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The La Crosse area is blessed with so many positive examples of people who deserve a thumbs-up for their selfless dedication:

Thumbs-up to Sheila Garrity, who is retiring after nearly a quarter-century of leading the La Crosse Community Foundation.

Thanks to community generosity and Garrity’s passionate persistence, the foundation oversees more than $59 million in assets to serve the La Crosse area.

Under her guidance, the foundation has helped countless of underserved people. In recent years, the foundation has supported efforts to support at-risk neighborhoods and community policing, fight poverty and homelessness, and work to support those fighting mental illness.

And, with all that generosity comes personal stories.

“Really, every single fund — and there are about 200 of them — has a personal story connected to it, reflecting donors’ interests and supporting great community projects,” she said during a recent interview. “It’s remarkable, the generosity of the community. When parents, spouses and friends come to establish a memorial for a loved one, you hear their special story. … There is nothing more grace-filled.”

Thumbs-up to longtime grocers and community servants Dave and Barb Skogen for their plans to develop a portion of Onalaska that will enhance the gateway to downtown and the Black River.

They have purchase agreements to acquire four properties for a community park and restaurant that they envision along Second Avenue South, between Main and Irvin streets in downtown Onalaska.

The development sits across Hwy. 35, from the new Great River Landing development.

“I think it’s absolutely phenomenal,” Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen said of the Skogens’ project. “I think it will be a boost and catalyst to much greater development along the riverfront. This is a game-changer.”

Barb Skogen said: “This park is not about Dave nor I. It’s about creating an enjoyable space for thousands who will enjoy visiting long after Dave and I leave this earth. It’s also about reviving downtown.”

It is a wonderful gift.

Thumbs-up to the La Crosse Youth Symphony Orchestra for celebrating its 50th anniversary of providing top-flight musical opportunities for young people in our region.

When the LYSO got started, most high schools didn’t have string programs for their young students. Today, most high schools do.

The LYSO and its organizers and board members have provided a great deal of encouragement for young people to perform and enjoy the richness of music.

Thumbs-up the Community Conversation series in La Crosse that has fostered open discussion of critical issues in today’s world, and thumbs-up to Wale Elegbede for his speech last week about the Muslim faith.

Elegbede, of La Crosse, is an American Muslim, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, and a member of the Interfaith Shoulder to Shoulder Network.

He told nearly 100 people gathered at English Lutheran Church: “You can denounce the crimes committed by an individual, but don’t blame or label the majority. There should be no favoritism or discrimination against any religion. Resist the urge to stereotype or scapegoat minorities… La Crosse area Muslims have communicated numerous times that they denounce terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam. We do stand up — we’ve been doing that for awhile.”

Thumbs-up to June Kjome, the 96-year-old La Crosse social-justice activist who has released a new book that shares her wisdom.

As Kjome says, wisdom means more than words.

“It’s a great temptation when you’re older to tell everyone how to do it,” she said. “I don’t think people need advice as much as they need examples.”

The former missionary and nurse helped develop the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity and worked on the YWCA board and became an advocate for gay rights and efforts fight hunger, racism and domestic violence.

Her advice: “Get off your duff and do something. There are many things you can do.”


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