MENOMONIE — Old Man Winter has been late to the party this year, forcing many Wisconsin snowmobile enthusiasts to go to the snow in far-northern parts of the state, Minnesota and Michigan.
Due to the lack of adequate snow, or even bare ground in many spots, snowmobile trails remain closed this month in many Wisconsin counties.
While it’s unusual to not have enough snow for snowmobiling in Wisconsin in January, Marge Hotter, a long-time, vocal advocate for snowmobiling both in Dunn County and at the state level, said it’s not unheard of.
But when nature does cooperate, says Hotter few things in life are better than hitting that fresh powder when the trees are covered in an icy, delicate coating of hoarfrost.
“You see beauty like you can’t imagine,” she said. “I think there’s as much beauty out there in the outdoors in the winter as in the summer.”
Snowmobiling has been a big part of Hotter’s life, especially for the past 20-plus years. Last spring, she was honored by the Dunn County Snowmobile Association and the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs for her volunteerism in the sport both at the local and state levels.
Hotter served many years as the Dunn County coordinator and as a director on the state board of the AWSC, which serves as the legislative voice for the state’s snowmobilers and snowmobile clubs.
The AWSC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. President Dave Newman said snowmobilers owe a debt of gratitude to those who had the vision in 1969 to form an organization to represent snowmobiling at the state Capitol in Madison.
“Somebody’s gotta do it,” said Hotter, who grew up near Elk Mound and lives along Tainter Lake north of Menomonie.
Indeed, volunteerism is at the heart of the sport of snowmobiling, from those who keep the trails groomed and post signs in the fall to those who cultivate relationships with cooperating landowners.
“No one could snowmobile without volunteers and landowners and clubs,” said Sue Booth of Boyceville. “Any time there was a problem with the trails, Marge would be the one to call ... day or night, good or bad. It’s quite a commitment.”
For Hotter, it’s been a labor of love, but she hasn’t done it alone.
“There are a lot of dedicated people out there, all willing to step in and help,” she said.
Wisconsin is home to 26,000 miles of snowmobile trails. More than 300 miles of groomed trails run through the open farm fields and wooded areas of Dunn County. Because almost all of those trails are on privately owned land, the county’s 14 snowmobile clubs and landowners must have a good working relationship, Hotter said. Most landowners are very cooperative with local clubs.
“If there was a landowner problem, I would give the club members the information they needed and, in some cases, I would meet with the landowner and answer their questions,” she said. “The main concerns were insurance and who’s liable.”
The Dunn County Snowmobile Association carries liability for trails through the AWSC, and Hotter said that, as far as she knows, they have never lost landowner cooperation due to these kinds of concerns.
Hotter said that, during her tenure at county coordinator, Dunn County obtained more groomers so trails could be groomed more often, offering riders an improved experience. The Dunn County Snowmobile Association owns four trail groomers with drags, and they’re only operated by trained volunteers.
Local clubs range from about a dozen members to as many as 50, she said.
While she always enjoyed snowmobiling, it wasn’t until Hotter attended the state AWSC convention in Wausau in 1983 with her sister and brother-in-law and met her husband, Joe, that she really got involved. The state convention typically draws 700 to 1,000 people.
Joe and Marge were married seven months after that convention. Through the years, they enjoyed many trail rides with friends as part of the Kanda Kruisers club. Initially, the group consisted of men only, Hotter said, but Joe insisted that he wouldn’t go unless Marge could come, too.
Every year for more than 15 years, a local group with about a half-dozen sleds would take a snowmobile trip for a week to 10 days toward the end of January, she said. They would average about 3,000 miles.
“You had to be a good rider and know your sled, what’s going on and keep up and do what has to be done (in unusual weather),” she said.
Most of the time, they took off from right behind the Hotter home, traveling all the way to Minnesota, Michigan and Canada from there, connecting with new trails en route, Hotter said. They usually made reservations for accommodations, notifying hotel workers that they were coming via snowmobile and may be late, depending on conditions and breakdowns.
The Hotters also had a cabin near Cable in Bayfield County and did a lot of riding in that area.
One year, they traveled to Madeline Island, where they drove through several inches of water on top of the ice. Hotter said she was nervous to navigate her sled through those treacherous conditions but eventually worked up the courage.
“The trips were always an adventure,” she said.
