Birrenbach gives $25,000 memorial to Ft. Crawford

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Ken Birrenbach, holding a picture of his late beloved wife, Dorothy, presents a $25,000 donation to Prairie du Chien Historical Society President Mary Antoine, April 1. The money is being used to establish a memorial Dorothy Birrenbach Friends of the Fort Crawford Museum Fund and support museum operations. (Photo by Gary Howe)

By Correne Martin

The most considerable personal donation ever given to the Prairie du Chien Historical Society, for the amount of $25,000, was made Monday, April 1, by Ken Birrenbach, in honor of his late wife. This tremendous contribution is being used to establish the Dorothy Birrenbach Friends of the Fort Crawford Museum Fund. 

“The Fort Crawford Museum was one of Dorothy’s favorite charities. For many years, she contributed her time by working in the museum gift shop. She especially enjoyed the Cannons at the Fort because she loved the children,” stated Ken. “I’m making this donation as an endowment so that, even though she’s no longer with us, she continues to give to the museum.”

Dorothy, who passed away Aug. 7, 2018, at the age of 80, was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother and friend. According to her obituary, she’s remembered for her contagious smile and lilting laughter. Ken recounted her volunteerism. She was a member of the memorial hospital board for over 20 years and  an active member of the United Methodist Church for 50 years. 

“For Dorothy, it was the people, the volunteers who put in their time who were so wonderful, that she enjoyed,” Ken added. 

According to terms of an agreement, funds from the $25,000 endowment will be distributed by the historical society to the museum at the rate of $2,500 per year, for at least 10 years, or at 10 percent of the fair market value of fund assets on Dec. 31 of the preceding calendar year.

“I’m hoping this might encourage others to give,” Ken said. 

Historical society finance chairman Gary Koch feels the same way. “We have our members and we rely on our membership, but I’d like to see us get to the point where we have enough money that we don’t have to go begging for it,” he shared. 

Koch said the museum’s operational budget annually is $80,000. This $25,000, while it’s “probably the largest gift we’ve ever received,” he noted, it would only cover the publicity budget for one year if used in a lump sum. 

According to the endowment agreement, the purpose of the donation is to provide funds for the general operation, maintenance and promotion expenses. The monies will be held in a separate account and not co-mingled with other accounts of the society.

So, with the establishment of the Dorothy Birrenbach Friends of the Fort Crawford Museum Fund, other volunteers, patrons, community members and history lovers are invited to consider giving toward this fund, knowing the terms of distribution. 

The Birrenbachs have been museum volunteers for years. Ken is a retired 3M employee and Dorothy worked longest for Johnson International but was mainly a homemaker. Ken has helped on the grounds at the museum, while Dorothy was also a key pie maker for the historical society’s annual pie auction at the Rendezvous. 

For more information about donating toward the Friends of the Fort Crawford Museum, call 326-6960. The museum—which houses Ft. Crawford, early medical and Prairie du Chien area history—opens for the season May 1. Find out more about exhibits and events at or find the museum on Facebook.

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