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‘Stories from the Flood’ event planned at Kickapoo Valley Reserve
Fortney Farm in the 2018 flood
STEVE FORTNEY’S farm in rural Soldiers Grove was severely impacted by the historic August 2018 flood. His story, along with countless others, will be told at a ‘Stories from the Flood’ event planned for the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

DRIFTLESS REGION - The Driftless Writing Center (DWC) announces a gathering to honor those who endured last year’s record-breaking floods and recognize the strength of area communities.

The Driftless Writing Center, its partners, storytellers, and members of the public will gather on Thursday, November 7, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Visitor Center S3661 WI-131, in La Farge. 

Light refreshments will be served and everyone will be encouraged to share stories. Among the speakers will be local historian Brad Steinmetz talking about the history of flooding and the importance of oral history. 

Dr. Caroline Gottschalk-Druschke will talk about what the future might hold for our watershed. A bound booklet of narrative excerpts and images collected during the ‘Stories from the Flood’ project will be available to attendees. The booklet and event are intended to reflect the stories collected during the course of this project and to preserve those meaningful expressions of pain, strength, thankfulness, and resilience. 

“We wanted to do more than mop floors and haul away trash. We believe that storytelling heals, and what our group does best is help people tell stories,” said Tamara Dean, who spearheaded the project for the Driftless Writing Center, a non-profit headquartered in Viroqua.

Volunteers affiliated with the local nonprofit have been working since April to collect personal stories from hundreds of individuals who were affected by the floods of August 2018 in the Coon Creek and Kickapoo River watersheds. ‘Stories from the Flood’ aims to contribute to healing, preserve history, and help our communities plan for the future. Project partners include the Winding Rivers Library System, Southwest Wisconsin Library System, Vernon County Historical Society, Couleecap, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The project was supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council and local individuals and businesses. 

“(People) need to be connected, and it’s through storytelling and projects like this that we are really weaving people back together in a community,” said Gil Hoel, LCSW with Project Recovery. 

Those who live and work in our riverside communities can tell you something is different, whether because of climate change or other factors. It seems we are now experiencing 100-year floods every couple of years. Since 2007, the Kickapoo River and Coon Creek watersheds have lived through seven devastating floods, and residents expect more. 

“We just really need to be ready to meet the future fearlessly. Which is hard, but if we’re going to survive this and move ahead, we have to be ready. Because the flooding is not going to go away,” said Cele Wolf of Soldiers Grove in her recent interview. 

The ‘Stories from the Flood’ project attempts to help individuals and communities cope with these events and prepare for the future.

“We’ve heard from people who lost everything but what they were wearing that night, from EMS personnel who evacuated a village in the dark, and from neighbors who donated their time and resources after the water went down,” said Dean. “We’ve also heard from people who are frustrated about some of the bureaucracy that’s followed the recovery efforts. We hope the information we gather can help inform elected officials at all levels about ways to improve flood responses.”

Volunteers from the Driftless Writing Center and its partners will continue collecting stories until they have reached a goal of at least 200 stories, likely well into 2020. Survivors’ narratives are currently being transcribed. In coming months, those transcripts will be coded and indexed, with help from students at UW-Madison. This will allow future researchers to understand the common themes that arose during our conversations. It will also help DWC to compile a findings report to present to public officials and other policymakers.

The stories will be kept in archives at the Vernon County Historical Society and UW-La Crosse’s Murphy Library, where historians and members of the public can access them.

Do you have a flooding story to share? Submit your story online at or schedule an interview by contacting DWC by email at

The Driftless Writing Center is a nonprofit organization that connects writers, readers, and audiences through workshops, discussions, and public performances. It celebrates the unique culture of the Driftless region and seeks to enhance the creative expression of the people who live there. Stories from the Flood is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin.