Lily Kongslien is a lively and entertaining conversationalist, but there is one upcoming event that has her speechless. On Saturday, April 27, the Tri-County Council for Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse is renaming their shelter after this tireless and hard-working volunteer. It will be called Lily’s House, and Lily herself can hardly express in words her surprise at this turn of events. “When they made this announcement, I really didn’t know what to say,” she said. “I’m totally overwhelmed.”
But there is no one more deserving of this honor. Lily has volunteered at this shelter for domestic abuse victims for close to 25 years, clocking in an amazing 2,300 hours a year at the facility. It has been a passion for this kind-hearted woman who experienced firsthand what can happen to families when they are torn apart by domestic violence. “I had a close family member that was a domestic violence victim,” she said. “That’s when I decided I wanted to help at the shelter.”
Many Hodag Buyers’ Guide readers recognize Lily. She writes a column, “Historically Speaking,” every other week, sharing her adventures and lifestyle as she grew up alongside the Wisconsin River in McNaughton.
Lily was born in 1922 to Ray and Laurine Wolff, who came here from Denmark. She loved living next to the river, helping her father raise silver foxes for the fur market. “I was the pooper scooper,” she said with a laugh. “That was my job.”
When Lily finished eighth grade, she moved to Rhinelander so she could complete her high school education. “I was a housekeeper and babysitter for a lawyer and his wife,” said Lily. “We were called ‘country girls’ and I worked for room and board so I could go to high school. I loved school and really wanted to complete my education and become a teacher.” Lily graduated high school in Rhinelander and then attended the Oneida County Teacher’s College. “It was always my dream to become a teacher,” she said. “I wanted to be one even when I was a little girl.”
After receiving her teaching certificate, Lily taught in area schools for a few years and then she met Oliver Kongslien. “My brother, Louie, and Oliver were working for the Civilian Conservation Corps at the time,” said Lily. “Louie would bring Oliver to our home on occasion. At first, I thought he was kind of stuck up, but then I realized he was just quiet.” However, Oliver won Lily over and they were married in 1942.
World War II was heating up fast and so Oliver joined the military, becoming a mechanic. The couple was stationed in New Mexico first. “I didn’t like it much,” said Lily. “I got homesick.” Then they were transferred to Texas where Lily had her son, Duane. “I had my baby and the next day Oliver shipped out to Japan,” she said. “It was very traumatic for me. I felt very alone.”
After the war, the couple returned to Rhinelander where Oliver got a job with the Postal Service as a custodian. They had a daughter, Lorraine, and Lily became an administrative secretary for the Department of Health in Oneida County. She retired from that career in 1984 and then became a dedicated volunteer throughout the community.
For many years, she volunteered at the school and at the park during the summer months. Lily also served as an area AARP chapter president for 12 years. She turned her efforts to volunteering at the homeless shelter in the late 1980s.
Lily decided to embrace this work with all her heart and took courses at Nicolet College specializing in domestic abuse. She volunteered two days a week in the administrative office, answered phones, worked with advocates and kept up with the agency’s scrapbooks. She spent every Saturday at the shelter and took after-hour and overnight crisis line calls at her home three nights a week. “I was the first line of defense for people who called in a crisis,” she said. “These calls were usually pretty traumatic. People were crying and very upset, as you can imagine. I would talk to them and then get them help, whether that was a social worker or the police.”
Lily was especially aware of the children who were innocent victims of this type of abuse. “My heart went out to these young ones,” said Lily. “They are always so scared and confused. I always tried to make them feel better when they were at the shelter by playing or reading a book to them.”
About a year ago, Lily fell, injuring her arm, and that has curtailed her activities somewhat. But this engaging and gentle lady still keeps in contact with all the friends she made at the shelter over the years and she does whatever she can to raise funds for this much-needed facility. “Because there are a lot of confidentiality issues involved, many people don’t realize exactly how prevalent domestic abuse is,” said Lily. “The one thing I have noticed is that raising funds for this shelter is very tough. Over the years, we have had several fund drives to raise money for a new shelter which is so desperately needed, but it costs money to run this shelter. My wish is that everyone in the community realizes how vital it is to have this facility and hopefully in the near future, we can build a new facility especially designed for domestic violence victims.”
There’s no doubt that Lily is totally flabbergasted at the fact that she will have the current facility rededicated to her, but her true wish is that more attention and awareness can be brought to the issue of domestic violence. “This is an issue that many people turn away from,” she said. “But it is here and as a community, we need to help these people find a better way of life.”
Anyone who knows Lily and would like to honor her is welcome at the rededication ceremony. The event takes place Saturday, April 27 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 911 Balsam St. in Rhinelander. The dedication ceremony is at 11 a.m. For more information, call (715)362-6841.