Community voices share stories about Mississippi River

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Victoria Bradford-Styrbecki and her husband, Tom Styrbecki (at center), along with community members Morgan Tujetsch, Becky Hefel, Joe Ihm, Jamie Ludovissy, Kevin Hanson and members of the audience shared their experiences of living and working on the Mississippi River. The storytelling event was held on Saturday, Aug. 10. (Press photo by Shelia Tomkins)

By Caroline Rosacker 

Big Blue Sky and Relay of Voices provided the musical and theatrical entertainment for area residents on Saturday, Aug. 10. The event was held in Ingleside Park on the south marina overlook platform, in conjunction with the community's annual Celebrate Guttenberg event. The stage was set under a canopy of shade trees with blue skies overhead with the Mississippi River as a backdrop. 

Victoria Bradford-Styrbecki and husband Tom opened the program by sharing stories they have gathered as they run and bike along the Great River Road on their journey from the headwaters to the mouth of the Mississippi River. 

While in Guttenberg the couple spent time visiting with community members Joe Ihm, Becky Hefel, Jamie Ludovissy, Morgan Tujetsch and DNR representative Kevin Hanson. The sample group shared their experiences with the audience. 

Morgan Tujetsch

Morgan Tujetsch, daughter of Mike and Toni Tujetsch, was the first to share her story. "I grew up on the river. The river is my 'happy place.' I learned to water ski when I was five years old. All I can remember when I look back on my childhood is the river. The river represents family to me.  We all enjoy waterskiing, jet skiing and fishing," she said. 

Tujetsch currently attends the University of Iowa in Iowa City. She went on to say, "I love this area. It will always be home to me. I hope someday to be able to retire to the area and continue to enjoy the Mississippi River." 

Becky Hefel

Becky Hefel, long-standing member of the community, shared her story. She said, "I have lived here forever. As I look around the crowd it makes me realize that not everyone has been blessed with that pleasure. I believe it is the river that draws people here, and I am so grateful for the many people I have met and called friends because of the river. I am also grateful for my many friends who have remained in the area to experience life along the shores of this great river."

Joe Ihm

Local historian Joe Ihm was the next to speak. "I was born in Guttenberg in 1931. I went on the river with my father for the first time in 1936. I was able to experience the river in its natural state before the lock and dam was built," said Ihm. 

He went on to say, "I want to talk to you about my experience with the large passenger river boats." Ihm asked audience members to look down the river and imagine the vision of a large passenger boat rounding the corner. He commented, "When The President, The Capitol or The J.S. rounded the corner, the whole town shut down. Business owners locked up their stores and everyone headed over to the shoreline."

He explained, "When the boat arrived, they played the calliope. You could board the passenger boat for ten cents. The boat went to Cassville, stayed for an hour and came home. It was a big deal!" 

"The afternoon cruise was for the kids and the grandparents. The evening cruise was for parents to party. There was a top deck with lawn chairs on it. As I grew older I was able to go on the night cruise with my parents, and I used to sneak up to the top deck to spy on my sister to see who she was necking with," he said with a hearty laugh. 

Ihm shared his experience fishing and swimming on the Mississippi. He said, "My friends and I used to swim and fish off the seawall. We would jump off the top. It was a 25-foot drop. My friend Lloyd Sadewasser would dive off the top. On one incident he gathered floats from his dad's shop and tied them to his bike and rode his bike off the top. It worked!  When he landed the bike was still afloat." 

Jon "Hawk" Stravers, Big Blue Sky Band member added, "The J.S. was an important boat to music. It was the boat that Louie Armstrong regularly performed on."   

Jamie Ludovissy 

Next to step forward was Jamie Ludovissy, a 14-year-old self-described river rat, who spends his days enjoying life on the Mississippi River.  "I have stories like Joe did, but I don't want to share them with my mom in the audience," he said with a sly smile.

"I have all kinds of fish stories catching bluegill, bass and catfish. I took Victoria and Tom on a tour of the spillway today," he proudly shared.

Kevin Hanson

Kevin Hanson introduced himself by saying, "I have been employed with the DNR for 15 years. Most of that time I have been stationed in Guttenberg, and have spent it on the Mississippi River." 

Hanson described a recent backpacking journey he went on and shared his experience walking five days on a trail with no cell phone reception. "It makes you realize how dependent we are on our electronic devices. It was nice to experience all the challenges of nature without GPS and up-to-date weather forecasts. We only had the communication of the trail and each other," he said.

Hanson shared a story he located in the fish hatchery archives about a famous goldfish eating DNR employee. "The fish hatchery used to raise goldfish to give to area farmers to clean out their cattle tanks. They would also give them to children who stopped in for a visit. The strange-behaving employee never passed up a chance to eat a live goldfish in front of a crowd of onlookers.” He went on to say, “He was eventually subjected to a psych evaluation and passed. He took the signed affidavit proving his sanity, jumped up on the table and shouted, ‘I’m the only one here with proof that they are sane!’’ 

Hanson added “It’s the power in our stories that keep us together.” 

Stravers, Hanson and commercial fisherman Rich Sadewasser, whose jobs require spending time on the river often meet in the  backwater areas. Stravers shared, “Occasionally the three of us will meet in the backwaters as we gather information and ‘read’ the river. In those remote locations surrounded by nature, it feels like we are in the middle of nowhere at the center of the universe.” 

Stravers insisted, “Get out on the river, and get muddy and learn!”

Audience member and Clayton resident Dean Schultz spoke of the work ethic and respect he received while he was employed as a young man on the river. “The river taught me honesty and responsibility,” he shared.  

Diane Bieber, retired Guttenberg native, shared a humorous story about throwing an untethered anchor overboard. She said, “The Mississippi River is Heaven – not the Field of Dreams in Dyersville. Your worst day on the river is better than your best day on land.”

Mandy Ludovissy, Chamber of Commerce director and organizer of the event, told the audience, “I love the people who come to town who are pulled by the river. Whether they arrive by car, by boat, canoe, kayak or homemade raft — they are all pulled by their desire to experience the beauty and wonder of the Mississippi River.”

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