Saturday, February 18, 2017

XMAS WALK - 2016 - Part 2

Switching over to the south side of Main Street here at the Kickapoo River and heading east back uptown, we find the old cheese factory building.  Now owned by CROPP, the factory became a very busy place in 2013 after the fire at the Organic Valley headquarters building.  Besides the regular work of packaging organic cheese products at the site, the upstairs offices at the building were busy with relocated staff.   Temporary offices were once again utilized in the parking lot for employees without a place to work due to the fire, but by 2016 those temporary buildings were gone.
 The Organic Valley Retail Store Outlet located on the west end of the cheese factory remains a very busy store in the village.  The entrance area to the store and the grounds next door were improved during 2015.  In 2016, the cheese packaging line that used the old cheese factory building was moved to a new OV building in Cashton.  Organic Valley may be making plans to enlarge the retail store with the new vacated space.
To the south on Mill Street, M&M Construction, owned by David Mick, operates out of the garage built by the Harris brothers back in 1974-75.  To the south of the construction business stands a large Quonset hut building that used to be located at the Schroeder’s mink ranch north of La Farge, that was bought by the federal government as part of the dam project.  The building was moved to town in the 1970’s and today is a storage building for the village.
If we go all the way to the south end of Mill Street, we come to the newest park in the village, the Riverside Park.  The village developed the park using several properties of former residences in this part of town that were bought out after the 2008 flood.  The park features a walking trail along the river that follows the old railroad track bed.  The trail has interpretive signs along the way telling the history of the village.  A new pier was added to Riverside Park’s spring-fed fishing pond in 2016.  The park also features a 9-hole disc golf course on the property.
On the southeast corner of the busy intersection of Mill and Main Streets is the La Farge Car Wash, owned by Earl Nelson.  Located in the gas station that was last operated by Steve Olson, the car wash has an indoor and outdoor carwash area plus a vacuum for cleaning vehicle interiors.
To the east of the car wash is the former town hall and storage shed of the Town of Stark.  After Stark moved to their new buildings on Corps Road, Earl Nelson purchased the lots and building in 2012 to become part of his La Farge Truck Center operation.  In November 2016, Don Potter Realty moved their offices into the old Stark Town Hall.
 Across the alley are the La Farge Truck Center’s sales offices and garage.  Selling International trucks and operating one of the busiest service departments in western Wisconsin, Nelson employs twenty people in the LTC operation, which is one of the largest employers on La Farge’s Main Street.  He owns the rest of the property along Main Street up to Silver Street.  This includes the old village pump house that is next to the main garage, then the former Fred Major house and the empty corner lot where the Fulmer/Clark’s/school bus garage once stood.
On the second block south on Silver Street, the old fire house, built in 1974, is now used to store village and utility vehicles and equipment.  To the south is another utility building that houses a generator used in emergencies to produce electricity for the village and surrounding areas.  Across the street is the former ambulance garage, which was built with the help of donated work crews by the Amish.  When the ambulance squad moved to the new EMS Building in 2010, La Farge Maintenance purchased the old ambulance squad building.
The Zzip Stop convenience store and gas station sits on the southeast corner of Silver and Main Streets.  Owned by Shane Nottestad, the Zzip Stop is open seven days a week and is the busiest place on Main Street.  This business did an amazing remodel starting in the fall of 2015.  A new canopy and gas pumps announced a change for the La Farge business to a Gulf Station, the first station in Wisconsin for that company after an absence of many years.  In addition, the interior of the Zzip Stop had a complete makeover with the kitchen, seating and display areas being totally reorganized.  A beer cave was added to the beverage sales area and two new checkout stations were installed. 
When the brick building next door to the Zzip Stop (the old post office building) started to fall down in April of 2013, the cascade of bricks spilled over into the convenience store’s parking lot.  Eventually, the building was condemned by the village and then purchased by Shane Nottestad, who tore the crumbling old building down and hauled it away to the landfill in Viroqua.  The empty lot was graveled over and now provides additional parking for the Zzip Stop.
