Giving Thanks For Volunteers

When I give programs about the Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series, I often mention overarching goals I developed long ago for the series: celebrating real historic places, highlighting folk arts, using artifacts from museum collections to help tell stories, and honoring our ancestors.

Ten books in, I need to add one more goal. I hope that each Chloe book can honor the volunteers who do so much to make sure local history, family stories, or cultural heritage isn’t lost.

Barb Chisolm telling the story of the Great Fire as seen through her own ancestor’s eyes.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit many local historical societies in Wisconsin and neighboring states—sometimes to do research, sometimes because I’m invited to make a presentation about the Chloe mysteries or my nonfiction book, A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons. I usually leave feeling awed that a small group of people is making such a big difference in their community.

Three generations of milling technology, from ancient stone grinding to the modern roller mill to modern electricity, are preserved in The Messer/Mayer Mill, owned by the Richfield County Historical Society, WI. (RCHS Photo)

Some groups focus on ethnic heritage, preserving important traditions brought to the Upper Midwest by their own parents and grandparents.

Volunteers often perpetuate food traditions—often giving their time to support bake sales that fund educational programs and other projects.

Vicky, Joyce, and Carol taught me how to make Kransekake, a traditional Norwegian almond cake made of stacked rings that I mentioned in Fiddling With Fate. These ladies and many other bakers at the Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge in Stoughton bake lots of goodies to raise money for important programs.

Some share music…

Alphorn players at Swiss Volksfest, New Glarus, WI.
Hardanger fiddle players, members of Fykerud’n Spelemannslag, performing at Syttende Mai, Stoughton, WI.

…and some dance.

The Pommersche Tanzdeel Freistadt dancers are organized into three age groups. I love seeing the young ones involved! The group is located in Western Ozaukee County, WI, site of the oldest German settlement in the state.
Stoughton High School Norwegian Dancers have been delighting crowds since the 1950s.

Some individuals focus on folk arts, honing their own understanding of techniques and, often, sharing it with others by teaching or giving presentations.

Kasia Drake-Hames (in tan sweater) teaching a workshop in Polish paper cutting, wycinanki. I featured this folk art in Tradition of Deceit.
Susan Slinde sharing some history about Hardanger embroidery, illustrated by one of her own gorgeous pieces.
Rebecca Hanna teaching carving to young people through the Whittling Klubb for Kids at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. (Photo http://www.thegazette.com)

Many artifacts are saved by the volunteers who preserve them at local historical societies.

This sampler is on display at the William H. Upham House, owned by the North Wood County Historical Society, Marshfield, WI. It was just what I needed when looking for a sampler to reflect a character in A Memory of Muskets.

Volunteers preserve buildings…

Reedsburg Area Pioneer Log Village, WI. I’m looking forward to visiting!
No only did descendants of early Belgian settlers save this historic church, they turned it into a gathering place with museum exhibits and cultural programs, preserving immigrant stories, the Walloon language, and local history. I visited to do research, but decided I had to include it in The Lacemaker’s Secret.
The Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island State Park, WI, was in sad shape before volunteers organized to preserve and restore the building. Mr. Ernst and I was privileged to serve as docents there for eight years, sharing the stories of lighthouse families who once lived and worked there. Part of The Lightkeeper’s Legacy was written in the lighthouse.

…and sometimes volunteers even recreate buildings, because they understand that place is important.

The Little House Wayside Cabin allows fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods to walk the ground where the Ingalls family once walked, and imagine. I enjoyed visiting while writing Death on the Prairie.

Family volunteers—those who collect and stories about their ancestors–make a difference too, in ways larger than they might imagine. Many of my books include details inspired by a reminiscence or family history I discovered.

The list could go on, but suffice it to say that I’m enormously grateful to everyone who helps preserve, protect, perpetuate, and share.

Many of the dedicated and generous people I’ve met on the road merge and blend into characters in the Chloe books. Chloe, and I, couldn’t do our work without you. We’re grateful!

2 Responses to “Giving Thanks For Volunteers”

  1. Nancy Oswald Says:

    Wonderful blog post, Kathleen. It was a good reminder of the number of people that are out there in the trenches preserving the past. Happy Thanksgiving.

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