Old Friends

Scott and I visited Old World Wisconsin yesterday.  The site is a beautiful place to wander in autumn, and I wanted to say hi to several old friends still working in the interpretive ranks.   I was delighted to find Jean Hornburg busy cooking in the 1860 Schulz house.

Jean Hornburg, Koepsell House, Old World Wisconsin, 1982

Jean Hornburg, Koepsell House, Old World Wisconsin, 1982

Jean and I both started working at OWW in 1982, in the German area.  I had a shiny new college degree and could speak about diverse learning styles and Tilden’s principles of interpretation.   I’d cooked in a summer camp kitchen, so I knew how to make spaghetti for 120 people.

I had no idea how to bake bread in a woodstove.  Pluck geese.  Darn socks.  Grow rhubarb.  Etc., etc.

Jean, like many not-in-their-twenties interpreters, brought a tremendous store of practical knowledge to work with her, and kindly helped me figure out what needed to be done.  We worked within the parameters of our interpretive plans, of course.  But some of the most important skills an interpreter needs can’t be learned from books and reports.

Yesterday, Jean was explaining to visitors how the Schulz family might have preserved their garden bounty in 1860.  One of the things I loved in my time at OWW was watching storerooms fill with produce from the gardens.  Perhaps it was genetic memory, or perhaps simply empathy with the people I spent my days discussing, but it was enormously satisfying to complete a successful harvest.

Sanford harvest3Schulz harvest







At the Sanford farm yesterday, Scott and I got into a discussion with two interpreters about the renewed interest in gardening and preservation processes.   In this era of tight personal finances, and with the growing interest in the local food movement, visitors are discovering that the stories they hear at historic sites can have enormous relevance today.


Me at the Schulz House, 1982.

That’s certainly true for me.  I’ve often mentioned how details from my OWW experiences find their way into novels.  What I learned is still resonating in my personal life too, however.

I don’t live on a farm, but Scott and I are trying to live as lightly on the planet as possible.  Many of the skills I learned during my site years—gardening, canning, baking, handwork—are still serving me well.

So:  in case I never expressed my gratitude at the time, I’m saying thanks to Jean Hornburg, Bobbie Brandenburg, Bea Peyer, and many other people who were patient with me during those early years.

Jean Hornburg & Kathleen Ernst
Jean Hornburg and me, Schulz House, 2009.

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