Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Women of Our Savior's Lutheran Church

Left to right, Arvella Sorenson, Mabel Peterson, Margaret Johnson, Gladys Erickson, Huldah Peterson, Ruth Sherry, Martha Hagen and Elsie Olson are posing for a photo outside of Our Savior’s.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pastor Norm Retires from Our Savior’s

At Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Westby on Sunday, June 26, 2011 Pastor Norm Rose conducted his last service before retiring. And so for the second time in three weeks, the congregation of OS said goodbye to a well-loved pastor, since Pastor Gary Daines retired three weeks ago. And as is proper for a good Lutheran church, the farewell for Pastor Norm was marked with good music and good food.

Pastor Norm Rose
The worship service was interwoven with music. Bach, Handel, and a lovely rendition of “Beautiful Savior” were contributed by the organ. As opening hymn the congregation surprised Pastor Norm with his favorite hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story.” It made a very special moment for a man who has been “telling the story” for forty-four years. In fact, it was such a moving moment that it took Pastor Norm some time to recover his composure.  

On behalf of WELCA, Lynette Johnson presented the pastor with a lovely wooden plate painted by Karen Hankee. The center of the plate depicted Our Savior’s Church. Lynette thanked Pastor Norm for his years of service at Our Savior’s. This thank you echoed the sentiments of many in the congregation.

The sermon for Pastor Rose’s final service was built on thoughts triggered by the reading in Genesis 22 of the story of Abraham and his son, Isaac. The pastor told the congregation that when he felt the call of God forty-four years ago to “Feed My sheep,” he first answered, in that succinct way of his, “Lord, You really blew it this time! I have no gift for such a calling.” But though our God is a demanding God, He is also an all-seeing and all-knowing one who provides us with our needs, just as He provided Abraham with a ram to replace Isaac as an offering.  And so He provided Pastor Norm the guidance he needed along the path to his long years of service in the ministry. As a fitting conclusion to the sermon, Ron Evenstad sang “How Great Thou Art.”

After closing prayers the congregation repeated the hymn “I Love to Tell the Story” and succeeded again in nearly overwhelming Pastor Norm. And they joined the organ in an anthem postlude of the same hymn, making it three for three and surely a memorable service for the retiring pastor.

A potluck followed the worship service, with a large spread of dishes designed to please the eye and the palate. The great number of hot dishes reminded this writer that “hot dish” and “Lutheran” have been closely linked for a long time.  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Hi from Westby Postcard


From the program of the 1940 Legion conference in Westby

A bustling little city, with a population of 1,400 busy people, most them are the descendants of the Norse Vikings. Progressive peace loving and hospitable.

During the 1940s, Westby’s State Street had more than its share of ‘watering holes’
Westby is situated in the midst of Wisconsin’s dairyland in Vernon County (named Bad Ax County by the first settlers). Situated on splendid roads and highways which branch out to all parts of the country. U.S. 14 and S.T.H. 27, the last named also known as the “Old Indian Trail” and which winds its way among the rolling hills and country sides of Monroe, Vernon and Crawford Counties, dipping down to the mighty Mississippi past the famous old Fort Crawford and down through the picturesque river city of Prairie du Chien. A few minutes drive from Westby, one can swing down into the lovely valleys of Spring and Timber Coulees, hereabouts called “Little Norway,” and truly a paradise on earth. Thousands of people from near and far every year drive down through lovely valleys to feast their eyes on this scenic wonderland, right here in this or own God’s Country.

Spring fills the air with romance, and so it does also fill these beautiful valleys with fishermen, there to match their wits with the wily brook and rainbow trout which in abundance make the rippling streams their habitat. Many are the stories (fish stories) spun by nimrods who fish these streams in the spring and summer.

Westby boasts of fine churches, modern schools, a well stocked pubic library, municipally owned power and light plant, modern water system, newspaper (The Westby Times), a fine modern creamery with a large patronage, tobacco packing and warehouses, several up to-date food stores, two general merchandise establishments, one dry goods and notions store, furniture store and funeral parlor, bakery and five restaurants, five taverns and a hotel, a new modern $25,000 playhouse (The Westby Theatre), a telephone company, two drug stores, two lumber yards, two coal dealers, two meat markets, a machine and truck body building shop, three garages and repair shops, two implement dealers. Farmers Exchange, and a flour and feed merchant, a shoe store, jewelry store, a paint store, a tailor shop, a billiard parlor, the Vernon Electric Co-op and REA affiliated headquarters office is located here. We have a strong banking institution with total assets well over $1,500,000, a fine City Hall which houses the jail, street department and splendidly equipped fire department, a harness and shoe store. Westby has eight gasoline service stations, four insurance offices, lawyer, physician, two dentists and three real estate dealers, five sanitary dairies, live stock and shipping yard, a hatchery, a plumbing shop and several painters and electricians. There is also an exclusive dress shop, a beauty shop and two barber shops. There is a flour and feed mill, building and contracting firms, a tin shop and several carpenters and cabinet makers as well as many other individual business and professional enterprises such as bulk oil and gas distributers.

