for everyone

Regardless of age, this neighborhood spills over with warmth and activities for residents of all ages.

There are neighborhood Halloween and block party celebrations, a book club and a Christmas cookie exchange.

Melissa Nelsen helped organize a new tradition, the 12 drinks of Christmas.

"It's 12 cocktail parties, for one hour with one appetizer and one drink," she said. Those are the general guidelines, but the hostesses have their own variations.

During the recent holiday season, several people piggy backed one-hour cocktail parties, with one following another, for instance.

Whatever the neighborhood does, it's on a grand scale. For instance, the block party includes a rummage sale, kids' activities, volleyball, a cocktail party and then a big family-style meal. Large tables rented for the rummage sale are cleared and become seating for that meal. There's an outdoor movie for the kids later in the evening.

The theme for last summer's block party was "Wild, wild wet," a nod to the flooding experienced by many of the homeowners in July.

They supported each other through that rough time, Nelsen said.

"After we hauled everything to the curb, we got together at Carrie's (Wettstein) house and ate and drank and cried," she said. Wettstein, Nelsen and Nickolaus help organize many of the block's activities during the year.

Everyone is accepted

Barbara Knetzger, who has lived on the block with her family for 42 years, said it has always been welcoming.

"From the time we moved here, it was the best thing we ever did," she said.

Knetzger has a deaf son who was 3 when they moved in.

"My son was accepted and brought into the neighborhood right away," she said. "We were all made to feel welcome."

Knetzger, who has helped with a variety of activities over the years, continues to compile a neighborhood directory that is distributed at the August block party. She also is the keeper of the sign-in sheet for the cookie exchange.

A retired math teacher, Knetzger calculates the distribution of the cookies at the exchange, how many of each type the bakers can take home. Often they don't divide evenly, so, in the spirit of the block, the extras go to an elderly neighbor, someone who is ill or perhaps just had a baby.

Long-standing friendships have resulted from the many activities on the block.

'I wouldn't move'

When Nelsen's family first moved to Shorewood, they bought a house on Newton Boulevard.

"Eric's parents (Eric is her husband) owned the house and we bought it from them," Nelsen said. Eventually they needed more space for their family and looked for another house, ending up on Shorewood Boulevard 11 years ago.

Nelsen, at that time, thought she wanted a house on Lake Michigan.

"Now I wouldn't move from our block," she said. "At the end of the day, I want the kids (now ranging from 8 to 16 years of age) to be able to walk out the door and play, have drinks with the neighbors at Christmas and be part of all the other things that go on."

Her kids, by the way, think that having the block cordoned off for the annual block party is "as good as Christmas."

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