More than just ‘old stuff’
Behrendt takes the helm at historical society
By Angie Landsverk
Tracy Behrendt wants to make the Waupaca Historical Society more community oriented.
“It is a learning curve for people. They don’t know what we do other than having old stuff,” said Behrendt, the society’s new director.
She became its director in January, after Julie Hintz retired from the position in December.
“It worked out well. I was already on the board and volunteered with Julie on collections,” she said.
Behrendt began serving on the board of directors after moving to Waupaca in 2010 with her husband, Andy, who is the youth pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church.
As a result, before being hired as the new director, she already worked with the volunteers and knew how the society operates.
The historical society is located at 321 S. Main St., in the Holly History and Genealogy Center.
The building is the former site of Waupaca’s public library, which opened there as a Carnegie library in 1914.
“We continue to work on it. It really is a wonderful place to be, to have our offices and the museum here,” she said.
With a remodeling project set to begin at the current library, a piece of the former library’s past recently returned.
It is the old library desk, and Behrendt greets visitors from behind it.
“It’s right where it used to be,” she said. “It brings back a lot of memories for people.”
At the history center, people may visit and look at artifacts pertaining to Waupaca’s history or receive help as they research a family, house or downtown building.
With the reconstruction of Main Street on the horizon, Behrendt says more local business owners are stopping in to look at old photographs of what buildings and the downtown used to look like.
A staff member from the firm just hired to create Waupaca’s downtown vision and development plan did the same thing.
The society also has meeting space available in its lower level, at no charge to nonprofits.
In addition, the Waupaca Area Genealogical Society’s collection is housed in the building.
Behrendt has worked in the museum field the last 10 years and credits where she grew up and her godfather for her interest in history.
She grew up in Cedarburg, a Milwaukee suburb known for the preservation of its historic buildings and districts, and said her godfather was a history teacher.
At the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, she double majored in journalism and history.
“I wanted to be a sportswriter and did it for a little while,” she said.
Her love of history resulted in her decision to return to the classroom.
In 2005, she graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a master’s degree in public history and a certificate in museum studies.
“All of our classes were at the Milwaukee Public Museum, which I grew up going to,” Behrendt said.
Most of her experience has been working in smaller museums.
“I like that local history piece,” she said. “I like having my hands in everything.”
In addition to being the historical society’s director, Behrendt is also the Waupaca Area Public Library’s exhibit room coordinator. That is also a part-time position.
She and her husband have two young sons.
Behrendt wants to focus on new programming and on highlighting all of the society’s buildings.
“People remember this building as the old library, but we also have the Hutchinson House and the King Cottage, which is a cottage from the (Wisconsin) Veterans Home (at King),” she said.
The cottage is located behind the Hutchinson House, and Behrendt said they hope to open it in the spring and feature photographs about the home.
It would be open in the summer, like the Hutchinson House.
Preserving the society’s collections is one of her priorities.
“The Hutchinson House tends to have most of the textiles,” Behrendt said.
However, the house is not a nice environment for them, she said.
She wants to move some of those items to the center and use them in more exhibits there.
“It all costs money. We have to think of creative ways to preserve,” Behrendt said.
In the typical year, the society receives about 100 donations.
She said that includes everything from photographs and artifacts to items related to the Waupaca Train Depot, which is also one of the society’s buildings.
“We have some great collections,” Behrendt said. “As we tweak the exhibits, we will be able to show and exhibit more from our collections.”
The center is open from noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday.
In June through August, it is open until 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday and also from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Hutchinson House is open 1- 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on summer holidays.
Behrendt said the train depot is open by appointment.
“We have our first wedding coming up out there this year,” she said.
With heat now on in the building, the train depot may be used throughout the year.
Mike Kirk has spearheaded work on the depot’s restoration for more than a decade.
“We want people to know about the venue, and it’s right by the train. They worked with the railroad to keep it in its place, in its original location,” Behrendt said. “It’s just a beautiful building, and Mike continues to do work on it.”
She said people often do not realize the historical society oversees four buildings, and she wants more people to realize the history center is just past downtown and before South Park.
Behrendt wants to introduce more people to the historical society and its work to preserve local history by offering new programs.
“Next month, we’re gong to start a coloring club,” she said. “It will be for adults, but children are welcome to come. We will have coloring pages and supplies.”
The club will meet at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month, in the center’s lower level meeting room. The first meeting will be on April 21.
There will be coffee and light snacks. She sees it as a way to get the society’s name “out there a little bit.”
In June, the historical society will feature Ron Faiola, author of “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience.”
“He did a documentary and then the book. Now he’s doing a second book, which is coming out in the spring. The book coming out will feature the Pine Tree,” Behrendt said.
People may follow what the historical society is up to on its Facebook page, where historic photos are also posted.