La Farge’s post office is on the corner of the intersection with Bird Street.  Jon Zahm constructed the current post office building in 1991.  The village’s post office was moved from the former site in the old brick hotel annex building next door, just to the west.  Besides an expanded work and office area for handling the mail, the new post office includes a lobby with customer mailboxes, a parking area and a drive-thru mail drop-off lane.
To the south of the post office is the River Valley Motel.  Built in 1972-73 and opened by Dick and Bea Gabrielson as the Lakeland Motel, the business has ten rooms for rent and is often full during hunting and fishing seasons and other peak demand times.  Across Bird Street at the site of the old La Farge Enterprise newspaper building is the small engine repair shop owned and operated by Bob Hysel.
            Moving back up Main Street, we come to the village’s bank.  Owned by the Bosshard family, the bank is now a branch of the Peoples State Bank of Hillsboro. It has eight employees and some of those employees work at the bank in Readstown, formerly a branch of the bank in La Farge. The cement block bank building on the corner has served as a bank for the village since the 1920’s.
There is only one tavern or bar on La Farge’s Main Street now.  Phil & Deb’s Town Tap, located in the old Opera House building next to the bank, claims the distinction as the only bar in La Farge where you can wet your whistle. (Although off-sale beer and liquor purchases are still available at the Zzip Stop and Bergum’s Food Mart and beer and wine may be enjoyed with your meal at Sisters Place.)  That’s rather hard to believe of a town where twenty years earlier three drinking establishments were open on Main Street.  Twenty years before that La Farge had a “Black List” with two-dozen names.  People on that list were banned from drinking in any of La Farge’s bars and had to use their wiles to find other ways to get their whiskey and wine.  The Town Tap also operates a full service kitchen with daily lunch specials, homemade pizzas and evening dinner specials.
Next door to the Town Tap was Dawn Nemec’s Country View Embroidery Shop. It was a new business in La Farge, started in 2013 that specialized in custom embroidered clothes of all kinds and other promotional materials.  But the business was closed down in 2015 and in April 2016 the store was renovated into a beauty parlor that is operated by JoLynn Skrede.  This newest business on La Farge’s Main Street is known as Jo’s Salon.
The Sister’s Place Restaurant is the next business on this block.  The business is owned by sisters Deb Nelson and Kris Walker, who also work together at the bank, and the restaurant operates seven days a week except for the winter season when it is closed on Sundays.
To the west in the old drug store business space is HTC Realty By Design, which moved to this location in the summer of 2013.  The realty office, operated by Kathy Appleman, was formally located in the brick building next to the Zzip Stop.  But when that building began to collapse in the spring of the year, the realty offices were moved into new offices at this location.
The Kreigh Art Ceramics display room occupies the next storefront.  From a working studio in the back of the building, Kyle Kreigh is constantly creating new ceramic products for sale that are always on display in the front room.
To the east of the ceramics showroom are the offices of the Village of La Farge and La Farge Utilities.  Village Clerk Kim Walker and Utilities Secretary Virginia Bilek are usually working at the office every weekday.
On the east corner of this block is the La Farge Hardware Store owned and operated by Doug Clark.  The corner building is the oldest store in La Farge, originally constructed by Charles DeJean in 1875 for use as a general store.  Located on the busy intersection of State Street (State Highway 131 coming from Viola) and Main Street, this building has housed some type of business continuously in the village for over 135 years.  Clark has operated the well-stocked hardware store since 2004.  Down the block to the south on State Street is the old locker plant building located on the alley, now used for storage.  Further down the block the old KP Hall that sits on the corner is now a second location for Jake Sell’s sprawling resale business. 
Across Snow Street is the old La Farge Medical and Dental Clinic building.  The VMH Medical Clinic left this site in June of 2015 and relocated to the new clinic on Mill Street.  However, the dental practice of Dr. Rose Wels remained in the building.  Dr. Wels has practiced dentistry here in La Farge for thirty years, beginning her practice in 1986.  With the medical clinic part of the building empty, the village began to seek tenants for the space.  In the fall of 2015, Carl Peterson started a chiropractic and nutrition practice in the west end of the old clinic building.  Originally only open on a limited schedule, Peterson’s business proved to be very successful and expanded hours were begun in the spring of 2016.
