Fourth Ward people remembered in PdC woman’s new book

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Bette Beneker diligently worked for seven years on putting together “Come Hell or High Water: Prairie du Chien’s 4th Ward.” The book, self-published through CreateSpace, is a tribute to the hard-working people and businesses that once inhabited St. Feriole Island. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

After seven years of diligence and personal loyalty to retelling the stories of the Fourth Ward, Bette Valley Beneker has released a book dedicated to the one place most near and dear to her heart. “Come Hell or High Water: Prairie du Chien’s 4th Ward,” self-published through CreateSpace, keeps alive the memories made decades ago when a neighborhood of homes and businesses occupied St. Feriole Island.

“It’s about the people who lived there,” Bette described. “These people need to be remembered, for the simple reason that they had hearts of gold, they were hard workers and it was really a community.”

Bette’s book brings to life numerous generations of proud and caring people who had no choice but to leave their homes behind because of repeated and devastating floods—particularly the record-breaking flood of 1965. In the 260 pages she wrote, the Fourth Ward native herself provides phone book directories, a street and avenue guide, flood and relocation information, and lots of family pictures from those who once resided on the island.

Work on the book began in 2008, when Bette obtained a CD from former Courier Press Editor Bill Howe of information about the relocation of Fourth Ward homes.

“I thought it couldn’t be that hard to put a book together, but it was,” she said. “It took a lot of searching and talking to older people to get phone books from that time or to just get information and pictures. I went through thousands of addresses and organized them by each road. I spent many hours in the city office going through old records. I’m thankful to Julie Jackson for climbing the ladder every time to get those records off the top shelf. I spent time with Lois Harwood listening to what she could remember. She did about 10 pages of bio for me too. Marianne Luban was also a great help with completing my book.”

The “Come Hell or High Water” timeline starts out in 1929 and ends with details about the relocation of the homes that once stood in the Fourth Ward.

One of the greatest sources Bette utilized for her publication was a compilation of hand-drawn maps her mom, Mary Valley, personally sketched on the backs of recycled word search paper. “My mom made maps of each block, she drew little squares of each house on every street and she made notes of how many people lived in each house,” Bette said, tearing up when recalling how much her parents loved the Fourth Ward. “She gave these to me because she wanted to leave me something that meant a lot to her. This was her treasure.”

The book is dedicated to both her mom and dad, Carl, who is pictured on the front cover rowing a fishing boat through the 1951 flood waters. It was also written in memory of all the families who lived in the Fourth Ward.

As of last week, Bette said she’d sold at least 40 books since the online publishing company approved it on July 24—which coincidentally was four years to the date that Bette’s mom passed away in 2011. Bette said, overall, readers have been showing considerable appreciation for her book.

“People say it’s really nice. They’ve said if it wasn’t for me doing it, no one might have,” she stated. “I learned a lot from the process and I’m really proud of the finished product. It’s just important to me to keep those memories alive.”

“Come Hell or High Water: Prairie du Chien’s 4th Ward” is available for sale at Valley Fish & Cheese, the Fort Crawford Museum, and Amazon.com. The Prairie du Chien Memorial Library also has a copy.

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