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La Crosse County Historical Society says more can be done to preserve region's artifacts

La Crosse County Historical Society researcher Jeff Stolz was hard at work Wednesday restoring a green silk dress that a La Crosse woman had worn to President Richard Nixon’s inauguration.

Peggy Derrick, La Crosse County Historical Society executive director.

Several large textiles, artifacts of La Crosse’s bygone days, were rolled up to give him a place to work. LCHS executive director Peggy Derrick’s dream is to store the large textiles flat, which is best for preservation, but she doesn’t have the large cabinet with flat drawers that would be necessary.

“We don’t have a good place in this building for one,” she said.

The historical society — which is funded by La Crosse County, along with a mix of membership fees, private donations and grants — moved into its building at West Avenue South and King Street three years ago. At the time, the board wanted a new, more visible location to give the historical society its own identity, and the owners of the church-turned-historic-home at 145 West Ave. S. offered to donate it.

The historical society’s leaders gratefully accepted the offer, but it isn’t an ideal building to display the society’s collection of historic artifacts from the La Crosse area.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Amy Vach, left, the collections manager at the La Crosse County Historical Society, and intern Natalie Van Dam prepare a 1898 wedding dress to be photographed for the museum's online gallery.

From Tribune files: Things That Matter in La Crosse County history

“Old churches do not make good galleries because of the windows,” Derrick said.

The windows and the sunlight they provide help make the building beautiful, but it also causes a lot of problems for the historical society staff.

“Light destroys things. It breaks down fibers. Silk literally disintegrates if left in direct sunlight long enough,” she said.

Plus the windows take up wall space and limit the options for what can be displayed. Galleries need to be large, adaptable spaces, Derrick said.

She’s not sure what the solution to the historical society’s problem is. Since Mayor Tim Kabat announced a resolution to create a task force dedicated to researching the feasibility of a La Crosse museum, Derrick has been fielding questions about what the museum will be.

“The whole point of this committee is to figure that out. We need to figure out what ‘it’ is, define what we see as the needs and what the square footage should be,” Derrick said.

The question of whether to create the committee will go before the La Crosse Finance & Personnel Committee Thursday before the La Crosse Common Council votes on it next week.

Derrick has high hopes for the committee and its ability to study how to make a sustainable museum to celebrate the region's culture and history. While getting a capital campaign to start the project is a large undertaking, what comes next should be a focus, she said.

“The big thing is that it be successful after it’s built,” she added.

Derrick is hoping the committee will commission a feasibility study to look at social and economic factors and really dive into what it will take to make the museum workable.

“It isn’t just about yes or no, you can do it. It’s about articulating what the challenges are,” she said.

The idea for a task force with the city arose from the growth of the historical society during the past few years. As the board looked toward a future strategic plan, the question arose whether it could have a facility dedicated to displaying its artifacts and sharing La Crosse’s historical journey from the days when Native Americans were the only residents to the incorporation of the city and first white settlers, and the more recent immigration of the Hmong people after the Vietnam War, as well as everything in between.

Derrick was hesitant to toot her own horn, but she admitted that the collection had become a priority after she joined the staff eight years ago. Before Derrick took the executive director reins a couple years ago, a combination of financial struggles and circumstances had put artifacts on the back burner.

“Collections had been overlooked for a long time,” she said.

However, the new focus on collections and artifacts has prompted further growth for the historical society, as it struggles with a facility that even has too much natural light in the basement.

“Storing collections properly requires environmental controls for humidity and temperature — and for things like mice — but that’s very expensive,” Derrick said.

Proper storage also takes up more space, as such things as gowns are put away properly and not crammed into boxes meant for one with four other dresses.

However, it’s worth it to Derrick to preserve and share local history.

“You can learn a lot about people and society by the things they make and use on a daily basis,” Derrick said. “If we treasure it, and if we show how important it is, people respond to that.”

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

La Crosse County Historical Society Intern Natalie Van Dam works in the storage room for the museum's artifacts.

It’s clear that the historical society staff and volunteers do treasure their collection. Stolz has been working on and off for months in his free time to get historic dresses ready for an exhibit planned for spring of 2019 called “Juxtaposition.” After he’s finished building the dresses up enough to withstand being moved and displayed on mannequins — which he says is harder on the garments than people might think — he plans to take them on field trips throughout La Crosse.

“We’ll photograph them in the environment where women lived and worked … There’s something really wonderful, I think, about clothing,” Stoltz said.

Clothes are iconic to time periods as well as connected to taste and function. You work and play in it, literally leaving behind your DNA, he said. “Clothing, it’s very, very personal.”

Meanwhile, collections manager Amy Vachs and intern Natalie Van Dam were in the basement preparing a Victorian-era wedding dress to be surveyed, photographed and added to the online collection, fulfilling the historical society’s mission to share history with the community.

