A capital campaign is underway for the Walworth County Historical Society, which is raising money to build a 2,500 square foot addition to the 20-year-old facility at the Doris Reinke Resource Center in Elkhorn. The extra space will help accommodate the increase in artifacts at the WCHS as well as providing more room for volunteers to assist with requests. (Heather Ruenz photo)

Funds raised will help build an addition to the resource center

By Heather Ruenz

“Our goal is to avoid disappointing anyone who might wish to make a significant contribution to the project that is historically important to each and every citizen of our county,” said past WCHS president Dan Richardson.

The historical society was founded in 1904 as an outgrowth of the Old Settlers’ Club. Currently, the society manages a total of six buildings. Those buildings include the Webster House Museum, the Boyd Carriage Barn, the Doris Reinke Resource Center and Heritage Hall, which contains the Military Museum all located on the WCHS’ campus at the intersection of East Rockwell and South Washington streets.

In addition, the WCHS, which is an affiliate of the Wisconsin Historical Society, also oversees the Sharon Town Hall and the Blooming Prairie School located on the Walworth County Fairgrounds.

“We are going to position ourselves to take on greater challenges of collecting, preserving and sharing the rich history of Walworth County by making the center a state-of-the-art facility. The number of artifact contributions and much needed improvements in technological access by the public is driving this project,” said longtime resource center volunteer Pat Blackmer.

“We have seen a marked increase in the number of valuable history-telling artifacts, e-mail requests from the area, state country and even around the world making it essential that we move now to update the facility,” she added.

According to WCHS president Jim Boardman, the old farmhouse-style building now occupied by the society as the resource center for the county has long been outgrown by the volume of artifacts in storage and the advancements of technology.

“Doris was my kindergarten teacher her second year of teaching in the district and my children’s teacher after that. Had she not retired after 42 years of teaching in Elkhorn in 1987, she no doubt would have taught my grandchildren.  I am certain that there are multi-generational families in the area that have had the benefit of Doris’ mentorship and love for history of our county,” Boardman said.

It was the dream of the long-time teacher of hundreds of students in Walworth County, that a resource center to house manuscripts, records, photographs, maps and other significant historical memorabilia be established in the county.

In 2003, the current Reinke Resource Center opened for this purpose, which was largely funded by her. She worked tirelessly cataloging and organizing WCHS historical archives and objects, according to Blackmer, and did this work to benefit others.

Reinke wrote the popular weekly column, “Webster Notes” for the Elkhorn Independent to share her love of Walworth County history with others.

In 2012, an At the Lake article featured Doris Reinke and her dedication to WCHS.  At the end of the story, Reinke spoke of an upcoming visit to the Field of Dreams.

“I’m going to the Field of Dreams in August. I’ve always wanted to go there, and I just watched the movie. If you build it they will come,” she said.

The article’s author, Lisa Schmelz responded with the following: “Yes they will. And Doris Reinke will preserve it for generations we haven’t met yet.”

Reinke bequeathed the Walworth County Historical Society a gift to accomplish this means. In this spirit, Richardson said they ask members of the greater community “to join together with us to ensure that WCHS continues this important work of collecting, interpreting and sharing our past as we honor Reinke’s vision and honor her legacy by building a much needed addition to the current resource center.”

The addition – which was designed pro bono by architect Brian Staples – will provide ample workspace for an all-volunteer staff to process, photograph and digitize collections and provide much needed storage space for an ever-growing collection and will accommodate several decades of collection growth.

“We will be working with local Elkhorn contractor Stebnitz Builders and hope to break ground on the new addition in the spring of 2021. Our goal is to complete the project and open by late fall of 2021,” Boardman said.

Folks from around the county and area are welcome to not only show their appreciation for Reinke’s dream and legacy but that of the future of collecting, preserving and sharing the county’s history, Boardman explained.

Donors will be recognized in the quarterly newsletter, on the WCHS website and on a donation board in the new addition. They will also be invited to a “sneak peek” prior to the grand opening of the facility.

“We look forward to your continued dedication and support to the Walworth County Historical Society and its mission in serving our county,” Blackmer said.

The WCHS is accepting donations, which are tax deductible, to go toward completion of this project at its website Walcohistory.org, through its Facebook page or by check mailed to: Walworth County Historical Society, P.O. Box 273, Elkhorn, WI 53121.

 
 

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