Niagara museum continues to develop displays

Our Town Niagara

Niagara Area Historical Society President Karen Klenke looks over a few of the Byers’ Choice Carolers that were donated by the family of Sharon and Ray Ponzio, who were charter members of the Niagara Area Historical Society. These handmade Christmas figures are scattered throughout the Niagara Historical Museum displays for the holiday season, including the church exhibit and even the military space. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

NIAGARA, Wis. — Off-season at the Niagara Historical Museum doesn’t mean they slow down.

“This is the time for dreaming and creating new things to make it ‘fresh’ in here,” Niagara Area Historical Society President Karen Klenke said. “It’s exciting — we never want to stop.”

The museum at 1364 River St. recently received some special gifts that were perfect for the holiday.

A fresh evergreen tree greets the public as they walk into the museum. Under this “perfect” tree sits two vintage red trucks, given to the museum by Beverly DesJardins after her death in December 2020.

“She insisted we get the pieces, as that’s who Beverly was,” Klenke said.

Niagara Area Historical Society President Karen Klenke shows off the fresh evergreen tree donated by Todd Garvaglia. Under the tree are two vintage trucks that were displayed on a local front porch for decades, donated by Beverly DesJardins. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

Rolland “Bummy” DesJardins placed a tree on his front porch for his first wife, Vi, to enjoy, as she was allergic to the real evergreen. For decades the community enjoyed these classic toys that accompanied the tree.

Bummy married Beverly St. Arnauld in 1988 and the couple kept the tradition. After he passed away in 1999, Beverly also continued with the display until her death at age 94.

Klenke once asked Beverly if she worried about the pieces being stolen from the front porch. “She said someone did steal them one year, but Bummy followed the tracks in the fresh fallen snow and got them back,” Klenke said, adding they never again were taken from the porch.

“This has been a historical Christmas scene in Niagara for generations,” Klenke said. “This is what people remember.”

Klenke said the community won’t have to “miss it,” as the museum will continue the tradition of the display each year.

Niagara Area Historical Society President Karen Klenke holds a framed glass case of Native American arrowheads donated by former Niagara High School graduate Brian Diel. The society is in the process of creating a new Native American display. for the museum in Niagara, Wis. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

“That’s what we are all about — to preserve stuff,” she said. “It’s kind of a big deal.”

Another addition is the collection of Byers’ Choice Carolers. These handmade Christmas figures were provided by the family of Sharon and Ray Ponzio, who were charter members of the Historical Society. Each season Sharon decorated her home with this complete collection.

“They now fill every room of the museum, from the military room to the church — so perfect for the holiday,” Klenke said. “We cherish them.”

“We decorated for Christmas big-time,” she added.

The Historical Society recently hosted a holiday open house and “surprise” birthday party for Klenke as a fundraiser. The event drew in many locals, a number of whom had never before visited the museum.

SOME OF THE items on display at the Niagara Historical Museum include the Byers’ Choice Carolers arranged throughout the museum, including the church display. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

“But (that) really isn’t true,” Klenke said, “as it was the old Marcouiller’s grocery store, prior to the building being renovated in 2014 as the museum’s new home.”

Klenke said visitors were struck by the simplicity and comfortable surroundings in the museum.

The celebration also gave rise to a different museum project. “We had several of the ‘mill guys’ standing in a circle reminiscing about their days there,” she said. “We realized how important it is to get these stories documented for future generations.”

They hope to have a “round table” of employees from different decades so they can be recorded.

The historical society is in the process of seeking guidance on their Native American display as well. “We need to make it more authentic,” Klenke said. “We wanted it to be treated with respect.”

Byers’ Choice Carolers have been arranged throughout the Niagara Historical Museum, including the military section. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

She has been in contact with a tribal elder from Hannahville Indian Community near Escanaba who has offered to help.

One piece they have obtained is a glass case of Native American arrowheads from former Niagara High School graduate Brian Diel.

“These didn’t necessary come from Niagara, but we know they are a precious treasure,” she said.

Another piece the museum acquired is a fort replica built by a local Boy Scout Troop in 1977, led by Larry Zipp and Mike Werner.

There is so much they have to learn to develop the Native American corner of the museum, Klenke explained.

“We have been told over the years that a tremendous amount of history possibly lays in the banks of the Menominee River,” she said. “It’s kind of a mystery for Niagara — we just don’t know what we have.”

The Historical Society also has plans to renovate a wall in the gathering area of the museum. They have discussed covering half of the wall with corrugated metal so photographs of Niagara families can be hung with magnets.

“We really want as many family pictures as we can get — old and new,” Klenke said.

The society is also coming up with a name to go with the “family corner.”

Photos can be submitted online through the museum’s Facebook page or on the website at www.niagaraareahistoricalsociety.org, or can be dropped off at the museum. Anyone with questions can contact Klenke at 715-251-4557.

The historical society also hopes to host a cooking class in the museum’s new kitchen area, with well-known local businesswoman and board member Deb Gursky, during the winter months.

“It would be great to get more activity in here — it’s such a beautiful building,” said Klenke.

Founded in 1994, the society has been well supported and taken care of over the years, Klenke said, adding, “We have been so blessed.”

“We will take care of making sure it stays relevant,” Klenke said.

To tour the museum, contact Klenke, who is willing to open up the facility at any time.


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