History comes to life at PdC City Hall, Author to give tribute to Civilian Conservation Corps

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In Wisconsin, The CCC planted 265 million trees, built 483 bridges, erected over 4,000 miles of telephone poles, constructed 4,300 miles of truck trails, stocked half a billion fish, fought forest fires, and built several state parks including Rib Mountain, Interstate, Devil’s Lake, Pattison, Peninsula Park, Copper Falls and Wyalusing. The CCC worked with hundreds of farmers, terracing hills, putting up fencing, repairing gullies and providing fertilizer. The camps not only revitalized Wisconsin’s natural resources but also turned the boys into men by giving them discipline and teaching them work skills. (Photo courtesy of the Friends of Wyalusing State Park)
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By Caitlin Bittner

On Sept. 12, the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library is bringing Bill Jamerson, a Michigan based author/songwriter, to talk about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a federal works program created by President Franklin Roosevelt in the heart of The Great Depression. During its nine year run beginning in 1933, ninety two thousand young men worked in Wisconsin camps. There was an average of 46 camps in operation for each year. The enrollees were paid $1 a day with $25 sent home to their families each month. The money kept many families from starving.

Because of the CCC’s 80th anniversary, Jamerson will share stories about the CCC, read excerpts from his novel, show a video clip from his PBS film “Camp Forgotten”  and sing original songs with his guitar. “I want to help celebrate their contribution. They were teenagers doing all of this; they just want their story told, and I’m honored to be the one to tell it,” said Jamerson.

Jamerson will start his performance at 2 p.m. at the Prairie du Chien City Hall Community Room. Those who have family who were in the CCC are strongly encouraged to come. “They can learn more about their grandfathers, fathers and uncles who may not have talked much about it,” he explained.

A question and answer period and book signing will follow his presentation. Former CCC men and their families are encouraged to attend and asked to bring photo albums and CCC memorabilia.

Although some may be familiar with stories of the CCC, Jamerson promises that his will be unique, offering stories about everything from the girls they met on Saturday nights to the squirrels they adopted as pets.

Over the years, Jamerson has performed at CCC reunions around the country and at dozens of CCC built national and state parks. “My favorite performance was at Smokey Mountain National Park. There were 24 CCC camps helping to build the park with about 3,000 people in total. It was very exciting to be in such a park with over a dozen actual CCC members in attendance,” remarked Jamerson.

The first time Jamerson came in contact with the CCC was 20 years ago while filming for Wisconsin Public Television (WPTV). With the help of his evolving relationship with the members of the CCC, Jamerson has become an expert in their history. “The men I got to know over the years would all say the same things. They’d say it was the best year of their lives, that it turned their lives around and changed them from boys to men. That’s what motivates me to tell their stories,” Jamerson explained.

Since WPTV’s release of Jamerson’s film in 1994, he has continued to be invited to chapter meetings and reunions, prompting his interest in writing his book “Big Shoulders.”

“Big Shoulders” is a historical novel that follows a year in the life of a seventeen-year-old youth from Detroit who enlisted in the CCC in 1937. The enrollee joins two hundred other young men at Camp Raco, a work camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula run by reserve army officers. It is a coming-of-age story of an angry teenager who faces the rigors of hard work, learning to cope with a difficult sergeant and fending off a bully.

Aside from his performances like the one in City Hall, Jamerson also has special programming for both middle schools and high schools. He additionally has programs on iron mining, as well as lumberjacks.

For more information, please contact the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library at (608) 326 6211, or visit Jamerson’s website at: billjamerson.com.

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