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Sami and the Rev. Joe Rigelsky

Sami and Joe Rigelsky of Onalaska moved their family of eight children to Haiti for a year to serve as missionaries. The family has returned to Onalaska, but the couple frequently goes back to the Caribbean nation for continued service.

In stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s vulgar derision of Haitians, an Onalaska pastor who moved his family to the Caribbean nation for a year to minister there insists it was “the greatest gift I could have given my eight children.”

The term “sh**hole,” which Trump is alleged to have used in reference to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations, was “for me, just super disheartening,” said the Rev. Joe Rigelsky, who returned home from Haiti on Thursday night and is scheduled to fly Sunday to do mission work in Kenya and Uganda in Africa.

“These are people who love, who have desires, passions and intelligence,” said Rigelsky, who was a pastor at First Free Church, which has congregations in Onalaska and Winona, Minn.

Although Trump denies he used the obscenity during a meeting on immigration proposals, Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois reported that he said, “Why are we having all these people from sh**hole countries come here?”

Among several others at the meeting was U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who declined to confirm the language but did not refute it.

Instead, he issued a statement Friday saying, in part, “Following comments by the president, I said my piece directly to him. I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals.

“The American ideal is embraced by people all over the globe. Diversity has always been our strength, not our weakness. In reforming immigration, we cannot lose these American ideals,” Graham’s statement said.

Back in the Coulee Region, the pastor of a La Crosse church that also has a Haitian Ministry Team also lamented Trump’s scatological statement.

“To me, I would call it extremely unfortunate — and that would be mild,” said First Presbyterian Church Pastor Taylor Haley.

‘Hospitable, caring’

Haley has been to Haiti more than 15 times as part of First Presbyterian’s Haiti Ministry Team.

“I would never describe” the country or its residents that way, Haley said. “They always have been hospitable and caring. I’ve felt safer there than on the South Side of Chicago.”

Expressing similar sentiments was Rigelsky, who moved with his wife, Sami, and their family to Haiti two years ago to do mission work there. The whole family stayed for a year, and Joe and Sami go back periodically.

Joe will return to Haiti after his service in Africa, and Sami will go to Haiti in March with a team of doctors.

Rigelsky, who serves a congregation in New Albin, Iowa, acknowledged that Trump’s coarse reference might have made a point but even that is inappropriate.

“There is some truth to it, which makes it hurt more — criticism with some truth always hurts,” he said. “But for the president not to season his words — even though he flies the banner of political incorrectness for some reason” — is unacceptable.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Haiti, and it’s the whupping child to all the countries,” Rigelsky said, referring to Haiti’s history as a formerly wealthy nation that once provided three-fourths of the world’s sugar.

“It was a genocided island,” he said.

France, which once ruled Haiti, sapped its wealth, as did some actions of the United States that took advantage of the country, he said.

“It is one of the most resilient, independent nations that should be set on a platform instead of being beat up,” he said.

Haitian spirituality, hospitality

When the whole family was there, Rigelsky said, “even my youngest boy passed pity to experience compassion. The moms and dads (foster) spirituality and hospitality with their families.”

Despite Haitians’ lack of physical wealth, “when you see their lives, the reality, it is a place of peace, patience, kindness,” Rigelsky said.

His children learned to build relationships with others and enjoy life without the latest technological toys that American youths demand, he said.

The countries Trump maligned and would halt immigration from also make significant contributions to Coulee Region health care, with many doctors and other professionals at Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare and Gundersen Health System from other countries.

Mayo-Franciscan has “staff from all over the world who care for patients from around the globe,” said Nicki Jo Hager, Mayo Franciscan’s diversity and inclusion administrator.

“We take pride in being a welcoming and inclusive health care system and honor and welcome any and all who want to provide the compassionate, inclusive care to all of our patients,” Hager said.

Global Partners, a service of the Gundersen Medical Foundation, provides extensive services in Yetebon, Ethiopia.

International students also have a significant footprint in local universities, with the rolls at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse including students from the African nations of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow deferred comment on the vulgarities because of the dispute over the president’s precise wording. UW-L is a “global citizen” that welcomes students from all nations, Gow said, adding, “I have a son-in-law who is a Kenyan, and he is a great person.”

The White House also had disputed a New York Times report in December alleging that Trump had said during a meeting in June that Haitians “all have AIDS” and recent immigrants from Nigeria would never “go back to their huts” in Africa.

