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Congregation Sons of Abraham

The heart of Jewish life in the La Crosse area for over 100 years

1820 Main Street, La Crosse, WI 54601
(608) 784-2708 |csoarabbi@gmail.com

Extra Effort: Central’s (and CSOA’s) Meredith Wohl

 Meredith Wohl

January 06, 2013 12:05 am • By MATT HOFFMAN | mhoffman@lacrossetribune.com.  Reprinted with permission.

Meredith Wohl carries a beat-up Star Trek lunch box around with her at Central High School — the 1960s William Shatner version.

Reflecting on a decades-old television show depicting the future seems appropriate for Meredith. She, too, has a complicated relationship between her past and future.

When Robin and Alan Krumholz took Meredith into their home in 2008, she had been labeled an unadoptable child. “She was out of control medically and out of control emotionally,” her mother said. “(But) when we looked at her case she had such high potential.”

To say that she realized her potential seems like an understatement. The senior is captain of Central’s mock trial and debate teams. She coordinates youth activities at her synagogue. She has taken five Advanced Placement classes and teaches AP U.S. History when the usual teacher is absent.

These accomplishments, and more, led to Meredith’s selection as Central’s Extra Effort Award winner.

The person who landed in “the middle of nowhere” in 2008 seems completely different than the one applying to honors colleges. But Meredith wants to maintain threads between the two.

When Meredith was adopted at age 14, she elected to keep her birth surname. “I was going to keep in touch with who I was, and where I am now,” she said. “It was clear to me then, but it has seemed like even more the right decision now.”

Meredith was born in Long Island in 1995. Her birth mother died when when Meredith was 5 and the family moved to Detroit three years later, after her father remarried. Meredith was diagnosed at age 12 with diabetes and struggled to manage the disease.

“I didn’t really know how to take care of myself,” she said.

Meredith moved in with her grandmother in the Detroit suburbs before beginning seventh grade. “It was really difficult for us to function as a family unit,” Meredith said.

The Krumholzes found her through a Jewish adoption agency and took her in later that February. After raising two sons, now living on the East Coast, they had been looking to adopt a teenage girl who needed a fresh start. Robin quit her job to help Meredith’s transition.

“It was definitely not only bonding but understanding what being part of a family meant,” Meredith said.

Initially, Meredith was home schooled to remedy her interrupted education. Wohl and her mother covered material from fifth, sixth and seventh grade in less than eight months. If that weren’t enough, Meredith also learned seven years’ worth of Hebrew to prepare for her bat mitzvah.

“I’d always claimed to be Jewish, but I didn’t know what it meant,” she said. “(Now) I can give back to the community which has given me so much.”

Her diabetes also had to be reined in. “Once Meredith figured out the rules of the game, it was pretty easy,” her dad said. “She worked very hard at it.”

Meredith became involved in the community, volunteering alongside her mother at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

“Being so involved in the community when I first moved here, with my mom, has definitely helped me appreciate and understand La Crosse,” Meredith said. “You can benefit so many people from just a few hours of your time.”

Exposure to that idea was something Meredith had never experienced before, Robin Krumholz said. “That year just changed her view of humanity.”

Meredith enrolled at Lincoln Middle School for eighth grade and flourished. At Central, she relishes the leadership roles she has taken on in mock trial and debate.

“It’s become so much more than just competing for me,” she said. “I love being able to mentor our fellow members.”

Greg Schams, a Central social studies teacher who coaches both teams, agreed. “She provides the leadership to the younger debaters.”

English teacher Mary Newgard-Larson has seen that attitude extend into the classroom. “I think what you see now is a desire to have everyone involved and to have a community around her,” she said. “I don’t think she’s ever come into the classroom without a smile on her face.”

Meredith has applied to a variety of top-tier colleges, most of which are located near her parents’ future retirement home in South Carolina or her adoptive brothers’ homes. Emory University in Atlanta, where Meredith has already taken a summer course, leads the pack.

Her penchant for trial and debate should serve her plans to attend law school well. She isn’t committed to a certain area but has a guiding principal: to use her abilities to not only intellectually stimulate herself but benefit others.

“People tell us, ‘You guys did a fantastic job with Meredith,’” Alan Krumholz said. “We just provided Meredith with the tools. She did a fantastic job herself.”