Coming back north on the east side of State Street, we have the law office of Phil Stittleburg.  With his practice at the site since 1972, Stittleburg is the third lawyer to work out of the building (following John Drew and Ralph Freeze), which has housed a law office continuously since 1899.  Across the alley to the north is the old shoe store, which is now owned by Stittleburg and used for storage.  A large pine tree in the yard north of the old shoe store still serves proudly as the village’s Christmas tree.
            Continuing north, on the southwest corner of the intersection is the site of the old Mobil gas station.  The building and lot sat empty for all of 2013 after previously being the home of Countryside Motors, where used cars were once sold.  After a brief time as a welding shop and later serving as a base for a food cart in 2014-15, the old gas station lot, on a great corner where two state highways cross, now hosts junk cars and trucks.
The massive C&S Motors Garage building sits in the middle of this block.  It was the home of C&S Motors & Sports Shop.  LaVerne Campbell usually opened up his sports shop in the garage’s office space on most days, but by 2015 his failing health didn’t allow that to happen any more.  The automotive repair and service work in the garage done by Mark Campbell had ceased operating earlier in 2013.
On the southeast corner of the intersection of Maple and Main was Irv Gudgeon’s Woodworking Shop.  Housed in the old building that had originally been a blacksmith shop and then a longtime gas station, Irv built picnic tables, outhouses and doghouses in his shop.  As he had done for many previous Decembers, in 2013 Irv sold Christmas trees (grown on the Matthes Tree Farm outside of Viola) displayed in the front of his shop where the gas pumps used to be.  But age forced Irv to give up his business in 2014.  (Did anybody sell Christmas trees in La Farge this year?)
Moving far up Main Street to the east end of town, we see the new Free Methodist Church, located one block south on Cherry Street.  The church is the busiest in town with regular church services, weddings and funerals.  A large dining room with kitchen located adjacent to the church sanctuary provides a wonderful space for meals.   This beautiful new facility was dedicated in January 2004 and under the leadership of Pastor Mark Phillips the congregation has grown steadily since.  The church has taken a very active stance in the community and houses the village’s Food Pantry, with distributions made in the building each month.  The church maintains a historical connection to the old Free Methodist Church located on Main Street a block away (now the home of Traci & Doug Albright as well as the center for Doug’s electric & solar business) as the bell from that old church is preserved and displayed on the front lawn of the new church.
Across the alley from the new church is the Superlative Skateboard Park.  Located on a former residence site along Main Street, the park, which was developed through the leadership of Mark Phillips and others in the village, features several cement ramps and chutes for skateboarders to test their skills.  The skateboard park was dedicated in 2009 and was made possible through a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation.
 The new firehouse or ESB (Emergency Services Building), which houses the fire trucks, ambulances, and village police car is located across Cherry Street, to the west of the Free Methodist Church.  It was opened in 2010 as a replacement for the old firehouse and the ambulance garage and came about through the procurement of a federal grant after the flood of 2008.  The building is dedicated to the fire and EMS volunteers, past, present and future, who make such a difference in our community of La Farge.  Village President Steve Donovan, who led the effort to raise funds and apply for grants to complete the new building and move the fire department and ambulance squad out of the floodway, made the dedication at the building’s grand opening in September 2010.  The new ESB also provides meeting space for village board meetings, elections and other municipal events.
So, for now, that concludes our stroll along Main Street in La Farge.  My legs are a little sore from the hike, as I don’t get out as much as I used to. 

Christmas Walk in La Farge - 2016

As we have always done on these little strolls, lets begin at the east end of the village’s business district and head towards the river.  We will walk down the north side of the village’s main street, go all the way to the river, then cross over and come back up the street on the south side.  There will be occasional darts up some of the side streets from the main drag, but we always head back to Main Street because that is where all the action is!
