Couple donates $500,000
Plans for New London e-library rekindled
By John Faucher
When Milt and Trudy Staskal left New London the first time 45 years ago, they never knew if they would come back.
The young couple’s careers in ministry, advertising sales and professional services were just beginning to bloom when they left.
Having returned for a visit 25 years later, in their semi-retirement years, the couple once again dropped anchors in New London.
Inspired by reaching the catch limit of walleye on the Wolf River, the Staskals were hooked on New London again.
The New London Public Library Board and Fundraising Committee appreciate that limit of fish back in July 2000.
Since returning to New London the Staskals have made regular contributions to the library’s programs and large print book collection. They were helpful in funding major purchases of land across the street where the former trophy shop and Denny’s Supermarket once stood.
They also donated seed funds earmarked for a new library at that location.
When 2017 plans for a mixed-use private development and library project on vacant downtown riverfront property fell through, the library’s fundraising committee began looking at other options.
They learned of a new trend in libraries that didn’t involve physical books but involves technology.
In August, then New London Library Board President and fundraising chair Ron Steinhorst, presented the e concept to city planners.
“The so-called E-Library focuses upon computers, Wi-Fi access and maker-space with fabrication labs,” said the late Ron Steinhorst who passed away in November.
“This supports exploration with hands-on learning for the future job markets and would allow us to partner with local industries in the areas of electricity, plumbing, welding, carpentry—in other words, the trades.”
The existing library would remain functional as a traditional book repository and the flexible new structure would be located across the street on the vacant lot.
Steinhorst also said the new facility could include a STEM lab (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), a teen center, private study rooms, collaborative work spaces, a computer center and a large meeting room with an adjacent kitchen.
The Staskals felt the new library should be across the street from the current one versus the riverfront proposal.
“The existing library location is near several schools and a new center across the street just seems like it would be a natural fit,” said Milt Staskal.
The power of reading
Both Milt and Trudy are avid readers, as well as their four children and now grandchildren.
“When I retired my goal was to read three books just for the fun of reading,” Milt said. “I had done a lot of reading in life but it was all business oriented.”
He recalls one time parking outside the library so he could use the Wi-Fi internet to download a book on his Kindle.
Trudy suffers from macular degeneration and reads large print edition books.
Over the years the Staskals have helped the library purchase over 500 large print books.
Her favorite book is “Five Smooth Stones” by Ann Fairbairn.
“It’s a civil rights book,” said Milt.
The pastor in him noted, “The book’s title reference is from when David slays Goliath he uses a sling with five smooth stones,” said Staskal.
“She started reading it and literally propped the book up in the window doing dishes. She couldn’t put it down. Then I started reading it and couldn’t put it down until I finished it,” Staskal said of the 900-page novel.
Why $500,000 for the library
In addition to the ongoing support for New London Public Library’s programs, the Staskals became honorary co-chairs of the new library fundraising committee.
“It was local. We knew they needed money and we thought we could help get the capital drive kick started,” said Staskal.
They initially pledged $250,000 and later doubled it to $500,000.
As frequent users of the library, the Staskals noted the number of people using the existing computers.
“It wasn’t that there wasn’t that money available to purchase more computers, it was the space,” said Staskal.
“There weren’t enough places to put them. Now with this virus the importance of virtual connectedness is even more critical,” he said.
He also noted that the increasing costs of the internet is a detriment for income challenged families and the unemployed, who rely on the internet for learning and seeking jobs in today’s world.
Couple’s history in New London
The Staskals first came to New London in 1968 after Milt answered the call to become pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ.
The Staskals served the church and community here until 1975 when Milt answered the call to travel and become an intentional interim pastor.
Over the next 25 years they traveled across the United States and Milt served as interim pastor for 13 different congregations.
Trudy worked a career as an administrative secretary in human services.
Milt also carried a part-time career in advertising sales, where he successfully led his company and his industry in national sales.
He never had a large income but his work ethic taught him to become an astute investor of what he earned.
What lured them back
In the summer of 2000 Trudy had a lunch appointment with some friends in New London. At that same time, the couple had been considering communities where they might settle in their retirement.
Milt recently served as an interim pastor in La Crosse. They loved that area, which appealed to their outdoor, social, arts and educational interests.
“It’s a beautiful place over there,” said Milt. It’s a nice community, with two colleges and plenty to do, and the fishing on the Mississippi River.”
They also considered returning to New London where Milt recalled good fishing on the Wolf River during his first seven years here.
Milt drove Trudy to New London for her lunch appointment that mid-July day. He decided to bring the boat along and get some fishing in while Trudy met her friend for lunch.
Not expecting to catch much during a mid-day July outing, Staskal was surprised to catch three walleye right away, near the mouth of the Embarrass River.
By the time Trudy returned from lunch he had his limit.
As he was fishing he noticed three new condos at the site of the old saw mill on the north side of the Wolf River which he remembered during his early years in New London.
“One of them was for sale,” said Staskal.
He called the owner and that same night he and Trudy were given a tour.
The couple never moved to La Crosse.
They moved into their new condo on the Wolf River in September 2000.
“It’s hard to imagine how a love for fishing can help support a library but it’s part of the story of why Milt and Trudy Staskal called New London home, twice,” said Lori Dehlinger Van Alstine.
Lori and her husband Joe Van Alstine are active members of the New London Library Fundraising Committee.
“Thank goodness for the walleye or the Staskals may have been supporting a library project in La Crosse,” said Joe Van Alstine.
“Milt and Trudy’s generous support provides a tremendous shot in the arm toward making this project possible,” added Lori. “They are truly pacesetters for our fundraising efforts.”
“Generations to come will benefit from their commitment to this community,” Van Alstine said.