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Healthy Hut yoga and wellness center in downtown La Crosse lets kids flex their limbs and have fun
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

From left, Olivia Casper, 7, Ella Johnson, 5, and Emmett Webber, 5, participate in an all-kids yoga class at the Healthy Hut at 444 Main St. in downtown La Crosse.

At the Healthy Hut, everyone gets bendy. Even the babies.

Individuals from six weeks old to 60 years young will find a class catered to them at the yoga, fitness and nutrition center, which opened Nov. 1 at 444 Main St. Owned and operated by Angela Albert, 54, of town of Greenfield, the studio is located next door to the Yoga Place, where Albert rediscovered the joy of fitness 17 years ago.

An early childhood education teacher of 20 years, whose employers included the YWCA Child Center and Head Start, Albert became focused on health and nutrition after the birth of her first child in 1992. But “life got busy” over the years, Albert says, and her commitment wavered at times as she juggled work and parenting. Once her two children were grown up and out of the house, she put the focus back on her own health.

Albert, who was 50 pounds heavier and suffering residual pain from two car accidents when she began practicing yoga in 2002, insists the activity is for everyone — young or old, physically fit or out of shape, sturdy or slim, pre- or postnatal.

A certified health coach and yoga instructor, personal trainer, breastfeeding counselor and childbirth educator, Albert leads Mommy and Me, toddler, youth and adult classes at the Healthy Hut, as well as teaching natural childbirth classes, hosting local mom groups in her facility and offering nutritional guidance.

“It really is a Pandora’s box once you get started,” Albert said of the health field. “You can really dive in to so many aspects of it.”

Providing a supportive and holistic environment for parents, as well as offering a healthy outlet for kids, were Albert’s priorities in opening her own studio.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Angie Albert, who owns and operates the Healthy Hut, a yoga and wellness center, reads from “My Daddy is a Pretzel” during a children’s yoga class.

Classes for pregnant mothers focus on relieving stress, decreasing blood pressure and strengthening the muscles utilized in childbirth, and new moms can enjoy bonding time with their little ones during postnatal classes, which include solo movements for mom and partner stretches with baby. Gentle bending of the knees, back circles and light bouncing at the waist can help infants with everything from gas and constipation to loosening tension in the hips, Albert says.

Yoga Tots classes are geared toward toddlers 18 months to 2 years old, taken either independently or with a parent at their side and interspersed with songs and jumping around. Kids up to age 10 can take part in Little Yogi’s sessions, where dance moves, games and even crafts round out a session.

“It’s not the same class as with adults,” Albert notes. “We blend it all together so they’re not getting bored with any one thing.”

With an indoor tower garden in the corner of her mirror- and window-lined studio, Albert folds nutrition lessons into youth yoga classes, with kids prone to plucking off leaves of kale and collard greens to munch on after class.

Albert finds the classes, which conclude with deep breathing, are particularly beneficial to children with attention deficit disorder or those on the autism spectrum, each session complementing bursts of energy with a calm breathing cool-down.

For youth in general, yoga is a great way to get them away from screens without the pressure and regimentation of a traditional sport, she says, and can help instill emotional and physical balance, body awareness and self esteem.

Albert coordinates with the neighboring Yoga Place to hold her youth classes simultaneously with their adult sessions, so parents can exercise while their kids are occupied nearby. Albert also leads sessions at local daycares.

“Our daughter attends some great Healthy Hut yoga activities,” says Angie Johnson, mom to 5 year old Ella. “She loves the craft and game times too. It is great to have a trustworthy place for her to go on her own.”

In the future, Albert hopes to offer high intensity interval training sessions in the morning and classes geared towards seniors. She has previously led Prime Time and chair yoga classes for the aging population.

In the nearly three months since the studio opened, Albert has introduced more than 200 youngsters to the joy of yoga, which in turn brings her joy.

“My love for fitness and health and children really merged together and I found what I love,” Albert said. “And you know the kids love it too when they walk in and say, ‘Yoga!’ They don’t know my name — they just call me ‘Yoga.’”

For more information on the Healthy Hut, including class schedules and costs, visit the business' Facebook page or call 608-386-3674.


