Ho-Chunk Nation has received a gift that symbolizes its culture
with a recent donation from a Duluth couple.
Annette and Russ Port came to the Executive Building
on Monday, March 2, to donate a basket made in 1953 to the Ho-Chunk
Annette father received the basket from a Ho-Chunk
woman 62 years ago.
"I'm very happy to be able to donate this basket,"
Annette said. "I asked my sisters in Milwaukee and North Carolina,
and they also were thrilled."
The basket was a gift to her father, Richard
"Jay" Webster, from a Ho-Chunk woman. It was given to him while
he managed the Badger Village on the former Badger Ordinance Works
"My father, like many returning World War II
veterans, decided to take advantage of the GI Bill and attended
college. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in
1949 and graduated in 1953," she said.
Located between Madison and Baraboo, Badger Village
had barrack housing (constructed in 1942) for employees of the Badger
Ordinance Works. After World War II ended, the influx of GIs at
the University of Wisconsin caused such a housing shortage that
part of Badger Village was turned into GI housing for married students.
"My parents, sister and I were among this group
of 750 veterans and their families who lived in Badger Village,"
Annette said. "Like their neighbors, my parents were strapped for
money and dad did everything he could to earn a few bucks from driving
the bus back and forth to the UW campus, which was 70 miles round
trip, to managing the community building which held the 'Bar Room.'"
He worked at the position from February 1952
to July 1953. In this capacity, he met many Badger Village residents
as well as people from the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, which was
known as the Winnebago tribe at the time, she said.
"This is how my dad came to know a Native American
woman named 'Big Bertha' and her husband who soon became friends.
Dad served them alcohol just like he would for any customer," Annette
said. "This practice irritated the non-native patrons who did not
want 'Indians' in their bar.
"Dad was an inclusive man and wouldn't tolerate
discrimination in any fashion. So he decided to write a letter to
the Attorney General of the state of Wisconsin, asking if there
were laws restricting him from serving any group of people," Annette
said. "The written answer came back clearly stating that all people
were welcome. Dad posted this letter along with a statement of his
own. That statement read, 'Heretofore, all people are welcome in
Shortly after that, "Big Bertha" came to their
"She knocked on the door and presented my dad
with a beautiful hand-woven, vegetable-dyed basket which she has
made as a gift of appreciation from her and her husband," Annette
said. "My parents and our family used and cherished this basket
for more than 60 years. If you look carefully, you will see the
exquisite craftsmanship and inside colors are still evident."
After her father died 10 years ago and her mother
four years ago, Annette and her two sisters went through their parents'
house and found the basket. They remembered how they had used it
throughout the years for many occasions, especially as a picnic
basket for their outings. They told their children the story of
how the basket had been given to their father.
Annette and Russ had not given the basket another
thought until they spent the weekend at Meskwaki casino and hotel
in Tama, Iowa, when they saw baskets on display as a tie to the
Meskwaki cultural heritage.
"That made me think about giving the basket back
to the Ho-Chunk Nation," she said.
"To my sisters and me, this basket has always
been a reminder of a philosophy in our family: 'All people are welcome
here,'" she said.