Yesterday in La Crosse (207)

Monday - December 11, 2017 8:47 am

Music fans lose a legend at Christmastime, 37 years ago

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It was on December 8th in 1980 when John Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York apartment building by an obsessed fan who had gotten Lennon's autograph earlier in the day.  The former Beatle was 40 years old, and had a new hit single and album on the charts after a five-year hiatus from the music business.  Many Americans heard the news while watching "Monday Night Football" on TV.  In La Crosse, the Racquet newspaper at UW-L called Lennon "the first cultural hero to be assassinated"...unlike other popular celebrities such as Buddy Holly or Jimi Hendrix who may have been killed in accidents or died from substance abuse.
Another pop culture icon to die that December...the real Colonel Sanders, the founder of and commercial pitchman for Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Harland Sanders had just turned 90.  La Crosse's first KFC outlet stood for many years on Losey Boulevard, across from the Village.  Around the time of the Colonel's passing, the south-side restaurant moved to its current location, along Mormon Coulee Road.  
The Christmas edition of the Racquet featured ads for the People's Food Co-op at 6th and Adams...the Office Lounge...Lang Drive Liquor...and Clothes 'n Counter at Menard Plaza.  Places for holiday shopping in 1980, yesterday in La Crosse.

Thursday - December 7, 2017 8:47 am

Taking a leap, 42 years ago

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In the summer of 1975, hang gliding was becoming a fad in the Midwest, with the bluffs along the Mississippi used as jumping-off spots.  A group called the La Crosse Sky Surfers had spent several months trying to persuade the city to let them take off from Grandad Bluff.  The park board was taking its time studying the idea, with one board member suggesting that hang-gliders pay a fee of at least $5 to run off the bluff top.  The money would be spent to improve the bluff.

A UW law graduate was opening a La Crosse law office.  Milwaukee native Roger LeGrand had spent three years in India with the Peace Corps.  LeGrand has been in La Crosse ever since '75, serving in many elected offices including district attorney, and presiding as a circuit judge.

The Pizza Wagon on the UW-L campus offered an individual cheese pizza for just $1.30.  For the 16-inch Wagon Special, you'd have to pay just over $5...the price for your slice 42 years ago, yesterday in La Crosse.


The biggest court case of 2012 in La Crosse County was the double murder trial of Eric Koula.  That June, a jury found Koula guilty of shooting his parents, Dennis and Merna Koula, for their inheritance after racking up large debts through internet stock trading.  Defense lawyers proposed a theory that the Koulas were victims of mistaken identity, shot by a hitman looking for a different house in Barre Mills.  CBS News built an episode of "48 Hours" around the Koula case.  In 2017, Eric Koula's latest attempt at a new trial was turned down by a local judge.
Four new murders occurred in La Crosse that same year.  One woman was found strangled in a parking lot, in a drug-related case.  A college student was shot on her living room couch by a burglar looking for money.  And a robber shot and killed a camera store owner and his 19-year-old son, inside the store on a Saturday afternoon.  Shortly after that double slaying, Ron Tischer was sworn in as La Crosse's new police chief, succeeding retired chief Ed Kondracki.
There was a downtown closing that Christmas, when the La Crosse Community Theatre ended a 44-year run on 5th Avenue, in what is now the Cavalier Theatre.  LCT relocated to the Weber Center after a holiday production of "A Christmas Story."  Five years ago, 2012, yesterday in La Crosse.

In the fall of 1969, the Marching Chiefs band from La Crosse State was making travel plans to play in the Rose Parade at Pasadena on New Year's Day.  More than 200 musicians would be marching in the parade, and each of them needed to raise $230 to pay for the trip.  The Chiefs were selling cookbooks of their favorite recipes, and planned to sell concessions at Oktoberfest.

The "Racquet" newspaper on campus declared that ending the Vietnam War was the most important task facing the nation.  The paper promoted two anti-war moratoriums that were scheduled in Washington during the fall.

Music lovers in La Crosse could buy popular records at the Pic-a-Book Store on Campbell Road, with albums priced as low as $3.67.  The hot albums included "Chicago Transit Authority," by the band later known as just Chicago...Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline," featuring "Lay Lady Lay"...and "Johnny Cash at San Quentin," featuring the live version of "A Boy Named Sue."  Forty eight years ago, 1969, Yesterday in La Crosse.


In late 1976, the city council voted to end a development contract with Harborview Plaza Associates, complaining that the company had been given several years to find something to put on the empty Harborview lot near Riverside Park.  Hotels, condominiums, and retail stores had all been suggested.  The council was told that only the city redevelopment authority could end the contract...and two nights later, aldermen reversed their firing decision.  
When Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale were elected president and vice president that fall, Mondale had to give up his job as U.S. Senator from Minnesota.  Governor Wendell Anderson wanted Mondale's job, and publicly announced that he would resign, so the new governor, Rudy Perpich, would appoint him.  Minnesota law only allowed appointment by the governor as a way to fill a Senate vacancy.  People around the state were angry about that deal, and two years later, they voted out both Senator Anderson and Governor Perpich.  In the La Crosse area, Paul Offner moved up from the Assembly to win an open seat in the State Senate.  Winning Offner's former seat was future La Crosse mayor John Medinger.
The Sirloin Stockade, along Mormon Coulee Road, was featuring a club steak special for $1.69.  And Con's Grill, on 7th Street near Lutheran Hospital, had a $4.25 steak dinner...with coffee included.  Dinner deals in 1976, yesterday in La Crosse.


