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Chuck Miller, Winona Daily News 

Water turns the old gristmill at the Pickwick Mill in 2016.

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Peer Caregiver Support Program in La Crosse County offers a personal approach to coping with dementia

The odd behaviors started suddenly.

One day, Carol Winther watched in shock as her husband Tom began to throw plants out the window. Another time, he crawled out the opening himself. Sporadically, rather then finding a chair, he would seat himself on the floor, seemingly unaware of his abnormal actions.

“It was very frightening,” said Carol, 78.

Seven years ago, the couple learned the root of Tom’s behavior: Lewy body dementia, which shares symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Combined with his leg amputation — the result of diabetes — and a broken hip, which confined him to a wheelchair, Tom, 77, became dependent on his wife.

Life was instantly more complex, the “new normal” not normal at all, but with time — and trial and trial and error — Carol built an arsenal of skills and support, which she is preparing to impart to fellow caregivers through a new program in La Crosse.

Created by Causeway Caregivers, in partnership with the ARDC, the La Crosse County Peer Caregiver Support Program launched in November, and is seeking both experienced “Volunpeer” mentors and new caregivers to pair off, offering mutual support, encouragement and socialization, respite and help locating resources. Further programming, such as a a support hotline, may be implemented as the program grows.


“Our goal is really to prevent caregiver burnout,” said Sara Wrobel, executive director for Causeway Caregivers. “This is a growing segment of the population, and we need people to know these resources are out there.”

The first of its kind in the Coulee Region, the Peer Caregiver Support Program offers an alternative to support group meetings, which can be intimidating or inconvenient for busy caretakers, with the empathy and understanding a physician may not provide.

“Keeping a schedule isn’t always possible when you’re dealing with dementia,” Wrobel noted, adding, “I think you’re way more open sitting one-on-one together than in a big group of people.”

Four individuals, two caregivers and two Volunpeers, are signed up to start the program, and range in age from 50 to 80. Volunpeers are required to complete a background check and 30-minute orientation, and matches are made by location first, then type of services needed and thirdly hobbies and interests. At least weekly check-ins by phone, email or in person are suggested, with transportation assistance or errand running optional. If both parties are comfortable, Volunpeers can keep care recipients company for a couple of hours while caregivers take a break. A time commitment of two to four hours per month is requested.

“It’s about reaching out and letting them know they’re not alone,” Wrobel said. “(Our Volunpeers) have had frustration in their own caregiving and want to help someone else have it easier.”

Carol is well-versed in the strain that comes with providing daily care, responsible for assisting Tom with use of the bathroom, transferring him out of his wheelchair to the car or the bed and simply keeping him entertained.

Tom is cognizant of who she is and communicates well with some individuals, though he speaks very softly, has trouble with names and remains silent in group situations. He becomes angry with his situation at times, and often forgets his actions, but has never shown the physical aggression that can be a symptom of Alzheimer’s.

“It’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Carol said of dementia. “There are some days when it’s just wonderful and some days when it isn’t.”

Carol notes she is fortunate, having found a support system in her fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses, staff at ARDC and the Merit Centre adult day care center, where Tom spends time four days a week. She also has the help of another caregiver, who comes in twice a week while Carol attends church.

Many in the caregiving community have sought Carol’s advice, seeking balance in their own lives, and she is happy to further her reach through the Peer Caregiver Support Program, believing it will be just as beneficial to herself.

“(The program) is just in its infancy, but I think this is the right way to go,” Carol said. “We all learn from each other and we all need help ... it’s got to be a ‘we’ world, not a ‘me’ world.”

For more information on the La Crosse County Peer Caregiver Support Program, call 608-775-9999 or visit or

Biggest hurdle for Trump’s border wall is remote, rugged terrain

WASHINGTON (TNS) — Santa Elena Canyon, part of Big Bend National Park in Texas, is known for its red rock cliffs that drop more than 1,000 feet into the Rio Grande River. The late naturalist and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once wrote that Santa Elena “is a canyon to travel with the utmost respect.”

If President Donald Trump proceeds in building a wall through unfenced sections of the U.S.-Mexico border, Santa Elena Canyon will present a formidable obstacle, but not the only one. The rugged landscape of south Texas might be Trump’s biggest challenge in building an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall,” as he promised during his campaign in 2016.

“When you get to Santa Elena Canyon, you have a sheer wall that is hundreds of feet tall,” said Scott Nicol, a resident of McAllen, Texas, and co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign. “How are you going to plunk down a wall in that kind of topography?”

Texas shares more than 1,200 miles with Mexico, but only 110 miles of that is fenced. Much of the rest is either private property or protected public lands, such as steep cliffs at Big Bend, marshes at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge or the braided channel of the Rio Grande as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

In November, a video team from the Brookings Institution visited the border region and brought back a bird’s-eye view, using a drone camera. The video captures a landscape that meanders with the Rio Grande, passing through numerous habitats, alternately stark and lush.

