The Lifelong Gift of San Damiano

I am walking along the shoreline of San Damiano, Lake Monona to my left, a small woods to my right. As I begin stepping over the fallen trunk of a large ash tree, a sudden explosion of more than a dozen mourning doves rises in front of me taking refuge in the branches just above my head; their mournful cries briefly piercing the morning quiet.

As I stand silently taking in the beauty of this simple moment, I am reminded of similar experiences from my childhood when I would ride my bicycle to this very place, hiding it in the bushes, far from the mysterious house that dominated the property. I would wade in the shallow waters finding shells, seine for minnows with a small net, or explore the woods, just to see what I could find.

What delighted me then, as a precocious 9 year old, continues to affect my spirit today at 67. San Damiano can have a healing effect on people of all ages. I have witnessed it first hand having spent many enjoyable hours photographing its serene beauty. I have observed and interacted with the many visitors who have transformed this place into an “island” sanctuary surrounded by the noise and bustle of the city. Many visitors have confided in me that coming here helps them escape, for a time, the worries and anxieties of their day. 

Fortunately, today there is no need to sneak onto the property anymore. It belongs to all of us, thanks to the hard work of so many in our community who helped make it a reality...enjoy!

Gregory (Reggie) Bleck was born and raised in Monona, Wisconsin. He attended Monona Grove High School, the graduating class of 1972.

After high school, Greg embarked on a two year journey as a touring musician. During his musical journey, he met his future wife Peggy; they were married in 1975. That same year, Greg began his studies at Madison College graduating with a degree in Visual Communications in 1977. In 1978, Greg and Peggy opened a photography studio in Monona, operating it together for 33 years.

In 1996, Greg earned a Master of Photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America trade association and in 2000 was honored as Wisconsin Photographer of the Year.

After closing the studio in 2013, Greg began seven years of service for the Monona Grove School District as a school bus driver, retiring in April of 2021. At the invitation of Andrew Kitslaar, President of the Friends of San Damiano, Greg began photographing the San Damiano property in 2020.

Along with the San Damiano project, Greg is currently assembling his archive of fine art images to be offered online beginning sometime in 2022.

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