'It was pure survival': One Minnesota man fights despair, frostbite in the polar vortex

MINNEAPOLIS — As the temperatures plummeted, Jay Mitchell huddled in his truck thinking he would die in the relentless cold.

He’d spent the past three weeks living in his vehicle. Cancer killed his wife a month earlier and he lost the month-to-month lease on his home in Randall, Minn. He had nowhere to go because he refused to give up his 10-year-old dog.

“He’s all I have left in the world,” Mitchell said from his hospital bed in the burn unit at Hennepin County Medical Center. “All my other family is in the ground.”

Mitchell, 57, and his dog, Hero, moved into his ‘94, single-bench-seat pickup truck Jan. 2. He’d spent his meager savings to bury his wife, Kathy.

“I wanted to make sure her funeral was dignified,” he said.

He had taken care of her for two years and knew her death was inevitable. And yet, it seemed unfathomable that he would have to live on without her after 27 years of marriage.

“We had a love that a lot of people hope to find,” he said.

Grieving the love of his life, who “disintegrated before my eyes,” his sorrow soon was subsumed by a fight to stay alive.

He and Hero buried themselves under a pile of blankets in the truck, sleeping an hour at a time, turning on the engine every so often to gain some precious heat.

“It was pure survival, an hour at a time,” said Mitchell, who spent years working construction and odd jobs as a handyman. They moved from one Walmart parking lot to another, parking in the sun during the day, trying to stay out of harm’s way at night.

He felt desperation, solitude and fear, Mitchell said. “But the worst was not having hope.”

Mitchell drove by the Humane Society twice, figuring it was time to give up Hero and find shelter for himself. “But I couldn’t do it,” he said, anguish cutting into his words. He and his wife had a pact, pinkie-swearing never to leave each other behind. That’s why he never left her side as cancer ravaged her body, he said. And it’s why he refused to give up Hero, “who’s like my son,” Mitchell said.

He had to survive the elements until his Social Security check came Feb. 1. But eventually, the unforgiving cold pushed him to ask for help from people at a church. They offered to pay for a room at a Motel 6 for a week.

Within two hours of checking into the motel, Mitchell began to feel warm again. And then he felt the pain. Horrible blisters swelled up on his feet.

He had no idea his feet had gotten frostbite. “I hadn’t been warm for days,” he said. “My feet were cold but they weren’t in agonizing pain. They were just numb.”

Fifteen minutes after arriving at North Memorial Health Center, Mitchell was whisked away by ambulance to HCMC’s burn unit, where he was treated for severe frostbite.

Doctors there treated his injuries, which included restoring blood flow to his feet with the help of a drug — tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

It’s a waiting game to determine whether the tissue will heal or if amputation is needed, said Dr. Ryan Fey, the hospital’s burn center director.

But Mitchell couldn’t wait. He insisted on getting back to Hero, a black lab-golden retriever mix. He left HCMC on Saturday against medical advice, promising to return once he found a place for Hero.

Days passed and the pain became unbearable. He couldn’t stand, and his feet were discolored, blistered and swollen.

When he woke up at 3 a.m. Wednesday, he didn’t think he could go on. “What am I going to do, Lord?” he prayed. “I think I’m dying.”

When the phone rang at 9 a.m., hope arrived. A hospital case worker had found a temporary home for Hero. He returned to HCMC, his calves red and swollen from infection.

“He’s responding to antibiotics,” Fey said. But there’s a chance doctors might have to amputate one or both feet.

In cases of severe frostbite, doctors have had “pretty good” luck salvaging tissue with the use of tPA, Fey said. The key is getting treatment within a few hours after the body warms up, he explained.

That’s the message Mitchell wants people to hear — seek treatment immediately.

“Don’t take it for granted,” he said. “It almost cost me my life.”


Patrick Semansky 

New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (87) catches a pass in front of Los Angeles Rams' Cory Littleton (58) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)


breakingtopicaltop story
How Wisconsin's treasurer is rebuilding an office her predecessor campaigned to eliminate

MADISON — There is no Wi-Fi in the windowless basement office that state treasurer Sarah Godlewski occupies, so she relies on her own personal hotspot.

