Duane and Barb grew up in northern Wisconsin. High-school sweethearts, they are now in their later years. Together they have started a movement to preserve their Finnish cultural heritage. Duane said, “In my class as a kid, about 80% of the Finnish kids spoke Finn. In my brother’s class, about three years later, it was probably 5%. It happened that fast. So now we’re trying to build it back up.” Duane and Barb are now dedicated to restoring buildings, passing down traditional skills, and teaching young people the Finnish language. In 2011 they helped to found the Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center, Inc. “People could see the value of what we were doing pretty quickly,” Duane says. In 2016 they received funding from the Wisconsin Humanities Council to bring elementary school-age students to the Center for three weeks for classes with master teachers and local experts. “We’re trying to get a youth movement involved because we want our work here to be carried forward.”
Christian works at a nursing home in the weekends while he gets a degree in nursing at UW-Oshkosh. His parents are undocumented workers who never have been able to have, in his words, ‘nice jobs.’ Christian is the first in his family to go to college. He worries that if his parents are deported, he’ll have a lot of siblings to take care of. He says he has always felt a responsibility to be there for his siblings. “Really I think that’s what got me interested in nursing – just taking care of my family.”
Sagashus’s childhood was chaotic and full of challenges, but her mother remained her champion. “I’d tell her, ‘Mom, I’m going to fly to the moon.’ And she would say, ‘Okay, well let’s figure out how big your wings are going to have to be.’” Years later, after many ups and down, and now with six children of her own, she is a student at UW-Madison. Doing research toward her PhD, she realized, “I want to study my own tribe.” She focuses on women like herself, her mother, and others she grew up around who are typically considered reprehensible and detestable as moms. In 2016 Sagashus launched a book project and business called Infamous Mothers. Traveling the state to speak to groups of women, she is changing the narrative. She tells women they are powerful and that the courage they have shown in life is admirable. ‘Yeah, you’ve done that, and now life is going to be a little bit more challenging for you but you’re strong enough to embrace that challenge and go do something great.’ Sagashaus knows that is a revolutionary message. And that, she believes, is what the work is all about.
Daniel and Gary both live in the Driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin. Daniel had spent his career working “with people of varying abilities, helping them to establish vocations and opportunities to work.” At some point he thought to introduce some of these people to farm work. Gary grew up on a farm. When he moved back to the region, he was feeling pulled to reconnect with that life. The two men have come together to create a ‘seconds’ market that pays farmers directly for unsold produce, which is then given to food pantries. It is called Community Hunger Solutions. Daniel says, “I keep thinking that we can grow this idea to other communities. Like what we’ve got here is a model for other areas. If you have farms, and you have a place to serve as a food hub, and you have food pantries, you can do this.”
There are more stories. Many more. These stories come from people who live and work in Wisconsin, not much different from the rest of us. They were told to and shared by Love Wisconsin.
Love Wisconsin is a media platform for sharing stories. The Wisconsin Humanities Council is excited to be partnering with them in 2018 to do more story sharing. We have some really exciting projects planned – creating more ways to connect, interact, share and listen – and we know you are going to love it.
As we head into the winter holiday season, with its many opportunities for conversations with friends, strangers, and loved ones, we are reminded that stories are powerful gifts we can share. Listening to another person’s story leaves us more informed, more caring, and more inspired. This is the work of the humanities, and it is work we are happy to share with you.
Photos used with permission from Love Wisconsin.