We start at the corner where the Episcope newspaper office is located.  That building has been the home of a grocery store for most of its existence and sixty years ago my folks ran the store while our family lived overhead in an apartment.  Attached to the north end of the building was the feed mill where farmers brought their oats and corn to be ground into cattle feed.  Today, the old feed mill serves as a storage warehouse for La Farge Maintenance, but Donny Strait and Steve Greenland, co-owners of the business, ended their partnership in 2015 as both men took other jobs in the community.
            The Episcope office is a busy place on weekdays as folks drop off the latest news items for the next issue of the local weekly newspaper.  Lonnie Muller is still the editor as the year ends and had to assume the role of publisher of the newspaper as well when his wife Gail retired in 2013.  Matt Gabrielson works the modern versions of the linotype to get the ads and articles laid out and to compose his weather page for each week’s edition.  In August of 2015, the Episcope reached a milestone as the newspaper celebrated its 20th year of publishing existence.  Most importantly, with the publication of the January 2, 2016 issue of the Episcope, La Farge continued to have a weekly newspaper for the 118th consecutive year!
            Across the street from the newspaper office is Bergum’s Food Mart, one of the last grocery stores in the Kickapoo Valley.  It has an absentee owner – Brad Bergum  – but the full-service grocery store operated by Julie Greenland and her crew does a lively business.  The grocery store is open seven days a week, just like the stores of yore in La Farge.  In the summer of 2016, Bergum did some major remodeling of his grocery store building by installing new cement parking spaces and entrance areas and all new siding and trim.  A new “Bergum’s Food Mart” sign adorns the side of the building while a “For Sale” sign still hangs on the front.
            One building west on this block is the “A Little MOORE Than Hair” Styling Salon.  Deb Moore operates the salon and also owns the building that housed Bonnie’s Beauty Shop operated by Bonnie Risen up until 2014.  Bonnie retired at that time after recovering from a hip surgery and Deb began her business at the same location where Lois Engen had a beauty shop forty years earlier.  Deb has a revolving barber’s pole on the outside of her shop signaling that her business is open for a haircut or two. 
            Moving down the street to the corner we come to the building that housed the last barbershop in La Farge.  The building was originally built as a hotel and has been a rooming house for most of its existence, continuing to the present.
            Across the street and on the northwest corner of the intersection of State and Main Streets is the law office of George Wilbur.  George, who originally came to La Farge in the mid-1970s to help market George Bader’s wood stoves, reinvented his career choices and earned a law degree.  Wilbur went on to be Vernon County District Attorney for a couple of terms before starting his law practice in La Farge in 1999 on this busy corner.  George owns several other iconic buildings in La Farge.  Most of those buildings used to be places of business, but now house various apartments that George rents out.
            Across the alley to the north from the Wilbur building is Bean Park.  Located on the former site of Dred Bean’s house and original blacksmith shop, the village park is a popular gathering place for children who cavort on the swing set and playground equipment.  A basketball court always seems to be busy with kids improving their shooting eyes.  When the weather is nice, several picnic tables in the park are usually filled with people talking and visiting.  This Christmas season, the park has been decorated with lighted displays, courtesy of several members of LAPA, the new community promotion group in La Farge  
            To the north of the park on the other side of Penn Street, the village funeral parlor is still in operation.  It is now called the Seland-Huston Funeral Home (named after former funeral directors Paul and Margaret Seland and Dewey Huston) and is operated as “A Pratt Funeral Service”.  Like most funeral parlors in small towns in the area, the La Farge funeral home is now part of a bigger operation.  The parlor is used for visitations and funerals, but the actual “business” is done elsewhere.  The hearse is driven in for each occasion and no longer kept in the village.  In 2013, the big two-car garage at the funeral parlor that used to house the hearse was sold off and moved out of town.
            Across State Street from the funeral parlor is the La Farge Community Temple – the old Masonic Temple.  The building is a center for community events and meetings.  The La Farge Lions Club, which over the years has poured lots of money and labor into upgrading the building, has their monthly meetings at the community temple, as do the VFW, Crafty Cookers Homemakers and other groups.  Several exercise groups meet each week at the temple.  In 2016, the community temple hosted many family parties and other special occasions like anniversaries and reunions.  Monthly Bingo Nights, sponsored by LAPA, are held at the temple and two community pancake suppers, sponsored by the Lions Club, are held each spring and fall at the temple.