But it just wasn’t the same after Joe passed away in 2011, and she stopped participating in the rides. Recently, she sold her sled and retired from snowmobiling. She now fills her days with reading, tending to her flower beds on her acre lot and following the Green Bay Packers and NASCAR.
Hotter said she has enjoyed everything about her work with snowmobile clubs but mostly, the people. Her one regret is that she never learned how to operate a trail groomer before she retired from the sport.
“You always learn more,” she said. “You make friends throughout the state. I really miss some of them. I didn’t think I’d miss it that bad, but I do.”
REEDSVILLE — Jerry and Judy Reis’ rural upbringings planted the seed for a lifetime of helping others.
Jerry, 76, and Judy, 73, were raised on their respective families’ dairy farms in eastern Wisconsin, where they milked black-and-white Holsteins, learned the value of hard work and didn’t hesitate to assist people in need.
That community-minded spirit has benefited countless people over the years at the Reis’ charitable organization, Patrick’s Patches, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Housed in the lower level of Holy Family School in the Manitowoc County village of Reedsville, Patrick’s Patches collects donated clothing, linens, books, furniture, toys, appliances and other household goods and prepares them for anyone in need. Items are free, with donations accepted when possible.
Doors are open one day per week year-round, with volunteers typically welcoming more than 50 people each day. Many area residents who use the service support their families by working on farms and other agricultural businesses throughout the area, Judy said.
“It is such an amazing feeling to see that you’ve really helped somebody in need,” Judy said. “And to know it’s the whole parish, the village, the entire community … so many people helping out.
“Seeing people working together like that for the greater good, it makes me wish everybody who has ever donated a single thing here could see what happens when people really, truly in need get something. Because of these wonderful donations, we’re able to help people have things in their kitchen to cook, or have some furniture for their family.”
The couple’s agricultural roots run deep, and they maintain numerous friendships with people involved in the ag industry.
Jerry and his family milked 40 Holsteins near Whitelaw, while Judy and her family milked 30 Holsteins near Reedsville.
“Everything on the farm was a great learning experience and helped me with my work ethic for the future,” said Jerry, who also served six years in the U.S. Army Reserve. “I learned how to work, but I also learned how to be patient. Working on the farm made me who I am in a lot of ways.”
Judy concurred, saying the life lessons learned on the dairy farm have carried throughout her adult years. She fondly recalls the time spent working and playing with siblings on her family’s 80-acre operation.
“When we were kids, we didn’t have the toys like kids have now — no video games,” she said. “So we made our own fun on the farm. We made up our own games. Even having a swamp was fun. Shortly after my mom died, one of my jobs was to go and take my younger brother frog-picking in the swamp. We worked, but we also had time to play.”
Jerry and Judy have lived together in Reedsville ever since marrying 55 years ago.
As members of Holy Family Parish in nearby Brillion, the couple and a handful of others started Patrick’s Patches in 1993 as part of their religious beliefs. Originally, the donation center was held at the vacant St. Patrick’s Church rectory in nearby Maple Grove.
“We had electricity there but no heat or water, so those first years were pretty difficult, especially during the winter,” Judy said. “Once we moved (to Reedsville) in 2006, things really exploded.”
In Maple Grove, all of the donated items could comfortably fit in one small- to medium-sized room at the rectory. These days, the organization’s goods fill about 4,000 square feet, spilling over into the main floor hallway.
Since retiring from their respective jobs 13 years ago, Jerry and Judy have maintained oversight of Patrick’s Patches by putting in about 20 hours a week. The couple have three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Claire Letourneaux, who has known Jerry and Judy for two decades, describes the couple as “very generous, hard-working, compassionate folks who put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this endeavor.”
Patrick’s Patches, 628 Menasha St., Reedsville, is open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the first, second and fourth Wednesdays each month, as well as the third Sunday.
Wisconsin author Lisl Detlefsen received the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture’s “Book of the Year” award at AFBF’s annual convention last week in New Orleans. Her winning book, “Right This Very Minute,” is the first book published with the Foundation’s Feeding Minds Press.
“(‘Right this Very Minute’) shows a wide variety of children and families enjoying their daily meals and snacks before giving readers a snapshot of the work being done on farms to make these meals possible,” Detlefsen said. “Illustrator Renee Kurilla did an outstanding job on the stunning art. I love how she represented a wide variety of different families and farmers throughout the book.”
Detlefsen said that, after writing her first book, “Time for Cranberries,” she knew she wanted to write another agricultural-themed book.
