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'Diz' Kronenberg leaves legacy as WWII hero, athlete, teacher

As a World War II veteran, Harold “Diz” Kronenberg had a front row seat to one of the key moments in world history.

From hearing the initial radio report about the Pearl Harbor attack to flying 41 death-defying missions over Europe as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, Kronenberg lived through one of the deadliest wars in recorded history and devoted much of his life to teaching others about the contributions of U.S. veterans.

But that was only part of Kronenberg’s story. He also was a beloved junior high social studies teacher, an author and one of Eau Claire’s greatest all-around athletes.

Despite all of the honors he amassed in a decorated military and athletic career, friends recall Kronenberg, who died Saturday in Eau Claire at age 95, most of all as a caring person who loved to help other people.

“Diz had a long and wonderful life,” said retired Eau Claire County Judge Ben Proctor, who befriended Kronenberg more than 30 years ago at the former Hillcrest Golf and Country Club. “He was just a fabulous, fabulous guy. I can’t imagine anyone better.”

Eau Claire insurance agent and former Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Gregg Bohlig was a junior high student when he met Kronenberg, who ranks as one of Bohlig’s favorite teachers at any level because of his passion for the subject matter and his motivational style. For the past several decades, the teacher has been one of the student’s closest friends.

“We had a wonderful relationship,” Bohlig said. “Diz had dozens of people who loved spending time with him, and I was just one of those lucky ones.”

After putting his life on the line for his country, teaching for 33 years and excelling at nearly every sport imaginable for decades, few people deserved a restful retirement more than Kronenberg.

But that wasn’t his style. After retiring from teaching, Kronenberg wrote eight books focusing mostly on military and sports history and continued to share his wealth of historical knowledge with area students, civic groups and just about anyone who cared to listen.

“One of the things I really appreciated about Diz is that he wanted to go and share his remembrances, especially with the younger generations because many of them have no idea what it’s like to be in a war,” said longtime friend Kathy Peterson of the town of Washington. “He wanted them to understand how traumatic things were and how many people in the younger generation back then felt a responsibility to help the country.”

Just two weeks ago, Peterson said, Kronenberg remarked that he still hoped to write two more books.

Serving his country

While Kronenberg enjoyed sharing stories about his personal military experience, his books and research focused on the accomplishments of others, as he embodied the humility often displayed by members of what is widely known as the Greatest Generation.

Kronenberg flew his final mission the day before D-Day — the war’s turning point on June 6, 1944, in which Allied forces stormed Normandy, France, and began the climatic march across Europe to defeat the Nazis and Adolf Hitler the following spring — and one his favorite stories involved seeing thousands of ships gathering in the English Channel for the invasion.

“It’s hard for me to imagine him sitting in a ball turret with his knees up against his ears,” Proctor said of Kronenberg’s cramped wartime perch at the bottom of his plane known as the “suicide position” because its occupants couldn’t wear a parachute. “You can imagine the risk in that, but he took it in stride. He never bragged about anything, and he probably has more awards than anybody.”

Asked by the Leader-Telegram in 2013 how he endured such risk, Kronenberg stated matter-of-factly, “We just focused on doing our job.” He reported to the press upon his return to the United States in 1944 that he was “lucky” that his crew never counted more than 40 holes in their B-17 after a mission.

Among the medals the staff sergeant earned are the Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, eight Air Medals, two Presidential Unit Citations and the French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France.

Even as his hearing and sight failed him in recent years, Kronenberg continued to stay active, often figuring out accommodations so he could join Bohlig for golf outings and hunting trips.

Bohlig recalled falling asleep in a blind while turkey hunting in recent years and having Kronenberg, who could barely see but was deploying binoculars to scan his surroundings, elbow him awake when gobblers came into view.

“His persistence and toughness were really beyond exceptional, not just to keep on living, but to keep on doing the things he loved,” Bohlig said. “He never lost his love of life or his interest in sharing history and helping others.”

Kronenberg was born and raised on the city’s north side. He was playing baseball with the Eau Claire Bears as a 17-year-old when, inspired by the Pearl Harbor attack, he elected to forgo his senior year at Eau Claire Senior High School and enlist in the Army Air Force.

After the war, he attended UW-Madison, where he was part of the Badgers’ Big 10 championship baseball team of 1946 before playing four years for minor league affiliates of the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees. He finished his schooling at what is now UW-Eau Claire in 1950.

All-around athlete

On athletic fields, courts and rinks, Kronenberg was known as a fierce competitor who used his quickness and will to win to do just that.

Beyond the baseball diamond, he became a national champion paddleball and racquetball player, played on and coached state championship fastpitch softball teams, was a top contender on the Chippewa Valley Golf Association tour, played a key role on YMCA state title volleyball teams and was unbeaten as a Golden Gloves boxer, taking part in matches at the old Eau Claire Auditorium on North Barstow Street.

Yet his greatest athletic passion was hockey, which he began playing before World War II on city rinks at Starr Avenue, Boyd Park and Half Moon Lake. After the war he played for the Eau Claire Rockets of the Vacationland League and once turned down an offer to play pro hockey in the Pacific Coast League.

