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Whitefish Bay - Shortly before the school day ended at Cumberland School on Sept. 1, Kitty Gaenslen set out homemade chocolate chip cookies on a table outside her home on East Courtland Place.

It was the first day of school, and Gaenslen has done this on the first day of school every year for the past 15 or so.

"My mom always made cookies for the first day of school," she recalled of the times when she grew up on Milwaukee's northwest side in the 1970s and attended Happyhill Elementary and Webster Middle School. Since she came to her home, just a block from Cumberland, "I've always made cookies for the first day of school, and I told the kids to invite their friends."

And 30-40 children visited for milk and cookies this time, joined by about a dozen mothers.

Joel Terveer, a neighbor, was awaiting her daughter Bella. Terveer recalled how her older children, now college students, "would ask the day before, 'Kitty's going to have cookies, right?'"

When Bella arrived, she hugged her mother then made a beeline for the cookies and milk Gaenslen was serving. The hostess recognized some of the children, and asked them their grades and which teacher they had this year. When one shy boy hesitated, she told him, "come have a cookie. They're really good."

Three Gaenslen children were present: sons Kevin and Ben, in seventh and sixth grades, respectively, and daughter Katie, a senior at UW-Madison. Several boys gathered around a backboard on the garage and shot a few baskets.

Most of the children walked to the festivities, but Stephanie, a caregiver who declined to give her last name, brought 4-year-old Henry on a bicycle extension.

They would meet Henry's first grader brother, Jack. At one point the extension tipped over, but Stephanie assured everyone that "Henry's a tough cookie.”
"It's the first place the kids ask to go," Stephanie said. "They all know."

The Gaenslen family has another association with schools. Gaenslen Elementary, a Milwaukee public school, is named for the grandfather of Gaenslen's husband, Eric.

Eric Gaenslen, his father and grandfather were all orthopedic surgeons, and the first Dr. Gaenslen worked with the physically handicapped. Gaenslen School was designed to serve pupils with polio and now serves many pupils with special physical needs.

The weather for the first day of school was picture-perfect with just a hint of fall, which prompted a question about how inclement weather might affect the get-together.

"We've never had a rainy day," Mrs. Gaenslen replied. But, she added, "it will go on, rain or shine. There's enough room inside."

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