SMALL TOWNS: Princeton’s history comes alive through folklore museum

The unique museum in Green Lake County preserves history through stories
Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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PRINCETON, Wis. (WBAY) - A Green Lake County community discovered a unique way to preserve its history through stories.

Over the course of four years, more than 100 volunteers worked tirelessly to create a folklore museum.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to Princeton where a lasting legacy is now on display.

It’s a vision that began back in 2017 when the president of the Princeton Historical Society approached Vickie Wielgosh with a dream.

“Marj Mlodzik came to me, at the time she was in her mid-80′s, and she came to me and said Vickie, build me a museum,” recalls Vickie.

Recently retired, and involved in community development projects for years, Vickie was on board.

The first order of business, learning more about the artifacts in the historical society’s then make-shift museum.

“And we pulled together what I like to call life veterans, and so they were in their 80′s and 90′s, they were telling stories about their parents and grandparents who put it back into the 1800s,” explains Vickie.

Those interviews triggered an idea.

The new museum wouldn’t be about the artifacts, but rather the people they represent.

“We’ve got to change the museum, we’ve got to change what our thinking was, we’ve got to save lives by saving these stories, hence the folklore museum, we saved the stories of the people,” says Vickie, who now serves as the museum’s director.

The mission was clear, but now the hard part.

The old 1800′s building was in dire need of a complete renovation.

“We didn’t have money, we had $298 in our checking account,” says Vickie.

In Princeton though, no problem.

Vickie reached out to community members asking for help and the response was overwhelming.

“Amazing things started to happen, and all we had to do was put it in the air, and people were coming to us or found a way to us,” says Vickie.

More than 100 volunteers pitched in to donate their talent, labor, funds and material, from senior citizens to high school students, and all ages in between.

Carpenters, plumbers and electricians were all on board to bring the stories of Princeton to life.

“It’s nice to contribute something back to the community that people can look back later and say well he did that, or they did that for this town because it’ll be here long after we’re gone from here,” says volunteer carpenter Norb Wianecki.

One of the museum’s most stunning pieces, is a mural painted by local artist Robin Wallenfang over the course of six months.

“This is very personal, it’s not just a museum with artifacts, there’s people in the history behind everything in here, you can put a name to it, so it’s a very localized, a massive art project, the whole thing is because the heart and soul is in this whole building in everyone who worked here,” says Robin.

The Princeton Folklore Museum opened last summer, but due to the pandemic, there wasn’t a lot of attention.

But in hindsight Vickie says, the pandemic actually helped open the doors faster.

“In fact, the pandemic for us was a great time for people to work because they weren’t working out, they wanted to volunteer, they worked by themselves in here, they’d come in and do what they needed to do and left,” explains Vickie.

Stories from well over 100 residents are now recorded and told throughout the museum.

Efforts to gather more continue every day.

“When we get in objects or photos we say please, we want to know your family’s story, we want to know the story of that artifact or photo or whatever it is, but it’s amazing how many people sell their own personal story short,” says Vickie.

In Princeton though, they all count thanks to a community dedicated to saving its history through stories.

“It gives me goosebumps to know how we got this done and how we started, and it’s just an amazing story,” says Vickie with a smile.

Next up for the museum is phase two, in the back half of the building, which will share even more of the community’s rich history.

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More than 100 volunteers helped build a museum to tell their community's stories

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