Making the Most of a Trip to Menomonie, Wisconsin

Sustainable agriculture, beautiful buildings and old-time baseball make this place memorable.

Menomonie is a picturesque city of 16,000 people in Dunn County centered on Lake Menomin in the western part of our state. The crew of “Around the Corner with John McGivern” visited in October 2017, because we wanted to feature the fall colors in an especially beautiful community. We certainly got all that in Menomonie.

One of our first stops was Govin’s Farm, the home and workplace of John and Julie Govin. This entrepreneurial family is in the “agritourism” business. In the spring, they open their lambing and baby animal farm where you can hold baby pigs and lambs and take the cutest pictures ever with kids or grandkids. In the fall, it’s a wildly popular weekend destination with a very challenging corn maze. They sent me in and wished me luck. Thanks to our Milwaukee PBS drone and my very loud screams/cries, I found my way out of that Stephen King nightmare. Next to the maze are a number of cannons. You can shoot apples and/or pumpkins into a battlefield complete with targets of dented cars and trucks. I LOVED IT! Anyone know where I can get a cannon of my own?

Speaking of farms, have you ever been to a trout farm? This is where fish are raised much like any other crop, but they are much more fun to harvest. Jeremiah’s Bulldog Fish Farm, just outside Menomonie, can be found by following the “Eat My Fish” signs. It offers pond-side fishing, and the fish you catch are cleaned, prepared by the staff and served in the beer and beverage garden. The farm produces, processes and markets rainbow trout at the rate of 14,000 pounds per year. Jeremiah and Jordan Fredrickson are the owners. Jeremiah worked as an agriculture teacher for the last 16 years and his wife, Jordan, has a degree in biology. They love the chance to educate and to promote small farms and sustainable agriculture.

Next we visited a fascinating manufacturing operation, Cardinal Glass FG. The glass they make is used by national residential and commercial window providers. Cardinal has a workforce of over 200 in Menomonie. Cardinal’s Steve Henderson showed us every step of the glass-making operation: sand being loaded into a gigantic furnace and quickly melting into a liquid; massive rollers moving the goo along on enormous tables that cool it into solid sheets as big as a house. The production line is a half-mile long, inside the cleanest factory I’ve ever seen.

I also got to experience vintage baseball. Imagine grown men and women in circa 1880 clothing, playing a game with a bat and hard, little ball, not wearing gloves or mitts, on a piece of land that has no markings. I watched and applauded while seated on a hay bale!

When we arrived downtown, I fell in love. There was one of the most beautiful community gathering places I’ve ever seen, the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts. It was built in 1889 by lumber baron Andrew Tainter to honor his daughter, who enjoyed music and the arts but died at 19. The interior has a marble staircase and floors and beautiful stained glass windows. The original, restored Steere and Turner pipe organ has 1,597 pipes and 28 stops. This magnificent building declares the past and embraces the present, smack in the middle of Menomonie.

Right across the street is the main building of UW-Stout. It’s tall and red and gorgeous, and nearly 10,000 students attend classes at Wisconsin’s only polytechnic university.

Then there are the barn quilts. I was aware of the beautifully painted quilt patterns that cover the sides of barns all over the state, but I had no idea how they happened and that there is a concerted movement to continue this project. Mary Kolstad and Janine Thull are artists and advocates who help local farmers tell their family stories through the age-old craft of designing a quilt square. These 8-by-8-foot designs are painted on plywood and hung on the sides of barns or sheds. They dot the landscape all around Menomonie. We would turn a country corner or come over a small, rolling hill and there would be a large pop of art based on the personal story of a family who works this land.

I love every one of these “quilts” because I know they are based on real-life Wisconsin stories.

‘Making the Most of Menomonie’ appears in the April 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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John McGivern is best known for his Emmy-award winning work on PBS, Around the Corner with John McGivern. His one-man-shows, THE EARLY STORIES OF JOHN MCGIVERN, MIDSUMMER NIGHT MCGIVERN AND JOHN MCGIVERN’S HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS tell the stories of being the third born of six kids in a working-class Irish Catholic Family in Milwaukee. John has been the keynote speaker for The Alliance for Children and Families, The State Department on Aging, The Children and Family Service Agency of Wisconsin, The Wisconsin Defense League, Christ Child Association, Foundation for Children with Cancer, Employee Assistant Professional Association and has been fortunate to entertain companies such as Time Warner, Northwestern Mutual, Kohl’s Department Stores, Baird, Acuity, and M&I Financial.