La Crosse immigrant: Trump builds dams, not bridges

One such Nigerian immigrant is Wale Elegbede of La Crosse, who said, “There is an old Nigerian proverb that states, ‘In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.’”

Elegbede, a Muslim who has lived in La Crosse for nearly 20 years, cast Trump in the role of dam builder.

He said his own values mirror those of the United States, with a father who was a diplomat and treasurer of the Economic Community of West African States, an uncle who headed defense intelligence in the Nigerian Navy and other uncles who served in the Nigerian Army and Air Force.

After coming to La Crosse for school and receiving a bachelor’s degree in information systems Elegbede now is in an MBA program at Viterbo University.

“I received no handouts, no access to financial aid, paid international student tuition, which is extremely expensive, paid taxes, volunteered time in the community, built a software development company, help build bridges with our local police and have been instrumental in the success of local businesses and some of the world’s best companies in Wisconsin and Minnesota,” he said.

Noting that Trump also said the United States should seek immigrants from Norway, Elegbede said, “Perhaps because he wants white immigrants to come and ‘the others,’ to stay away.

“I will focus my energy on building bridges with my fellow Americans from all backgrounds, religion, political party — Democrat, Republican, independent — and social class,” he said.

“Please reach out to immigrants from Africa and Haiti in your community and get to know them. The president can stay in his ivory tower, but we the people will continue to share love, support one another, respect one another, trust one another, not be afraid of one another and excel together,” Elegbede said.



Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(45) comments


Always blows my mind when a God-fearing Trump-Humper lowlife will justify the uncouth behaviour, of a sh__hole so-called ,pretend, president, no matter the atrocity.
"Make America Fornicate Again", in retrospect, made much more sense,
and any foregone conclusion,regarding collusion,with anyone,, is a base hit
Kinda the downside of hiring a no-experience racketeering, jury tampering ,money launderer.
Not really the qualifications.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

johnnybragatti really needs to stop drinkin' the Brawndo.

johnnybragatti's comment was brought to you by Carls Jr.

Proud LAX Dem

What the president stated was terrible. Haiti is a first world country with no crime or corruption. It is a model to the world and I’m sure many people would love to move there.


Sorry, Haiti is kind of particular about who they let in. If you dont come aboard with a fist full of greenbacks, you aren't welcome, as they want no freeloaders. Imagine that.


“Please reach out to immigrants from Africa and Haiti in your community and get to know them. The president can stay in his ivory tower, but we the people will continue to share love, support one another, respect one another, trust one another, not be afraid of one another and excel together,” Elegbede said.
As a Christian, I agree much more strongly with Mr. Elegbede's words than with the president's words. Please know, Mr. Elegbede, that not all Americans are jerks like our president. His sarcastic words and mean actions come from him, not his country.
"And excel together." Yes. Let's work to follow that course, not the president's.


Yes, it will be Shangra-la, baby.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

Why don't YOU reach out to the Somalia immigrants in the twin cities no-go zones or the Muslim no-go zones in Dearborn Michigan? Please reach out and get to know them, they would love to hear of your views of being a Christian.


Sure is sad to see all these posts degenerate people who try to do some good in this world, and turn it around and use it to criticize them. I guess the old adage of "what you say about others doesn't mean much about them but speaks volumes about you" is more true than ever. So these missionaries ask for donations, no one is forcing anyone to give and its not tax money, so you cry baby tea baggers should be happy and thanking them for that. And then the rest of you deplorables refuse to believe what Trump said and want to blame the press for reporting it. Talk about a bunch of brain washed nincompoops! My gawd this country has sank to a new low, even for you knuckle dragging low brow foul mouthed racist bipeds.


I dont know if he said it or not (and neither do you). However, I find the view to be refreshingly honest, regardless. He could have said the same thing about certain parts of the U.S.


I really wish you had done your homework about the Rigelskys before choosing to feature them. This family has over a dozen self-serving GoFundMe/YouCaring campaigns for things including:
- Money to replace Joe's salary since he quit his job
- Money to paint their house so they could sublet while in Haiti
- Multiple solo trips to Haiti for Sami (to visit their alleged "adopted" child who lives away from the family and was never seen during their year long stay)
- Money for their children's homeschool materials while in Haiti
- A vacation and boat rental in Florida prior to leaving for Haiti
- A vacation and new family van for their family after returning from Haiti
- iPads for their children
- All adoption fees required to adopt a child from Russia
Sami also provides PayPal accounts and a PO Box where she asks people to send money to their family with excuses as to why neither her or Joe are able to work. She has had many social media accounts over the years, and while they were in Haiti several of them were filled with complaints about how awful everything was for months on end. When she gets a new whim, she starts a new account.

