Welcome to the 151st Annual Meeting La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce!

I am Vicki Markussen, Executive Director of the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Every year we look to improve this event and I am pleased to tell you that we successfully eliminated the 7” of snow from the program.

And as we cast a vision for the future of the Chamber tonight our goals are also to remove the following:

  • Six inches of snow from the Honor Student Banquet Agenda
  • Five inches of rain that hit the region as our golf outing was ending

We are confident that removing these from all our events will help in Chamber’s mission to build a stronger community and happier members.

Just as you think that the Chamber was the catalyst for the snow-magedon we are having now … for the record – we did NOT have any large events since December 1. Since that date … there have been trace to measurable snowfall on 62% of the days.

There is an entire economy around snow – both good and bad. Mt. La Crosse loves natural snow (not the ice). Front end loaders are in short supply … garage door companies are crazy-busy with repairs … security system batteries freeze as have pipes with plumbers, heating guys can’t keep up, and of course … tires get replaced and cars/trucks fixed. Forget finding kids snow pants, shovels, snowblowers and sidewalk salt. And anyone with a truck with a plow are our new best friend.

Of course we appreciate the firefighters, police, municipal snow plows and others who keep us safe. But for this group, I think we have a special appreciation for our delivery drivers, our hospital staff, our convenience store who do not have the luxury of working from home. They trudge through snow, slop and ice because they understand that the community needs the very thing do. God bless those dedicated employees.

Appreciation is at the heart of this annual meeting. We have three goals for this event:

  1. Celebrate what our business community – by uniting through membership we have accomplished
  2. Cast a vision for the year to come
  3. Recognize dedicated leaders who care so deeply about our community that people gravitate to them and they inspire others

We celebrate in the midst of transformed and beautiful room thanks to Nancy and Summer’s at Wedding by Nancy because of our presenting sponsor,   Altra Federal Credit Union.

Altra chose not to speak tonight as our presenting sponsor so I am taking the liberty to use their time to recognize their fearless leader who is retiring in one month.

Altra’s CEO Jack Peplinski served on the Chamber board for eight years, including as our Chairman of the Board now three annual meetings ago. Jack began casting a vision for Altra in 1985 when he served on the board for the then Trane Federal Credit Union. During his tenure they renamed as they expanded their customer base and grew nationally. Altra quickly outgrew their Losey Boulevard location and they chose to build a beautiful national headquarters in Onalaska. It’s expanded once and they continue to grow.

You can identify an exceptional leader when the brand, values and love for local exudes into the community. Every time I visited Jack, I admired local artist Eva Marie Restel’s artwork in their lobby – Eva Marie is here tonight. Jack explained all of the artwork in their lobby is from local artists. Jack recognizes the impact Altra should have by supporting the communities it is in. He embodies being a community leader and was always open to hearing the next opportunity to help.

Thank you, Jack, for growing Altra’s headquarters right here and for sharing your community-strengthening vision throughout Altra. Our Chamber and Greater La Crosse is stronger because of your leadership. Please join me in sending Jack into retirement with our heartfelt appreciation.

To their video we go …

Altra Video

Terry Cowgill with Cowgill Dental said recently, “I belong to the Chamber because it’s where businesses that care about the community belong.”

These are the companies that think beyond their own needs to make this event stronger and to create something bigger and better than they could do alone. THANK YOU!

Companies like WXOW put their video talent to work and generously give us Dave Solie’s time and the marvel that is Mitch who sits behind the curtain to move sliders and press buttons to create the Wizard-of Oz-like video magic. Thank you!

As outgoing chairman of the Board Ed Jaekel with JRM & Associates comes to the front to showcase this past year … I want to highlight individuals for whom our organization remains grateful

Senator Jennifer Shilling is here tonight. She comes every year. She is a paid member of the Chamber. Our Forum is possible because of Senator Shilling and Representatives Jill Billings and Steve Doyle. The Forum helps take your voice to Madison. Thank you, Jennifer for your time and support.

UW-L Emeritus Professor Joe Heim has facilitated the Forum since 1998 – 21 of its 39 years … all as a volunteer. Joe is in the audience. Joe, the thoughtful overview you bring to that program and beyond is such a gift. THANK YOU for sharing that gift for so many years.

Tom Thibodeau … Viterbo University – the partnership with you for our Servant Leadership and Community Leadership programs is a blessing. Glena Temple and Tom Knothe – thank you for that gift of helping grow our business leaders from Viterbo.


ED:  Outgoing Board Recognition

A sign that a board member is satisfied is their willingness to serve a second, three year term. As our outgoing board members Bruce Friell with Gundersen Health System, Joe Poehling with First Supply and Sue Kolve-Feehan with Sue Kolve’s Salon and Day Spa and The Salon Professional Academy are making their way to the stage …

Each has served two terms and in some cases they took over a prior partial term.

During their tenure on the board they have overseen … a change in the Chamber’s leadership, Purchasing and moving to a new building, and the Sale of the old building and land (both of which are now newly developed and improved properties), They also helped fulfill a longtime goal of an education center, activating our Foundation for business education, and overseeing the constant evaluation of the Chamber’s programs. We thank you, Bruce, Joe and Sue for your service.

Let’s cut to the video while our volunteer of the year comes forward.


[Mayo & WXOW Videos]

ED: Leadership Award


As you heard, the Chamber’s new approach is .. how do we make what we do more remarkable. That includes this event.

Our leadership award given for decades recognized an individual who moved our strategies forward. The volunteer was someone amazingly generous with their time. Those two often … and should .. go hand in hand. So we merged them.

Dahl Automotive … we thank you for sponsoring what is now the Volunteer Leadership Award.

Chris Butler with Verve, a credit union, was an easy pick for this award.

