The Legacy of Names

written by Alison Breuner, Museum Assistant

Having grown up in Port Edwards, I have always heard the names of Edwards, Alexander, Witter and Mead. Though time has passed and names have changed, their legacies still surround the people of this region and give us opportunities.

It is through the Edwards and Alexander families I received my primary education. Across from what once was the Nekoosa Edwards Paper Co. and under the ever watchful gaze of the Statue of John Edwards Jr., I went to preschool in the South Wood County YMCA. My primary education was completed all through the Port Edwards school district. I walked the same terrazzo floor that stretches the length of the main hall of the John Edwards High School that ’79 graduating classes had walked before me. The history of the town and the names associated seemed to be everywhere I looked and would even follow me further.

I attended Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, linked to Wisconsin Rapids by several members of the Mead family. George W. Mead served on the board of trustees for the college from 1958-1961; today the all-girls dormitory is named after him. His daughter Emily Baldwin Bell served as a trustee from 1960-1978 and donated nearly $700,000 through her lifetime. The dining hall, the Baldwin Commons, is named after her and her husband’s connections with the school. Ruth Barker, Emily’s daughter and George W. Mead’s granddaughter, gave money to build the geoscience wing in the Larson-Juhl Center for Science and the Environment;  more money to help renovate Wheeler Hall (where most of my time was spent);  left $1 million in her estate; and was a former director for the Mead Witter Foundation Scholarship which I received. It is something special to have had these names be there for every step of my education from pre-school through my Bachelor of Arts degree in History.

Before I could obtain that degree, however, I first needed to complete a semester-long internship. I have long dreamed of working in a museum. For a small town girl, museums were extraordinary in their abundance of primary sources. The internship enabled me to work in the archives, see beyond the exhibits, and communicate information to the public.  The summer before my senior year, I returned to Central Wisconsin and earned my credits by being the intern for the South Wood County Historical Museum that once was Isaac Witter’s family home. I was able to experience firsthand the archival experience. I am fortunate enough to go beyond daily operations at the museum by writing for the local history publication, Artifacts.

Today, a year after graduation, I am fortunate to work at the Museum as an assistant. I’m still learning things every day, from how to preserve archives, working on new exhibits and the keeping records of local history. It just seems right that after being given the opportunities I have through the pioneer names of this community that I can still learn, and in return give back to the community and help to continue to keep records of the history of this community.

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