Please stop giving these grifters a platform to scam your readers out of any more of their hard earned money.


Did you know that the Bible says quite simply that people who do God's work deserve to be paid for it.


GrandpaS: It isn't quite as simple as that. "The Bible says" many things which are often not viewed in the whole context of what is written, and are therefore misappropriated and misused as proof texts to erroneously "prove" something that is not true or not entirely true. We are to live by every word of God, not only some of it. I have heard it said that it is not what we do for God but what He accomplishes in us that will last. It is He who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. The Social Gospel is "another gospel," a distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let every one take heed how they build upon the foundation of Christ. Is it truly God's work or man's work? It shall be tried by fire. As for deserving to be paid for it, in the words of brother Roger Williams (1603-1683), our Lord is "the Great Paymaster." Follow Paul's more excellent example, who preached the gospel without charge, unlike many hirelings.


No homework is involved. The Fibune just serves up the liberal fodder as quickly as they can...why they could all excel at a fast food drive up window.


Thank you, MD. There's more than meets the eye, isn't there, especially at first glance. Or as Paul Harvey used to say, "And that's the rest of the story."

Buggs Raplin

Cougar, regarding Rusty Cunningham. When I ran for the state senate in 2016, Kapanke and Shilling were awarded two guest editorials. I had one. I submitted a letter to the editor towards the end of the campaign, which was rejected because it was past the Tribune's deadline for letters. I appealed to Rusty to print it as my 2nd editorial to match those of Kapanke and Shilling. Rusty considered running it just on-line, but not in the paper. I wanted it in the paper like Dan's and Jen's. Rusty wouldn't do it. To this day, I believe had Rusty allowed my opinion piece to be published, it would have swung enough votes to Kapanke to get him elected. Of course, that's just my opinion, for what it's worth. But I've very little respect for Rusty Cunningham on other matters. The Tribune has become very, very boring except for the comics and the obits. Its featured columnists-Hardie, Vian and Tighe are boring. So very very boring, at least to me. But it is still La Crosse's finest daily newspaper. No doubt about that.-Chip DeNure aka Buggs Raplin


I'm sure the feeling is mutual Buggs between you and Rusty. Running for office to help get someone else elected is a chicken sh*t, underhanded way of running for office. But I wouldn't expect anything else from you.

Buggs Raplin

I did not run for office to get someone else elected. I ran because neither Dan or Jen would respond to me on their position on the north/south corridor in light of the DOT's massive budget deficit. I was overjoyed when Dan came out against the corridor at the Piggie's Restaurant forum, which was NOT covered by the Tribune. I informed the Tribune of this, but they would not do a story on it. At the Viroqua debate, I ran into retired Tribune reporter Joan Kent. I told Joan about the situation. She was perplexed. So was I.


Poor Chippy. Everybody's out to get him.

Buggs Raplin

I think you misinterpreted my comment, but that's something you do quite frequently.

Buggs Raplin

Clarification: I'm not saying Hardie, Vian, and Tighe are bad writers. It's just that most of their topics bore me.


Being a missionary is exhausting.


They have about 10 different sites you can donate to most asking for the same things. Joe has always been a scumbag. Oh and that missionary they are working for? Guess who founded it...


"In stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s vulgar derision of Haitians,..."

A lie from the first sentence. Trump says he did not apply the term the Fibune itself splashed all over its paper to Haiti and other nations. My, my, if Trump didn't say it, but the Fibune did, who is vulgar?

Even if you choose to believe the unattributed quote of Trump, he did not apply the term to the citizens, as in Tighe's "Haitians" above. The quote instead referenced the countries, not the inhabitants. Many of the citizens of those countries would no doubt agree and many officials have been quoted agreeing with what Trump did or did not say.

Two lies within the first clause of the first sentence of an article.

Impressive journalism.


One you get past the crappy so-called journalism, the story of the Rigalsky family is fascinating and hats off to their family.

Maybe a more positive article would detail their adventure, what they saw and did, and how it benefited Haitians.


Really? How much does it cost this family of 10 to go to Haiti and do good? How much better would it be to donate the money to the village instead of being white saviors?