“I was thinking about all the many steps involved to get food from the farm to the table. I wanted to explore the idea that while my family was eating a meal, at that very same time, all around the country, farmers were working hard to grow the food that would later become a part of it,” she said.
Detlefsen said she is excited to have her book named AFBFA’s “Book of the Year.”
“This award is very meaningful to me because helping to tell the story of modern family farming in America through children’s books has become a passion. I’m very thankful for the Ag Foundation’s devotion to this, too, and it was an honor and a joy to write the launch title for Feeding Minds Press,” she said. “To have that collaboration recognized with this award is very much a dream come true.”
Books considered for the award are required to have 100 percent accurate information about agriculture, with modern agricultural practices a priority. They must have a positive portrayal of agriculture and contain no stereotypical rural depictions or anthropomorphic animals. The stories should also be a topic of interest in agriculture and society. The book selected each year has curriculum developed to correlate with the book and is promoted by the Foundation throughout the year.
“I had the opportunity to give a speech when ‘Right This Very Minute’ received the award, and it was very rewarding to talk to so many farmers afterward who were excited to see books accurately representing the work they do every day to bring food to the tables of others,” Detlefsen said. “We all need to eat every single day, and yet as most people move further away from growing their own food, we lose distance from understanding exactly what that takes.”
Detlefsen said she first became aware of AFBFA shortly after her first book was published in 2015. At the time, the Foundation was looking to host a program to bring children’s book authors to a cattle ranch and beef processing facility.
“The Ag Foundation wanted to give authors a chance to visit a working ranch and ask the ranchers questions, but they also wanted to understand more about how we as writers do our jobs and the publishing process,” she said. “Eventually, the Ag Foundation decided that one way to help get more accurate agricultural books into the market was to form their own publishing company, and Feeding Minds Press was born.”
Also an agriculture-themed book, “Time for Cranberries,” Detlefsen’s first book, was a project close to her heart.
“It took 10 years to find the right publishing home for that book, but it was a story that I knew I couldn’t give up on,” she said. “My husband is a fifth-generation cranberry grower, and we live on a continuously family-owned cranberry marsh in central Wisconsin. From the time that I saw my very first harvest as a college student, I knew the process belonged in a book.”
Although she grew up drinking cranberry juice, Detlefsen said she didn’t understand what went into producing that product. Living on the marsh has allowed her to better understand the importance of agriculture, and writing books about agriculture has also given her the opportunity to research other types of farms, something she looks forward to sharing in future books.
Detlefsen said she believes it is important for kids to learn and understand where their food is coming from and what it takes for it to reach their plates and grocery stores.
“In children’s literature, we talk a lot about windows and mirrors, meaning that young readers need to view the worlds of others, and they also need to see the world they live in reflected on the page,” she said. “When I first began writing about agriculture, I thought I was writing windows for kids who are not immersed in farming. What I discovered was that I was also writing mirrors for kids from farming families who so rarely have the opportunity to see themselves accurately depicted in books.”
“Right This Very Minute” is available for preorder wherever books are sold and will be officially released Feb. 5. Besides this book and “Time for Cranberries,” Detlefsen authored “If You Had a Jetpack” and a book to be released later this year “1, 2, 3, Jump!” More information on her work can be found at www.lislhdbooks.com, Twitter and Facebook.
KIEL — More than 47,000 people killed themselves in the U.S. in 2017, including 915 in Wisconsin.
It’s generally agreed upon that farmers are at higher risk for suicide due to their self-reliant nature, limited access to mental health services, reluctance to seek help, a “farm comes first” mentality, access to lethal means, and lack of control over weather, prices and regulations, among other things.
Suicide prevention was a key topic during the recent “Supporting Farmers During Challenging Times” meeting held in Manitowoc County and organized by regional UW-Extension leaders.
Among the featured speakers was Tammi Kohlman, coordinator of CSI Destination Zero, who presented “Coping with the Pressures of Farm Life.”
The Destination Zero initiative aims to eliminate suicides in Fond du Lac County by promoting collaboration across sectors to ensure policies and procedures are in place across the county that lead to better care for those at risk.
“Farming in good times is stressful. There are a lot of stressors that are part of normal farming situations,” Kohlman said.
“And then when you add to that the additional stresses that are caused by some of the financial crises ... it’s setting up a situation where individuals either don’t have the right coping skills or the things they used in the past are no longer sufficient. And there are negative things that result.”
