When I was in High School, Keanu Reeves came to Williams Bay for a few days. I don’t know where he stayed. I do know that he ran through the halls of Yerkes, and then ran across that roof. He was confronted by a police officer, who was shot by some really bad guys in a helicopter. Keanu then ran through the woods and took the controls of a hovercraft, where he successfully used that unwieldy vehicle to outrun and outmaneuver the helicopter. Later, after he used that payphone in Williams Bay and after he ran on the roof and didn’t shoot that cop, he waded through water to hide out in a house that cinematically was on Geneva Lake, but in practice it was not. We all know Geneva doesn’t have a reed-flanked shoreline.
This was the only movie to be filmed in Williams Bay when I was in High School. I suspect it is the only movie filmed in Williams Bay ever, though I welcome correction on that. Given that I was a teenager and a movie was being filmed just a mile from my home, I wandered onto the set a few times. The set, in this context, was George Williams. The film crew had added some signage to GW to make it look like it was something that it was not, and because I was in high school and Keanu Reeves was in town, I stole one of the signs.
From that day until this day, I have never stolen another item. It really wasn’t thievery, anyway, as the movie had ended and the film crew was rushed off to film the next scene, and they left behind their signage like a conquering army. I still have that sign, but today isn’t about that sign, or about the way the girls in my High School fluttered over the thought of stupid Keanu Reeves setting foot in Williams Bay. Today is about George Williams, and how today it looks nothing like it did then.
I drove into George Williams this morning to look at a house that was just listed on the strange little street that one can only arrive upon after driving through George Williams. There is construction this morning, old buildings being either town down to be replaced, or torn mostly down to be renovated. I drove past rows of buildings, each with names and each in dazzling condition. I drove past finely trimmed and generously mulched beds with flowers and trees, each in their place. I drove past the administrative buildings and past student housing, down around the lakefront building with its ample lakeside porch. I drove around and around, and I was thoroughly and entirely impressed. This isn’t Keanu’s George Williams.
During the 1980s my best friend was Matt Gleason, and he lived at the Conference Point Camp. His parents were the caretakers there, and I can remember watching my first bit of Top Gun at his house, and I can remember my parents calling his parents to tell them that I wasn’t allowed to watch those sorts of racy films. Conference Point Camp at that time was, and remained for quite some time after, a miserable wreck. Buildings were slipping down the high hillside and into the lake, and if they weren’t, it seemed as though they soon would. Paint peeled, wood rotted, trails were untended, grass was crowded by weeds, and generally things were decrepit at best, and dangerous at worst.
Today, Conference Point Camp shines again, or maybe for the first time, I can’t tell. New ownership has given life to this tired old camp, and anyone with eyes should rejoice in this re-birth. Buildings have been, one by one, renovated, cleaned, painted, made right. Wood floors have been sanded of so many generations of filth and stain, and they’ve been made to shine and glow as they once did. The camp has a long ways to go, but what a remarkable transformation they’ve already accomplished.
Covenant Harbor has, in my recent memory, led the way with this sort of stewardship, with their finely painted buildings and wonderfully maintained lakeside landscape. Norman Barr and Holiday Home have been working to clean up their grounds as well, and the Lake Geneva Youth Camp has been spending money as if there is no end to the supply. These camps anchor various points of our collective shoreline, and I, for one, am extremely pleased that they’ve all embraced a desire to improve themselves, and by doing so, improve our view.