Why was there not such a hubub created when Hillary famously used quite a bit of very foul language, far exceeding the Trump comment (which, by the way, was done in a CLOSED meeting and reported by sleazy Democrat, himself no stranger to low-speak.) Just another case of the double standard.


CJB: You're missing the point. It wasn't the word he used, it was the attitude that that word showed. Trump's implication is that people from S**thole countries are also sh**ty people. The meaning of his words is more obnoxious than that mild cuss word.


You're kind of thin skinned there, sweetheart.


I’m sure many people would love to travel and be helpful like this family, but for the other 99.9999 % of us there’s a little thing like a job that keeps us from doing it. Trumps appeal to me was his ‘tell it like you think it mentality ‘ . Most politicians will tell 10 people 10 different things on the same topic to please all 10.


Excuses, excuses.


When do you leave?


Hoaxer, when will you start doing some good for the community or the world? Sleeping pills and booze would be a good start.


Climatehoax; Do you not know that being a preacher/missionary IS a job? The clergy do that difficult, frustrating, sometimes dangerous work, and then, yes, they get paid for it. They're not leaving their job to do missionary work, they're just doing their work in a different place. Apparently, you've never belonged to a church, or you'd know this.


Jeez, Sneaky Tighe must be suffering from withdrawals. He's up to four, maybe five columns in a row now where he hasn't taken a pot shot at President Trump, but...

Of course, he's relapsed with this "news" story, and his one which calls for a wall along the border between Wisconsin and Illinois so we can keep the flu virus at bay. LOL

Buggs Raplin

Looks like the flu vaccine has been a big failure. But you're absolutely right on Tighe who editorializes in news stories on a regular basis. Gee, the guy has his own weekly column to editorialize. I guess he can't control himself, and his editor lets him get away with it. But the Tribune is still the finest daily newspaper in La Crosse.


Dropped my subscription in 2011 when Fibune coverage became so tainted in covering Walker.

Plus +$1,000 by now.

Buggs Raplin

I'd cancel too except for obits and the comics.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

I am also cancelling my La Crosse Tribune subscription.

When will they ever learn that it is not a good business decision to use a "newspaper" as a propaganda tool to push any political agenda and subject readers to it on a daily basis? The Tribune’s lack of vision and lack of business sense ultimately drives away half of their potential customer base. The soon to be $600.00 a year savings will now be put into the stock market rather than pay to be subjected to what seems to be the daily onslaught of fake news political hit pieces on anything or anyone that does not go along with the progressive agenda.

When I keep seeing the ratios of 4, 5 or 6 leftist opinion hit pieces to the one token moderate opinion piece, along with all the anti-Trump, anti-Walker, anti-Republican articles and political cartoons, then it’s time to cancel the subscription. I encourage anyone else that is also sick of the lack of journalistic integrity and fairness to also drop their subscription. Newspapers should accurately report on the news, not shape it.

Rusty Cunningham once said for the Tea Party to “Drop Dead”, obviously driving home my point of their bias and hatred for freedom and opportunity. When Rusty spoke this, it was just words. Now it is my turn to tell Rusty Cunningham and the Tribune to “Drop Dead” and those are not just words ..... it is money.


Snow Cougar and Redwall: What you have to understand is that news sources reporting dumb or unethical moves by politicians aren't ignoring the news, they're reporting it. Trump says "S**thole countries," the media report it, and what you're reading is the garbage Trump is handing out, not the garbage "the Fibune" is handing out. If a LOT of reporters, journalists and news sources report goof-ups by politicians, that's because there ARE a lot of goof-ups by politicians. If those politicians do something positive, that will get reported, too. (I keep waiting for politicians to do something positive. Either party, I don't care.)


Cougar, the Russian fake news bot, should delete its account on these forums, too.

Buggs Raplin

Another nothing burger, like the Russian collusion thing. Some countries are shitholes. There nothing racist in such a condemnation.


Some people would say begging for money, cars, vacation homes upon return from mission would fit in perfectly with the libtard's mission plan.


Calmone: What on earth are you talking about? Missionaries don't come home and start begging. They come home and go back to work in their local churches. Your statement is just plain dumb.


Yea, OK GrandpaS. Tell me what work these grifters are coming back to. Tell me what work these grifters do at all? Oh, I'm sorry. I guess they do begging for money to fund their grifting lifestyle. Why work, people like you will fund their needs. Missionaries indeed.


More defense of the pig who grabs women by the p*ssy and pays off pron stars to keep their mouths shut about his extramarital affairs. "Fine people," I'm sure.

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