Soldiers Grove Heritage
Gary Comer: founder of the Lands’ End clothing-catalog company, maintained a home near Soldiers Grove until his death in 2006. An avid sailor since childhood, he gave up a 10-year career as an advertising copywriter to start a mail-order sailing equipment business in 1962. The first location of his company was in a Chicago apartment. By 1965 the company printed its first catalog, which became an industry favorite with its clever writing. In 1978, Comer moved the warehouse and phone operations to Dodgeville, and in 1986, took the company public. It became the second largest apparel-only mail order business and the world’s largest clothing website. In 2002, Sears purchased Lands’ End. Mr. Comer left a remarkable philanthropic legacy, including an $84 million gift that led to the creation and expansion of the Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago
Paul Zimmer: One of America’s best-known poets lives on “a tidy farm at the end of a two-mile dirt road near Soldiers Grove,” except for the time he spends in the south of France. Paul Zimmer finds both equally inspiring. Author of over a dozen poetry collections, Paul has received two National Education Association fellowships, the Helen Bullis Memorial Award, two Pushcart Prizes, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. Crossing to Sunlight: Selected Poems (University of Georgia Press, 1996) is a substantial retrospective of his most famous work. Crossing to Sunlight Revisited: New and Selected Poems (University of Georgia Press, 2007) won the Posner Book-Length Poetry Award in 2007. His book After the Fire: A writer Finds His Place (University of Minnesota Press, 2002), offers observations on Soldiers Grove and Crawford County.
Agnes Moorehead: Film and television actress Agnes Moorehead resided in Soldiers Grove and taught English and Drama in High School here as a young woman. She also coached oratory, and her student team won numerous contests. Best known for her role as Endora on the TV series Bewitched, she had roles in 75 films, including Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Johnny Belinda, and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. She was born in 1900 and died in 1974. Her fondness for the color purple earned her the nickname “Lavender Lady”.
James O. Peterson received the Wisconsin Board of Veteran Affairs Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. Born in Soldiers Grove, Peterson enlisted with the US Army in 1942. After completing Officers Candidate School, 2nd Lt. Peterson served as an infantry platoon leader in Scotland, England, and France. Promoted and transferred to Munich, his unit provided security to General Patton's residence and Army HQ. Subsequently, his unit provided security at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials. Through the GI bill, Peterson obtained his Bachelors and Masters degrees and launched a 20-year career in parochial education. He served on and chaired the Crawford County Board of Supervisors, served as Administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles, and commanded the Wisconsin State Highway Patrol.
WWII Hero: Herbert F. Helgerson was honored with the Veteran's Lifetime Achievement Award by the Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs. He served in General Omar Bradley's 1st Army and in General George Patton's 3rd Army. His decorations include the Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal with Five Battle Stars, the Distinguished Unit Citation, the Presidential Unit Citation, a Letter of Commendation, and four Overseas Bars. After the war, Herb borrowed $100 on a handshake as a down payment for a sawmill in Soldiers Grove. Over the next 42 years, he operated Helgerson's Forest Products, which bought, harvested, milled and sold local hardwoods and employed numerous people.
Wisconsin’s 21st governor came from Soldiers Grove. James Ole Davidson was born in Norway in 1854 and immigrated to the U.S. in when he was 18 years old. He came to Soldiers Grove in 1877, started a successful mercantile business, and served two terms as village president. A Republican, he served as state assemblyman from 1893 to 1898. He rose rapidly in the ranks, serving as state treasurer from 1899 to 1903, and as lieutenant governor as the running mate of Robert M. La Follette. Re-elected in 1904, he served in this position until La Follette resigned the governorship to take a seat in the U.S. Senate, making Davidson acting governor. In 1908 he was re-nominated without opposition and served until January 1911. He died in 1922 and is buried in Madison.
Joni(Moore) Pienkowski grew up in Soldiers Grove in the 1950’s, living on mainstreet upstairs over the grocery store that her parents owned, Moore’s Meats. She had two older brothers, Bob and Duane (who went on after high school to become a TV broadcaster at WKBT in LaCrosse). Joni took a big interest in art at a very early age in her childhood, doing drawings on the store windows as well as various portraits of towns people and sketches of her memories of growing up in Grove. After graduating from Soldiers Grove High School in 1955, she went on to the University of Wisconsin, majoring in art, eventually earning an admirable master’s degree in fine art. She moved on to Virginia where her new husband became a professor at Virginia Tech. Joni was well into her art world career at that time and soon became a well-known artist locally in many galleries. Her art’s popularity then grew to being displayed in the eastern states, then nationally. Her works have been on display in more than 150 solo, group and traveling exhibitions at museums and galleries throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian Institution and many others. She has shown singularly in cities nationwide including Philadelphia, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Washington DC, and many others. Her works are also in many private art collections. Joni still has fond memories of her roots growing up in Soldiers Grove and will always cherish them.