            Returning to Main Street, to the west of the Wilbur Law Office is the Kickapoo Haven Senior Nutrition Center – the Kickapoo Haven.  2013 was a tumultuous year for the La Farge Senior Center as Vernon County withdrew support from the noon meal program.  For years, the meals had been prepared on site at the Kickapoo Haven and served there each noon, Tuesday through Friday, with home deliveries to those who could not get to the center.  With the cut in financial support from the county, the locally prepared meals ceased at the end of 2013.  With the start of a new year in 2014, meals were prepared in Viroqua at the Vernon Manor and driven down to La Farge where they were served.  The arrangement did not go over well with the La Farge senior citizens and people stopped coming to the Senior Center for their noon meals.  By May 2014, the meals from Viroqua were scrapped and a new arrangement was initiated.  The meals are made locally in La Farge at Sisters Place restaurant and brought across the street where they are served to the senior citizens.  When the Kickapoo Haven hosts area musicians to play during the noon meal, usually once a month, the Senior Center is packed!   
            Across an empty lot from the Kickapoo Haven sat the old Quonset hut that used to house the Band Box Café.  The restaurant business was shut down in 2012 and the building sat empty for several years, the brick façade on the front crumbling to the sidewalk.  In June of 2016, the building was razed. The new owners intend to construct a new building on the lot to house a brewpub – slated for opening by July 4th of 2017.
To the west is the Indigo Thrift Shop, one of three secondhand stores operating in La Farge during 2016.  This business, owned by Jake Sell (what a truly apt name for an owner of such a business), fills the old Muriel’s Variety Store building with merchandise that always seems to spill out onto the sidewalk in front.  The business has operated at the site since October of 2012.
Another vacant lot separates the Indigo Thrift Shop from the old theater building, which had been operating as “The Field House” bar into 2012.  Owner Cheryl Haas closed the bar and in the spring of 2013 began the “What’s In Store – A Lot of This & That” secondhand store in the building.  During warm weather, Cheryl has a blue Air Dancer named “Stretch” bopping away in front of her store, luring customers inside and scaring Amish horses as they pass.  
Moving north up Bird Street, the Lawton Memorial Library is located at the end of the block on the west end of Bean Park.  The library is another busy community center that serves as a host to regular reading times and activities for children, an adult book reading group and various other regular community activities.  The community library had become such a busy and heavily used place, that more space was needed. 
In 2012, the Friends of the Lawton Library began a major fundraising campaign to expand the library.  Architectural plans were drawn for an expansion of the building that would nearly double the size of the existing library.  By the end of 2013, over a quarter of the $600,000 needed for the expansion had been raised by the Friends of the Lawton Library group.  In May 2014 an application was made for a state grant to complete the library expansion project.  By that time monetary contributions and pledges for the project had exceeded $200,000 and were used as a foundation for the grant application for the library addition.  Fundraising continued for the next two years and two grants were procured for the project. A groundbreaking for the new library expansion occurred in August of 2015 as many of the lead donors were honored with the task of hoisting the first shovels of dirt.
Construction on the new addition to the library continued through the winter months of 2015-16 as fundraising continued.  Besides the expansion of the library, the entire building was improved with a new roof and siding and upgrades to the HVAC system and improved toilet facilities.  To help with all of the upgrades, a “Teachers’ Honor Roll” was established for the library by the “Friends” group as a way of honoring educators while raising needed funds for the project.  By the time of the official “Grand Opening” of the new and expanded Lawton Memorial Library in June 2016, nearly $25,000 had been raised by the Teachers’ Honor Roll project.
The new VMH Community Meeting Room at the library was also officially opened at the grand opening.  The new community meeting room was named to honor Vernon Memorial Healthcare, which was the lead donor for the funds raised for the library expansion project.
