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Crawford County Leadership honored at annual ceremony
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THE 2019 CRAWFORD COUNTY Excellence in Leadership Award Winners included, from left, Kathy Quamme, Grace Corlis, Michael Varnes-Epstein, Scott Noe, Cynthia Olmstead, Chris Balistrieri, Rob Ghormley, Harry Heisz, Ellen Brooks and Brad Niemcek.

CRAWFORD COUNTY - Sometimes in a world that can seem increasingly negative and impersonal, it’s good to feel those positive vibrations again. The latest outbreak of positive vibrations  occurred last Thursday night at Crossing Rivers Healthcare in Prairie du Chien–you should have been there!

The occasion was the Crawford County Leadership Awards and the good feelings in the room were palpable. The recipients ranged from an 18-year-old high school student working to make education better for those who would follow her, to a retiring social worker who spent the last dozen years trying to improve the lives of young people interacting with the criminal justice system, to a group of entrepreneurs well on their way to building a successful business in Soldiers Grove, to a person who has spent years serving as the unpaid director of a shared-use kitchen helping others start food businesses, to the all-time, all-around local volunteer, to the high school English teacher who produced lots of highly successful high school plays over the last 25 years, and finally to the Village of Gays Mills for producing their annual Apple Festival celebration. Wherever you looked, the room was filled with people who make the community and the world a better place to live.

The program for the awards was straightforward. The emcee for the evening was former Gays Mills Village President Craig Anderson. He announced the category and this year’s recipient and gave brief synopsis of their work. Those being honored were given a plaque and took to the podium to say a few words and in some cases choke up on a few tears. It was simple and it was beautiful.

The program started on a great note when North Crawford senior Grace Corlis was called to receive the Outstanding Youth Leadership Award.

This year, Corlis decided establishing an FFA Chapter at North Crawford High School would  be her individual project for the National Honor Society of which she is a member. She quickly found out that a school must have an agriculture program to have an FFA Chapter. The school had dropped its ag program years before.

Corliss approached John Gibbs, the retired North Crawford ag instructor, learned about the ag program and got some encouragement for her project.

Corliss did the research and made a solo presentation to the school board about the value of starting an ag program. Following the presentation, the board agreed and decided to reintroduce the ag program and add a half-time instructor.

Before her presentation to the school board in a conversation with John Gibbs, Grace Corlis made a significant statement.

“I’m not going to benefit from this program, but many others will,” Grace said at the time.

When Craig Anderson repeated those words at the ceremony last Thursday you could just about feel something run through your body. Who talks like that anymore? 

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” President John Kennedy said  at his inauguration in 1961.

Corliss received the award and hurried off to her duties down the road at Badger Camp. It set the mood for the evening.

The Business Development Award went to the Driftless Brewing Company from Soldiers Gove. 

“Their hard work, grit and passion for excellence and above all love for their craft is what sets them apart,” Anderson said of the Driftless Brewery Group. 

In her remarks accepting the award, Driftless Brewery’s business manager Cynthia Olmstead acknowledged the support the company had received from the Village of Soldiers Grove and from the local community.

The Outstanding Educator Award went to Rob Ghormley the longtime director of the North Crawford Playhouse, who has decided to step away from the position after many years. Rob will continue to teach English at the school.

Ghormley emotionally described what led him to become a teacher and ultimately the director of a highly successful theater program. Among other things, not being good at sports and always being chosen last for any team, led the young Ghormley to explore things like music, art and building models.

The theater program is an opportunity for students that may not find other activities suitable, Ghormley explained.

“An awful lot of kids don’t fit in,” he noted. “It’s a place for the underdogs and misfits to get to do something real and important.”

The director thanked the Crawford County Community Foundation for the award and the local community for all of the support the North Crawford playhouse had received.

The Tourism Award went the Village of Gays Mills and the Apple Festival Committee for the production of the annual Apple Festival for the past 60 years.

In introducing the award, Craig Anderson adapted the African proverb that begins with “it takes a village…”

“It takes a village to plan, organize, promote, implement and host Apple Fest,” Anderson said.

Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz humbly accepted the award on behalf of the village. He gave a hint to the work that goes into the annual event every year, when he noted that the festival committee started the planning process for the following year just three weeks after Apple Fest.

The Community Leadership & Service Award went to Kathy Quamme, who is retiring as the Juvenile Court Worker for Crawford County. 

Quamme a social worker has spent the past 15 years helping juveniles find alternatives in the justice system. She’s helped kids get second and in some cases third chances.

Quamme has been a member of the Children’s Advisory Board, she helped found the Teen Court, where teens are judged by their peers. The dedicated social worker also helped to create Girl Power, an organization designed to empower young girls to develop self-confidence. She also helped created PALS, a school-based mentor program matching high school students to younger students to act as role models.

When she met Grace Corlis at the ceremony Thursday, she recognized her but couldn’t place her.

“I think I should know you,” Karen said to Grace. “Do I now you?”

“Yes, I’m a PAL,” Corlis said.

Quamme’s nominator may have put it best, according to Anderson.

“It is really hard to define where Kathy’s job starts and ends, as she is so dedicated to the youth in our community,” the nominator wrote.

The Above and Beyond Award went to two well-known community boosters from the Gays Mills area.

Ellen Brooks volunteers for a host of local groups. She was instrumental in founding the Kickapoo Cultural Exchange. She serves on the board of the Crawford Stewardship Project. She is also active in the Quaker community and serves on the Crawford County Human Services Board. Additionally, Brooks has been active in the Ridge and Valley Restorative Justice program.

In accepting the award, she thanked her life partner and husband Dave Hackett for all the home things he does that allows her to volunteer as much as she does,

The other Above and Beyond Award recipient was Brad Niemcek, who has served as the unpaid manager of the shared-use kitchen in Gays Mills, known as the Kickapoo Culinary Center. The kitchen has allowed lots of the food production to take place at the rented facility. In so doing, it has helped four small entrepreneurial operations to be established. 

In addition to the Kickapoo Culinary Center, Niemcek has served as co-chairperson of the Gays Mills Stump Dodger Trail, a multi-use trail in Gays Mills that was created in the last coupe of years.

Niemcek will step down from his manager role at the Kickapoo Culinary Center and can be proud of what he has helped to establish in the past few years at both the shared-use kitchen and on the recreational trail.

The meeting ended with  a brief presentation by UW-LaCrosse Political Science Professor Tim Dale. Appropriate for the night’s ceremony, Dale discussed the need for community participation for democracy to succeed.

It was an uplifting experience to be among so many people working to make Crawford County a better place to live–positive vibrations indeed.