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Weekly Column

Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.


For the week of 5/31/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Graduation ceremonies for many students were cancelled this year, replaced with other celebrations like yard signs and car parades. In the midst of this unusual graduation season, we here at the museum have been thinking about a graduation ceremony that happened 100 years ago – for the first class of students to graduate from the new Vernon County Normal School building, which is now the home of the museum.

The Normal School was built in 1919, and we celebrated its centennial last year. This year we want to remember that many of the first students to walk through these doors graduated on June 11, 1920. The graduation “exercises” were held two blocks away at the Methodist Episcopal Church (now Viroqua United Methodist), which also had a newish building, one constructed in 1914.

Schools today often have official school colors, and graduating classes will often choose a class flower and a motto. The Normal School of a century ago was no different – the school’s colors at that time were maroon and gold, and the Class of 1920 chose the American Beauty rose as its class flower.

The class motto was, “The elevator to success is not running – take the stairs”, which we here at the museum find especially funny in light of our fairly new elevator. I wonder if the Normal School students of 100 years ago grumbled about all the stairs, and wished that an elevator had been part of the original construction plans?

The school’s faculty in that spring of 1920 was entirely female, because the school had a female principal for the only time in its history. The principal was Grace Dinsdale, with Nell Mahoney as the assistant principal. Ida Opperud was the Domestic Science teacher, and Phoebe Gross the Model School teacher.

Male principal A.E. Smith had resigned in January, and the next male principal, A.W. Zellmer, was not hired until after graduation. So from January through June of 1920, Grace Dinsdale served as principal, and had the honor of overseeing the first class to graduate from the new Normal School building. It was she who presented the diplomas at the graduation exercises.

Twenty-eight young women received their Vernon County Normal School diplomas 100 years ago, and next week we’ll look at those students and their teaching careers.


Normal School, 1920
The Vernon County Normal School building in 1920.


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For the week of 5/24/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Ah, summer – I think it’s really here. One sign of summer is that the historic Sherry-Butt House at 795 N. Main St. in Viroqua is opening up for the season. Opening day is Saturday, May 30. The House will be open every Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5PM through Labor Day weekend.

Tour guides offer tours of the House every weekend afternoon, telling the stories of the Butt family, the Sherry family, and others who have lived in the home over its 150 years. The House was built in 1870, and a special exhibit has been designed to help celebrate its sesquicentennial this year. Each room of the House will feature photos and a brief biography of one or two of the home’s inhabitants. Also new this year is a scavenger hunt for the young and young-at-heart, with objects to find in each room.

Visitors are asked to bring face masks to wear during their tours, as some of the rooms are small. Guides will be cleaning shared surfaces between tour groups. Tours are $5 each for adults, and free for children under age 9.

A second sign of summer is that the Vernon County Historical Society is offering its first grill-out of the season. On Sunday, May 31, between 10AM and 2PM, we will be grilling brats and burgers outside Nelson Agri-Center at 217 N. Center Ave. in Viroqua. Bottled water will also be for sale. All food will be handled carefully to prevent any transmission of viruses.

Funds raised at the grill-out will help support the Historical Society, whose mission is to preserve and promote our shared local history. Closing our doors for the past two and a half months has been hard on our bottom line, and we hope that everyone will come out to support this worthy cause!

And finally, a real sign of summer is the museum opening up on Monday, June 1, on its regular summer schedule of Monday through Friday, noon to 4PM, and Saturday, 10AM to 2PM. These will be the museum’s hours throughout the summer months of June, July, and August.

We are very happy to again open up our doors to everyone interested in Vernon County history. The museum has several new exhibits to offer, including “Drops of Water”, about every aspect of water in Vernon County, and “Women in the Military”, about local servicewomen. Other summer exhibits in the works will feature stories about women’s suffrage, and about vintage radios.

Of course the research room is also re-opening, for all those interested in learning more about local people, places, and events, including their own family histories. We’ll be doing extra cleaning daily at the museum, and researchers and exhibit visitors will be spaced far apart. Please bring a face mask to wear for your own safety and that of others.

A busy three days – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, May 30 through June 1. Welcome, summer!


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The previous two articles:

May 17, 2020

May 10, 2020