Time to take Fort Crawford Museum Challenge

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Kathy Koch grew up in Prairie du Chien and her husband, Gary, met her after college while working at Wyalusing Academy. For years, they’ve invested in the betterment of the Prairie du Chien community. They believe the Fort Crawford Museum’s role in preserving the area’s history is so important that they challenge the public to consider donating to the museum, and they plan to match those contributions up to $3,000. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

Museum season is about to begin and Fort Crawford Museum volunteers are challenging the community to help inject more enthusiastic financial support into the site’s revenue stream.

Overseen by the Prairie du Chien Historical Society (PDCHS), Fort Crawford’s 2018 budget is $85,000. Those dollars sustain facility and grounds maintenance, exhibit creation and conservation, collection cataloguing and preservation, and other general operation costs. 

The museum is open seven days a week from May 1 through Oct. 31. 

“We have a real choppy expenditure stream. There’s a lot of grants out there but they’re mostly for new construction, not simply for operation,” PDCHS finance director Gary Koch said. “Our spending is going up with the museum opening soon, and we felt fortunate enough to be able to challenge the community to add some funds in there. We’re trying to expand our donor base and get people interested in the museum too. We’re hoping people will respond.”

With these ambitions in mind, Gary and Kathy Koch invite the public to “Take the Fort Crawford Museum Challenge.” 

For a limited time only, the Kochs will personally match all donations to the Fort Crawford Museum, up to $3,000. Individual, business or civic group donations will have double the impact if they take this challenge. 

There’s no hard deadline for donations, but Gary said, “We’re pointing toward May 1 as the opening. We’d like to draw people in, no matter how young or old, or how much or little they can donate.”

“Every little bit adds up,” Kathy agreed.

According to the Fort Crawford Museum website (fortcrawfordmuseum.com), the three-building attraction on Beaumont Road and Rice Street offers more than just the refurbished remnants of the Fort Crawford Military Hospital. 

It provides local and traveling visitors a thorough history of Prairie du Chien. It’s truly a walk through time, including Prairie du Chien in the War of 1812; a prehistoric fossil collection; American Indian artifacts and spearpoints; the arrival of the railroad in 1857; clamming on the Mississippi River in the early 1900s; local schools such as Campion High and St. Mary’s Academy; employment, shopping and family genealogy in early Prairie du Chien, and so much more.

“Prairie is very historical and it does have a significant place in Wisconsin’s history,” Gary stated. “But there’s also an educational aspect to this museum. I don’t think Prairie people know who was here, what was here, and how lucky they are that the museum is here to showcase all that.”

“Prairie du Chien is a nice place to live and I care about its history and its future. It’s really important we have a place where people can bring their stuff to be preserved for the future,” Kathy added. 

She continued, explaining how the Villa Louis Historic Site has a very precise focus, mainly on the Dousman family, saying further that the Fort Crawford Museum tells “the rest of the story.”

Though the two places are connected, “they’re also uniquely appreciated,” Kathy said. 

The Kochs shared that they continue to be amazed at the ever-changing vastness of the Fort Crawford Museum’s collection. Where else can one cure their historical curiosity in one place, by learning about the iron lung machine, the area’s one-time toll bridge and local high school memorabilia—all for less than the price of going to a movie. 

Gary and Kathy have volunteered with PDCHS since its inception in 1996. Kathy has published the museum’s newsletter and Gary has helped with finances as well as painting and building exhibits. 

They said the museum is always accepting volunteers for contributions in computer work, collection work, special events, etc. 

Kathy proclaimed, “It’s a nice group of people and it’s just a pleasant place to be.”

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