“His athletic legacy is almost unmatched in the Chippewa Valley,” Bohlig said of Kronenberg. “I’ve always thought of him as the area’s best all-around athlete I was aware of. His accomplishments were pretty amazing.”

Bohlig will get no argument from Ron Buckli, a Leader-Telegram sports writer for more than six decades.

“With everything he did, Diz would certainly have to be one of the greatest athletes of our era,” Buckli said. “He just about did it all.”

When he wasn’t competing, Kronenberg shared his athletic know-how with others by coaching and serving as athletic director for many years at the former Central Junior High, helping start the city’s Little League baseball program in 1952 and coaching in it for years, serving as a blind-golfer guide, coaching the UW-Eau Claire baseball team and working as the golf professional at Hillcrest.

Kronenberg was preceded in death by his wife of 58 years, Marjorie. The more than 500 letters, postcards and notes he wrote to her during World War II will continue his legacy of enlightening people about military history because they were donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

A private family funeral ceremony in the coming days will be followed by a public celebration of Kronenberg’s life later in the summer because of immediate concerns about COVID-19.

Friends and family may offer condolences online at www.hulkefamilyfh.com.

AP centerpiece
Court: Gay, transgender workers protected by law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment, a resounding victory for LGBT rights from a conservative court.

The court decided by a 6-3 vote that a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title VII that bars job discrimination because of sex, among other reasons, encompasses bias against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

The decision was a defeat not just for the employers, but also the Trump administration, which argued that the law’s plain wording compelled a ruling for the employers. Gorsuch, a conservative appointee of President Donald Trump, concluded the opposite, and Trump said Monday he accepted the court’s “very powerful decision.”

Gorsuch was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal members. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s other Supreme Court pick, dissented, along with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

“The Court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous,” Alito wrote in the dissent. “Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.‘”

Kavanaugh wrote in a separate dissent that the court was rewriting the law to include gender identity and sexual orientation, a job that belongs to Congress. Still, Kavanaugh said the decision represents an “important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans.”

Trump had a restrained reaction, telling reporters that he’d read the decision and that “some people were surprised.”

He added: “But they’ve ruled and we live with their decision. That’s what it’s all about. We live with the decision of the Supreme Court. Very powerful. A very powerful decision actually. But they have so ruled.”

The outcome is expected to have a big impact for the estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers across the country because most states don’t protect them from workplace discrimination. An estimated 11.3 million LGBT people live in the U.S., according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA law school.

Gerald Bostock, a gay county government worker from Georgia whose lawsuit was one of three the Supreme Court decided Monday, said no one should should have to be “fearful of losing their job because of who they are, who they love or how they identify. And the justices have now made sure that we won’t have to worry about that.”

John Bursch, who argued the appeal from a Michigan funeral home owner against a fired transgender employee, said, “Americans must be able to rely on what the law says, and it is disappointing that a majority of the justices were unwilling to affirm that commonsense principle. Redefining ‘sex’ to mean ‘gender identity’ will create chaos and enormous unfairness for women and girls in athletics, women’s shelters, and many other contexts.”

But Monday’s decision is not likely to be the court’s last word on a host of issues revolving around LGBT rights, Gorsuch noted.

Rights groups have said they will challenge the administration’s effort to roll back anti-discrimination protections for transgender people in health care. Lawsuits are pending over transgender athletes’ participation in school sporting events, and courts also are dealing with cases about sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms, a subject that the justices seemed concerned about during arguments in October. Employers who have religious objections to employing LGBT people also might be able to raise those claims in a different case, Gorsuch said.

“But none of these other laws are before us; we have not had the benefit of adversarial testing about the meaning of their terms, and we do not prejudge any such question today,” he wrote.

The cases were the court’s first on LGBT rights since J ustice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and replacement by Kavanaugh. Kennedy was a voice for gay rights and the author of the landmark ruling in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States. Kavanaugh generally is regarded as more conservative.

The Trump administration had changed course from the Obama administration, which supported LGBT workers in their discrimination claims under Title VII.

During the Obama years, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had changed its longstanding interpretation of civil rights law to include discrimination against LGBT people. The law prohibits discrimination because of sex, but has no specific protection for sexual orientation or gender identity.

Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, Obama’s vice president, praised the decision on Twitter as “another step in our march toward equality for all. The Supreme Court has confirmed the simple but profoundly American idea that every human being should be treated with respect.”

In recent years, some lower courts have held that discrimination against LGBT people is a subset of sex discrimination, and thus prohibited by the federal law.

Efforts by Congress to change the law to explicitly bar job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity have so far failed.

The Supreme Court cases involved two gay men and a transgender woman who sued for employment discrimination after they lost their jobs.

Aimee Stephens lost her job as a funeral director in the Detroit area after she revealed to her boss that she had struggled with gender most of her life and had, at long last, “decided to become the person that my mind already is.” Stephens told funeral home owner Thomas Rost that following a vacation, she would report to work wearing a conservative skirt suit or dress that Rost required for women who worked at his three funeral homes. Rost fired Stephens.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that the firing constituted sex discrimination under federal law.

