His nickname was Talking Buffalo, but Jim LaJeunesse was a listener.

Counseling couples, treating sex offenders or shooting guns with his buddies, LaJeunesse had an ear for anyone in need.

"People everywhere could walk up and start talking to him," said his friend Don Kendrick. "He made them feel at ease."

A family therapist who ran a La Crosse counseling center and lately was working with sex offenders at the Sand Ridge treatment center in Mauston, LaJeunesse was killed Tuesday afternoon when an oncoming car crossed the median and smashed into his Oldsmobile as he drove home on Interstate 90. He was 58.

Standing over 6 feet tall, with hair past his shoulders and a beard to match, La Jeunesse was hard to miss.

A native of Nekoosa, Wis., he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to play football but shattered his thumb in his last high school season. He studied psychology instead, and began working as a technician for Gundersen Lutheran before earning his master's degree.

In 1984, he co-founded the Center for Effective Living, where he focused on family counseling and stress management. He closed the business in 2008 after his partner retired.

LaJeunesse was among a handful of La Crosse area therapists who worked with sex offenders, and the only one assessing juvenile offenders for La Crosse County Human Services' juvenile court.

It wasn't an easy or lucrative field, but one he was drawn to.

"Jim always had empathy for the people who were struggling with big issues and had no place to turn," said his wife, Rita Zindorf. "He just saw that no one was helping these kids."

"The best," is how Wayde Anger described him.

The supervisor for La Crosse County Human Services' juvenile court, Anger said his staff liked LaJeunesse because he was knowledgeable and fair.

"He was genuine," Anger said. "He knew how to deal with the kids. He would spend a lot of time with them, but he wouldn't send them (home) unless he knew it was safe."

Though respected as a professional, LaJeunesse didn't come off as a know-it-all.

"You'd never know there was any credentials behind his name," Kendrick said. "He treated everybody with respect and care."

LaJeunesse raised a small herd of buffalo and cattle at his West Salem ranch. When he slaughtered his first bull, he wanted to mount the head, but his wife told him no way it was going in her house. So he built a special room.

"Jim loved his buffalo," Zindorf said.

He also loved hunting and motorcycles, and was a crack shot with his long-barreled Ruger Vaqueros at Single Action Shooting Society events.

He recruited anyone he could to join him at cowboy events.

"Anything Old West," Kendrick said. "He liked the truthfulness of that era."

Posted on lacrossetribune.com
Chris Hubbuch chubbuch@lacrossetribune.com | Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2009 12:05 am
James LaJeunesse
Talking Buffalo