Awards 2008

Posted on: July 27th, 2014 by

Oconto County Historical Society Awards

Annual Meeting of the Society

Recipient Information

November 13, 2008


The President’s Award – for preservation of Oconto County buildings, constructions, or sites

Gillett Historical Society – When the City of Gillett was designated a Main Street Community, the Main Street Program, Revitalize Gillett, Inc. was established.  This group has four standing committees: Organization, Promotion, Economic Restructuring, and Historic Preservation.  Out of the Historical Preservation Committee the Gillett Area Historical Society was formed.  They were able to find a home for the Society and a museum for Gillett when Bill Neumann, who grew up in Gillett, donated funds to help buy the Smith house in Gillett.  Since this acquisition in 2007 the Society has been renovating it and displaying a growing collection of artifacts.  Here to accept the Presdient’s Award for preservation of a commercial site are President Carol Riemer, Vice-President Lorraine Gentz, and Treasurer Deanna Smith.

Oakman Ellis Home – The home at 540 Main Street in Oconto was built in 1880 by Oakman Ellis who managed the Oconto Company and was very involved in politics at all levels.  This mansion was once one of the showplaces on the street with an estate-like yard but has greatly been modified.  It is a two-story Victorian home with multiple roofs, bracketed eaves, and several two-story bays.  It has been a nursing home, a dance studio, and a rooming house.  For the last several years, however, it has been empty, and had become an eyesore along historic West Main Street.  That is until John and Sue Drella bought it.  The community watched with growing admiration as the Drellas transformed the deteriorating house into a showplace once more.  We are very pleased to present the President’s Award for preservation of a county residence to John and Sue Drella.


The George E. Hall Award – for documentation of Oconto County history

Donna Limberg, Carol LeBreck, and Pat Boettcher undertook a daunting task of collecting information about Maiden Lake.  They interviewed many people and gathered many photographs.  As they say in the acknowledgement, “It took…countless hours of labor, meetings and rewrites to compile the information.”  The result, a book entitled “A History of Maiden Lake”, seems worth it.  The book that developed includes many articles about particular places or events, as well as numerous memories that residents shared.  Photographs are liberally spread throughout the book.  They certainly have earned the Hall Award for documentation of County history.  They are unable to be here tonight.

Michael Dionne has had an interest in the images of Lena for a long time.  He decided to share that interest at the Dionne family reunion in June of 2007.  He took many photographs of Lena and through digital arts put them together to make a tour of the village.  He included captions and close-ups, set it to music and recorded it on a CD.  Next he was able to get old movies, provided by George Wass, and make a CD of those.  Then he took many family photographs and made a CD of them.  Finally, at the family reunion he distributed copies of the CDs to any that wanted them.  He already has more pictures that he wants to use to update the CDs.  Michael well deserves the Hall Award.  He was honored to receive it but is unable to be here tonight.


The Kay Stewart Award – for lifetime achievement in family history

Family history can involve the genealogy of a family tree.  However, the stories that belong to the people on that tree bring it to life.  We have two people who felt the call to tell their stories.

Tom Bourassa describes in his book, “The First 27 Years of My Life”, how his family suggested that he should write down all of the stories he had told over the years.  The book that he started in 1997 describes what farm life was like in the 1930s and 40s.  It is amazing how much work needed to be done, and not only was it accomplished but there was time for fun.  And Tom certainly found that.  Through it all he lauds the love and support of his family.  We’re happy he took the time to write it all down, and happy to present Tom Bourassa with the Kay Stewart Award for family history.

Patti Swenty had an idea.  She gave her mother, Marian Leisner, a tape recorder and told her to record the stories that had been told to her children and grandchildren over the years.  Patti would type the stories and they would give a copy to each family member for Christmas.  The project grew into an actual book, “A Story of Grandpa and Grandma”.  It follows the Leisner and Kalbes families in the town of Bagley through the trials of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.  As the conclusion of the book says, “They achieved so much with so very little to start with.  They were not wealthy with money, just rich with good friends and good times.”  We are pleased to present the Kay Stewart Award to Marian Leisner.


The Duane Ebert Award – for lifetime achievement in history

Norma Kramer has been involved with preserving the history of Lena for a long time.  She helped develop the donated buildings into the museum that today is housing many artifacts of life in Lena.  She also helped compile the many recollections of businesses of Lena into the book “Remember When: A Brief Commercial History of the Town of Lena, Wisconsin”.  She has given a lifetime of interest and effort into making sure that people would know and remember Lena.  We are pleased to award Norma the Duane Ebert Award for lifetime achievement in history.  Norma is not able to be present.  We will deliver the certificate to her.

Norb Langer is another person who has spent a lifetime helping to preserve history.  He has been very involved in maintaining the Holt & Balcom Logging Camp.  The camp in Lakewood was given to the Historical Society in 1950.  In 1970 it was passed to the McCauslin Lions Club which restored and maintained the building and started offering tours.  Norb was instrumental in coordinating these efforts.  Even though the building has reverted to the Historical Society Norb still continues to be involved with the project.  He has served on the board of the Historical Society and currently is on the Holt & Balcom Camp committee.  We are honored to present the Duane Ebert Award for lifetime achievement to Norb Langer. 

We have another special award to present.  A historical society is by definition interested in longevity.  It’s not often, though, that we can apply that term to a person’s involvement with our Society.  Tonight we are able to honor someone who has given a lot of time to our museum.  Betty Strutz has been a guide at the Beyer Home for twenty years.  Through that time she has come early to work in order to be organized and ready to give undivided attention to the patrons.  She has been so good at giving group tours that she has been requested.  She has been so conscientious that she will double check to make sure everything is the way it should be.  We are very lucky to have had Betty as a part of our group for so long.  Thank you, Betty.

Karl Ballestad