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80 Years

Click on the links below to see how things have evolved over the last 80 years.

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We all think of the Great Depression when over 1,000 banks crashed and unemployment rose to record levels and the Dust Bowl when farmers left their drought destroyed farms to look for work on agricultural fields in the west. But, what we can also think of is the ingenuity and the inspiration that were products of the depression. Money was scarce, and people turned to their neighbors and community to find support and encouragement. 

  • Sliced bread became available in grocery stores and bakeries. 

  • Tums antacids were invented to eliminate heartburn. 

  • Fun with Dick and Jane books were written. 

  • Marathons, bike marathons, mustache growing contests, tree sitting, and other events began to fill free time and offered an escape.

  • Birdseye frozen vegetables were available commercially.

  • Scotch tape was invented.

  • The VA was established on July 21st, 1930.

  • Work began to build the National Parks including Mount Rushmore and the Hoover Dam.

  • Massive structures known “skyscrapers” were built including the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and Rockefeller Center.

In La Crosse...

  • La Crosse changed during these years as well. The city felt the Depression most significantly in 1932 and 1937. But during this time, the sanitary sewer project and Isle le Plume sewage disposal was completed, a second causeway connecting the north and south sides was built, electric streetcars were replaced by buses, and the bridge crossing the Mississippi River collapsed and was later replaced. 

  •  People had more free time as they could not work and the Municipal pool was built in 1938.

  • Schools were getting overcrowded so Longfellow and Emerson schools were built.

  • The Concert Band was established by the City of La Crosse to provide free music for people to enjoy during evenings in the summer at various parks.

At the Foundation...

  • And on July 21st, 1930, the La Crosse Community Trust, now known as La Crosse Community Foundation was established.

  • So know you know, La Crosse Community Foundation have been around since sliced bread!

World War II defines the 40s as the war virtually eliminated unemployment as men went to war and women went to work. Production of some products, like automobiles ceased, and rationing of food staples, like sugar and flour, and personal supplies, like women’s nylon stockings, went into effect.

  • The antibiotic, Penicillin, was discovered and revolutionized treatment of infections. 

  • Big band music like Glen Miller dominated radio and led to singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.

  • The jitterbug was introduced which was the first dance in 2 centuries that allowed personal expression.

  • Paperback books were first published giving more people the opportunity to read for pleasure.

  • TV dinners, Tupperwear, aluminum foil were invented changing how kitchens across America ran. And if dinner wasn’t in a kitchen, it might be in a diner.

  • The family lawn became a symbol of pride and ownership: avg. home cost $3,920.

  • At the end of the war, there were 5,000 television sets in America. 

  • The baby boom became apparent as GIs returned to their wives.

In La Crosse...

  • During war time in La Crosse, companies changed to manufacture products for the war and housing growth ceased. The Exchange Building, 1941, was the last building project until after the war.

  • Because of gas shortages, parking downtown was not a problem for the only time in La Crosse history!

  • 6,749 La Crosse County men and women served in World War II; 151 lost their lives.

  • Because of juvenile crime, a municipal recreation program, youth orchestra, and youth centers were created to give youth something to do.

  • The La Crosse Symphony Orchestra, started as a civic orchestra in 1941, became a nonprofit in 1947.

  • After the war, neighborhoods expanded from 16th Street to the foot of the bluffs. The La Crosse Housing Authority was created in 1945. Northern Engraving, Trane, and Heileman expanded. 

At the Foundation...

  • Miss Alice O. Gordon bequeathed $4,000 to the La Crosse Community Trust for the benefit of children living with disabilities in March, 1942. Miss Gordon was the first donor of the La Crosse Community Foundation.

  • On June 17th, 1946 the La Crosse Community Foundation’s first grant was issued, in the amount of $200, to help pay for medical care of a young girl.

As the baby boom got underway and industry expanded to meet peacetime needs, consumerism and growth took charge. Americans also saw the beginning of the Korean Conflict and the Cold War. 

  • School integration, in 1954 ended the “separate but equal” standard for public access. 

  • By 1951, 17 million households had a television and the first broadcast began with a speech by President Harry Truman and led to sitcoms and soap operas.

  • The Prairie Style home became popular with the talented Frank Lloyd Wright and his associates, including Percy Bentley.

  • The boom in consumerism and the affordability of single family homes led to the development of suburbs.

  • From Southern Blues and gospel, rock and roll was born, bringing rise to singers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly who are wildly received by young audiences.

In La Crosse...

  • In La Crosse, the Park and Recreation Department developed a system of playgrounds and trails were built on Grandad’s bluff.

  • The Mary Sawyer auditorium was dedicated in 1955.

  • Stansfield Vending moved to La Crosse.

  • There were 5,859 students in public schools and the drop out rate was 20%, which was better than the national drop out rate of 50%.

At the Foundation...

  • Mr. Louis Rehfuss deeded land to the Community Trust in 1958. That land was sold to the city and some of the proceeds started the money started the Rehfuss fund. Today, Central High School sits on that Rehfuss property. In the intervening 50 years, the Rehfuss fund has funded many math and science related projects throughout the area.

  • The Community Trust joined the National Council of Community Foundations to ensure accountability and transparency. 

A revolution of education, values, lifestyles, laws, and entertainment; the Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race, the assassination of President Kennedy, and hippies defined much of the 60s.

  • Campuses became centers of debate and protest as the baby boomers started entering college and America stepped into the war in Vietnam.

  • The decade started with Alan Shepard going into space, John Glenn orbiting Earth, and finished with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon.

  • Female teachers continued to teach while pregnant for the first time.

  • Skateboards, Barbies, and GI Joe were introduced.

  • Rocky and his Friends and the Flintstones were the first cartoons made for TV.

  • Motown Records brought to large audiences singers like Aretha Franklin and Smoky Robinson, Bob Dylan brought about a folk revival, and the Beatles dominated the music scene. The late 1960s saw psychedelic rock which led to “counterculture” and Woodstock.

In La Crosse...

  • Oktoberfest was first celebrated in 1961. Louis Armstrong played at Oktoberfest in 1964 and the Glen Miller Orchestra played in 1966. 

  • The Mississippi River flooded during Easter of 1965 damaging an already blighted area. The river crested at 17 feet and many youth volunteers assisted with sandbagging. A Harborview plan was created in 1966 for a business/retail district near the river, but no development would take place.

At the Foundation...

  • The La Crosse Community Trust changed it name to the La Crosse Foundation.

Major trends included a growing disillusionment of government, advances in civil rights, increased influence of the women's rights, a heightened concern for the environment, and increased space exploration. Many of the "radical" ideas of the 60's gained wider acceptance in the new decade, and were mainstreamed into American life and culture. Amid war, social realignment, presidential impeachment proceedings, the Arab oil embargo, and a recession, America prospered.

  • School integration continued and students with disabilities were granted equal educational access.

  • Fads included mood rings, lava lamps, Rubik's cube, Sea Monkeys, smiley face stickers, string art, and pet rocks and streaking became popular.

  • Families traveled in station wagons; many aspiring to own RVs.

  • Computer technology saw the development of the floppy disk and the microprocessor. ATARI and VCRs were introduced.

  • Jumbo jets revolutionized commercial air travel.

  • DNA technology was discovered and expanded.

  • The first Earth Day was celebrated under the leadership of US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.

In La Crosse...

  •  A new Harborview campaign was launched to develop a new Civic Center by the Mississippi River in 1975. In 1978, construction began on the La Crosse Center. In 1979, the G. Heileman Brewing Company headquarters were built as well as the Radisson Hotel.

  • Bicentennial Trail opened in Hixon Forest in 1975.

  • La Crosse City Council researched and did not approve “Bicentennial Freeway” to alleviate north-south traffic. 

At the Foundation...

  • The La Crosse Foundation assets top $500,000.

The “me generation” sees hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts, and mega-mergers in business. Shop till you drop and credit cards became a way of life for many. New war on drugs and related increased crime rates were high, hospital costs rose dramatically, many lives were lost to AIDS, and unemployment rose. But ET also phoned home, Americans gave over $115 billion to charities, and the Berlin Wall came down.

  • Video games, camcorders, minivans, aerobics, and talkshows became part of our lives.

