CRAWFORD COUNTY - Every year, the Crawford County Community Fund honors some very special local residents for their efforts with the ‘Excellence in Leadership Awards.’
This year’s announcement of the award recipients occurred on Thursday, April 28 in the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center.
The ceremony was hosted by CCCF Chairperson Jane Holzhauer, and CCCF Board Member Pete Flesch. Carol Roth, the Executive Director of Driftless Development, was the guest speaker.
CCCF Chairperson Holzhauer noted in her opening comments that the awards were created to support amazing people and their accomplishments.
One of the amazing people honored at the ceremony for their work was Kelsey Kleven, who received the CCCF Educational Leadership Award. Kleven, a teacher in the Prairie du Chien School District, worked hard to create an autistic custom curriculum to address the needs of those students.
One person described Kleven as an energetic person with a special caring for children with special needs.
Julie De Hart
Another amazing person, receiving an award last Thursday night, was Julie DeHart, who received the CCCF Outstanding Youth Leadership Award. De Hart is the President of the Prairie United Soccer Association. Although it’s a prestigious title, what it really means is putting in hundreds of hours without any compensation.
DeHart’s passion is making soccer available to anyone who wants to play regardless of their ability or experience.
After 11 seasons, the experienced coach, now a certified referee, remembered how it all started.
DeHart’s long journey into soccer began on the second day of practice for her eight-year-old son, when the coach did not show up. DeHart had no soccer experience at the time.
Now she seeks to make a safe and fun environment inclusive to all kids in the county. She emphasized the program accepts children at all levels and accommodates children with physical and behavioral disabilities.
“It has really been an honor to mentor hundreds of youth,” Dehart said.
This year’s recipient of the CCCF Tourism Award was the Crawford County Dairy Breakfast.
Longtime dairy booster Mary Jo Johnsrude was on hand to accept the award with her husband Steve and Paulette and Jody Riley.
Mary Jo started her acceptance speech with a joke.
“Why are cows so cool?” she asked. “Because they can turn salad into ice cream.”
Johnsrude noted that this year’s Crawford County Dairy Breakfast is scheduled for Saturday, June 4 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Nolan Farm in Eastman. Joining Mary Jo in receiving the award were husband Steve Johnsrude and Paulette and Jody Riley.
Friends of Gays Mills
The CCCF Leadership & Service Award went to the Friends of the Gays Mills Swimming Pool for their effort to raise funds to repair and improve the village-owned pool.
On hand to accept the award for the group were Amanda Knutson, Tara Heisz and Larry McCarn. It was noted that the organization has morphed into the Friends of Gays Mills, as it takes on more projects to benefit the village.
Other recent Friends of Gays Mills projects include the Halloween program and Holiday Lights in Robb Park.
However, it was the pool, and its possible shut down, that first motivated the group to form. The group raised $100,000 to repair cracks in the pool, repaint it and add stairs, among other things.
Deb and Artie Johnson
This year, the CCCF Above & Beyond Award went to some deserving local community leaders, Artie and Debbie Johnson, the owners of Johnson’s One Stop in Seneca.
Although the Johnsons were travelling and unable to attend the ceremony on Thursday, plenty was said on their behalf that really showed they often go above and beyond to help the community.
“The Johnsons never hesitate to help,” Pete Flesch stated in presenting the award. “When the floods hit Gays Mills, they loaded up the truck and took supplies down to those who needed them.”
Johnson’s also constantly hosts brat sales for charitable causes outside their store on Highway 27 in Seneca.
“The pride they have in Seneca shows through,” Flesch said.
Gene and Mary Krachey
The CCCF Business Development Award was given to Gerry and Mary Krachey of L&M’s BP in Wauzeka. Although the Kracheys have run the popular gas station-convenience store for many years, lately they have begun to change their store.
With the closure of Stuckey’s, the small grocery store in Wauzeka, the Kracheys have begun to bring in more of the grocery store line. Mary Krachey noted that closing grocery stores are evident in rural communities everywhere.
In addition to groceries, the Kracheys are also looking at bringing in meat to increase what’s available in the village.
The Crawford County Community Fund Excellence in Leadership Awards are presented under the auspices of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.
The CCCF Awards Ceremony ended with a presentation by Driftless Development Executive Director Carol Roth.
Driftless Development Inc is the result of merger of Prairie du Chien Economic Development with Crawford County Economic Development, according to Roth. She noted that the Driftless Development Board of Directors comes from all over the county, including Mt. Sterling, Gays Mills, Wauzeka, Prairie du Chien and Soldiers Grove.
Roth said that the listening sessions held around the county a few years back identified some of the county’s greatest needs.
At the top of the list of what needs to be done in the county, according to those attending those sessions, was getting more younger workers into the workforce and increasing the availability of affordable housing. Other identified concerns and needed improvements included: improving the perception of area schools, increasing the availability of countywide broadband and revitalizing main streets and downtowns.
Roth said her marching orders were to explain what Driftless Development Inc actually does and what economic development is.
“Nobody knows what Driftless Development is,” Roth said.
The executive director of Driftless Development used the progress of the Sweet Tooth in Prairie du Chien, as an example. The store began in a tiny little space next to the existing store. It eventually enlarged into the space next door, and then moved across the street to an even bigger location all with the help of Driftless Development.
Other examples of business expansion with assistance from Driftless Development include the Tobacco Warehouse & Inn, and the Driftless Brewery in Soldiers Grove, as well as the Red Clover Ranch on County X.
A major success in Prairie du Chien has been the barbershop started by a Macedonian immigrant, which will open in a larger space this fall and hire another employee.
Roth cited Driftless Gems LLC and Café Hope in Prairie du Chien, and the revived Sportsman’s Inn in Ferryville, as more successes assisted by Driftless Development.
Bounce Back grants
Lots of the businesses assisted used Bounce Back Grants coordinated through the Wisconsin Economic Development Commission to move forward, according to Roth.
One of the biggest projects being planned now is the former shopping center known as Blackhawk Junction in Prairie du Chien. When completed, the project to be known as Prairie Bluff Court will include 92 townhouses and four acres of new retail businesses.
Another project with which Driftless Development is involved is an apprenticeship program. It starts, while students are in high school. It allows the county to grow its own workforce.
“It teaches them a skill that they can use to be employed in the county,” Roth said.Roth closed with noting that the 350-year anniversary of Marquette and Joliet’s discovering the navigable waters of the Wisconsin River and the Mississippi River will be celebrated in the upcoming year–2023.