Monona Historical Society has kept community’s history alive for 50 years

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This photo was taken on May 29, 1971, at the opening of the Monona Historical Museum on South Egbert Street. In November, the Monona Historical Society will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The Monona Historical Society was organized in November 1967, after a group of community members felt the need to preserve the area’s history and artifacts for future generations. 

The group’s first elected officers included Miss Willa Helwig as president, Miss Ploma Blaha as vice president and Mrs. Elmer Marting Jr. as secretary-treasurer. Donald Gray, Mrs. LeRoy Darby, Mrs. Melvin Beimfohr, Otmar Bruns, Mrs. Roger A. Halvorson, Miss Elsie Possehl and Mrs. LeRoy Thompson served as directors.

The first meetings were held in the basement of what’s now the old telephone office, next to the library, recalled Carol Marting, who, along with her husband Elmer, is still active with the society.

“We met there until we got the house,” she shared, referring to the Victorian home that has served as the Monona Historical Museum since May 1971. “Back then, sometimes we’d have a program or someone would present on an object.”

Built around 1900, the home on South Egbert Street was purchased by H.H. Smith in 1909. Elizabeth Smith made it available for use as a museum in 1970. She also donated some of the home’s furnishings.

The historical society purchased the home for $12,000, with funds coming from donations, home-to-home fund drives, food stands and the selling of Monona commemorative plates and reprints of the 1884 and 1916 Clayton County History Books.

Early displays at the museum included several rooms furnished from the early-1900s period, along with the Gust Pufahl carving collection, small tools and the community’s newspaper publications.

In 1980, following a donation in memory of Melvin Beimfohr, the home’s back porch was enclosed, expanded and made into an office. This provided much needed space for books, storage and more.

In 1981, by the time the museum celebrated its 10th anniversary, over 3,300 items were on display.

Another addition was made to the museum in 1992, when a room was built on the southwest portion of the house to serve as a wood carving room and to hold the extensive carvings created by Elmer Marting Sr. 

Today, the museum boasts the world’s largest known display of hand-carved chains and maintains an active wood carving group.

In 2006, the museum achieved its latest addition, a two-room building for display of Monona memorabilia and the housing of research materials. It was named the Willa Helwig History Center, in honor of the museum’s long-time curator, who also donated toward its construction.

“Willa was a mainstay,” Marting remarked. “She was really good at taking photos and was very organized and diligent about recording things.”

The museum still benefits from Helwig’s skills, with a plethora of research materials and files, scrapbooks of photos and clippings, and more.

“This is the fun part for me,” Marting said, “collecting the written history.”

To learn more about some of the museum’s other unique displays and resources, please see next week’s North Iowa Times.

On Monday through Saturday, Nov. 6-11, the Monona Historical Society will celebrate its 50th anniversary. People are invited to stop by the museum from 1 to 4 p.m. each day for refreshments, tours, wood carving displays and to share stories.

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