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An appeal on behalf of Lake Geneva history



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June 11, 2013 | 02:51 PM
Times change. And so do the keepers of Lake Geneva’s unique history. In the 19th Century, the keeper of Lake Geneva’s history was James Simmons, but he passed away as the century was ending.

We are fortunate that his superb, unsurpassed history of Lake Geneva in the 19th Century, “Annals of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, 1835-1897”, survived and was reissued in a new format by the Geneva Lake Museum last year. Simmons’ successors as keepers of Lake Geneva’s history,

Eva Seymour Lundahl and Alice Denison Hackett, are also gone. Eva Seymour Lundahl was the granddaughter of Moses Seymour, who came to Geneva from Vermont with James Simmons in 1843. Alice Denison Hackett was the daughter of E. D Denison, for whom the Central-Denison School is named, and was the granddaughter of John Burton, one of Lake Geneva’s most well-known 19th-Century businessmen.

Recently Lake Geneva has lost several more keepers of its history, including Gretchen Allen, Wilma Habacker Bailey Jacobson, Sam Gonzalez, Ken Schneider, Larry Magee, and John Fedorovich. It also lost the owner of the Breadloaf Bookstore, Kevin Vail, who was very interested in Lake Geneva’s history.

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With the passing of these and other individuals, Lake Geneva’s collective historical memory has been greatly diminished. Fortunately we still have Ken Etten, Ginny Hall, John Halverson, Bruce Johnson, Vern Magee, Burly Brellenthin, and Doug Elliot, among others, as well as the many volunteers, who, under the leadership of Karen Walsh and James Gee, sustain the Geneva Lake Museum.

But as times change and the keepers of Lake Geneva’s history pass away, we who remain, as well as future generations of Lake Geneva residents, will necessarily have to rely even more on the published and unpublished historical documentary records of Lake Geneva’s history held by the Lake Geneva Public Library, the Geneva Lake Museum, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Library.

Among the most useful documentary historical sources held by the Lake Geneva Public Library are the microfilmed copies of Lake Geneva’s newspapers and the yearbooks of the Lake Geneva High School and Badger High School. But sadly, many LGHS and BHS yearbooks are missing from the collections of Lake Geneva Public Library and the Geneva Lake Museum.

I am therefore appealing to readers of the Lake Geneva Regional News to rectify this lamentable situation by donating old LGHS and BHS yearbooks in their possession to the Lake Geneva Public Library and the Geneva Lake Museum in order to fill the gaps in their invaluable collections of Lake Geneva High School and Badger High School yearbooks.

Another excellent source for Lake Geneva’s history would be the compilation of oral histories of Lake Geneva based upon the memories of longtime Lake Geneva residents. Perhaps Bruce Johnson could be persuaded to conduct oral history interviews with such longtime Lake Genevans as Burly Brellenthin, Sturg Taggert, Muriel Malsch, Buzz Braden,Vern Magee, Doug Gerber, and Clyde Boutelle, just to mention a few people with superb memories of Lake Geneva’s history.

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Copies of these oral histories could be deposited at the Lake Geneva Public Library and the Geneva Lake Museum, where future residents of the city would find them to be invaluable historical resources.

But filling the gaps in Lake Geneva High school and Badger High School yearbooks held by the Lake Geneva Public Library and the Geneva Lake Museum is the most urgent priority if we wish to preserve Lake Geneva’s history for future generations. The Lake Geneva Public Library is missing Badger High School yearbooks for the years 1970, 1976, 1977, 1982, 1984, 2011, and 2012.

The situation with Lake Geneva High School yearbooks is even more egregious. Rather than listing all of the missing LGHS yearbooks, suffice it to say that the Lake Geneva Public Library would greatly appreciate the donation of any LGHS yearbooks between 1958 and the date that the first LGHS yearbook was published, which was around 1911. The LGPL will offer any duplicate yearbooks it receives to the Geneva Lake Museum.

I really do hope that the readers of the Lake Geneva Regional News will respond to this appeal and donate LGHS and BHS yearbooks to the Lake Geneva Public Library. I issue this appeal not only on behalf of the Lake Geneva Public Library (and the Geneva Lake Museum), but on behalf of Lake Geneva’s history and the records that document it.

Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.

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