It is said that a great volunteer and leader saves the organization 80% of time and effort. Chris embodies that.

Chris united the executive directors of the Chamber, economic development, tourism and downtown to jointly better define each organization’s scope. This work provided great clarity to each organization.

Chris recently heard Gundersen’s Jeff Thompson speak of having a community goal and continues to drive that effort forward.

His, self-proclaimed and somewhat self-serving vision to have boat slips within walking distance of downtown La Crosse has him calling the meetings and uniting the partners to move this forward. Despite the major obstacles like a strong current, sediment coming in from the La Crosse River, and major utility lines, Chris’s determination is still driving this project forward.

Chris, you’re not alone in that vision, our Young Professionals and others identified this same need years ago.

As you can see … our community is stronger because of Chris’ vision, determination, and taking the time to call the question in the room.

Chris, you are well deserving of this years Volunteer Leadership award.



[Chris Remarks]

TO ED: [Year in Review]


[Ed’s Final Speech will be Inserted Here
Includes a Toss to Lynn


LYNN: Recognition of Ed

Ed is breathing a big sigh of relief now because not only is his last formal commitment done, but he can now get back to focusing on tax season.

But before you go … Ed, we would want to thank you for your year of leadership and those in the room from JRM & Associates. As a small business, the commitment is particularly generous. We thank you for your time and your team for its coverage as you serve.

And now a word from our sponsors.

[Brickl & Gundersen]

 LYNN: Cast the Vision

 [Lynn’s speech inserted here]

 Lynn Continues

We’re going to take a quick sponsor videos break as the Regional Progress Winners come forward.

Kwik Trip & Wieser Brothers Videos

Our regional progress award is given to projects that are catalytic. 

This award is made possible by the La Crosse Regional Airport. Thank you for your sponsorship.

Economic development often is a project, they take decades to build and then catalytic projects spark rapid interest and development.

Onalaska’s downtown redevelopment was recognized in 2003 as its key projects completed – streetscaping, new municipal center that allowed Sue Kolve’s Salon to move into the former police station.

The demolition of the Braund Lumber building in 2015 opened up the River Front as the Grand River Landing was envisioned at the intersection of Highway 35 and Main Street.

This project caused the former Monsoors building to become David Reay’s and Dash Park was created by Dave & Barb Skogen.

Now Three Sixty Real Estate is building a large apartment complex along the river.

The latest spark was the City with its vision for Great River Landing. We welcome Mayor Joe Chilsen and Administrator Eric Rindlfeisch along with contractor Wieser Brothers for Great River Landing followed by Scott Skogen representing Festival Food founders Dave and Barb Skogen with contractor DBS Group.

Recipients … thank you for what this project that embodies what a great vision and planned economic can do – begin the spark that gets development rolling.

[remarks by speakers]

 Lynn: Community Service Award

We conclude our awards this evening with our most esteemed award – the Chairman’s Community Service Award.

This award is bestowed by the Chamber not only because of their business leadership but because of the impact they have on the community.

Mayo Clinic is an economic driver for our region. The lives it changes through employment and programmatic support … the volunteering gift it gives to the community … and its many employees provide in leadership guidance set a tone.

This prioritization starts at the top.

Joe Kruse stepped down in mid-December as chief administrative officer after 34 years with Mayo Clinic Health Systems-Franciscan Healthcare. 

One of his last accomplishments was guiding the Franciscan Sisters as they transferred what was once their hospital, called St. Francis, to be fully controlled by Mayo Clinic. They were in good hands. You see, Joe had once considered ministry – at least until he met his wife Barb. Joe is faith in action.

In fact, the culture created by Kruse and his fellow leader retiree, Dr Tim Johnson, has people speaking the words “compassion” and “caring”. Many at Mayo say that these value remain deeply rooted in their employees. The community could not ask for more.

Many groups in the community have recognized and honored both Joe and Barb’s jovial nature by giving them titles and robes to wear – from Aquinas’ Mardi Gras royalty to Oktoberfest Festmaster and Frau. Joe has worn the Chairman of the Chamber Board title. Joe – and Barb — you continue to inspire others.

But hear it from others. Let’s take a look at the video WXOW prepared.

WXOW Video

Joe Kruse … before your family – wife Barb, with your son Mark and daughter-in-law Leanne here – and before your Mayo leadership past and new, your fellow business leaders … and members of the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce – we thank you for service are proud to award you the 2019 Community Leadership Award.

Joe Kruse remarks


I now hand the program over to Vicki to wrap things up.


 Flowers = 1st to Sit Down

Please remember as you go to turn in your nametags

In parting … words of inspiration from the book we are reading. While written by the Calgary Chamber exec Adam Legge … it pertains to us all … from his book called “Making Remarkable”.

I’m going to paraphrase this because as Viterbo’s Tom Thibodeau says … we are all leaders. Every single one of us. We are in charge of someone or something even at home. So I paraphrase Adam’s words in that wider definition.

The author states, “What is remarkable? It is a state of being exceptional … of being relevant … and valued. Seeing remarkability encourages your finest work and therefore makes an unparalleled impact on your child, your parent, your customer, the team you coach, your community and the world.

Remarkability is what separates the uncommon and extraordinary from the merely good, suitably adequate and the intensely mediocre.

Don’t settle for being mediocre.

There should never will be a sense of “done” or a “set and forget it”.

Being remarkable requires constant surveying … adapting … measuring and repeating. You will never be able to sit back and relax in your remarkable awesomeness.

You can inspire more.

As you go home tonight … in what are can you be more remarkable and inspire remarkability in someone else? Be purposeful. Cast a vision and you will find others inspired to help you achieve it.

Have a great night!