Mikki Schwarzkopf will share the colorful stories of the traveling “Chautauqua” shows 100 years ago

JEFFERSON, Iowa, May 9, 2022 — A century ago the hottest ticket for entertainment in Greene County – or sometimes for religious or educational programs — was for the “Chautauquas,” which often would pack 2,500 people into a huge tent set up every August at what today is known as Chautauqua Park here.

Mikki Schwarzkopf

Mikki Schwarzkopf, one of the most persistent researchers for the Greene County Historical Society, will present a program at 2 p.m. this Sunday, May 15, at the museum in Jefferson on nearly two years of occasional research she’s done into Chautauquas.

Between 1901 and about 1930, the Jefferson Chautauqua Association brought such nationally prominent speakers here as evangelist & former Major League Baseball pitcher Billy Sunday; Congressman & attorney William Jennings Bryan; alcohol abolitionist Carrie Nation, and farm visionary Henry Wallace. There were dozens of others who became stars on the circuit.

“These programs were so popular because they started up in a time when people were really isolated,” Schwarzkopf said. “Remember, the only access most people had to the outside world back then was the occasional newspaper.  No TV, at first no radios.  These speakers would come in and give our people kind of a connection to what was happening” nationally and around the world.

The Jefferson Chautauqua Association was formed in 1905, and shares of stock were sold to help the organization purchase a tent and chairs, and schedule and pay the traveling speakers.

“Originally the programs were more religious and informative,” she said. “They turned more toward entertainment as time went on – and politics in the later years.”

In the 1930s, with the proliferation of radios and cars, the Chautauqua programs began to fade.

“Scheduling them was always tricky,” Schwarzkopf said. “You had to have them at a time when farmers wouldn’t all be in the field, and not up against the county or state fairs. So here in Jefferson, they seemed to have more of the Chautauqua programs for a week in early August.”

Admission and refreshments for her 2 p.m. Sunday program are free.

Learning how to use the archives of local history & records created and maintained by our six public libraries

CHURDAN, Iowa, May 1, 2022 — When the Greene County Historical Society gathers this Friday, May 6, at the Churdan Public Library in Churdan, members and guests will learn about “Mining Digital Treasures from the Archives.”

Created in 2012 and growing impressively ever since, those “Greene County Archives” are available free online 24/7 and worldwide, from the website of the Jefferson Public Library. They are a collaboration by the county’s six libraries, the local newspapers, local government agencies and donors.

Jane Millard

“We receive usage statistics every month, and it’s always fun to look at how many users we’re getting from countries all over the world,” said Jane Millard, the Jefferson library director. “You always wonder, ‘Who are these people and how have they become interested in some part of our history in Greene County?’ ”

The largest volume of material in the archives are the digitized newspapers of the county – all of them.  The oldest archive on the site is the 1856 U.S. Census report on Greene County.

“We’ve built the archives in two phases, with lots of public support,” Millard said. “In fact, writing the grants and finding matching money for both phases has been the easiest fundraising I’ve ever done. That tells you how much public support there is for having archives that are as accessible as ours are. If you can do a Google search, you’ll easily be able to use our archives.”

She will lead the presentation on Friday, but it’s been developed with all the libarians in the Greene County Librarians Association.  Those include Millard, Shari Minnehan in Churdan, Diane Kafer in Grand Junction, Wendy Johnson in Scranton, Cara McCoy in Rippey and Kimberly Bohnet in Paton.

The Churdan library has special equipment that will allow the presenters to use the library website while projecting it on a large screen, so the audience can see and follow along when Millard shows how to access specific documents.

The event Friday will open with a lunch at the library at 12 noon, provided by the members of St. Columbkille Catholic Church. Cost of that is $10 and members should RSVP to their historical society community contacts.  Others are welcome for lunch, too, and should make a reservation with program director Margaret Hamilton at 515-386-4408.

The free program will begin at 12:45 p.m.

