Visiting Western Wisconsin
Bill Long 10/21/07
Prying Open Little Worlds
Whenever I take a trip out of state, I try to add at least one or two days to it so that I can learn about the history of the place or some of the interesting things/people that have lived there. For example, when I went to SC for my autism "summit" on Sept. 22, I decided to spend six days in the American Southeast in order to coax as much knowledge out of the place as I could. I am now extending a two-day foray to the Minneapolis area to gather knowledge of autism treatment therapies to three days by spending one of the three days exploring Western WI. I asked a friend, a native of WI, to tell me a few things about the place. She happily complied, also mentioning that as long as I wore red and white (U of WI) or green and gold (Packers) in the Fall, people would take care of me in WI without asking questions. True to form, I wore a blue shirt and pants today...
Just a Few Things--1. Laura Ingalls Wilder
Even though I had been flying all night (story of my morning "shaving" is here), I had enough energy to spend the day poking around in WI. I learned more about Laura Ingalls Wilder than I previously had known; I learned about the life of James Huff Stout (U of WI-Stout is named after him) by visting the campus in Menomonie, and I learned, by talking to a helpful bartender at the Creamery in tiny Downsville, WI, that U-WI Stout now has one of the only casino management programs in the country. Let this essay just be a brief foray into each topic.
One of my acquaintances when I lived in KS in the early 1990s was a woman whose middle name was Ingalls--she was a distant relative of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Well, I learned today that Wilder, who died at the ripe age of 90 in 1957, lived in most of the North Midwest states in her life, but her birthplace was about seven miles outside of Pepin WI, on the Mississippi River about an hour or so SE of Minneapolis. I didn't realize that Wilder only write her first book (about childhood life in Pepin), Little House in the Big Woods, in 1932, when she was 65. Her first book, describing childhood life as a pioneer on the Plains, was writen in a very simple style and was suited for children that are about three years older than Wilder was at the time of the events described in the book (about 5). I didn't read her when I was young; I suppose the strict separation of "girl stories" and "boy stories" in that sexually-repressed era (the late 1950s, early 1960s in CT) meant that I could only read Hardy Boys books but that if I was caught reading Nancy Drew or the Little House books, I wouldn't have been able to live it down. But sometimes maturity brings freedom, and now I want to see what I missed; I want to catch the vivid and sensual language which this reviewer, for example, says is there. I may not want to "retrace her steps" as she moved from one house to the next; but I do want to capture the way she tells a story and incorporate some of her methods into my speaking and writing.
2. James Huff Stout
When Stout died in December 1910 at the age of 62, the New York Times had a brief obituary notice. One of the things it said was:
"When Mr. Stout came to Menominee (sp!) in 1869, he began considering means of bettering the local school system. He first erected a two-room building to be devoted to manual training and domestic science, and also furnished the teachers for these two new lines of work, assuming all expense. Menominee (sic) thus became probably the first city in the US to have a thoroughly organized course of manual training and domestic science extending fromt he kindergarten through the high school."
Bet you didn't know that. He set up his manual training school in his adopted hometown in 1891, and it provided the nucleus for the only campus in the U of WI system named after an individual. The campus today is of consistent (post-WWII) brick construction, with a good variety of trees on the main green.
3. Casino Management
One of the signs that specialization characterizes our life more and more each year is that now there is a professional development certificate now in program in "gaming management." It is hard to do an online search for the program without getting all kinds of hits for how to manage wildlife. But Dr. Sharon Giroux of that campus has developed four courses, entitled "Gaming Management," "Casino Operations Management," "Psychosocial Issues in Gaming," and "Casino Tourism" which students now can take. When I stoped in at the Downsville Creamery today (Downsville has a population of about 150), trying to get an ice cream sundae (I had to content myself with their delicious vanilla bean ice cream), I had a long talk with the bartender, a young man who was planning on a 'career' with the Marines, until he suffered a rotator cuff injury in his 8th year and then felt like he was shunted aside. Now, he is pursing the gaming management certificate on the way to his B.A., confident of an abilty to land a lucrative job in this rapidly-growing field.
Western WI is one of the more beautiful places I have visited in the country. Though Western WI has no dramatic mountains or breathtaking vistas, there are huge stands of fiery red maples and white pines, rolling hills and roads that hug the terrain perfectly, and a varied-enough scenery that invites you to slow down and listen to it. I tried to heed that invitation today; and I hope you hear the invitations that the world sends out to you to stop and "listen" to it.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long