  • Personal computers were used by a large number of Americans.

  • Business management was the most popular major on college campuses. The Catcher in the Rye was the most banned book and the word “mankind” modified to “humankind.”

  • Nerds, valley girls, and the Smurfs became popular in the 80s.

  • Video killed the radio star as MTV was launched. Michael Jackson and Madonna led the charts for most of the 80s as rap started to become popular.

In La Crosse...

  • The La Crosse Center opened in 1980 and hosted Bob Hope in October of that year.

  • Hixon Forest Nature Center was built.

At the Foundation...

  • In 1982 the Foundation distributed its $1 millionth dollar in grants.

  • In 1984 the first paid staff member was hired to oversee operations at the La Crosse Community Foundation.

  • Many family-named funds were initiated in the 1980s. All of which continue to extend philanthropic support for area agencies and important causes.

  • At the end of the decade, the Foundation’s assets were $4.2 million.

The electronic age brought the world wide web, changing the way we did business, looked up information, and even talked (SPAM, FAQs, and BTW). The United States was involved in conflicts in Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, and Yugoslavia. Violence was reported by various media outlets including the Rodney King riots, the OJ Simpson chase and trial, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Morrow Federal Building, and Columbine School shootings. The end of the decade carried a diverse society and a healthy economy.

  • Grunge fashions, khaki pants, and microfibers emerged in the fashion industry.

  • Tae-bo, in-line skates, furbies, Tickle me Elmo, beanie babies, were the fads of the time. Tattoos and body piercing became more visible.

  • Ritalin became a widely prescribed drug for treating ADHD.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in an effort to insure public access to public facilities.

  • Music was broad and many radio stations found a niche and audience. CDs were popular as was pirating music. The Mozart Effect Study was published showing a correlation between classical music and math skills.

  • Societal changes due to the new W2 or Wisconsin Works Program see more people needing basic help for themselves and their children. General Relief or Public Welfare roles are significantly reduced. 

At the Foundation...

  • The first executive director was hired in 1990.

  • In May 1991, the La Crosse Foundation officially became the La Crosse Community Foundation.

  • In May 1992, Sheila Garrity was hired as Executive Director. 

  • Many donor advised, designated, and field of interest funds are initiated by area philanthropists. Norman L. Gillette Sr. established a one million dollar donor advised fund “to give back to the community.”

  • The Foundation issues challenge grants to match funding from other sources to support children abuse prevention programs like Healthy Families and the Family Resource Center.

  • Foundation secures a national grant to establish the Bridge Builder Fund to support and value all people in the community.

Y2K. September 11. The War on Terror. The Indonesian Tsunami. Hurricane Katrina. The Great Recession. The yet to be named decade was one of turbulence, but ingenuity and philanthropy have not been forgotten.

  • USBs, ipods, ipads, and iphones. Broadband. Wiki. Texting. Digital Cameras. HDTV. Technology is vast and many of us are able to speak new jargon. 

  • There is less of an excuse to get lost with a GPS.

  • The first fully contained artificial heart was successfully transplanted and the first face transplant occurred. A vaccine for cervical cancer was discovered. And many vaccines for swine flu ended up being destroyed.

  • Best selling artists of the decade include Eminem and the Beatle’s (who disbanded 30 years earlier). Michael Jackson died at the end of the decade leading to the largest public mourning since Princess Diana.

  • Reality TV started to overtake sitcoms and some households have 7th generation gaming systems like wii, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360.

At the Foundation...

  • The La Crosse Community Foundation formed the Corporation to offer more flexibility for donors.

  • Foundation adds its first Supporting Organization: the Dr. David and Sacia Morris Foundation.

  • Young philanthropists started the First Fridays Club, now CPI, to learn more about the community and become more involved.

  • Foundation assets topped $29.5 million and more than $15 million in grants and scholarships were given since the Foundation began.

  • The Foundation focuses on community needs like mental health and dental care.

  • The Zielke Fund issues a significant grant to City of La Crosse’s Copeland Park to build grandstands and improve lighting.


401 Main St., Ste. 205
La Crosse, WI 54601
Phone: (608) 782-3223
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