Stroh was suing in 1985 to stop Heileman's planned merger with Pabst of Milwaukee, and Pabst wanted the Supreme Court to settle the dispute.  Stroh and other beermakers thought Heileman was becoming too big through acquisitions.  About a decade later, Stroh eventually bought Heileman, and closed down the La Crosse brewery in 1999 when it got out of the beer business.

"The Dukes of Hazzard" was ending a six-year run on CBS.  It was replaced by one of several detective shows that debuted on the big networks in 1985.  The most popular detective program to emerge from the Class of '85 was "Moonlighting," starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis.

The La Crosse Tribune asked local celebrities who they would choose to portray them in a movie.  Mayor Patrick Zielke chose Clint Eastwood, while Assemblyman John Medinger picked Yul Brynner for his lookalike.  State Senator Brian Rude wanted to be played by Alan Alda.  As for WIZM Radio's Dick Record, Mickey Rooney was Dick's second choice...only because Richard Burton had passed away.  Celebrity lookalikes in 1985, 32 years ago, yesterday in La Crosse.


In 1956, Northern Engraving president Charles Gelatt was appointed to a new nine-year term on the UW Board of Regents.  Gelatt was just 38, and he had been the youngest president of the regents ever.  He was 29 when he first joined the board in 1947.

The 1956 presidential election that fall was a rerun of the '52 race.  Incumbent Republican Dwight Eisenhower was seeking a second term with the same running mate, Richard Nixon, and the same Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson.  But this time, Stevenson had a different vice-presidential nominee, Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver, who had won the Democratic vote in the Wisconsin and Minnesota primaries that year.

Less than a month before the election, Eisenhower filled a Supreme Court vacancy by naming William Brennan through a recess appointment.  Brennan succeeded Sherman Minton, who retired from the court because of poor health.  A high court change 61 years ago, yesterday in La Crosse.


In the fall of 1967, a city council committee voted to remove orange-colored parking meters from some downtown street corners in La Crosse, because the smallest coin those meters would take was a nickel.  One council member said five-cent meters were a "stab in the back" for La Crosse merchants.  But the head of the meter department said a nickel meter was designed as a way to assure quick turnover in those parking stalls.  
Lots of things were much cheaper in '67, including soda pop.  The Pop Doc store was close to the river, on Division Street.  At the Pop Doc, you could buy a case of two dozen 16-ounce bottles of soda for $1.35.  You could buy cola or several other flavors including strawberry and chocolate pop.
Medical history was made in December of '67, when South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard performed the first human heart transplant.  Grocer Louis Washkansky received the heart of a younger woman who had been killed in a traffic accident, and he lived for 18 days.  Today, more than three thousand heart transplants are done around the world in a typical year...but the first one happened 50 years ago, 1967, yesterday in La Crosse.

Only one major league baseball club from Wisconsin has ever been a World Series champion, and that was the 1957 Milwaukee Braves.  They beat the Yankees 4 games to 3 that fall, and just about any public place in La Crosse with a TV set tuned to the Series drew a crowd.  The series games were all played in the daytime in those days.  Doerflinger's department store had five TV sets showing the games.  Banks and hospitals also set up television screens during the ball games...and while La Crosse police were not allowed to have TV's at headquarters, they could listen to the Braves on the radio.  
The La Crosse area lost a state lawmaker in '57, when Republican Eugene Toepel left the Assembly after just four years.  Governor Vernon Thomson appointed Toepel as a county judge to fill the seat left vacant when Judge Roy Ahlstrom died.  Toepel remained on the bench until the 1980's.  
Louis Armstrong performed at La Crosse's Avalon Ballroom in 1957.  Satchmo would return to La Crosse seven years later, as a headliner during Oktoberfest.  Popular records around the U.S. that fall included "Jailhouse Rock" by Elvis...the Everly Brothers singing "Wake Up Little Susie"...and a double-sided hit by Pat Boone, "April Love" and "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano," 60 years ago, yesterday in La Crosse.

In 1977, a taxpayers committee in La Crosse County was looking into the idea of a county executive, which didn't go over too well with county board members.  They may have feared that they would lose power to an appointed administrator.  Supervisors also said the new position would cost too much.  Years later, the county did hire an administrator.

School superintendent Eugene Balts resigned after six years in charge of the La Crosse schools.  Balts was headed to a job in Rice Lake.  Coincidentally, he announced his resignation the week before the La Crosse School Board voted not to re-hire Myron McKee as principal at Longfellow Junior High.  That controversial move led to an August recall election, in which five board members lost their seats.

For live entertainment, you could go to the Sawyer Auditorium in La Crosse for one concert featuring Styx, "Dream Weaver" singer Gary Wright, and Robert Palmer.  On another night, you could see accordion player Myron Floren of "The Lawrence Welk Show" at the Sawyer...40 years ago, 1977, yesterday in La Crosse.


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