Shortly after taking office Jan. 7, Godlewski negotiated for a small supply closet in the basement’s Capitol that she says she will use as her conference room.

And the office’s budget isn’t enough for a smartphone. Instead, Godlewski is equipped with two pay-as-you-go mobile flip phones to conduct the state’s financial business when she’s away from her desk. Each minute costs two cents.

If these are hints for how much work is expected out of the state treasurer’s office, the irony is not lost on Godlewski, who led an effort to preserve the office during last year’s referendum to eliminate it.

“While they have tried maybe everything to tie my hands to not be effective, I’m not going to let that stop me,” she said. “When people thought I was going to go save this office, they thought I was crazy. They said ‘Why would you do that? It’s a done deal. We’re going to remove this office.’”

On April 3, 62 percent of Wisconsin voters decided the office was worth keeping ending a years-long debate about the utility of an office many in state government see as ceremonial.

A few days later, Godlewski announced her campaign for state treasurer.

A six-month campaign and 30,000 miles clocked on her car, Godlewski found herself in a hotel elevator on election night when she got the call: She had won.

Despite the voter mandate last spring, the 37-year-old Eau Claire native faces an uphill battle in restoring an office that’s been written off as obsolete.

Rep. Mike Schraa, R-Oshkosh, who sponsored the resolution to put the amendment to voters and expected it to be eliminated, said he doesn’t foresee the office expanding.

“There is zero appetite in the Legislature to restore any duties to that office,” he said in an interview. “It just isn’t going to happen.”

Antiquated relic

Godlewski compared her first day in office to a movie scene where the protagonist walks through the woods, comes across a cabin and steps inside a living area coated with dust and debris.

“This cabin is beautiful and has a lot to offer, but it’s been neglected for a while,” she said.

Godlewski’s predecessor, Republican Matt Adamczyk, and many state lawmakers from both parties say the office no longer serves a purpose.

The only constitutional duty remaining for the treasurer is serving on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which manages a $1.1 billion endowment that provided about $36 million to school libraries in 2018.

Adamczyk did not return calls for comment, but has previously said the responsibility serving on the board “literally consists of two 15-minute phone calls per month.”

Elected in 2015, he ran for the position on the platform of eliminating it. He whittled staff down until he was the only one left.

The office’s budget shrunk from $544,800 in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 to $113,500 in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

He called the changes a “symbolic victory for smaller government.”

Taxpayer savings

In most states, the treasurer holds considerable power, according to National Association of State Treasurers executive director Shaun Snyder. Aside from Wisconsin, he said he was unfamiliar with other states shifting substantial powers away from elected treasurers to agencies controlled by the governor’s office.

But that’s what has happened to the treasurer’s office in Wisconsin starting in the mid-1990s.

In 2003, nearly all of the office’s cash management functions were transferred to the Department of Administration. The College Savings Program and the College Tuition Prepayment Program, known as EdVest, were transferred to DOA in 2011. And in 2013, the treasurer’s job of running the Unclaimed Property Program went to the Department of Revenue.

Schraa said the Unclaimed Property Program is administered more efficiently by that agency because it has access to certain personal data on state residents that the treasurer lacks.

The treasurer’s office has not been funded with general purpose revenue since 1995, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. It’s run with program revenue associated with the Unclaimed Property Program, which the treasurer plays a role in promoting.

Godlewski hopes to maximize returns on the investment portfolios she helps manage. She also said there should be a more rigorous valuation of assets in the Unclaimed Property Program.

More oversight could lead to more program revenue, she said, which could go toward expanding her office.

Eliminating the treasurer’s staff who oversaw those programs also doesn’t necessarily save money in salaries, she argued, because those jobs are still there, just in departments overseen by political appointees instead of elected officials.

“I’m a believer that more elected officials are a good thing,” said Cate Zueske, a Republican who served as state treasurer from 1991 to 1995 and also as deputy secretary at the Department of Administration from 2015 to 2018. “It brings the responsibility and accountability directly to the voters.”