Kohlman said signs of increased farm stress may include:
• Change in routines: Members of the farm family stop attending church, drop out of 4-H or other groups, no longer stop in at the local feed mill, etc.
• Increase in illnesses: Colds and flus become more common, as do aches, pains and persistent coughs, for example.
• Farmstead appearance declines: Members of the farm family no longer take pride in the way the farm looks.
• Care of livestock declines: Cattle may lose condition, appear gaunt or show signs of neglect or physical abuse.
• Increase in farm accidents: Higher levels of fatigue or loss of ability to concentrate may result in more accidents.
• Children show increased stress: They may act out, miss school or exhibit a decline in academic performance.
“Long-term, chronic stress can impact pretty much every part of your being,” Kohlman said.
The impact can be felt physically (headaches, backaches, sleep disturbances, frequent sickness), emotionally (sadness, anger, loss of humor, anxiety), behaviorally (withdrawal, increased alcohol/drugs, irritability), cognitively (memory loss, unable to make decisions) and in decreased self-esteem (feelings of failure, doubting abilities).
Kohlman’s stress-management tips include positive self-talk and reframing, talking openly with family members, dealing with conflict appropriately and building a positive support system.
“A very common response to stress for people is to withdraw and isolate themselves, and that’s really the worst thing they can do when they’re under a lot of stress,” Kohlman said.
Suicide rates have continued to increase over the past two decades, she said, noting the rate has increased the highest in more rural areas. Additionally, she said the suicide rate for males age 45 to 64 is double that of the general population, with four times as many men dying by suicide than women (although she said women attempt suicide more).
It’s important to understand myths and misconceptions regarding suicide, Kohlman said. Among them, she cited:
Myth: “Suicide is unpredictable, there’s no way to know.” In reality, she said there are almost always warning signs prior to a suicide, but others are often unaware of the significance of the warnings or unsure what to do in response.
Myth: “Asking about suicide will give them the idea or make them mad.” In reality, she said, asking “Are you thinking about suicide?” in a direct and caring manner will often minimize a person’s anxiety and act as a deterrent to suicidal behavior; it won’t “plant the idea” or trigger suicidal behavior.
Myth: “If their mind is made up, there’s nothing I can do.” In reality, she said, heightened suicide risk is often short term and situation-specific, with most suicidal individuals wanting to end their pain, not their lives. Reducing access to highly lethal means saves lives, she added.
Misconception: “I’m not a mental health professional.” In reality, she said, although the statement may be accurate, “we all have a role to play in preventing suicides.” Those who interact with individuals on a regular basis are often in the best position to notice and respond to someone in emotional distress, she added.
Warning signs increase the likelihood that a person is in immediate mental distress. Depending on the situation, behavioral clues may include obtaining guns or pills, putting affairs in order, giving away possessions, exhibiting sudden interest/disinterest in religion, showing unexplained anger or aggression, abusing alcohol or drugs and withdrawing from activities.
There are five steps someone can follow to help a person who’s struggling. They include:
• Ask: When someone you know is in emotional pain, ask them directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Said Kohlman: “It reduces, does not increase, the risk of suicide. It opens the door to have a conversation with them. It makes them feel seen and heard.”
• Keep them safe: If they are suicidal, ask if they’ve thought about how they would do it. Then separate them from anything they could use to hurt themselves. “The more steps the individual has already taken, the more pieces of their plan that are already in place, the more at risk they are,” she said.
• Be there: Stay with them and listen to their reasons for feeling hopeless and in pain. Listen with compassion and empathy, and without dismissing or judging. “If somebody is in a time of crisis, just you being there can increase their feelings of connectedness with others, which is a huge protective factor against suicide,” Kohlman said.
• Help them connect: Put them in touch with ongoing supports such as family, friends, therapists or clergy so they have a network to reach out to in times of crisis.
• Follow up: Stop by, call or text. Making contact in the days and weeks following a crisis can make a difference. See how they are doing, let them know you care.
UW-Extension Fond du Lac County dairy and livestock agent Tina Kohlman (no relation to Tammi Kohlman) added that suicide is “a topic, as an agriculture community, we really don’t want to talk about. We really don’t know how to talk about it.
“But we need to realize how we can help support positive mental health and prevent possible suicides for our farming community, especially now with the financial stresses they’ve been facing for quite some time.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255, or the Lifeline Chat is available 24/7 at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.