Rebuilding a Shrine

For nearly a century, this religious beacon had been sitting untouched at the intersection of Highway B and K in Portage County, but one night in late October, a driver fell asleep at the wheel, ran off the road and crashed right into it.

"Roadside shrine was demolished and the top of the shrine was demolished," said Shrine Rebuilding Volunteer Anton Anday, "And the figures in it were pretty well smashed."

The shrine was built shortly after the turn of the century by John Konkol, a Polish immigrant's son. Shrines, much like the one in Portage County were a common fixture in Eastern Europe from the Middle Ages up to the 20th century.

They were used to ward off evil spirits, serve as good luck for farmers and give the occasional wayward traveler some direction.

"There were no road signs," said Anday, “So when you traveled someplace, you'd turn at this shrine to the left the right, things like that, so it was practical use, as well."

With the advent of road signs, the shrine near Stevens Point was more of a historic relic than practical tool, but it will be missed by those who grew up seeing it on a regular basis.

"It has a lot of meaning for us, living here all this time, because it's been in our family for a long, long time," said Margaret Iwanski, the builder's granddaughter.

For now, the shrine and statues that it held lay in shambles, but with the help of volunteers, it will soon be rebuilt, restoring a familiar and friendly feature to a Portage County roadside. And in a gesture that shows just how important the shrine was to area residents, an unknown individual erected a wooden cross on the ruins.