A family was recognized Sunday for their collective volunteerism and overall contributions to the Fort Atkinson Historical Society.
The Ager-Hart family — Brett, Linda, Bjorn, Brita, Maren, Elsa and Roald — were named the 2019 Volunteer of the Year during the organization’s annual volunteer recognition gathering at the Hoard Historical Museum.
“We host this reception each year as our way of thanking you for all that you do for the museum,” museum director Merrilee Lee said. “It’s the staff’s opportunity to serve you. Every program, every event, every aspect is dependent on you in ways that you might not realize; so, from all of us, thank you so much for all of your help.”
Many organizations in Fort Atkinson and throughout the country are struggling with shrinking volunteer corps, she noted. However, the museum’s volunteer list continues to grow. Currently, the historical society boasts more than 200 volunteers who are involved throughout the year.
“Some of you help once a year or once a month, and a few others serve multiple times a month, but you help as you can where you can, and for that, we are grateful,” Lee said.
As a group during 2017, the director said, volunteers tallied 485 hours a month for a total of 5,817 hours of work, equivalent to approximately three full-time positions.
Lee noted that the tally comes into play when applying for grants.
“Your gifts of time, energy, passion, knowledge, baked goods and labor are an invaluable asset to the museum and community, and we, as the staff and board, are so very thankful for each of you,” she said.
Recognizing the honorees Sunday, museum volunteer coordinator Tammy Doellstedt noted that the Ager-Hart family members have served as volunteers since Linda was hired at the musem three years ago.
Doellstedt pointed out that Ager-Harts easily meet the criteria for the award, which include, but are not limited to, being a member who displays reliability, a team-player attitude, flexibility, diversity of service, an ability to follow directions, innovation, enthusiasm, the ability to serve at short notice and regularity of service.
Sunday’s ceremony marked the first time in 34 years that a family has won the award.
“We are very thankful we hired Linda to work three years,” Doellstedt said. “Little did we know that her family would become great volunteers.”
She said the museum staff truly appreciates all that the Ager-Harts do and their great work ethic.
“There are many programs that would not flourish if you were not here to help get them off the ground,” Doellstedt said.
Some of the numerous events the family members are involved in include Dairy Day the Mooseum, the July 4th Ice Cream Social, the August ice cream social fundraiser at Barrie Park and the Holiday Open House.
“Your family works very well together and works hard to support the museum,” she told the honorees.
“When they are not helping at the museum, they are involved in a myriad of other activities, from teaching, 4-H Club, homeschooling and college classes, raising and showing animals, tending a large garden, church volunteering and many others.
“We really appreciate Linda’s family and all they do with a smile,” the volunteer coordinator said.
The Ager-Hart family joins these past Volunteers of the Year: 1986, George Swart; 1986, Lillian Kerbel; 1987, Ruth Rockwell; 1987, David and Jean Tyler; 1988, Carolyn Weh; 1988, James Baird; 1989, Laura Beane; 1989, Wilma Haukom; 1990, Maxine Meyer; 1990, Barbara Starke; 1991, Pat Landowski; 1992, Carol Bonnet; 1993, Della Pierce; 1994, John and Lue Ehinger; 1995, William Ward; 1996, Howard and Betty Goodman; 1997, Allan Haukom; 1998, Karen Simpson; 1999, Jim Nelson; 1999, Estelle Wiesmann; 2000, Howard Goodman.
Also, 2001, Milo and Joan Jones; 2002, Jan Kraus; 2003, Betty Schubert; 2004, Pat O’Connor; 2005, Marilla Fuge; 2006, Dick and Carol Wanie; 2007, Brenda Peterson and Mary Gates; 2008, Allan Christian; 2009, Ann Engelman; 2010, Diane Carter; 2011, Ron Langellier; 2012, Karen and John Syens; 2013, Linda Niemeyer; 2014, Sue Zimmerman; Beverly Dahl, 2015; Joe Slaney, 2016; Mary Narkis, 2017; and Kay Falk, 2018.
