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La Crosse Tribune Extra Effort ceremony recognizes students for their persistence, achievement and passion
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Viterbo University President Glena Temple delivers her keynote speech Wednesday during the 23rd annual La Crosse Tribune Extra Effort Awards at Viterbo University Fine Arts Center.

From disabilities and diseases, to crippling poverty, to the loss of loved ones, this year’s La Crosse Tribune Extra Effort Award winners have overcome more than a little adversity.

There’s Holmen’s Quin DuCharme, who lived in seven or eight foster homes in less than a year.

There’s G-E-T’s Regan Brawner, who was once homeless and now works nights to afford food and clothes.

And there’s De Soto’s Liam Schaller, who lost his father when he was 2, weathered many turbulent months at home, and came out as transgender when he was 13.

“We get to honor students who have shown persistence and achievement and passion in what they do,” said Viterbo University President Glena Temple, who delivered the keynote at Wednesday’s year-end reception, when the students received their scholarships. “We’ve had some wonderful success stories of Extra Effort winners who have made such a difference on our campus.”

The 23 graduating seniors who were honored Wednesday — and whose stories were shared by the Tribune over the past several months — differ in so many ways.

Some have excelled in their classes, with near flawless GPAs, while others have struggled to scrape by.

Some are exceptional athletes — one, Nick Vollmar, is an all-conference hurdler. Others have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, living in pain.

What they share is an ability to not just handle, but rise above whatever life puts in their path. Nearly all of them have volunteered at their schools and in their communities, even as they were dealing with their own hardships.

“Your compassion and courage will live on for the people you’ve touched,” said Rusty Cunningham, executive editor of the La Crosse Tribune. “Your courage provides us with hope. It inspires all of us to make the extra effort to honor you.”

Viterbo, UW-La Crosse and Western Technical College have sponsored the Extra Effort program for all of its 23 years, providing scholarship support and rotating as hosts of the year-end reception.

In the past few years, tens of thousands of additional scholarship dollars have been awarded because of the generosity of businesses and individuals.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Kiara Updike, the La Crosse Tribune Extra Effort Award winner from Arcadia High School, has her bio read Wednesday by Tribune editor Rusty Cunningham, left, during the annual awards program at Viterbo University. Throughout the evening 23 area students were honored and given scholarships.

Donors include Johns, Flaherty & Collins; the La Crosse Community Foundation through its General Fund, Randy Smith Leadership Fund, Neil P. Hengst Scholarship Fund and Robert and Eleanor Franke Charitable Fund; the Mitchell/Kruck Scholarship, and the American Association of University Women, La Crosse chapter; Trust Point; Fred and Ruth Kurtz of Onalaska; Mary Jo and Shawn Werner, town of Campbell; Jerry Raddatz of Winona, Minn.; Marine Credit Union; and the La Crosse Tribune.

Wednesday was a chance for these soon-to-be graduates to think not just about the past four years, but about a lifetime of perseverance, and the lifetime ahead of them.

Nick Vollmar of West Salem, who pushed through bullying and later the loss of his mother, was the big winner of the night. He received a $24,000 scholarship — $6,000 annually for four years — from Viterbo.

Vollmar plans to study psychology and become a counselor, he said.

“College is a great route to go at least for me and where I want to go in the future,” he said. “I’m going to use that money to get that degree to help others.”

From Tribune files: 2018-19 Extra Effort Award winners
From Tribune files: 2018-19 Extra Effort Award winners

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DNR Secretary closes review of controversial mine permit with no action;

After a nearly year-long review, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has declined to change a judge’s decision to throw out a wetland permit for a controversial Monroe County frac sand operation.

In a decision signed Tuesday, DNR Secretary Preston Cole closed his department’s review without taking any action on a decision by Administrative Law Judge Eric Defort to revoke a permit allowing Meteor Timber to fill 16.25 acres of wetlands for the proposed processing and loading facility.

Cole said the issue would be best resolved by mutual agreement or in the courts, where a parallel case is currently on hold.

Despite finding that the project would result in “permanent and irreversible” impacts and the loss of 13.4 acres of “exceptional quality” imperiled habitat, the DNR granted the Georgia company a permit in May 2017 that included dozens of conditions and questions. The agency issued a final permit five months later with some of those questions unanswered.

Clean Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation challenged the permit, which they said would open the door to the destruction of more rare wetlands.

Defort ruled in May 2018 that the DNR didn’t have all the information required by state law when it issued the permit,

Meteor petitioned then-Secretary Dan Meyer on May 24 to overrule the judge’s decision, saying it contained factual and legal errors. The company also challenged DeFort’s ruling in court, but a Monroe County judge put that case on hold pending the DNR review.

Clean Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk sued, claiming the agency did not have the authority to review itself, but a Monroe County judge dismissed that case.