Across Bird Street from the old theater building is an old hardware store.  It is one of the oldest buildings on Main Street and was the first brick store built in La Farge (circa 1902).  The building currently houses two apartments and ownership of the building changed in late 2013 when Mark Katz and Janet Kruk sold the building to the Dr. Jeff Menn family.
To the west in the middle of the block is the always-busy Premier Co-op Auto and Tire Center, managed by Kevin Janecek.  Originally the gas station of the La Farge Oil Co-op, the building has been expanded several times over the years.  When the Cenex Co-op acquired the property, the gas tanks were removed and that fuel was no longer sold.  Automotive services remained a big part of the business along with the selling of farm supplies.  In 2013 through a merger of several co-ops in the state, the La Farge store became a part of the Premier Co-op.  In May 2016 the Co-op opened up a new gas pumping area for propane vehicles, such as the new propane fueled school bus that the La Farge School District had acquired.
To the west of the Co-op is the old Major’s store building, which when the year began housed several different businesses.  Penny Palmer had her resale store, “Penny’s Nickel & Dime Store” in the corner of the old Major’s Building located across Main Street from the Zzip Stop.  Penny’s was the oldest of the thrifts, having first opened in 2006.  With its ideal location across from the town’s busy gas station/convenience store and next to the Co-op, Penny’s had a steady flow of customers to look over her stock.  If three thrift stores defined La Farge as a “destination shopping” venue, a step back was taken in October of this year when Penny closed her store.  Penny and her husband, Pat Palmer sold the building, so all of the businesses located there had to leave.  Don Potter Realty, now operated by Tom Kotten, comprised the east side of the building.  Kotten’s business specializes in property appraisals.  (More about where these businesses moved when we get further along on our little stroll.)
One block north on Silver Street is the United Methodist Church, on the same corner since 1902.  Across the street, is the “Field of Dreams” softball field – a busy place that serves as home field for the LHS softball team and for summer youth teams’ games.
Going back down Silver Street is the old welding shop building, now owned by George Wilbur, which is used for apartment rentals.  To the west and continuing all the way to the end of the long block, are two buildings and two parking areas that are part of the La Farge Truck Center (LTC).  The LTC body shop is located in the building that was originally built by Cecil Rolfe as a cabinet shop in the early 1970’s.  Next to that is a parking area to display new trucks and other vehicles.  In the middle of the block is the LTC Tire Center where the Muller Brothers Construction shop used to be.  The west one third of the block is used as a parking area for vehicles.

To the north on Mill Street the last sawmill in La Farge ceased operations in 2013.
Schroers Hardwood Lumber, which had operated a sawmill at this site for over forty years, stopped sawing lumber in the summer of 2013.  A sale was held in September and all of the sawmill buildings and equipment was sold.  By the end of October of that year, the lot sat empty of any buildings or machinery from its sawmill days.  In December, Russ and Sharon Schroer sold the 2.6-acre lot where the sawmill had been to Vernon Memorial Healthcare (VMH) for the future site of a new medical clinic.
In April 2014 VMH released plans and drawings for the new clinic to be built at the old sawmill site.  The rest of 2014 were used to fill the old sawmill lot and construct the new clinic.  Moving of the equipment from the old clinic to the new facility was done in May 2015 and a grand opening was held for the new VMH – La Farge Medical Clinic in June.  The new clinic has eleven exam rooms and procedure and treatment rooms for advanced and acute care. The clinic has two birthing rooms, one with a water-birth tub and another with a balcony for being outside.  The new clinic also is equipped with a state-of-the-art lab and another draw station to assist in the births.
The new VMH - La Farge Medical Clinic is one of the busiest places in the village.  The new building originally served the practices of three doctors – James Deline, Ben Agar, and Shawn Sedgewick and two physician’s assistants, Kelly Scheder and Tamsen Morgan. In 2016, Dr. Taryn Lawler and Dr. Tom Herr began practicing at the new clinic.
