Stougton to name new park after city icon Carl Sampson

Carl Sampson

Countless times, Carl Sampson likely looked out over the shores of the Yahara River, contemplating life as he made his daily walks downtown, over the Main Street bridge.

Now, the area next to the Stoughton Area Senior Center will be a park named in his honor.

The Stoughton Common Council voted Tuesday, Sept. 14, to name a new park after the longtime Stoughton icon, who died in 2017 at the age of 90. But not before a bit of skirmishing among council members on the name that wasn’t chosen -- Heritage Park.

The discussion drew some concern about the connotations of the word “heritage,” given the close proximity and association with Norwegian culture.

The idea to convert the empty land into a city park came from a resident, with the Community Affairs/Council Policy committee holding a public naming contest and narrowing the list to Carl Sampson Park and Heritage Park.

District 3 Ald. Greg Jenson, a member of that committee, moved to approve the name Heritage Park as “extremely fitting,” given its location, and District 1 Ald. Joyce Tikalsky seconded.

“If you look right across the river, you have the heritage mural, you have the heritage museum across the street,” Jenson said. “I also think Carl Sampson would be good, and I think there is a place for Carl, and I don't think it’s in this park.”

Jenson said he’d like to see the city raise funds for a statue of Sampson in the Stoughton Area Veterans Memorial Park “because of all the stuff he did for the VFW and the Legion.”

“That, to me, would be a more appropriate acknowledgement of Carl's contribution to the community,” Jenson said.

Ald. Brett Schumacher (D-1), who made the motion to name the park after Sampson, said he preferred that option based on “what sort of personality he was, and how he meant quite a bit to a lot of the citizens.”

“I've seen him do his (Memorial Day) Gettysburg address many, many, many times and it was fantastic to have witnessed that the number of years I was able to,” he said.

Ald. Lisa Reeves (D-2) talked about how Sampson -- then a youthful 80 -- walked her around downtown when she first moved to the area.

“He was charming, he clearly loved Stoughton and he shared so much information that I still don't think I would have if I had not had the opportunity to meet him," she said. "He, to me, just represented so much of what I love about Stoughton, he was generous with his time; he was sort of quirky and kind.”

A question of Heritage

Others were concerned about the possible negative connotations of the word “heritage,” including Ald. Ben Heili (D-4), who said was “hesitant” about the name.

“Heritage, in a vacuum, is pretty innocuous, but it is sort of a buzzword for certain communities to want to make heritage exclusionary,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don't think it would be as appropriate a choice.”

Tikalsky disagreed.

“I just wonder if it's maybe too hopeful to think that someday the word ‘heritage’ would encompass our entire history,” she said. “And maybe it's a reminder to strive for that.”

Council president Regina Hirsch said while that was a “wonderful” idea, the location of the park could give other people the wrong impression.

“If we are trying to create an inclusive community -- and right now if you talk to anybody, they say our ‘heritage’ is this Norwegian heritage -- I think that makes people feel less welcome,” she said. “If the mural across that park was actually an inclusive mural that had all the different races and ethnicities that encompass our community, but it’s not. And neither is the heritage center across the street, it's very geared toward the Norwegian heritage and their genealogy.”

Jenson said that was a “short sighted” view that is “slighting the community's ability to accept and be diverse.”

“I think heritage means a lot more than just our Norwegian heritage,” he said. “To me, that is the community's heritage. The Norwegian part of it … is only part and parcel of it. I don't see where it’s a negative.”

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