Fort Atkinson Historical Society Board of Directors President Bob Cheek thanked the volunteers on behalf of the board.
“All of you that do so much for the museum, it is greatly appreciated,” he said. “The museum and Fort Atkinson Historical Society couldn’t function without all of you.”
Cheek said he views the volunteers as being members of a team.
“When one can’t make it, somebody else jumps in; some put in more hours than others, but we all make it happen,” he said. “Thank you all for coming today to help support the mission of our museum and historical society. Without you, we couldn’t do it, so thank you.”
Also Sunday, National Dairy Shrine Executive Director David Selner of Denmark, Wis., was on hand to offer some remarks.
“From all of the comments our office receives from visitors to the museum, they universally praise the hosts that greet them during their visit,” he said. “They appreciate your friendliness and aid in navigating through the museum complex.”
He extended those thanks to include the numerous volunteers who operate under the public eye doing hundreds of necessary jobs throughout the year.
“Being a volunteer is often a thankless job, and I am so pleased to be a small part of this function that honors your commitment and applauds your assistance,” Selner said.
“It takes dozens and dozens of dedicated people to make a museum complex like this operate at a high level, and that is exactly what happens in Fort Atkinson,” Selner added. “I am always amazed at the generosity of the Fort Atkinson citizens to support this gem of a museum which can compete with those in major cities.”
The National Dairy Shrine official said the board is pleased with the cooperative spirit between the city and the Fort Atkinson Historical Society in operating the museum complex.
“Since building the National Dairy Shrine Museum wing in 1980 until today, this trio has created a wonderful, beneficial asset to your community,” Selner said. “The National Dairy Shrine board is committed to continue to improve its exhibits and add new technology to make the viewer experience even better in the future.”
He reiterated his thanks to the volunteers.
“I again want to thank you for your efforts and sincerely hope that you are able to continue to provide your time and talent to such a wonderful treasure like the Hoard Museum,” Selner concluded.
Also Wednesday, the Greeter of the Year award was presented to Mildred Lemke, who has been volunteering at the museum for more than 25 years.
“Greeters have the important role of welcoming everyone to the Hoard Historical Museum,” Doellstedt said. “Mildred is very friendly to all the visitors and interacts well with the staff and visitors.”
Doellstedt said Lemke is involved actively with volunteering at First Congregational United Church of Christ.
“Somehow she even gets here in the winter, even though she lives out the in the country, and that is a daunting driveway,” she said.
In addition, the historical society honored Meghan Bernath as the Archive Assistant of the Year.
She began working with the archives in 2015. Her speciality is transcribing handwritten letters.
“Thanks for spending some of your weekend mornings in the Knox Research Library,” Doellstedt said.
The Museum Detective of the Year Award went to Barbra Orlando, who has been volunteering at the museum for five years.
“She earned this award because she solves many mysteries around here,” Doellstedt said. “She spends hours outside her assigned shifts researching things like the family Bible mysteries, Hoard family genealogy, lists of Munro cemetery inhabitants.”
Recently, a museum visitor donated $50, thanking Orlando specifically for her help with a family genealogy.
A Renaissance Man Award was presented to Jack Blodgett.
A member of the historical society board of directors, Blodgett serves in many roles as a greeter, a cookie baker and a gardener.
“He loves to chat with visitors about a variety of topics,” Doellstedt said. “He is a man for all seasons. Jack, we are glad that, in your words, you were volunteered to volunteer.”
Assistant Volunteer Coordinator Bethene Pitterle also was recognized.
She has been working at the museum for six years.
Doellstedt explained that it is Pitterle, a member of the First Brigade Band of Watertown, who sends out the birthday postcards and cards to the volunteers.
Lastly, Lee recognized her staff members and volunteers again for assisting in organizing the event Sunday and just their overall participation.
“Thanks to all of you for all that you do, not just for the museum, but for our communities,” she said. “You volunteer other places, serve on committees or in clubs, and are the definition of community leaders. You are truly inspirational.”