  This busy new clinic is the result of the many years of hard work put in by Dr. Jim Deline to establish a practice in a small town.  Dr. Deline reached out to the Amish community that surrounds La Farge early on in his practice.  Making house calls to the Amish on Salem and Buckeye Ridges and in the Dell area to deliver babies became common for Deline’s practice.  Eventually he encouraged the Amish families to have the mothers deliver their babies at the clinic in La Farge in a special birthing room or at the Vernon Memorial Hospital in Viroqua where a special Amish birthing room was also provided.  With the state-of-the-art birthing rooms and labs at the new medical clinic, Dr. Deline can continue his research on the hereditary diseases specific to the Amish community.  
Nuzum’s Building Supply remains on the northwest corner of Mill and Main Streets, in the same location where it has been for over a century.  The retail building supplies business, now owned by Jon Zahm, remains a vibrant and active place in La Farge.  To the north of Nuzum’s and across from the new clinic is Hill Country Heating.  Doug Weed once sold wood-burning furnaces from this facility.  The elevated office building, perched on a stilt-like foundation, is a reminder of past and potential floodwaters in this area of the village.
To the west of Nuzum’s towards the river is the old railroad depot site.  The depot is long gone, spirited out of town after the railroad closed in 1939, but the old railroad freight house is still there.  The building was used by Dick Hatton for his lawn mower repair and small engine business for years, but now is used for storage.  As is the old cheese warehouse building that is located to the north next to where the railroad track used to be.  In the summer of 2016, the La Farge Area Partners Association (LAPA) hosted a farmers market at the site each Saturday morning.

The village maintains a canoe landing on the Kickapoo River just to the north of the bridge for Highway 82.  There is also a parking lot for the vehicles of the canoeists who are departing the river at that spot.  The old concrete water measuring station still sits along the bridge just below the canoe landing, constantly measuring the flow of the waters of the Kickapoo below.  In the spring of 2016, preliminary plans were being discussed to put a new canoe landing along the river on the south side of the bridge with vehicle access away from the main highway.

KVA History Project - Part 2

So, let us finally continue with our look at the KVA local history project, which ran from 1977 through 1979.
            Perhaps no one knew of the importance of the oral history interviews for the KVA project better than Dale Muller of La Farge.  Dale had spent most of his life listening to peoples’ stories, remembering those stories and then passing them on to others.  As a young boy, Dale had been drawn to listen to his elders as they told of “the good old days”.  He remembered those stories of that earlier time and in 1972 when his son, Lonnie, began a new weekly newspaper in La Farge, he started writing about some of those memories in a weekly column called “John Bear Spreader Notes”.
            Dale used the pseudonym “Johnson Gunfrunk” when he penned the local history columns in the weekly issues of the Epitaph.  Some of the stories he told were priceless and I will share a very early one that he wrote in the second edition of the Epitaph – January 19, 1972.
            Dale was writing about the Dutch elm disease wiping out the American elm trees in the Kickapoo Valley.  He was not a big fan of that type of tree because it was a poor source of heat when it was burned for firewood and because of its penchant for warping and splitting.  Dale shared a local history story in that column that went like this, “Richard Cornell, local gunsmith, once made a full length stock for a .22 rifle out of elm.  It warped so bad that it bent the barrel.  He had the only gun on Bear Creek that would shoot around corners.  Dick became quite an expert at shooting squirrels on the other side of trees with it.”
            In 1976, when the village organized to celebrate the nation’s Bi-Centennial, Dale became a vital part of the committee that was formed in La Farge.  As part of La Farge’s look back for the American Bi-Centennial, Dale began to interview older people in the village.  Using a tape recorder for the interviews, he was able to save the precious local history stories for posterity.  As a matter of fact, when the Bi-Centennial activities were concluded with the 4th of July Celebration in La Farge, Dale continued on with the oral history interviews and archived the tapes in the village’s library.
            When the Kickapoo Valley Association (KVA) began its local history project in 1977-78, Dale was a natural to serve on an “Advisory Group” for the project.  In the last issue of the “Kickapoo Pearls” (September – 1979), this testimony was made about the Advisory Group:
            “The Advisory Group to the Kickapoo Valley Association History Project has been a vital part of our efforts.  The members of the advisory group were selected by the KVA and the Crawford, Monroe and Vernon County Historical Societies to represent their various perspectives and concerns as historical information was gathered.  Other members were selected at large by the Advisory Group.  Their role has been to provide advice, direction, assistance, contacts and experience and knowledge to the staff of the project.  The members of the Advisory Group have served on a voluntary basis since early January of 1978.
