This year, the Westby Area Historical Society celebrates its 30-year anniversary. Over the years, many people have contributed their time and talents to the mission of the society. Through various events, fundraisers and donated blood, sweat and tears, the all-volunteer organization has been able to purchase a museum, acquire many beautiful artifacts that are significant to Westby’s history, and are now embarking on expanding the purpose of the organization. Genealogy is currently the second most popular hobby in the United States, second only to gardening, and the Westby Area Historical Society will stay relevant for the next 30 years by expanding its mission to be a local, national and international resource in the area of Norwegian-American history.
On March 16, 1989, a group of people met to discuss the possibility of starting an educational organization with a mission to “responsibly collect, preserve, promote and communicate our history, culture and heritage for current and future generations.” At the urging of Elaine Lund, Dorothy Krause, who was the director of the Vernon County Historical Society, met with Ray Bakkum, Robert Becker (Editor of the Westby Times), Julda Call, Alma Mikkelson and Cloie Neprud to discuss the formation of a historical society in Westby.
The first actual membership meeting happened on June 5, 1989. The elected officers were President Walter Buros, Vice President Margaret Garlick, Secretary Katherine Anderson, Treasurer Orin Larson; directors were David Vosseteig, Lorraine Borgen, Elaine Lund, Dorothy Krause and Ingrid Sadler. These people set a standard of excellence that the volunteers have aspired to maintain throughout the 30-year history of the organization. Moving forward, WAHS will still responsibly care for artifacts at the Thoreson House Museum. In addition to museum tours, they will now be giving seminars about genealogy research methods as well as documenting information about the people who settled and have lived in the Westby area. Current collections and additions to the old photographs, family histories and Norwegian local histories will be some of the major focal points that can relate to the people who will be visiting the museum.
With the help of WAHS curator and professional genealogist, Blaine Hedberg, databases and indexes of local genealogical records that include area cemeteries, church records and emigration information are being acquired. WAHS also now owns bound copies of the Westby Times, stored in beautiful, easily accessible shelving made by Timberland Custom Cabinetry. Recently, Norwegian emigration records from the Port of Oslo as well as hundreds of church records from parishes throughout Norway have been donated to WAHS by the Norwegian-American bygdelags. A bygdelag is an organization comprised of descendants of emigrants from Norway, and at the present time thirty-two “Lags” are represented throughout the United States. Every “Lag” seeks to preserve and strengthen bonds with its home district or community of origin in Norway, and WAHS is delighted that they have shared their Norwegian church records with us. Helping amateur as well as professional genealogists using this truly unique collection of research materials will also provide WAHS with relational databases that will make it easier to identify photographs and connect families and individuals to the artifacts in the collection. WAHS will be able to easily provide information that most centers do not have, do not have access to or do not have the research expertise to find.
To celebrate this milestone anniversary, a beautiful new sign was installed on Monday, May 13, just in time for the open house tours of the museum and the genealogy help being offered during Syttende Mai Saturday. The sign was designed by Danielle Benden of Driftless Pathways, LLC., using rosemaling artwork generously donated by local painter Karen Hankee. Benden and her husband installed the bold, blue and white sign in front of the Thoreson House Museum property, located at 111 Bekkedal Ave. in Westby, next door to the stabbur visitor’s center. There will be no mistaking the location of the Westby Area Historical Society now as people drive up and down Main Street.
The Thoreson House Museum will be open from noon until 4 p.m. on Saturdays throughout the summer. In addition, the annual Sweet Rides and Sweet Pies car show and ice cream social will be held on Saturday, July 28. Please come to see the new sign, tour the museum and add a member or two to your family tree. Find us on Facebook, email firstname.lastname@example.org or check the website at www.westbywihistory.com for more information.