Stephens died last month. Donna Stephens, her wife of 20 years, said in a statement that she is “grateful for this victory to honor the legacy of Aimee, and to ensure people are treated fairly regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The federal appeals court in New York ruled in favor of a gay skydiving instructor who claimed he was fired because of his sexual orientation. The full 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-3 that it was abandoning its earlier holding that Title VII didn’t cover sexual orientation because “legal doctrine evolves.” The court held that “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.”

That ruling was a victory for the relatives of Donald Zarda, who was fired in 2010 from a skydiving job in Central Islip, New York, that required him to strap himself tightly to clients so they could jump in tandem from an airplane. He tried to put a woman with whom he was jumping at ease by explaining that he was gay. The school fired Zarda after the woman’s boyfriend called to complain.

Zarda died in a wingsuit accident in Switzerland in 2014.

In a case from Georgia, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled against Bostock, a gay employee of Clayton County, in the Atlanta suburbs. Bostock claimed he was fired in 2013 because he is gay. The county argues that Bostock was let go because of the results of an audit of funds he managed.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Bostock’s claim in a three-page opinion that noted the court was bound by a 1979 decision that held “discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.”

Local, cell data: EC County doing worse on social distancing

Eau Claire County residents are coming in closer contact with more people, meaning more work for contact tracers as the novel coronavirus continues to sicken people in Wisconsin.

For each new case of the virus in Eau Claire County, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department has contacted an average of nine additional people who may have been exposed, according to a county status report released last week.

The average number of close contacts for new coronavirus cases in the last 14 days is 9.4 people, according to the report.

That means the average Eau Claire County resident who tests positive for COVID-19 and begins their quarantine has been in close contact with, on average, nine people during the two weeks prior.

After a phone call from the Health Department, those nine people are required to stay quarantined for two weeks, waiting to see if they develop symptoms.

“Certainly during the safer-at-home (order) from the state, those numbers were significantly lower,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Health Department.

As temperatures rise and people begin to socialize more, Giese expects that average number to increase.

It’s just one metric the Health Department is using to help determine how the virus is spreading throughout the county, she said.

In some cases, there may be a couple days’ delay before people find out they may have been exposed. In the past two weeks, Eau Claire County contact tracers have been able to reach 77% of close contacts within the first 48 hours.

The Health Department’s goal, according to its COVID-19 plan, is to reach 85% or more of close contacts within the first 24 hours.

The definition of a close contact is specific. Those nine people probably don’t include your masked waitress at a restaurant or a neighbor you chatted with last week from eight feet away.

A close contact is someone you’ve been within six feet of for more than 15 minutes anytime in the last two weeks, Giese said.

That 15 minutes is cumulative, she noted: Even if you’re not up-close with your barber or hairstylist for 15 minutes in a row, if your time together adds up to 15 minutes, it still counts as a close contact.

“If you are in a classroom ... or you’re a coach of sport, or in a work situation where over time you come in contact with someone altogether during that day for 15 minutes, closer than 6 feet, you’d be considered a close contact,” Giese said.

Gathering outside and at a distance is safer than hosting a party indoors, said Angela Weideman, Chippewa County public health director.

“Consider wearing cloth face coverings, especially if social distancing isn’t possible,” she said Monday at a news conference.

Cell data: County doing worse on social distancing

Unacast, a New York and Norway-based data analytics firm that created a “social distancing scoreboard” using data from mobile phones, had assigned Wisconsin an ‘F’ rating for social distancing as of Thursday.

According to the company’s methodology, an F rating means Wisconsin residents are reducing their average distance traveled by less than 25%, and reducing their non-essential visits by less than 55%.

As of Thursday, Eau Claire County was also assigned an F rating by the company’s scoreboard.

Eau Claire, La Crosse and St. Croix counties were the worst-scoring counties for social distancing in western Wisconsin as of Thursday, according to Unacast’s scoreboard. All had been assigned an F grade. Dunn County had a D grade, and Chippewa County a D-minus.

Both the state’s and Eau Claire County’s score has trended down in recent weeks. On March 29 and April 12, Eau Claire County was given a B rating for social distancing, but has fluctuated between an F and a D rating since April 27. (Unacast has since slightly changed its methodology for calculating social distancing scores in recent weeks.)

Unacast receives data by partnering with applications on people’s mobile devices. That data might include the location of the device, the device’s make and model, the direction and speed at which the device was travelling, according to Unacast’s privacy policy. Unacast can collect data from apps it partners with when the user grants permission for the app to access its location technology. A Unacast official declined to name any of the apps the company partners with when asked, The Washington Post reported in March.

New cases

There were seven new cases of COVID-19 identified in Eau Claire County between Friday and Monday, leaving the county with 137 total cases on Monday, Giese said. Of those, an estimated 116 have recovered.

In total, 6,480 county residents have tested negative for the virus, and none have died.

Chippewa County has 64 identified cases of COVID-19, and 59 have been released from monitoring by Chippewa County Public Health, Weideman said.

Statewide, 174 new cases and two new deaths were identified Monday, bringing the state’s total positives to 22,932 and total deaths to 694.

Eau Claire County’s COVID-19 hotline can be reached at 715-831-7425.