Postcard from Switzerland

Immigrants from Switzerland settled in Vernon County near Genoa, where the bluffs along the Mississippi River reminded them of their homeland.

The genealogy class is currently on winter break – it does not meet in December or January. Classes will start up again in February 2019.

Time is running out to participate in this year’s Vernon County Historical Society raffle. Tickets are $5 each, or five for $20. Prizes this year are all cash, with a top prize of $300. The winning tickets will be drawn at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Here at the museum we continue to commemorate the centennial of World War I, shifting gears now to focus on the demobilization of the troops and the world’s attempt to return to normality. After the armistice of Nov. 11 ended the fighting, you might think that everyone was happy for weeks, months even. But I haven’t found that to be true. This was due in part to the fact that soldiers continued to die far from home, often from illness or accident.

One of these soldiers was Leonard John Zogg. Born in Iowa in 1895, he moved at age 13 with his parents and siblings to a farm near Genoa in Vernon County. Leonard’s father was a German-speaking immigrant from Switzerland, and his mother was an immigrant from Germany.

The Zogg family attended St. John’s Evangelical German Lutheran Church in the Town of Genoa. Worship services there were conducted in German until sometime during World War I, when anti-German sentiment was strong and it was no longer safe to speak the language in public.

In February 1918, Leonard married Geneva Bobst. She was a native of Genoa and also came from a German-speaking Swiss-American family. Many families with ties to Switzerland lived in and around Genoa, most of them Swiss-Italian but some Swiss-German. Geneva was no doubt named for the city of Geneva in Switzerland.

The young couple enjoyed five months of married life together, but then Leonard entered military service in July 1918. He trained at Camp Grant, Illinois, until mid-August. Then he left for overseas duty.

In France, Leonard was transferred to Company I of the 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division. His unit marched to the front lines and engaged in battle from late October until the day of the armistice. After peace was declared, Leonard left with his unit to march to Paris, but he became ill along the way. He was sent to the hospital at St.-Dizier, where he died on Nov. 28 or 29 of spinal meningitis, probably related to the flu. He was 24 years old.

Like so many other American soldiers who died in France, Leonard Zogg was first buried in a temporary cemetery there. Then in July of 1921, his body was returned to Wisconsin and re-buried in its final resting place, Walnut Mound Cemetery in Retreat.

And what happened to his wife, Geneva? She gave birth to a baby boy on March 25, 1919, four months after her husband died. Geneva named their son Leonard Wayne Zogg. She herself lived a long life, to the age of 103, but never married again.

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