Spokespeople for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said expanding the treasurer’s powers is not a priority.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Tony Evers did not answer questions on whether or not Evers would like more powers restored to the treasurer’s office and whether more money would be allocated to the office in the 2019-21 biennium.

“People clearly believe in the value of the state treasurer’s office and they’ve placed their trust in Sarah Godlewski,” spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in a statement. “The governor’s office looks forward to working with her.”

Even Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, who introduced a bill last year that would have transferred some powers back to the treasurer, said he was not planning to reintroduce legislation at this time.

Resurrecting ignored duties

One of Godlewski’s first actions as treasurer-elect was requesting the Legislative Reference Bureau produce a memo listing what responsibilities she is assigned to by law. The nonpartisan office came back with 16 powers she still retains.

Some duties require extraordinary circumstances — such as serving as governor if the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state cannot.

Other responsibilities are ones Godlewski says have been ignored for years.

She was surprised to learn the treasurer has the authority to host conferences training county and municipal clerks and treasurers.

Zueske said her office led annual conferences for clerks and treasurers. The feedback from them was to continue that type of support, she said.

Godlewski hopes to resurrect the training and focus on data security, an area several reports by the Legislative Audit Bureau have identified as something that could be strengthened.

She also plans to look at the policies related to her check-signing authority, especially those involving third-party vendors.

“The executive office, they tax you, they tell you how they will spend your money when they write the budget, they actually spend your money and then they account for it,” Godlewski said. “You should never have those four functions under the same room. That’s a huge violation of internal controls.”

As signs of mismanagement, she points to a $600,000 overpayment from the state’s Medicaid program and a more than $400,000 double payment to a contractor working with the Department of Transportation.

Last fall before leaving office Adamczyk requested $116,700 for the office per year over the next biennium. Godlewski submitted her own budget plan and requested additional staff that she says she needs to meet the immediate needs of the office. She declined, however, to say how much she has requested.

“We’re scrappy, you know?” said Godlewski’s chief of staff, Sarah Smith.

The current budget isn’t enough money to hire a full-time aide. Smith’s salary is funded through a grant Godlewski got that lasts through April.

‘Crazy ideas’

Godlewski’s path to the basement of the Capitol started in 2017 when she fell down a research rabbit hole.

Godlewski and her husband, Max Duckworth, were running MaSa Partners, an investment venture that provides financial and human capital to “early-stage, socially responsible companies that are changing the world.”

She was stunned to learn Wisconsin ranked 50th in the country for start-up investments. Google led her to a program run by Rhode Island’s state treasurer that helps small businesses get access to capital.

“I’ll talk to our state treasurer and maybe help him on that,” she said she remembers thinking.

Then she learned Adamczyk wanted the office eliminated.

So she called the National Association of State Treasurers to gather more research and received an invitation to one of their conferences that year.

Listening to treasurers share what their offices were up to at the 2017 conference, Godlewski said she “realized how far behind Wisconsin had fallen.”

The Massachusetts treasurer set up an economic empowerment division to address the state’s wage gap. Oregon’s treasurer set up a retirement plan covering private sector workers who do not otherwise have access to a savings plan in their workplace.

“These are critical problems in the 21st century and state treasurers are tackling that,” she said.

Godlewski said she is looking into universal child savings accounts and financial literacy programs to be offered during life milestones, such as when a couple gets married or when a child is born.

AMBER ARNOLD, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Newly minted State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski is trying to rebuild the office after her predecessor tried to eliminate it. On her desk in the Capitol basement is a sign that reads: "Trust your crazy ideas."

“I am not bored, if anyone asks,” she said on a January day about two weeks into her first elected job.

Godlewski keeps her office door open as much as possible, sending a message to people that she’s available. She even had her name and office printed on both sides of the door, so that no matter if it’s propped open or shut, people know where she can be found.

Secretary of State Doug La Follette, whose office is next to hers in the basement, said he cannot remember a time when Adamczyk’s door was ever left open and said Godlewski’s approach is refreshing.

Eager to start working, Godlewski waves off critics who have relegated her as a figurehead the next four years.

A sign hanging to the left of her desk reads: “Trust your crazy ideas.”