City Park
Notice the corner of the band stand on the left.
In 1939 Westby completed the construction of a new and modern High School and gymnasium and auditorium which has a seating capacity of 1000 persons. The enrollment of the Westby Schools for the year of 1939-1940 is 430 and of this number 250 are in high school. Westby has a fine athletic field and public playground, which is well lighted for night games such as baseball and kittenball and is the home field for the Westby High School football team.

Mother Nature has presented Westby with a beautiful natural park situated in a wooded rocky glen in the northwestern section of the city. Thousands of tourists from all parts of the country have visited this beautiful spot and marveled at its natural beauty. Stately oak trees and velvety ferns dot the landscape and flowers in abundance loll in the crevices of oddly shaped rock formations.

Our Savior’s Bids “Farewell”

The Our Savior’s congregation and many other community well-wishers bid “Farewell” to retiring pastor Gary Daines Sunday, June 5, 2011 with fitting encomiums and a standing ovation. The church was filled almost to capacity, with nearly 700 people attending morning worship; even the front row pews were called into service, a sight that is by all accounts rare in Lutheran churches!

Pastor Gary Daines
In the long history of the Lutheran church, music has played an important roll, from the Reformation on, strengthened not a little by the music of the great master composer and organist (and devout Lutheran) Johann Sebastian Bach. And special music was offered throughout the service, beginning with the well-known and powerful Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, played by organist Vanessa Mills. 

Intertwined with the bible readings of the day were vocal offerings: Devi Stoffregen and Emily Breuer sang a beautifully blended duet version of “Here I Am, Lord,” accompanied by Linda Dowling, and Kristi Homstad sang the lovely “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You,” accompanied by Sandy Iverson. Just before the Gospel reading came a stunning a capella  rendition of “Prayer of the Children,” directed by Monte Dunnum and sung by a men’s chorus of about thirty voices, most of them the voices of young men from the area who had been confirmed by Pastor Daines or had been influenced by him during their adolescent years growing up in Westby. The special music continued during the reception of the sacrament as a trio with Deb Easterday, Sharon Olson, and Janice Fortney sang “Nearer My God to Thee” and “When the Roll Is Called up Yonder.”  

Congregational singing resounded in the church for the hymns “How Great Thou Art,” “Lord, Speak to Us,” and the final “God Be with You til We Meet Again.”

“Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth; oh, sing praises to the Lord.” (Psalm 68) And sing we did, to praise the Lord and to celebrate as Pastor Daines steps into retirement after decades of service to God, to Our Savior’s, and to Westby.

A brief history of the city of Westby

Written by an unknown writer in an unknown year

The area around the present city of Westby was first settled by Norwegian immigrants in 1848. Many families came from Norway and bought land in the townships of Coon and Christiana, among them, Evan Gullord, Hans Olson Libakke, Hans Neprud, Ole Gullord and Martin Paulhaugen. Each one took a claim of land, and in 1849 and 1850 many more settlers came. They found here the trees which provided materials for their building and heat for their homes and the many springs and creeks, water. It was the good land.

Ole T. Westby, who was among a large group of settlers, arrived in 1867 bought forty acres of land on Coon Prairie and built a frame building to be used as a store and hotel in what would later become the current city of Westby. A general store and Blacksmith shop were located one mile south in what is now called 'Old Town'.

When the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad built a branch line from Sparta to Viroqua in 1879, they erected a station in the new settlement and called it Westby Station to honor Ole Westby, who would become one of its better customers. The railroad gave the impetus for many businesses to be started here. Up to this time all goods had to be hauled from Prairie du Chien or Sparta by wagon.

Dr. Schreiner north of the intersection
of Second and Main streets in the early twenties.
Both Methodist and Lutheran parishes were established in 1852. The first church was built in 1856-57 on Coon Prairie, south of the city, which served the entire area for many miles around.

Emily Westby opened a private school in 1880 upstairs over her fathers general store. In 1883, a school district was organized and a two-story school erected on the present site of the Westby Cooperative Creamery. The first school building having become inadequate was replaced in 1894 by a larger four-room building erected on the same site. In 1910, a brick two-story building was erected on a new and larger site, that of the present complex of school building. The first high school class was graduated in 1914. A new high school was built in 1936. This was remodeled into a Junior High after a larger high school was built in 1966. The Earl C. Knutson auditorium and gym combination was built in 1961, together with a new elementary grades center and other additions in recent years.

The first resident Westby doctor was Dr. J.K. Schreiner, who was later joined by Dr. J. Schee.

Westby Station was incorporated as a village in 1896 and by popular vote was made a city in 1920.

For many years Westby and the surrounding area were the hub of the tobacco industry. M.H. Bekkedal and C.T. Shannon built large tobacco warehouses where the tobacco was sorted before being shipped. This provided seasonal employment to any people, both men and women.