“We thought any appeals of the ALJ’s ruling should have gone to the courts,” said Evan Feinauer, a staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin. “We’re where we thought we should be, just a little bit later.”

Meteor attorney John Behling did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The case has spanned several years, multiple courts and two administrations as well as a boom and bust cycle for Wisconsin’s frac sand industry, which supplies silica used to extract oil and gas from deep rock formations.

Twice last spring Republican lawmakers in the state Assembly passed legislation that would have allowed Meteor to proceed with the project even while the appeal was pending. Both bills died when the Senate declined to take them up.

As part of its permit application, Meteor proposed to restore and preserve more than 640 acres of other lands near the the 752-acre site, which would serve two nearby mines on land the company acquired when it purchased nearly 50,000 acres of Wisconsin forest.

However, the DNR determined those mitigation efforts “are not likely to fully compensate” for the lost wetlands.

Meteor said the project was the only way to prevent the forest being cut down by the current landowner, who needs money to pay off fines for previous wetland violations.

Barr, Mueller trade barbs as Russia probe rift goes public

WASHINGTON — Private tensions between Justice Department leaders and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team broke into public view in extraordinary fashion Wednesday as Attorney General William Barr pushed back at the special counsel’s “snitty” complaints over his handling of the Trump-Russia investigation report.

Testifying for the first time since releasing Mueller’s report, Barr faced sharp questioning from Senate Democrats who accused him of making misleading comments and seeming at times to be President Donald Trump’s protector as much as the country’s top law enforcement official.

The rift fueled allegations that Barr has spun Mueller’s findings in Trump’s favor and understated the gravity of Trump’s behavior. The dispute is certain to persist, as Democrats push to give Mueller a chance to answer Barr’s testimony with his own later this month.

Barr separately informed the House Judiciary Committee that he would not appear for its scheduled hearing today because of the panel’s insistence that he be questioned by committee lawyers as well as lawmakers. That refusal sets the stage for Barr to possibly be held in contempt of Congress.

At Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee session, Barr spent hours defending his handling of Mueller’s report against complaints from Democrats and the special counsel himself. He said, for instance, that he had been surprised that Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had tried to obstruct justice, and that he had felt compelled to step in with his own judgment that the president committed no crime.

“I’m not really sure of his reasoning,” Barr said of Mueller’s obstruction analysis, which neither accused the president of a crime nor exonerated him. If Mueller felt that shouldn’t make a decision on whether to bring charges, Barr added, “then he shouldn’t have investigated. That was the time to pull up.”

Barr was also perturbed by a private letter Mueller, a longtime friend, sent him last month complaining that the attorney general had not properly portrayed the special counsel’s findings in a four-page letter summarizing the report’s main conclusions. The attorney general called the note “a bit snitty.”

“I said ‘Bob, what’s with the letter? Just pick up the phone and call me if there is an issue,’” Barr said.

The airing of disagreements was all the more striking since the Justice Department leadership and Mueller’s team had appeared unified in approach for most of the two-year investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

The revelation that Mueller, who’d been publicly silent for the entire investigation, was agitated enough to send a letter to Barr — which could, and did, become public — lent his words extra credibility with Democrats, who accused Barr of lying under oath last month when he denied that Mueller’s team was unhappy with how their work had been characterized.

Barr downplayed the special counsel’s complaints, saying they were mostly about process, not substance, while raising a few objections of his own in the other direction. He said that Mueller did not, as requested, identify grand jury material in his report when he submitted it, slowing the public release of the report as the Justice Department worked to black out sensitive information.

“His concern was he wanted more out,” Barr said. He said Mueller did not say that Barr had inaccurately characterized the investigation.

Barr also insisted that once Mueller submitted his report, his work was done and the document became “my baby.”

“It was my decision how and when to make it public,” Barr said. “Not Bob Mueller’s.”

Wednesday’s contentious Senate hearing gave Barr his most extensive opportunity to date to defend recent Justice Department actions, including a press conference before the report’s release and his decision to release a brief summary letter two days after getting the report.

Barr asserted that Trump was “falsely accused” during the investigation and that the president therefore lacked the criminal intent required to commit obstruction.

“I didn’t exonerate. I said that we did not believe that there was sufficient evidence to establish an obstruction offense which is the job of the Justice Department, and the job of the Justice Department is now over,” Barr said.

Democrats, for their part, moved to exploit the daylight between Barr and Mueller to impugn the attorney general’s credibility. Some also called for Barr to resign, or to recuse himself from Justice Department investigations that spun off from Mueller’s probe.

“I think the American public can see quite well that you are biased in this situation and you have not been objective and that would arguably be a conflict of interest,” said Sen. Kamala Harris of California, one of the Democratic contenders for president.

They also pressed him on whether he misled Congress last month when, at an unrelated congressional hearing, he professed ignorance about complaints from the special counsel’s team. Barr suggested he did not lie because he was in touch with Mueller himself and not his team.