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Fire doesn’t halt La Crosse prom

4/13/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

A “Sea of Love” became more than just a prom theme for La Crosse High School after a Saturday fire forced a same-day change of venue to St. Michael’s Parish Center. 

Bill Keeley, superintendent of La Crosse USD 395, said the fire’s cause is believed to have stemmed from the decorative lights, and there is no estimate yet for damages. The head custodian was the first on the scene and put out the flames with a fire extinguisher. 

The main fire damage was concentrated in an area 20 feet long and 2 feet wide, and another part of the floor’s top was singed, he said.

He hopes the high school and middle school will resume classes Tuesday after the smoke damage is cleared from the classrooms, hallways and cafeteria. The gym and auditorium might be closed for several weeks because of “significant” smoke damage, he said. 

Recovering from the setback took approximately eight hours, he said. Canceling prom never was an option. 

“This town rallied together for our kids, and we never flinched, we never hesitated that we were going to have prom. And everybody pulled it off, and everybody donated everything we needed,” he said.

After the emergency was resolved at approximately 4 a.m., an administration meeting took place at 5:30 a.m. to choose a backup location. The parish center was confirmed by 7 a.m., decorating lasted from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and students arrived at approximately 5 p.m. for pictures.  

There was a flood of support offered from community members, and many of them did not have children in the school system, he said.

“Everyone came together and did what they needed to do to make it special for the kids,” said Kathy Keeley, principal of the high school and middle school.

The close relationship between the school and local residents enabled the quick response, she said.  

“Our community comes together for us. Whether it’s a crisis situation or something positive, it’s just something they always do,” Kathy Keeley said. “It’s part of that small-town atmosphere.”

Father Matthew Kumi, a priest at the church, said, “I saw that this was something we could come in and help. It’s an emergency, and we are all in the community. So we should be there for one another.”

Brooklyn Sherman, a La Crosse junior, said heat lamps might have been left on the floor near crumpled gossamer and Christmas lights. The lamps were supposed to be placed on top of pillars holding colored paper to illuminate them, but someone might have set them on the floor. 

Although the dance’s large ship decoration was ruined, a wheel and anchor were salvaged and put outside the parish center. The evening still was memorable and served as a testament to the community’s bond and resourcefulness, she said.  

“I think everyone had a great night considering what happened,” Sherman said. “Our community’s so close-knit that we just really appreciated everything, and we all just did the best we could with what we had. It was a lot of fun. We all liked it.”

Amy Depperschmidt said her daughter, Ashley, is a junior at the high school and attended prom. She worked with parents, school officials and other volunteers to ensure the program was an “elegant” milestone night for the young adults, she said. 

“Just to see the handsome guys and beautiful girls, and what us as parents and other people from the community were able to throw together for this event, and it just turned out to be one of the most memorable nights for me as a parent,” Depperschmidt said.