            ‘Staff and Advisory Group have met regularly every six weeks over these past 20 months to jointly map out direction and goals.  Working in this type of situation was a new experience for most all of us and one that we’ll not soon forget.”
            Others on the Advisory Group included Kate Walter, Leita Twining Slayton, Kathy Calhoun, Helen Tuchalski, Jeanne & Bernard Smith, Connie Stephens, Steve Picus, Arlene Obert, and Dawald Craig.
            Dale Muller was also instrumental in helping with the initial phase of the KVA History Project, which was the preparation of a history of Seelyburg.  Dale had spent much of his youth in the Seelyburg area and helped to coordinate a research project on the old lumbering town on the Kickapoo River.  Working with other local history advocates Jeanne & Bernard Smith of La Farge and Connie & Lawrence Stephens of Viroqua, Dale joined Dale Treleven from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Oral History Program to get the history of Seelyburg project started.
            In the summer of 1977, the KVA used a Summer Youth Work Program grant to hire Janet Marshall, a recent graduate of La Farge High School, to research and write about the former community of Seelyburg.  Janet conducted oral history interviews with several people and then wrote an excellent history about the old lumbering town.  Janet Marshall’s work set a fine example for the local history project that was to follow.
            With the advice and direction from the members of the Advisory Group, the KVA soon assembled a staff to collect the local and folk history, take that information from the interviews and put it into essay form and add photographs and graphics for the editions of the Kickapoo Pearls.  Tom Hovde, who lived near Ontario, became the leader of the KVA’s project and assisted at almost all levels besides administering all of the programs.
            Working from offices on La Farge’s Main Street, Hovde assembled a staff of researchers and writers that included Dail Murray, Lon Reuter, Judy Wilmes, Dan Eumurian, Lynne O’Brien, Mike Wright and Dana Strobel.  That group soon started conducting oral and folk history interviews with people up and down the Kickapoo Valley, recording their stories and memories while collecting and copying historical photographs to supplement the project.  According to a written account of the local history project that was published in the last issue of the Kickapoo Pearls, another local woman was a key ingredient to its success.
            From Volume IV, “Jean (Daines) Muller of La Farge was the main cog around which things got done.  Jean’s title was secretary/typist but her ability to keep files, typing, tapes, and everything else in order while working with ten people was a key to any accomplishments we’ve had.  Jean got married while she was working for us but it only slowed her down a little while.”
            Shawn Donovan of La Farge was the project’s bookkeeper, making sure that all CETA grant guidelines were followed and that the payroll came out on time.
            In addition to the written products of the KVA research, other mediums were used to present information on the history of the Kickapoo Valley.  Mike Wright led an effort to develop radio programs called the Crooked River Series, which aired the first Sunday evening of every month on WGBM-FM from Viroqua.  The one-hour programs included discussions on The Great Depression in the Kickapoo Valley, Settlement of the Kickapoo Valley, the Kickapoo Valley Railroad and other topics.  Several programs featured area musicians playing in “Old Time Kickapoo Music” segments.
            Frances Burton also produced a 16-mm color documentary film as part of the local history project.  Burton, whose family was from Gays Mills, was a filmmaker from Milwaukee, who moved back to the Kickapoo Valley to make the film.  She created the 15-minute film titled “Land of The Crooked River” from a script partially written by Dale Muller and narrated by Orlie Baker of Seneca.  The KVA History Project film (now a classic!) includes rare film footage from August 1939 of the last train on the Kickapoo railroad as it departed the station at Soldiers Grove.     

            In the end, the various results of the KVA’s local history project about the Kickapoo Valley were really marvels of their particular time.  The interviews, collections, essays, publications, oral tapes and film all strove to tell the story of a unique and particular place and its people.  That is something that others, including this humble scribbler, continue to this day.