Ho-Chunk Museum director puts her passion into her work, readies the museum for the opening


Reported Ken Luchterhand

A Ho-Chunk museum has been in the planning stages for a few years, but now a projected opening date is near.

Museum Director Josie Lee is excited about the opportunity for opening, something she has been working diligently toward since the museum’s inception.

The building at 1108 Superior Street in Tomah is the site of the new museum, having been purchased in 2018.

“It’s a beautiful building with incredible character,” Lee said.

The building was constructed in 1891 and is one of the historic structures of Tomah. It was previously a boutique and a place for fundraisers for the Tomah Boys and Girls Club. Prior to that, it was the home of the Tomah Journal newspaper.

Next week the name of the museum is planned to be painted onto the windows.

Enough money was provided by the Ho-Chunk Nation to purchase the building, but there were issues accessing funding in order t renovate immediately after the purchase.

“It has been a long waiting game to get to this point,” Lee said.

The original goal was to open the museum a year ago at this time, but then it was moved back to July. With the administration change in the Ho-Chunk government, the process again was delayed. But now that everything has stabilized, things could get going.

Now, the goal is to open in January, with the first exhibition on Clarence Monegar, curated by Tom Jones.

Lee plans to rotate exhibits every three to four months. She is working with IT and others to create dynamic exhibits that feature videos and games as time goes on. She also hopes to have community education classes in the back room of the museum.

“It’s hard to tell the entire Ho-Chunk story in 1,000 square feet,” Lee said. “By rotating the exhibits, we can keep the displays interesting and hopefully, encourage visitors to keep returning.”

There will be no admission charge, but donations will be accepted. Eventually, advertising for the museum will be done in conjunction with casino advertising.

The work has been painstaking for Lee. She has been anxious to get the museum operational and open to the public.

“One of the obstacles to museum development is that we were waiting on a grant for renovation – which we didn’t get,” Lee said. “Thankfully, most of the work has come through volunteers and donations. We have a wonderful volunteer base. Things wouldn’t be where they are today without contributions from the community.” Eventually, as the museum process grows, she would like to have a larger staff base to expand the offerings of the museum. But for now, Lee is preparing for the public to observe and interact with Ho-Chunk stories told in our own voice in our own space.