“If you don’t have a museum, it’s still accessible online,” Vach said.

The Tribune's entire A-to-Z look back at La Crosse area history

The Tribune's entire A-to-Z look back at La Crosse area history

Potential Kendhammer jurors who failed to show ordered into court

A La Crosse County judge in a rare court move has ordered a group of people summoned for jury duty into court to explain why they failed to show for Todd Kendhammer’s trial for his wife’s murder.


The 12 potential jurors must provide a reason why Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke shouldn’t impose a fine under state statute. Each faces a fine of not more than $500 if they skip the Jan. 23 court date set by the court.

State law allows a judge to fine potential jurors who fail to report no more than $500 after a hearing for the juror to explain why she or he should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with jury service.

The fine would offset juror costs.

Kendhammer, 47, of West Salem faces life imprisonment in the Sept. 17, 2016, death of his wife, Barbara, when he returns to court for sentencing on March 9.

The judge could find him eligible for release after a minimum of 20 years.

The West Salem man early Sept. 16 fatally beat Barbara Kendhammer and then tried to cover up her murder by staging a traffic crash that couldn’t have happened. She died the next day.

Kendhammer testified during his nine-day trial in December that claimed the couple was driving north on Hwy. M in the town of Hamilton when what he thought was a bird but determined was a pipe rolled from an oncoming flatbed truck and impaled the passenger side of his windshield.

He offered multiple versions of where the couple was driving that morning and tried to convince jurors that he rendered aid to his wife, but his account of the freak crash couldn’t explain Barb’s extensive head injuries. Witnesses also debunked Kendhammer’s story and prosecutors argued the evidence showed that Kendhammer inflicted his wife’s injuries, then took the pipe from the trunk and drove it into the windshield while she was dying on the ground.

A jury found Kendhammer guilty of first-degree intentional homicide after nine hours of deliberations. He remains jailed.

Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Todd Kendhammer trial

Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Todd Kendhammer trial


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Central High School’s Johnny Davis dunks during Tuesday’s game against Marshfield at Central High School. Davis finished with a game-high 24 points as Central won 70-41.

Rivals reopen cross-border communication; White House questions Kim's 'mental fitness'

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reopened a key cross-border communication channel with South Korea for the first time in nearly two years Wednesday as the rivals explored the possibility of sitting down and talking after months of acrimony and fears of war.

The sudden signs of easing hostilities, however, came as President Donald Trump threatened Kim with nuclear war in response to his threat earlier this week.

In his New Year’s address Monday, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. But he also said he has a “nuclear button” on his desk and that all U.S. territory is within striking distance of his nuclear weapons — comments Trump latched onto Tuesday when he boasted of a bigger and more powerful “nuclear button” than Kim’s.

The two leaders exchanged crude insults last year, as the North received new U.N. sanctions over its sixth and most powerful nuclear test explosion and a series of intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

The White House on Wednesday defended Trump’s Twitter message to Kim.

“I don’t think that it’s taunting to stand up for the people of this country,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, adding that people should be concerned about Kim’s “mental fitness.”

Pressed on Trump’s claim about nuclear capabilities, Sanders said, “I think it’s just a fact.”

The recent softening of contact between the rival Koreas may show a shared interest in improved ties, but there’s no guarantee tensions will ease. There have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, but even when they do meet, the efforts often end in recriminations and stalemate.

Outside critics say Kim may be trying to use better ties with South Korea as a way to weaken the alliance between Washington and Seoul as the North grapples with toughened international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.

Kim’s latest announcement, which was read by a senior Pyongyang official on state TV, followed a South Korean offer on Tuesday of high-level talks with North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and discuss other inter-Korean issues.

Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the state-run Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, cited Kim as welcoming South Korea’s overture and ordering officials to reopen a communication channel at the border village of Panmunjom. Ri also quoted Kim as ordering officials to promptly take substantial measures with South Korea out of a “sincere stand and honest attitude,” according to the North’s state TV and news agency.

South Korea quickly welcomed Kim’s decision and later confirmed that the two Koreas began preliminary contacts on the channel. During their 20-minute communication, liaison officials of the two Koreas exchanged their names and examined their communication lines to make sure they were working, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

Since taking office last May, South Korea’s liberal President Moon Jae-in has pushed hard to improve ties and resume stalled cooperation projects with North Korea. Pyongyang had not responded to his outreach until Kim’s New Year’s address.

Relations between the Koreas soured under Moon’s conservative predecessors, who responded to the North’s expanding nuclear program with hard-line measures. All major rapprochement projects were put on hold one by one, and the Panmunjom communication channel had been suspended since February 2016.

Moon has joined U.S.-led international efforts to apply more pressure and sanctions on North Korea, but he still favors dialogue as a way to resolve the nuclear standoff. The Trump administration says all options are on the table, including military measures against the North. Moon has repeatedly said he opposes any war on the Korean Peninsula.