The first school building having become inadequate was replaced in 1894 by a larger four-room building erected on the same site. The site of the current Westby Cooperative Creamery. In 1910, a brick two-story building was erected on a new and larger site, that of the present complex of school buildings. This building was torn down in the late sixties. This new building included both a grade school on the lower level and the first high school on the second floor. A new high school was built in 1936. This was later remodeled into a Junior High after a larger high school was built in 1966. This Junior High has also been torn down. The Earl C. Knutson Auditorium and gym combination was built in 1961, together with a new elementary grades center and other additions in recent years. At present, the Westby Area School District serves elementary centers in Bloomingdale, Coon Valley and Chaseburg, as well as at Westby, with the high school located in Westby. After the article was written, Bloomingdale and Chaseburg schools have been closed.

The Coon Valley State Bank, which weathered the depression and bank closings in 1932, opened a main office in Westby in 1933 buying the Bekkedal Bank and changed its name to Westby Coon Valley State Bank. 

Westby ranks second in the state in the number of cooperatives located in a community, namely, Westby Cooperative Creamery, Vernon Telephone Cooperative, Westby Cooperative Credit Union, Vernon Electric Cooperative, Vernon County Farmco, Vernon-Crawford D.H.I.A., Tri-State Breeders Cooperative and the Westby Farmers Union Cooperative.

There are several service clubs: Kiwanis, Lions, Sons of Norway, Senior Citizens, Norseland Garden Club, Rod and Gun and American Legion and Auxiliary.

Snowflake Ski Hill in 1923
Westby is well known throughout skiing circles for its Snowflake Ski Hill in Timber Coulee. Skiers from all over the world come for its annual tournaments which have been held since 1923. Olympic tryouts and national meets have been held here. Junior ski tourneys are also held annually.

Westby has several small but growing industries: a butter packaging plant, a creamery, a hardwoods plant, a Nordic Industries plant making furniture and a National Farmers Union gas plant. The P. Lorillard Tobacco Company receives tobacco from local growers at a warehouse here.

Besides its annual ski tournaments, Westby is also famous for its Syttende Mai celebrations every May.

But, most of all, it is famous for its traditional Scandinavian hospitality and friendliness over a cup of coffee.

Westby History by Elaine Bakken

This following history of Westby was written my Miss. Elaine Bakken, who studied this Vernon County community as a high school English project. Her story appeared in the La Crosse Tribune on Tuesday, June 24, 1958. A few amendments have been made.

State and Main streets about 1900
Martin Bekkedal, white hat, looking towards Ole Westby's first general store
that in only a few months Bekkedal would start construction of Bekkedal/Ramsland building.
The hardware store in the background was Ole Westby's second store.
The territory where the town of Christiana and the city of Westby are now located was first occupied by Winnebago Indians. In 1848 the first Norwegian settlers came; among them were Evan Gullord, Hans Olson Libakken, Hans Neprud, Ole Gullord and Martin Paulhaugen. Each one took a claim of land. By 1850 numerous settlers also had arrived on Coon Prairie.

In 1851 this area was called Crawford County and was served by the Springville Post Office. A short time later Crawford County was divided and this area was called Bad Ax County, with Coon Prairie as the local Post Office. Shortly Bad Ax was changed to Vernon County.

In 1858 Hans Ramsrud built a house that today has become Westby’s oldest house. Ramsrud had a blacksmith on the corner of State and Main, the location of Dregne’s Scandinavian Gifts in 2015. Also on this corner were two houses when Ole Westby built his general store in 1864 at the location of Organic Valley. The first building that Ole Westby erected was used as a mercantile business and his second building, across the street from his first was built in 1874 and was used as a mercantile business as well as a hotel on second floor. A few years later it was used as the first school for Westby children. Mrs. Ole Westby was the former Sarah Dahl and was kept quite busy waiting on customers and looking after the hotel. In 1879 the Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad completed its branch line from Sparta to Viroqua. The name Westby Station was given to this railway station by the railroad to honor Ole Westby.

The railroad brought with it a boom to Westby. Three stores, two grain warehouses, one hotel and several dwellings were erected within a short time. The only excitement in those days was when the stage came through from Sparta to Viroqua, with passengers and mail. The stage went south one day and north the next. Quite often newcomers from Norway who stopped off here were happy to find people who could speak Norwegian.

Dr. J. Walloe was the pioneer doctor of Coon Prairie, but the first doctor who settled at Westby was Dr. J.K. Schreiner. He was followed a short time later by Dr. J. Schee.

Among the early settlers were two pioneers by the same name. They were Hans (Bakken) Syverson and Hans (Skaara) Syverson. Their mail kept getting mixed up so Hans (Skaara) changed his last name to Bakken. Hans Syverson and Hans Bakken were among the first in this area to raise tobacco, and Hans Bakken soon was called “Tobak Hans” by his friends.

M.H. Bekkedal put up his first crop of tobacco in 1892. During the daytime he helped out in the Ballsrud store owned by Christian Hansen Ballsrud located at the current location of Borgen’s Restaurant. After working hours in the store, Bekkedal would pack tobacco in wooden grocery boxes of every shape and size. Later he rented the butcher shop, which was a frame building, later the site of the Westby Theatre. He bought more tobacco and soon he needed more room and some help so he hired Ole Johnson and Andrew Nottestad. This was the beginning of an industry which prospered and grew in Westby.