Telling stories of the flood

During a recent story workshop, Judy Mixter and her granddaughter, Jennifer Guinn, of Coon Valley described how Coon Creek rose in the night and rushed around Mixter’s house. Their story has been collected by Driftless Writing Center as part of the Stories from the Flood project.

A project to collect hundreds of stories from those who experienced last year’s flooding is underway in Vernon and Crawford counties. Stories from the Flood, organized by the Driftless Writing Center, invites residents to share their experiences in written, audio, or video form.

During a recent story workshop, Judy Mixter and her granddaughter, Jennifer Guinn, of Coon Valley described how Coon Creek rose in the night and rushed around Mixter’s house. After floodwaters caused one of their basement walls to collapse, she and her husband called for help. A city tractor with a loader came to rescue them. Later, she said, numerous individuals and organizations helped them with food, cleanup, and replacing necessities such as their furnace. Mixter felt overwhelmed and humbled by everyone’s generosity.

DWC board member Tamara Dean says, “We’ve heard from people who lost everything, from EMS personnel who spent the night evacuating a village, and from neighbors who donated their time and resources after the water went down. Together, these stories show how strong our communities are.”

With the storyteller’s consent, DWC will transcribe and digitize the stories. The stories will become part of an archive housed at the Vernon County Historical Society and area libraries. They will also contribute to a findings report that DWC will distribute to local, state, and national policymakers and media.

Dean added, “We’ve also heard from people who are frustrated about some of the bureaucracy that’s followed the recovery efforts. We hope the information we gather can help inform elected officials at all levels about ways to improve flood responses.”

To cap off the project, DWC will publish a book of photos and narratives about the flood and its effects. Books will be available at libraries and historical societies. In addition, public presentations will bring these stories to the wider community.

DWC has already hosted some story workshops at public libraries in Coon Valley, La Farge, and Viroqua and will hold at least two in each flood-affected village in the Kickapoo River and Coon Creek watersheds. Anyone with a story to tell about the 2018 flooding is welcome to attend. Upcoming workshops will take place at:

  • Westby’s Bekkum Library on Wednesday, May 1, 5-7 p.m. and on Friday, May 3, 2-4 p.m.
  • Wilton Public Library on Monday, May 6, 2-4 p.m. and Wednesday, May 8, 2-4 p.m.
  • Soldiers Grove Public Library on Tuesday, May 7, 5-7 p.m. and Thursday, May 9, 5-7 p.m.
  • Coon Valley’s Knutson Library on Tuesday, May 14, 6-8 p.m.
  • Ontario Public Library on Wednesday, May 15, 2-4 p.m. and Tuesday, May 21, 6-8 p.m.
  • Viola Public Library on Wednesday, May 22, 5-7 p.m. and on Thursday, May 23, 10 a.m. - noon.

More workshops are being added. Dates, times, and locations for storytelling opportunities are posted online at www.wisconsinfloodstories.org and on DWC’s Facebook page. Those interested in sharing their stories can also submit a story online at www.wisconsinfloodstories.org or schedule a one-on-one interview by contacting DWC by phone at 608-492-1669 or by email at driftlesswritingcenter@gmail.com.

Stories from the Flood is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. This grant will help with story collection, transcription, digitizing, and archiving. DWC is seeking additional support from individuals and businesses to complete the project.

The Driftless Writing Center is a nonprofit organization that connects writers, readers, and audiences through workshops, discussions, and public performances. It celebrates the unique culture of the Driftless region and seeks to enhance the creative expression of the people who live here.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.

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