The first African-American to earn an Olympic medal came of age only about 86 miles from Eau Claire.
George Coleman Poage earned the distinction at the 1904 Games in St. Louis. He was raised in La Crosse after moving there at the age of 4 in 1884. Poage graduated second in his class at La Crosse High School.
Poage went on to UW-Madison and competed in the sprints and hurdles for the Badgers. He earned bronze medals in the 200-yard and 400-yard hurdles at the Olympics.
The story is particularly timely as the 2018 Winter Olympics get under way Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It’s also a part of the program “Thank You, 72” that profiles UW-Madison graduates in every county of the state. The effort is a key component of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association’s “All Ways Forward” fundraising campaign.
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Others featured in the UW-Madison program are Chris Larson (Eau Claire County), Alexander Wiley (Chippewa County) and John Russell (Dunn County).
Larson is a 1986 UW-Madison graduate who is president of Wissota Sand & Gravel, a business that’s been in the family since the 1930s. Its administrative offices are located in Eau Claire.
“When I graduated, I didn’t realize how powerful my education was,” Carlson said in his profile piece. “College teaches you about the process of life and how you need to be persistent.”
Wiley, a Chippewa Falls native, was a four-term U.S. senator famous for pushing back against fellow Republican Joseph McCarthy during his term, according to the release.
“On some occasions he took stands on international issues that were not popular with the people back home,” said the late Alvin O’Konski, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. “But he voted his conscience, feeling that his vote was one which, in the long run, would result in benefit to Wisconsin.”
Russell, a lifelong Dunn County resident, is described as a photographer, businessperson, columnist, playwrite and World War II veteran. He played an integral role in the renovation of the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts in Menomonie.
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Stephanie Harvey, CEO of Lake Hallie-based Independent Surgery Center; Jeff Merritt, a Dunn County dairy farmer who serves numerous organizations in the industry; and Dr. John Drawbert of the Eau Claire area are profiled in the WFAA project as well.
The report found that Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn counties currently have a combined 365 students at UW-Madison. They also have 2,635 alumni from the university.
This is not to overshadow the excellent universities and colleges we have in the Chippewa Valley. However, it does point to the extensive reach and influence of the UW System’s flagship school.
Deadlines are nearing for high school seniors looking to extend their learning experiences. Regardless of what university or college a student attends, or whether he or she chooses a path outside of higher education, Russell had a few words of sage advice: “Just have a passion for what you do. Just get involved. Then step aside when it’s time to give other people a chance.”