“It was breathtaking,” said Ian McAllister, one of the Brookings videographers. “We covered a lot of miles on that trip, and the terrain varied so widely.”

Chris Peters, also part of the video team, said he was surprised the topography was as daunting as it was.

“If you see it in person, it so much more clear how challenging it would be to build a wall there, and how unrealistic it is,” said Peters.

Trump clearly intends to try. Last year, Nicol, using a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map of where the government plans to build 33 miles of wall in 15 segments in the Rio Grande Valley.

According to the documents, first published by the Texas Observer, the corps has recommended building the wall through Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, a 797-acre bird preserve. The wall would also run through the nearby National Butterfly Center, a private nature sanctuary that, in December, sued the Department of Homeland Security over its border wall plans and alleged trespass onto its property.

The corps also rated the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, south of McAllen, as an “easy” location for the wall, because the land is already owned by the federal government. Building the wall there would potentially cut off the hunting territory of the ocelot, an endangered wild cat that has long crossed the Rio Grande in search of prey.

So far, the administration hasn’t said whether it intends to extend a wall or fence through Big Bend National Park, which covers more than 800,000 acres south of Marfa, Texas. But Nicol suspects it may try. This month, the administration sent Congress a budget document requesting $33 billion for border security over the next decade.

The document, first reported by The New York Times, asked Congress to “clarify and expand” Homeland Security’s authority to waive federal laws to quickly build border walls. It also asks for permission to bypass consultation with other federal agencies, such as the National Park Service, on using federal lands for security purposes.

Nicol said it is no coincidence that the government is selecting public lands for the first stages of the wall.

“They are targeting federal lands, because they don’t want to sue anyone” over use of eminent domain, he said. A decade ago, ranch owners fought a Homeland Security attempt to condemn their land for border fences. At least 90 of those cases are still pending.

Over the past several months, the White House has repeatedly attempted to clarify that a border wall will not be built from “sea to shining sea,” despite Trump’s past pledges.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said on CNN this month that the president had found several solutions to enhanced border security. “There are rivers involved, I’m told, mountains, terrain that isn’t conducive to building an actual physical structure in some places,” she said.

White House chief of staff John Kelly said on Fox News last week the Trump “has changed the way he’s looked at a number of things” after listening to experts who warned that there are places along the border “where, geographically, a wall would not be realistic.”

Kelly’s comment, however, prompted an immediate response from Trump.

“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” the president posted on Twitter. “Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.”

Nicol said Trump’s comments are confusing, but he expects a White House attempt to build the wall through protected parks and refuges, which would lead to new litigation. “This administration has very much underestimated the kind of pushback they will get if they push forward,” he said.

Matt Slocum 

Minnesota Vikings' Case Keenum reacts on the bench during the second half of the NFL football NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Fort McCoy construction continues through frigid temps

Despite the recent bitterly cold weather, several construction projects continue at Fort McCoy.

Work continues on administration and storage buildings for Child and Youth Services personnel with the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation and the building of a DFMWR storage building in Constitution Park.

The new CYS buildings are moving along steadily. Employees with contractor Relyant Global, headquartered in Maryville, Tennessee, continue to work on the buildings and now have both completely roofed, and exterior brick is being applied. Work on the buildings began in October.

A contract of $1,871,209 was awarded in June to Relyant Global, said construction inspector Mark Nelson with the Directorate of Public Works. The project is located on West F Street and scheduled for completion in July 2018.

In December, Nuvo Construction of Milwaukee nearly completed work on a $262,000 contract to improve sewer infrastructure and complete repairs at several areas around the installation, said DPW construction inspector Adam Sands.

“Most of the work with this project is done,” Sands said. “Remaining work will be completed in late spring. Overall, this improves our installation’s sanitary sewer infrastructure significantly.”

At Constitution Park, Nuvo Construction continues to build the $724,000 storage facility for DFMWR. The contract completion date is in September.

“This storage building at Constitution Park will be brick-faced and have approximately 3,600 square feet of available storage space,” Nelson said. “The contractor is working through the winter, is about 20 percent completed and has a goal to complete the building prior to the annual concert at the park in August.”

Nuvo Construction also has an $848,000 contract to build a new fitness facility for the Directorate of Emergency Services, Sands said. The project had already started in 2017, but the cold winter weather has some parts of the project on hold until concrete footings can be poured for the facility.

The contract completion date for the fitness facility is in October, and most of the work to complete that facility will take place once warmer weather arrives in the spring, Sands said.

Construction also continues through winter on the new Access Control Point that will replace the existing Gate 20 at Fort McCoy.

A $9.9 million contract for the new construction was awarded in May to Catamount Constructors Inc. of Lakewood, Colorado, said Ken Green, construction representative and mechanical engineering technician with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the contract. The completion date set for November 2018.

The project description includes building a new identification check area with a new gatehouse; search office and inspection canopies; and development and construction of parking, lighting and traffic control signals.