‘Mr. Pigeon Falls’: Trempealeau County’s Reynolds Tomter receives Congressional Gold Medal

Rep. Ron Kind presents Congressional Gold Medal to Tomter, Norway awards Reynolds two honorary medals for service

WHITEHALL, Wis. (WKBT) – He’s 105 years old — that’s just a number for one Pigeon Falls man. News 8 Now introduced people to Trempealeau County’s own celebrity before. Reynolds Tomter’s popularity spread to the nation’s capital. His military service was finally acknowledged with Congress’ highest honor.

“Everybody in the Midwest are good neighbors – good friends, we love each other,” said Tomter, at Monday’s celebration at Whitehall Memorial High School.

People will ask for your secret when you’ve lived a life as long as Tomter. “It’s amazing,” said Julie Tomter-Warner, Tomter’s daughter.

“I’m so appreciative of that and I – have been so lucky,” Tomter said.

Tomter-Warner recognizes 105 as just a number.

“Always trying to keep up with my dad,” she said. Tomter-Warner remembers the care Tomter gave and now she’s returning the favor.

“And now he’s calling me his agent,” Tomter-Warner said.

Anyone who calls him Mr. Tomter, he’ll correct.

“My name is Reynolds,” Tomter said.

Tomter carries a positive energy that didn’t come without sacrifice after serving his country during World War II. Tomter struggles to talk about the war.

“That’s a different life,” Tomter said.

The stories he began to share have caught everyone’s attention. Tomter served as an American Merchant Mariner delivering millions of tons of goods in war materials to five continents.

The U.S. didn’t recognize Merchant Mariners until 34 years after the war ended. “That hurt a little bit. Can’t help but say that.” Tomter said. “But hey, payoff. It’s never too late.”

Tomter baked bread and worked in the kitchen preparing meals for people on his ship. The one moment everyone shared together. It’s no wonder why he’s a civic-minded professional.

“I didn’t win the war,” Tomter said. “We won the war.”

In 2020, a new law authorized the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest honor Congress can give – for Merchant Mariners as a long overdue thank you.

“It’s unbelievable what your friends will do for you,” Tomter said.

An award he lived long enough to hold himself.

“Reynolds, we’re all here because of you,” said Rep. Ron Kind, who serves Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District.

Tomter’s dedication to service was not only recognized here in the U.S. but across a body of water (Atlantic Ocean) a lot larger than Pigeon Creek.

“On behalf of the Norwegian Embassy, it is a great honor for me to present the Norwegian Convoy Medal and the Norwegian Liberation Medal to Reynolds – and to express our deep-felt gratitude for your service and sacrifice,” said Capt. Egil Vasstrand, from the Norwegian embassy in Washington, D.C.

Military service is one thing, but his ability to bring people together is on Jean Kriesel’s mind.

“It brings back the sense of community of Pigeon,” said Kriesel, who is a lifelong friend of Tomter.

Kriesel and her brothers, John and Fred, and sisters Kris and Jan are third generation in Pigeon Falls.

“He’s like everybody’s father – everybody’s friend,” Kriesel said.

Tomter is everyone’s ally.

“The only person who’s not a friend of Reynolds is a person he hasn’t met,” John Ackley said.

Ackley remembers working with him at his store.

“He was our first paying job,” Ackley said.

Tomter even got a retiring politician to think about what he’ll miss the most about his career.

“I’m gonna miss days like today when we’re able to gather together,” Kind said.

“He’s like Mr. Pigeon Falls,” Fred Ackley said.

Tomter will tell you the time you live means little if you don’t make the most of the time you have.

“To make anything work, we all have to pitch in,” Tomter said.

People from all over the country came out to congratulate Tomter last week. Tomter still enjoys his cups of coffee with family and friends every day.

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