I am a little late but my intent was good! April 21-27 was National Volunteer week, and although I intended to send a note of gratitude to all those who help us out here at the Hormel Historic Home, I didn’t get it done in time. (Perhaps I needed the help of a volunteer!)
National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and is celebrated all over our country in many different ways. According to handsonnetwork.org “It is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities.” Volunteers are very important to the HHH and I would like to recognize those who have chosen to share a little of their imaginative and caring ways with us.
Over the years the HHH Board of Directors has spent countless hours planning events to benefit the Home. They offer tours to remind guests of our history, they serve treats or meals to represent the spirit of hospitality that the Hormels were known for, and they consider ways in which the Home can continue to serve our community.
In the office we have people with great organizational and people skills who help keep things running smoothly. From scheduling tour guides, to arranging historical documents, to answering phone calls and selling tickets to events, they are priceless in helping us maintain a healthy organization. We also have friends who just like being here and will often tidy up and water the plants.
Another regular group of volunteers is the Y’s Women. This group has met at the Home for 20 years, and they often volunteer at events such as our Holiday Open House and German Cookie Bake, and they even set tables for our Sweetheart Dinner. You will soon see a bit of their gardening work as they fill the window boxes on the west side of the Home.
Our volunteer Board of Trustees oversees the financial position of the HHH and develops long-range goals to help us remain vital to Austin. They oversee the administrative processes and ensure that positive business decisions are being made.
So although I am late in saying it, I am extremely grateful for those who have chosen to make the HHH their outlet for volunteer work. They do it because they recognize the value of a facility such as ours and they want to see it preserved. We wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we do without them.
It seems every time I walk through the rooms of the HHH I notice something new or figure something else out about the Hormel family or this home. I could spend days looking through all the documents and files we have on the history of this place, but I try to limit myself due to other responsibilities. Today I decided to finally open one of the many boxes of history and I found information on some of the artwork we have on display in the house.
Apparently two pieces that I walk by everyday were painted by women with connections to Austin. The colorful lake scene that hangs in the corridor of the banquet area was painted by Louise (Louisa) Minert-Kelly. A native of Waukon, Iowa, Louise was a talented artist who studied at some prestigious art schools including The Art Institute of Chicago and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1906 Louise was a teacher in Austin, and here, she married Edward P. Kelly, an Austin native and Law School graduate. We do not know how or when the HHH obtained the painting, but we know it was hanging over the fireplace in the library in 1947 based on photographs from that time period. It is likely that the Hormels knew the Kellys as Edward practiced law here from 1903 until 1906.
Just inside the front door of the home hangs a trio of postcard size pictures depicting early 1900’s Austin scenes painted by Anna Leach in 1912. Ms. Leach moved to Austin at the age of two with her parents in 1866 according to an Austin Daily Herald article dated April 29,1981. She was raised in luxury and it was noted that she was not taught the practical tools that would help her in the world. She did have access to painting lessons and she attended Austin schools graduating in 1881. She was remembered in her later life by her unkempt and eccentric appearance. I have not found any other information about Ms. Leach in our records but we are happy that the pictures were donated to the Y.W.C.A. in 1981 by Mayor Robert Enright.
Many other treasures adorn our facility and as I learn about them I will enthusiastically share the information with you.
George A., having moved to Toledo in the mid 1860’s at age 5, spent his childhood attending school, working, and finding ways for he and his siblings to entertain themselves. He describes Toledo as a place with “no clean paved streets, well kept parks, art museums or fine stores. It did however, boast a public school system.” This was apparently a rarity of the time when, in many cities, students were either from families who could afford to send them to private schools or were “charity pupils”. George notes that “education was largely a monopoly enjoyed by the privileged few,” and his family was fortunate that in Toledo they had access to that privilege.
He talks of spending his days learning his father’s trade as a Tanner. This type of learning was common of children at that time. “After school and on Saturdays, and during vacations, boys clerked in their fathers’ stores, read law in their offices, or made themselves generally useful in whatever activity their elders might be employed.” George received his first opportunity to earn a wage from the Toledo Blade and the Democrat, two Toledo newspapers. “I would gladly have gone before, but I was restrained until my eighth birthday,” he wrote. He would arrive at 4 a.m., wait in line for his share of papers, and then head out on his route.
For entertainment the children made music or created playthings, such as kites, and bows and arrows. “The war had popularized the fife and drum. Almost every group of neighborhood youngsters organized fife and drum corps.” They made the drum frames out of round cheese boxes that they had shellacked at a paint shop, and they prepared the drumheads at the tannery. “During the long summer evenings, all the children in our neighborhood congregated on a vacant lot near our home, attracted by the sound of my brother Henry’s fife accompanied by four snare drums. Here, we marched and sang the songs men had so lately made immortal on their country’s battlefields.”
George’s father, John, encouraged this creative and imaginative activity as “He believed that every child was a potential artist and craftsman; all he needed was the opportunity for creative expression,” from Three Men and a Business.
Kids are not so different today despite all the avenues for entertainment they have. We have had countless homemade bows, arrows, and drums in our home.