Denise O’Brien Van shares the colorful history of Jefferson’s Post Office this Friday, April 1

JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 28, 2022 — When the Greene County Historical Society meets on Friday, April 1, Denise O’Brien Van, of Jefferson, will be sharing the intriguing, 85-year history of the U.S. Post Office in Jefferson.

O’Brien Van is a Jefferson native who had a career in journalism in Des Moines and Chicago before she and husband Jack Lewis, another Jefferson native, moved back to their hometown.

Denise has personal ties to the Jefferson Post Office.  Her parents, Clem and Virginia O’Brien, were introduced by Lilly B. Gibbons, who was the postmaster when the new facility was planned, constructed and then opened on March 15, 1937. Clem O’Brien worked at the Post Office as city carrier and later a rural carrier.

Denise O’Brien Van in front of the Jefferson Post Office.

While the U.S. Post Office was one of the first businesses or government agencies to hire women and minorities, it was still unusual in the 1930s to find a female postmaster in rural Iowa communities.

But Lilly Gibbons was widely known in the community and evidently well-connected politically. E.B. Stillman, publisher of the Jefferson newspaper, described her in print as “a Democratic powerhouse and the prettiest girl in Greene County.”  She was the grandmother of later Jefferson Post Office employee Davis, who is still a resident here.

Friday’s event, being held at the First Presbyterian Church in Jefferson, will begin at 12 noon with a lunch, which costs $10.  Historical society members should make luncheon reservations by calling the organization’s community contacts.

Those are: Dawn Rudolph, Scranton, 515-370-5605; Janice Gilley, Grand Junction, 515-738-2642; Marilynn Hoskinson, Jefferson, 515-386-3490; Virginia Carlson, Paton, 515-386-2401; Nancy Wessling, Churdan, 515-389-3325; Stephen & Bette Molle, Cooper, 515-386-3822, and Mary Weaver, Rippey, 515-360-8046.

Non-members are welcome for the $10 lunch, too, and they should make reservations with program director Margaret Hamilton at 515-386-4408.

The program, which will begin about 12:45 p.m., is free.


The American eagle above the main entrance.


One of the two bas-relief sculptures above front windows that salute the new idea of air mail back when the Post Office opened in 1937.


The classic postal boxes in the building.


Here’s the iconic 1938 painting above the door to the Postmaster’s office at the east end of the lobby. The mural was commissioned by the federal Department of Treasury’s Arts Program. The artist, Thomas Savage, of Fort Dodge, was paid $650 for the painting, which he titled “The New Calf.”

Denise O’Brien Van, her husband Jack Lewis and former postal employee Steve McCoy collaborated in 2017 to have the two bowl lights beside the Post Office’s entrance restored and re-installed after they’d been stored in the basement for years.

 

 

 

 

We gathered St. Patrick’s Day for a celebration of shamrocks, storytelling, poetry, music, goodies and all things Irish!

JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 17, 2022 — Begorrah, it was fun!

About 60 of us gathered Thursday afternoon at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson for a historical society celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. There was storytelling, poetry, an enthusiastic sing-along, Irish-themed goodies and more.

You can learn more in the captions to the photos.

Greene County’s genuine Irishwoman Betty Kuebler, born and raised in Coleraine in Northern Ireland, reflected on her love for her homeland and many trips there. She’s been living here since 1957, when she came to visit an aunt who was a war bride of a solder from Scranton.

Johnny Turpin, retired teacher who has traveled Ireland, recalled visits to the most historic & popular Irish sites, then got into fun Irish tales. That’s his “travel hat” he’s wearing in this photo, along with a sweater from Ireland.

Johnny Turpin had several leprechaun stories and enhanced his Irish outfit for those.

Hollie Roberts, an accomplished poet, was a courageous pinch-hitter on the program for her late husband Jerry Roberts, who had already committed to do readings at this event before he died in February.

