written by Kathy Engel, SWCHC Librarian
I’m known in my family for remembering dates. When were we in New England? 1989 and 2007. When is Uncle Gary’s birthday? July 23. When did Wood become a county? 1856.
Keeping track of when events happen is important to me as it was to my dad who always labeled his photographs with name, place, and year. My mother, Kay Hermsen Stewart, loved the stories of the past. She was very involved with the Oconto County Historical Society in Oconto, Wis., where my dad, Robert “Pat” Hermsen and I were born. She wrote the column “Historic Oconto” throughout the 1980s. And she had a degree in history, as do I, along with my library degree.
I retired as a school librarian with the Wisconsin Rapids Area school district in 2014, after spending 21 years in school libraries, kindergarten through high school, and 13 years at McMillan Memorial Library in reference, children’s and cataloging.
My first school library job was in Plainfield, Wis., where I met teacher Gary Engel, who, in 1984, suggested I meet his brother, who had just published River City Memoirs I and was working on River City Memoirs II, collections of Daily Tribune columns about the history of central Wisconsin. The previous year, he had been named City Historian of Wisconsin Rapids.
I happily joined Dave on research trips, going to Registers of Deeds, cemeteries, interviews, libraries and remote country areas where people from Wood County came from. I remember bouncing in the bed of a pick-up truck with my two step-daughters and a large dog in 1987, while Dave and Hebron, N.Y., historian Harold Craig conversed about the Wakely family who had come from Hebron to Wood County in the 1830s.
Now, my daughter Angelica is updating the SWCHC website and managing this historical blog. As an archivist with the SWCH Museum, I will be contributing content about some of the documents, papers, letters and photographs that have been donated over the years.
That trip to New England? Dave, Angelica and I visited 16 cemeteries in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut in the search for the history of the Witter family, ancestors of Isaac P. Witter who, along with his wife Charlotte, originally built and lived in the historic house that is now the Museum.