(This is a continuation of a previous post about
“The People Remember” oral history project.)
The mission of this group of students and community members is to collect and archive the stories of area residents affected by the La Farge Dam Project so that future generations will better understand its history and impact. The La Farge and Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton schools and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve are sponsoring the group. The Wisconsin Humanities Council and the UW-La Crosse Oral History Program are providing funding and technical support. The oral collection will be transcribed and archived at the UW-La Crosse for historical documentation.
- Mission Statement: La Farge Dam Oral History Project
In September of 2000, the final plans and organization were being put into place for an oral history project to collect and save the stories of those affected by the La Farge Dam Project. Two meetings had been held earlier that summer at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve offices on Mill Street in La Farge. At those meetings chaired by KVR Executive Director Marcy West, the support of the project was secured from Ron Johnson, President of the Reserve’s management board, and La Farge superintendent of schools Lee Bush and N-O-W school superintendent Al Szepi. In addition, through the efforts of Marcy and Fritz Cushing, a grant was received from the Wisconsin Humanities Council to help finance the project. Fritz was chosen to coordinate the project and he soon had three professionals on board to help with the training. With that support, the project moved forward and it was decided to team students with adult volunteers to conduct the oral history interviews.
I was teaching a local history class at LHS that fall comprised of juniors and seniors who had an interest in the oral history project. I “volunteered” the students in the class for the project. Kristi Campbell and Robin Lee, who had interviewed James Daines about the dam project the previous spring, were joined in the local history class by Jessie Lee, Amanda Andrew, Deanna Ewing, Rene Widner, Kayla Muller, Shannon Thompson, Mary Beth Sarnowski and Ximena Puig. Adult volunteers who would team with the students on the interviews included Brian Bufton, Chuck Reynolds, Geri Hall, Margaret Lee, Chuck Hatfield, Rosanne Boyett, Fritz Cushing, Deb Rolfe and Cyndee Baumgartner.
Four training sessions for the students and volunteers, each lasting nearly three hours, were held at LHS in October and early November. Harvey Jacobs, from the UW-Madison’s school of Urban & Regional Planning, talked to the group about land issues in general, giving an overview about other federal projects like the one at La Farge and how the federal government could take some people’s lands by using the power of eminent domain. He also led discussions on the importance of land ownership and public vs. private land ownership issues. With Jacobs’ leadership, the interview topic was divided into four areas - community, property, decision-making, and environmental protection. From those areas, over fifty questions were developed that could be used for the interviews.
Chuck Lee, a history professor with UW-La Crosse’s Oral History Program, trained the students and adult volunteers in interviewing techniques. Lee taught the basics of beginning an interview, choosing a good place in the home for an interview and how to properly use the tape recorder. He provided samples of forms that included a confidentiality agreement form and informed consent form to be used with the interviews. After the interviews were conducted, the tapes would be copied and transcribed by UW-La Crosse students so that they could be archived at the Area Research Center at UW-L’s Murphy Library. In the final training session with Professor Lee, a student and adult volunteer interviewed me about the dam project and that interview was used in a discussion on interviewing do’s and don’ts.
Stuart Stotts, a renowned storyteller and author (who also happened to own a vacation cabin on land adjacent to the Reserve), worked with the group on developing a presentation to the public after the interviews were concluded. He asked the students and volunteers to listen for poignant stories and interesting quotes from the people who were being interviewed and to note those on the reporting sheets that were kept. As the taped interviews came in, Stotts would glean those highlights for use in a public program to be given by the interviewing team.
As the training sessions were being held, Fritz Cushing was compiling a list of people to be interviewed. The former landowners of property taken by the government for the dam project headed that list. But others in the La Farge community were added to get the impact of the dam project on the local school districts, towns, villages, and county. Other people were included to show the social and economic impact of the dam project on La Farge. As the list of potential interviewees was being made and contact was started with people on the list, one thing became apparent. Some of the people would not consent to being interviewed! As a matter of fact, several people said that they didn’t want to have anything to do with such a project.
More on that next time as we continue to look at “The People Remember” oral history project.
My Presentation At Portage
On Tuesday evening, July 29th, I gave a little talk at the Historic Indian Agency House in Portage. The historic house sits right next to the old Portage Canal and both are linked to a time before Wisconsin even became a territory. The Agency House is running a series of programs this summer on “How Non-Traditional Research Helps Capture Our History”. I was invited to present the story of the La Farge Dam Project and the oral history project discussed in this column.
There was a nice crowd on hand for the presentation and I was particularly pleased to see some former residents of La Farge in attendance. When Carolyn and I walked into the room of the Visitor Center, Becky Oliphant Goleuke, her husband Paul and daughter Gwen immediately greeted us. Becky graduated from LHS and was an outstanding student in my history classes. Later, two of the Vosen girls, Lisa Jernander and Lynne Clark (with her husband Wayne) came up to the front table to check in with their old history teacher. Their Dad, Bob Vosen, had been very active in the village’s effort to get the dam project completed. Lisa and Lynne said that their parents, Bob and Anita Vosen, had been in Wisconsin the previous weekend for a family wedding. Another couple of former Kickapoogians joined the audience later – Cindy and Jack Heal. Cindy’s Mother, Maxine Shird, was interviewed for “The People Remember” project and her interview was included in the book that was published about the project. It was fun to catch up with some of those who had lived through those years of dam trouble in La Farge.