Hollie Roberts didn’t just read the Irish poem, “Drinking from the Saucer” by John Paul Moore. Beforehand, she visited with Betty Kuebler, our native Irishwoman, who coached up Roberts on how to do a proper brogue. And then she added perfect facial expressions, too!

Peg Raney told how she grew up in the very Irish northwest Iowa town of Emmetsburg, where her father owned a well-known Irish bar where singalongs were frequent and spirited. Then she led the crowd in just such a singalong Thursday.

Peg o’ our hearts! Peg Raney, on 12-string guitar, joined Rick Morain on the piano in leading the crowd in a dozen traditional Irish songs.

Rick Morain was masterful as ever on the piano, playing Irish tunes. The baby grand was recently fully-tuned for the first time in a while, and Morain reports it “now plays really well, and it has a good barroom tint to the sound.”

Here’s Rick Morain’s elevator chair for sitting at the right height for the keyboard of the museum’s baby grand piano.

Part of the goodies at our St. Patrick’s Day program.

The St. Patrick’s Day program was coordinated and emceed by Margaret Hamilton, the program director for the historical society.

 

 

Matt Wetrich presents “Birding” this Sunday, March 6, in first of two special programs this month at the museum

Matty Wetrich and friend in 2020.

JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 1, 2022 — The Greene County Historical Society is hosting two programs at the museum in Jefferson during March.

On Sunday, March 6, at 2 p.m., Matt Wetrich will speak on “Birding.”  Wetrich is a Jefferson City Councilmember, a naturalist & conservationist, and also a noted photographer. His talk should be a treat for everyone, and cookies will be served, as well.

On Thursday, March 17, at 1 p.m., there will be a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The museum’s baby grand piano has been specially tuned, and Rick Morain will play. Peg Raney will lead singing, and we’ll have readings by Johnny Turpin and Hollie Roberts. Cake will be served in a celebration of Shamrocks and all things Irish.

The museum is located at 219 E. Lincoln Way. The programs are free and open to the public.

Dale Hanaman explains how 3 Amendments helped move America beyond its slave-holding history

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Feb. 14, 2022 — Dale Hanaman, of rural Rippey, a retired United Methodist minister and advocate for civil rights and social justice, will present a program on Sunday, Feb. 20, at 2 p.m. at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson, on the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution — what inspired them, the impact they had in the late 19th century and ever since.

The program is especially fitting during “Black History Month,” which is observed in February.

Dale Hanaman

Those three remarkable changes in law are sometimes called the “Civil Rights Amendments” or the “Reconstruction Amendments.”

States ratified the 13th Amendment in 1865, formally abolishing slavery across the U.S.; the 14th in 1868, granting citizenship to all born or naturalized in the U.S., including those formerly enslaved, and granting all “equal protection” under the law, and the 15th in 1870, prohibiting states from disenfranchising voters “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Hanaman said his understanding of the importance of the three amendments has been enhanced by the book “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution,” by Eric Foner, a Columbia University professor who is an authority on American history.

“It’s important to consider how the United States began to move away from holding slaves against their wills,” Hanaman said.

“It is often difficult now to recognize that former slaves were men, women and children with thoughts, hopes, desires, and dreams. But they were held as ‘property.’ For decades after that, we continued to insult these people by ‘redlining’ where homes and apartments would be available for them to own or rent, limiting job opportunities, and denying equal education for their children.”

Hanaman said his program, like Foner’s book, will “re-visit our past as a nation and understand the attempt we made through these three Constitutional Amendments to act differently” toward former slaves and their descendants.

The program is free, and the refreshments are, too.

History here has seldom been as fun as it’s going to be Jan. 22 when we present “Dig it! The Music of the ’50s, ’60s & ’70s”

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Jan. 12, 2022 — On Saturday night, Jan 22, the Greene County Historical Society presents another program in our series that complements our exhibit “Dig it! The 1950s, ’60s & ’70s” that opened last summer at our museum here.

