Sunday, September 30, 2012

Passion for the Past

It has been almost seven years since the founding of the Sutton Historical Society and three since we began contributing to Sutton Life Magazine. It is time to report on what we are doing.

The mission of the Sutton Historical Society is to collect and preserve the artifacts and information about the past in the Sutton community. The first need when we started was a home for the artifacts, the Sutton Museum.

The three museum buildings, the Historic House, the Wolfe Country School Museum and the museum in the original John Gray house soon became an established part of the Sutton scene.

Six of the active young people in and around Sutton about 1900: Carl Spielman, Ada Gray,
Homer Gray, Irene Honey, Albert (A.W.) Clark and Mayme Wieden.
The Historic House displays the home of John and Emma Gray much as it might have looked soon after they built it in 1908. Their original home serves as to space for museum items and the Wolfe school provides visitors, especially kids, a look at country schools fifty and more years ago.

The museum supports that part of the mission of preserving artifacts. Visitors enjoy hands-on access to household items, furnishings and other artifacts that have a Sutton story. The artifacts, the stuff of the past, comprise an important and expected part of the role of a museum. People enjoy the butter churns and bed pans as well as other items common in the past but gone from our everyday life now. We appreciate the many, many contributions from people who have made possible our collections.

Among the items in the museum are the original dining room set in the historic house, the baggage cart from the Sutton depot, a bedroom set from the early Honey furniture store, high school annuals, Ebert sister paintings, Beulah Ochsner’s hats, and veterans’ stuff  – uniforms, memorabilia, photos; the list goes on and on.

The second part of the historic society’s mission involves finding and preserving information about Sutton’s past, not only preserving that information but distributing it for the education and entertainment of those with an interest in Sutton’s past.

This series of articles in Sutton Life Magazine has played an important part in distributing information that we uncover about the history of the Sutton area. There are so many stories about the deeds of earlier Sutton residents that have been lost from our collective memories or are known to only a few. The various outlets from the historical society give exposure to these stories.

A few of the forgotten, or almost forgotten stories we’ve uncovered include the story of William Wellman, a 14-year old Sutton newspaper publisher who became obsessed with hot air balloon travel attempting to reach the North Pole and Europe in his balloon; the Umma Luebbens’ invention of the round baler; Adeline Nolde’s design for the FFA emblem, the breadth of Ted Wenzlaff’s military career; Alida Curtiss’s Grafton and Sutton-based novel about her friend Nellie Stevens; Eugene Bemis’s book “The Squawker” and his career as publisher of the York New Teller newspaper; Herbert Johnson’s Saturday Evening Post covers; Betty Swanson’s immigration story from Sweden to Salt Lake City to Council Bluffs to Sutton and many, many more.

We’ve retold the stories of several better known Suttonites plus the stories of groups of people in the town’s past. Remember the article about Satch? All of us over a certain age remember that man. He was the identity of the town for several years. Out-of-town athletes knew Satch but how many in our younger generations had heard of him? If stories like his are lost our town will lose some of its personality.

Our newspaper column has also been in place for three years. There are stacks of old county newspapers in the basement of the news office. You could spend your own time going through those old papers to learn something of the story of Sutton’s past. Instead, we lay out the highlights from 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago each week. Besides, one hundred year old deteriorating newsprint will not withstand much more handling.

Our online presence at offers yet another outlet for information about Sutton’s past. The advantages of the blog are that it is easily updated, can be as timely as today and it reaches people world-wide – it really does.

So there are two major categories of things the historical society does: stuff and stories. My personal preference is the stories part. And yes, I do have a passion for finding and retelling those stories.

We all need something to be passionate about. But those of us in the historical society are the first to admit that historical matters are not everyone’s interest, much less passion. If you don’t share our passion in historical matters I hope you have found your own. But if that is the case, why have you come this far in this article?
The Wolfe School District #55, a part of the Sutton Museum and fully furnished with desks, piano,
pot-belly stove and an assortment of period grade school textbooks.

Maintaining and developing the historical society demands effort and some money (yes, we have a light bill, insurance and lots more.) There is a small, and yes, passionate cadre of loyal workers and supporters of the historical society. We are proud when visitors comment on our products and acknowledge the work. But our small number constrains how much we can do.

Our visitors and those who contact us via email, phone calls and letters are actually skewed towards the non-residents, even the out-of-staters. People who once lived in Sutton or whose parents or grandparents were once residents maintain their interest in our town. We field a steady stream of requests for information about people who once lived here and someone is trying to reconstruct the memory of them. There is real satisfaction in fulfilling that kind of request.

Do you have even a glimmer of passion for the past? Or would you like to develop an interest? We would be thrilled to have you join us. There are numerous projects on our TODO list, projects that we think would add to our understanding of Sutton’s past and would educate and entertain. Just contact us and we’ll talk. We can show you what we’ve done and the kinds of things we’d like to do if we only had more hands involved.

The museum is open from 2 – 5 PM on Sundays or call 773-0222 for an appointment. Our monthly meetings are the first Tuesday of each month at 7:30 at the historic house, 309 N. Way Avenue. We have a fun gathering the first Saturday of each month with our Pancake Breakfast at the American Legion from 7:30 to10:30. The breakfasts provide a steady revenue stream that keeps our financial head close to the water line. Your enjoyment of the pancakes and conversation is an easy way for you to help out with that funding part of our challenges. Another kitchen volunteer or two would be great too.

So visit the museum and the blog, read the newspaper and continue to read our Sutton Life articles to enjoy our work. Better yet, join us and help us expand this service to the greater Sutton community.

This article first appeared in the July, 2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For further information about Sutton Life Magazine or for a subscription, please visit: or call 402-984-4203.

No comments: