Iíve spent a fair amount of time at Winona City Hall. Sometimes, itís been exciting ó debates, fiesty political banter, important votes. Other times, when the School Board reaches hour four, for example, itís important to have a good book.
The media table is along one side of the council chambers, facing the front of the building. Across from my spot, hung proudly on the wall next to awards, is the famous photo of John A. Latsch. I have spent countless hours staring at that face, imagining myself out on the river, tromping through the woods ó anywhere outside, really. Whenever my mind would start to wander, my eyes would find that solemn gaze, that hint of a smile.
If youíve ever analyzed that Latsch photo, you know heís got something of a Mona Lisa expression on his face. No matter where you are in the room it seems as though his eyes are directed your way. Iím so thankful that we have that photo, a visual with which to imagine one of the most important men to have pulled a canoe up to Winonaís shoreline. (Letter writer Mike Potvin imagined ó Iím assuming ó an encounter with Latschís ghost. Part of the letter is on this page, the rest can be found at www.winonapost.com. Itís an interesting read!)
Iíve imagined all kinds of encounters with Latsch, although he was alive in all of my daydreams. I imagine his East End home, in which he blocked off most of the interior, living in just a small area of the house. I imagine the neighbor children eager to catch a piece of candy from the quiet grocer; I imagine his salesmen and their families, whom he would take out on a big boat on the river for company picnics. I imagine the smell of the cigars he would hand out to people he met on the street. But mostly, I imagine Johnny Latsch in his boat.
I love telling the story of John Latsch to visitors. Some towns have notable characters from the past, but I donít think many are as interesting, nor important, as Latsch. The only thing more fun than telling people the story of John Latsch is showing them the beauty he preserved, whispering about his inspiring gifts as you paddle along the riverbanks and stare up at the bluffsides peeking out along the horizon.
One of the first stories for which I won an award was about the history of Latsch and his gifts, and I remember sitting in the archives room at the Winona County History Center for hours, reading through old newspaper stories and research papers. I learned that in 1961, former Mayor R.K. Ellings declared September 24 as John Latsch Day, and Iíve tried to get the party started since I scrawled the date in my notebook. I think one year there was a little gathering, but we are finally having the real celebration that he deserves.
If you are reading this on Saturday, please make sure to head down to Levee Park for the bow tie photo event at 1 p.m. If we get enough people together for the photo, Winona will set a Guinness Book of World Records record, in Latschís honor, for the most people wearing a bow tie in one spot. Imagine what he would think!
I like to imagine Latsch, because he imagined me. He imagined all of us, that fateful day under his canoe in the rain. He imagined that someday the world would be less wild, there would be fewer places to play, that Winonaís riverbanks might someday have fences and ďno trespassing signs.Ē Latsch could see the future, and simply wanted to make it better for all of us. We could learn a thing or two from him.