Some observers believe these differences in views may have led Kim to think he could drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington as a way to weaken their alliance and international sanctions.

Talks could provide a temporary thaw in strained inter-Korean ties, but conservative critics worry that they may only earn the North time to perfect its nuclear weapons.

After the Olympics, inter-Korean ties could become frosty again because the North has made it clear it has no intention of accepting international calls for nuclear disarmament and instead wants to bolster its weapons arsenal in the face of what it considers increasing U.S. threats, analysts say.

Nicolas Asfouri 


Monson, president of Mormon church, dies at 90

SALT LAKE CITY — Thomas S. Monson, considered a prophet by nearly 16 million Mormons worldwide, has died at the age of 90 after a nearly a decade as church president. He expanded the church’s reach and its transparency and was known for promoting humanitarian causes despite leading a divisive fight against gay marriage.

Monson died Tuesday night at his home in Salt Lake City, according to church spokesman Eric Hawkins.

Monson spent more than five decades serving in top church leadership councils — making him a well-known face and personality to multiple generations of Mormons.

A church bishop at the age of 22, the Salt Lake City native became the youngest church apostle ever in 1963 at the age of 36. He served as a counselor for three church presidents before assuming the role of the top leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2008.

As president of the nearly 16 million-member religion, Monson was considered a prophet who led the church through revelation from God in collaboration with two top counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The next president was not immediately named, but the job is expected to go to the next longest-tenured member of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M. Nelson, per church protocol.

Monson’s presidency was marked by his noticeably low profile during a time of intense publicity for the church, including the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Mormon Mitt Romney. Monson’s most public acts were appearances at church conferences and devotionals as well as dedications of church temples.

Monson will also be remembered for his emphasis on humanitarian work; leading the faith’s involvement in the passage of gay marriage ban in California in 2008; continuing the church’s push to be more transparent about its past; and lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

Mormons considered Monson a warm, caring, endearing and approachable leader, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California. He was known for dropping everything to make hospital visits to people in need. His speeches at the faith’s twice-yearly conferences often focused on parables of human struggles resolved through faith.

He put an emphasis on the humanitarian ethic of Mormons, evidenced by his expansion of the church’s disaster relief programs around the world, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

“President Monson always seemed more interested in what we do with our religion rather than in what we believe,” Mauss said.

Well-known Mormons mourned Monson’s death Wednesday and remembered his life of service. Romney, entertainer Marie Osmond and conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck were among those tweeting memories and condolences.

Romney said in a statement that he’ll remember Monson’s compassion for the downtrodden. Osmond tweeted a picture of her embracing Monson, saying he was always there for her family. Beck recalled Monson’s kindness and humility.

Condolences also came in from Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who said of Monson, “Service was his motto and humility his hallmark.”

The Mormon church was founded in 1830 in upstate New York by Joseph Smith, who claimed he was visited by God and Jesus while praying in a grove of trees and was called to found the church. Members are known as Mormons because of the faith’s keystone scripture, the Book of Mormon.

A World War II veteran, Monson served in the Navy and spent a year overseas before returning to get a business degree at the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business administration from the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Before being chosen to join the faith’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Monson worked for the church’s secular businesses, primarily in advertising, printing and publishing including the Deseret Morning News.

Monson married Frances Beverly Johnson in 1948. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Frances died in 2013 at the age of 85.

Throughout his life, Monson was an avid fisherman who also raised homing pigeons, specifically, roller pigeons who twirled as they flew. He was known for his love of show tunes, Boy Scouts and the Utah Jazz.

Monson’s legacy will be tied to the church’s efforts to hold tight to its opposition of same-sex marriage while encouraging members to be more open and compassionate toward gays and lesbians as acceptance for LGBT people increased across the county.

One of the most memorable moments of Monson’s tenure came in October 2012, when he announced at church conference that the minimum age to depart on missions was being lowered to 19 from 21 for women; and to 18 from 19 for men. The change triggered a historic influx of missionaries, and proved a milestone change for women by allowing many more to serve.

The man expected to take Monson’s seat, the 93-year-old Nelson, has been a church apostle since April 1984. Out of respect for Monson, his successor will not be officially named until after his funeral services.

In keeping with tradition, the successor will choose two counselors from the Quorum of the Twelve to join him to form a three-person “presidency” that is the top of the church’s governing hierarchy. If he elects not to keep Monson’s two counselors, Henry B. Eyring and Dieter Uchtdorf, they would go back to being regular members of the Quorum.

Being one of the president’s two counselors doesn’t push them to the front of the line to become the next president. That is always reserved for the longest-tenured member of the Quorum. Once Nelson assumes the presidency, that distinction will fall to 85-year-old Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court Justice who was named to the quorum in May 1984, one month after Nelson.

Rick Bowmer