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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 11/29/2020
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

All this year we have been celebrating the 150th birthday of the Sherry-Butt House. The house is located at 795 N. Main St. in Viroqua, and is owned and operated as a museum by the Vernon County Historical Society. It is currently closed for the season, but will re-open in May. Part of our celebration has been a series of biographies of the people who lived in the home over the years, and now we have come to the final biography.

Mary Jerene Sherry was born June 26, 1926 to Orbec and Hilda Sherry, and was raised on the family farm near Viroqua. Mary completed 8th grade at Belgium Ridge, a one-room country school, participated in 4-H activities and rode horses with her father. Continuing her education at Viroqua High School, she was active in intra-murals, Student Council and class plays, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1944.

She enrolled at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota and received a degree in English education, just as her mother Hilda Sherry had done before her. As a student, Mary was hired by the Physical Education department to give riding lessons to other students. Her junior year, she was selected to be a counselor in the freshman dorm. Summers, Mary worked as a counselor in camps for girls in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

During that time, her parents purchased the Colonel Butt farm and in the fall of 1947 built a barn on the property as well as updating the house to include plumbing, central heat, a fireplace, a modern kitchen, upstairs bathroom and extensive redecorating. They moved into the house in the spring of 1948.

After graduating from St. Olaf in 1948, Mary taught English in Rushford, Minnesota where she met and became engaged to the Mayor of Rushford, Homer Eggen. The Main Street Lutheran Church (Good Shepherd) had burned to the ground on Christmas Day in 1946 and was not yet rebuilt, so they selected the former Colonel Butt home as the site for their wedding on April 10, 1949.

Mary and Homer had four children: Eric, Kathy, Peter, and Paul. The family moved several times, following Homer’s career in insurance. Mary took on several teaching and substitute teaching positions while the children were growing up and volunteered in the church and community. In 1975, she helped found and took a career counseling position at Working Opportunities for Women (WOW) in the Twin Cities. As part of her responsibilities, she wrote a column for their monthly newsletter, responding to questions sent in by their readers. In 1988 she received The Spurgeon Award for exceptional career achievements and outstanding community service in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Homer died on December 31, 2003. Mary currently resides in Bloomington, Minnesota. Eric Eggen lives in White Bear Lake, Minnesota; Kathy (Eggen) Gundlach in Ames, Iowa; Peter Eggen in Battle Lake, Minnesota; and Paul Eggen in Eagan, Minnesota. The family occasionally travels to Viroqua to visit the Sherry-Butt House, and they have provided valuable information about the history of the home.


Mary Sherry

Mary Sherry


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For the week of 11/22/2020
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

In celebration of the 150th birthday of the Sherry-Butt House this year, we are featuring brief biographies of the people who lived in the home. The house is located at 795 N. Main St. in Viroqua, and is owned and operated as a museum by the Vernon County Historical Society. It is currently closed for the season, but will re-open in May.

The house was built in 1870 by Cyrus and Margaret Butt. The Butt family sold the house to Orbec and Hilda Sherry in 1948. The Sherrys had two children, Orbec Jr. and Mary, who were already adults when the house came into their family, but they certainly spent time there when visiting their parents. Today we will focus on Orbec Jr.

Orbec D. Sherry, Junior (known as Junior) was born on August 21, 1923 and grew up on the family farm outside Viroqua, working the fields and helping to care for the animals. After he completed 8th grade at the one-room country school house on Belgium Ridge, he attended Viroqua High School where he participated in FFA and played football. He graduated in 1941 and attended Bottineau State School of Forestry in Bottineau, ND where he studied Forestry and also played football.

Junior enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II, but was rejected because of a heart murmur. He then joined the Merchant Marine and served on boats that carried service men to their assignments in the U.K. and Europe. After WWII, he worked for major shipping lines that delivered cargo to South and Central America and to Asia.

Later Orbec Jr. lived in Seattle, Washington, and worked in the shipyards as well as delivering cargo to Alaska. He married Lois Maben in 1964, who brought three teen-aged sons to the marriage. He also co-owned a small trucking company which he operated until shortly before his death on June 20, 1990 in Seattle.

You can learn more about the Sherrys and the Butts and the house they both lived in by visiting our website, vernoncountyhistory.org, or by stopping by the museum. The museum continues to be open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from noon to 4PM, but we are limiting the number of people in the building at one time. Please call ahead of your visit, if possible, so we can make sure there is plenty of space for everyone. The museum is also open by appointment – contact us at 637-7396, or at museum@vernoncountyhistory.org.


Orbec Sherry Jr.
Orbec D. Sherry Junior, 1923-1990


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The previous two articles:

November 15, 2020

November 8, 2020