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Weekly Column

Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.


For the week of 11/28/2021
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Every fall, the Wisconsin Historical Society hosts a conference for local historians and historic preservationists. Both this year and last year, the conference was held on-line, via Zoom, due to the ongoing pandemic. One of the great things about this conference is that it’s very focused on Wisconsin, with lots of relevant topics.

Just reading through the titles of the sessions gives you an idea of where the history profession is headed in our state and what local historians are thinking about: “Wisconsin’s Emerging National Heritage Areas”, “Where Does Heritage Tourism Fit in the Larger Travel Puzzle?”, “The Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary”, “Tax Credits for Historic Building Rehabilitation”, and so much more.

Liz Arbuckle, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, led the session called, “Everywhere With a Good Feeling: How to Incorporate Native History in Local Museums”. Our own Vernon County Museum is always working to do this, to present more Native history, and specifically Ho-Chunk history. We also have the story of the Sauk and Meskwaki peoples and the Blackhawk War to share. Increasingly we are spreading these stories around the museum, into different exhibits, rather than confining them to one room as in the past.

“Effective Outreach: Taking Your Stories on the Road Without Leaving Your Collections Behind” was a session that reminded us that while people aren’t always able to walk through the front door of the museum, especially during a pandemic, we can still reach them. One of the ways we do this is by attending festivals, such as the Vernon County Fair, where this year we presented information about the history of public health care in Vernon County. Another way we do this is by offering three different Viroqua walking tours, available both in paper format on brochure racks inside and outside the museum, and in digital format on our website: https://www.vernoncountyhistory.org/walking/walk_tours.php

Two history professors from UW La Crosse led a session on “Doing LBGTQ+ History in Small City Wisconsin”. Dr. Beaujot and Dr. Macias-Gonzalez talked about their research on the subject, including that there has been a network of gay dairy farmers in this region for decades, and that Protestant churches in small cities have long been supportive of the queer community. I also learned that Wisconsin was the first state to pass gay rights and the first state with openly-gay politicians. Our museum also does research on this topic, and we have a file on it in the archives.

It was a good conference, and I look forward to more in the future.

We are sorry to say that we will again not be able to host a Tour of Homes this December, due to the ongoing pandemic. But the first floor of the museum will be festive with our many vintage holiday decorations for everyone to enjoy. The museum will be open throughout December for our regular winter hours of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, noon to 4PM, or by appointment.


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For the week of 11/21/2021
by Kristen Parrott, curator

November is Native American Heritage Month, and this November we’ve been looking at the life and legacy of Joshua Decorah Sanford. He was born near Friendship, Wisconsin, in 1919 to a Seneca father and a Ho-Chunk mother. During World War II, Joshua was a fighter pilot with the famed Flying Tigers. Before and after the war, he lived in Hillsboro, right here in Vernon County.

Continuing the story from where we left off, in the late 1950’s the Sanford family was living in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. Joshua was the manager of the Reedsburg airport, his wife Rosemary was the principal of Rock Springs Elementary School, and their children Maureen and Bill attended Sacred Heart School in Reedsburg.

During the war, Joshua had been wounded in action, for which he received a Purple Heart, and he continued to suffer from those bullet wounds long after the war. He was hospitalized for over a year around 1960 with complications from the injuries. When he was released, he found a new job as a factory representative for the Radio Corporation of America. In this job he could continue to use his radio and electrical engineering experience.

He also served as the Sauk County Civil Defense Director, and in 1961, he was appointed Director of Civil Defense for 11 counties in southwestern Wisconsin. However, his health was declining, due to a combination of war wounds, a kidney ailment, and diabetes.

Joshua Sanford died on October 21, 1962, at a hospital in Madison. He was 43 years old. He was buried with Catholic rites at the Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Hillsboro, where his father Herbert had been buried in 1951. Wife Rosemary would join him there in 1998.

Hillsboro honored the memory of Joshua Sanford by renaming its airport the Joshua Sanford Field Airport on May 30, 1993. A morning of festivities for the airport renaming included the presentation of a painting depicting Sanford’s WWII experiences to his widow, Rosemary, who in turn donated the painting to the city of Hillsboro. The airport closed in 2016.

Joshua’s name was added to the Memorial Wall next to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Aviation Museum in Oshkosh in 2016. And in 2018, he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, also at the Aviation Museum in Oshkosh.

You can learn more about Joshua Sanford at the Vernon County Museum, where we have a file full of information about him. If you have something additional to contribute to the file, please contact the museum at 608-637-7396, or museum@vernoncountyhistory.org, or stop by during our regular winter hours of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, noon to 4PM.


Captain Joshua Sanford

Captain Joshua Sanford, 75th Fighter Squadron, stationed in China in 1944-45.


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The previous two articles:

November 14, 2021

November 7, 2021