Oconto County Historical Society Awards
Annual Meeting of the Society
November 5, 2015
George E. Hall Award – for documentation of Oconto County history
In 2007 the Gillett Area Historical Society bought the Walter Smith house on West Main Street. It was built in 1910 and had been in the family until 2005. The Historical Society acquired the building with plans to make it a community museum. To help with that, they enlisted descendants of Walter and Ruth. That brought in their granddaughter, Nancy Smith.
Nancy is a Gillett girl, through and through. Although she spent her career in various cities as a reservation sales agent with Northwest Airlines, she bought the home she was born in to retire to. As she got involved with the Historical Society she found her niche by doing research, writing the newsletter, maintaining the website, answering emails, making the informational plaques, and, most notably, publishing the information she researched into 35 printed booklets that are available for reading at the museum. Of course, she also lends a hand for the various events at the museum like the Ice Cream Social, the Cemetery Walk, and the Christmas Tea.
Researching various aspects of Gillett history and making it available for the public is exactly the kind of preservation of local history that the George E. Hall Award was established for. We are pleased to present this award to Nancy Smith.
Nancy was unable to be present tonight, but wanted all of us to know that she truly appreciates the honor.
Volunteer of the Year Award
Tonight we honor Don Seifert as a Volunteer of the Year. I will tell you how richly this award is deserved, but first I want to tell you a bit about Don. Don is from Milwaukee, where just like me, he was fascinated by bright flashing lights and sirens. I was well into my 60s before I could become a volunteer ambulance driver up here, but Don fulfilled his passion much earlier and more seriously, serving on the Milwaukee Fire Department for 30 years. Again in parallel with yours truly, Don and his wife Barbara bought a vacation property in our neck of the great north woods in 1972, and 20 years later, as Don retired, they sold that property to live fulltime in paradise, on French Lake. It only took Pam and me 13 years between buying a cabin and building a house, but I digress.
Shortly after retiring to the Town of Riverview, Don became the chief of the Riverview Fire Department, and served in that position for 12 years. Those lights and sirens just won’t let go of a person! But Don also joined the McCaslin Lions Club shortly after moving to French Lake, and that’s where his Volunteer of the Year story begins. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Don began working on service projects for the Lions; the first of which was building handicap-accessible piers on Chain Lake. Then he got involved with the Holt and Balcom Logging Camp. As many of you know, the Lions assumed responsibility for the camp from OCHS in the 70s and undertook a major renovation in the late 70s and early 80s. In the mid-90s, more work needed to be done, and the Lions enlisted the help of the State, through the Wisconsin Conservation Corps. The Corps worked on the outside of the buildings, while the Lions worked on the inside. It was then the Don became actively involved, helping to fill in the root cellars under both buildings, pouring concrete footings, and replacing rotted flooring.
It then seemed natural to Don to stay involved, nudged along the way by one of our award recipients, Norb Langer, who I’m sure a lot of you know, and yes, I’m another one of Norb’s nudgees! Don became a weekend docent, keeping the museum open on summer Saturdays for tourists and friends to see. He then gravitated toward helping with our fourth grade tour groups. As many of you know, we show the kids a good time in May and June, giving them lectures about camp life and showing them how lumberjacks lived, and the thing that is the kids’ favorite, taking them outside where they get to mark the end of a log with a stamp hammer and then cut off a slice of the log with a two-person crosscut saw. Don was a natural with the log stamping and cutting, and began doing that, staying with it through the camp’s transition back to OCHS ownership. I’m pleased to report that every kid has retained every digit through almost 20 years of Don’s supervision!
Now, all I need to do each spring is call Don, and all he says is, “What days and what times?” I can’t begin to tell you how valuable such a willing, dedicated volunteer is, and how much Don deserves this award. Please join me in thanking Don for his service and congratulating him for winning the Volunteer of the Year Award.
Volunteer of the Year Award
Julie Ferris Walsh started sewing at age 10 on a pedal Singer sewing machine that belonged to Sylvia Knusdon Ferris, better known as Grandma Sally. Julie can make almost anything. She has reupholstered a Twilight parlor chair for LaVerne and Darwin Ferris, and the Lambulance cushions which are essential for tailgating. Julie is receiving the Volunteer of the Year Award for her work on the 1900 Five Glass Landau and the Drop Front Phaeton.
Julie has turned her house into an upholstery shop, working in her kitchen, living room, and in her basement workshop. She has helped the Beyer Home Museum with numerous projects. On behalf of the Society, we appreciate and thank her for her volunteer efforts.