But this new program “Dig it! The Music of the 1950s, ’60s & ’70s” might well be one of the most unusual historical events the organization has ever offered.

Six of the most popular musicians from the Des Moines area are collaborating on a 90-minute concert of the most significant songs of the 30-year period of history being featuring.  It will be staged — free! — at the History Boy Theatre in the back of the RVP 1875 vintage furniture shop. 115 S. Wilson Avenue in Jefferson.

The musicians are led by veteran rock and blues artist Heath Patschull, on saxophones and guitars.  Others are Kevin King on guitar, Todd Mason on both electric and stand-up bass, Joe LeValley and Tim Hammett alternating on drums, and Jefferson native Tanner Taylor on keyboard.

Band leader Heath Pattschull has been starring in bands since he was a high school student in Cedar Falls, and played with the Blue Band for 15 years. In more recent years he’s led his own Heath Alan Band, which played the Bell Tower Festival in Jefferson a few years ago. Pattschull is early-retired from a teaching career in which he served as work experience coordinator for special needs students in the Ankeny and then Johnston schools.

In a story next week, we’ll share highlights of our recent conversations with all the band members about their careers and their perspectives on how the music the ’50s, ’60s & ’70s brought major changes to our lives and culture.

At the Jan. 22 concert, the History Boy Theatre crew, led by founder & artistic director Robby Pedersen, will have concessions for sale.  And those attending are welcome to bring their own beer or wine.

The historical society strongly encourages those in the audience to wear masks for two reasons: 1) All will be safer with COVID still lurking in our area, and 2) you’ll be less hesitant to sing along – even loudly – if your face is half-covered!

The costs of the event are being underwritten by four sponsors – Jefferson Telecom, Bett & Bev’s BBQ, Deal’s Orchard and the news & opinion internet site Offenburger.com.

Tanner Taylor, who will play keyboard in the concert here, is recognized as one of the best jazz pianists in the Midwest. Taylor is a 1999 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton High School. He and his wife and three children live in the Des Moines area. He now plays regularly from Des Moines to the Twin Cities and Kansas City, but he’s also performed across the nation and beyond.  (This photo is from his page on Facebook.)
Guitar player and singer Kevin King, a native of Sioux Falls, So. Dak., has been based in Des Moines and leading the rock band “Hot Rod Chevy Kevy” for more than 40 years. That band has played back-up for some of the best-known rock stars, including playing with Chuck Berry for a crowd of 30,000 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Bass player Todd Mason grew up in Gowrie, Ia., and earlier in his life lived in Jefferson. He now lives in Ankeny and has become one of the top bass players in the Des Moines area.
Joe LeValley, a native of Dayton, Ia., graduated in journalism from Drake University, later earned an MBA at the University of Iowa, wrote for newspapers in Boone and Mason City, then started a 30-year career as a communications and management executive in healthcare, retiring in 2018 as a vice-president in the MercyOne system in Des Moines. And get this — he struggled 20 years with completing a crime novel he was writing, but after retirement, finished it, saw it published and has now written three more!  LeValley, who now lives in Waukee, has been a drummer touring with rock ‘n’ roll bands since his college years. He’ll be sharing the drums at the concert in Jefferson.
Also playing drums here will be Tim Hammett, also of Waukee. He was born in Memphis, raised in Chattanooga “and very much steeped in music from a very early age, like 10 or 11. In fact, the drum set I’ll be playing in Jefferson will be the same set my mother bought me back in 1966 when I was starting out.” He had another career, though — serving 25 years as a pastor ordained in a Canada-based Presbyterian Church, serving congregations on the East Coast, West Coast and in the United Kingdom.
The evolving list of songs the band will play at the “Dig it!” concert in Jefferson.

 

Bopping during rehearsals in the garage of band leader Heath Pattschull in Des Moines.
A busy Pattschull — organizing, writing, playing and leading.
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