I have not focused on my own history on this blog so far. While I was born in River Falls, I did not live here until 1988. From 1978 to 1988 my home town was and in some ways is Roberts, Wisconsin. My mother had got a divorce from my father at that time (we were living in Hudson), and it was decided it was best if I went to live with my mother. I was 2 years old at that time. My formative years were then spent in Roberts where we lived at 48 Frank Street. Some of my best childhood memories are from Roberts. Being a town kid I walked to school and spent many afternoons at friends or alone at home (before my mother came home from work at Northwest Airlines) around town after a usual stop at the Roberts Grocery Store. Teachers I remember fondly are Mrs. Christensen, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Helders, Mrs. Dougherty, Mr. Magee, Mrs. Huser among others. At that time I did not have any sort of interest in local history, family history or history in general at all. After spending 10 great years in Roberts, my mother met someone and was going to get remarried in October 1988, which she did. Where did that leave me? There were two options: move to White Bear Lake, where my mom was or move in with my dad and uncle in River Falls. Being from Roberts with the St. Croix Central Class of 1994 consisting of about 50 people, my parents decided I should go to River Falls. River Falls was a very large place compared to Roberts and it took some adjusting to living there, especially in school.
Skipping ahead 18 years, my father Chuck Geister, was working on his memoirs on growing up in Beldenville. This was released in the summer of 2007 as a limited edition book called Lillies of My Valley. It is a great read and available at local public libraries. This had inspired me to look in the history of Beldenville in general. I found there never was a book written on its history, just scattered articles in the newspaper and other places. This introduced me to research at the UWRF archives, the Pierce County Historical Association, and many resources to investigate Beldenville. I quickly went from knowing very little about area history to knowing a lot. The “Beldenville Book” was published by the Pierce County Historical Association in 2008.
While initially researching at archives I met Peter Close for the first time. Pete had recently decided to research Roberts and Warren Township history along with his friend Rand. He saw me and we got to talking about both our projects. I told him about Beldenville, and he said he had family that lived in Beldenville. I did not believe him at first because I did not get to researching that part of Beldenville’s history. It ended up that profiles of some his family appeared in the Beldenville Book and this summer’s Ellsworth book family names being: Locke, Close, Mason, and Williams. Pete and Rand began trading information back and forth with me on local history. If I found something on Roberts and Warren I would share and if they found something on Pierce County, they would share, a process that happens up to this day. Their project is slightly different, because they need a story to publish every two weeks in the newspaper! They have been using a pseudo name which is quite clever. They have collaborated to explain their project Roberts Remembered, which is ongoing to share on my blog. It is a privilege to put this information out on the web to get it more exposure. They are always looking for input and more information on Warren and Roberts! So here it is: Roberts Remembered!
The Village of Roberts and Town of Warren are located within St. Croix County in Western Wisconsin. With few resources documenting their history, knowledge of their past has disappeared with the eventual passing of key residents. In 2006, Roberts Remembered was formed to research, compile and preserve this local history with a goal to make it available for current and future generations to enjoy. Although a comprehensive history book is our ultimate goal, the first serious project of Roberts Remembered was a newspaper column entitled “I Was Wondering …”
Local history is stereotypically enjoyed by a mature age group. The challenge was to devise a writing style which would reminisce about the historical accounts of Roberts/Warren and make it interesting for every age. A fictional character that had personally experienced nearly every historical milestone over the past 150 years became our device to captivate readers. A local newspaper publisher thought the idea had merit and, on February 9, 2007, Great Aunt Gert gave the first of her many oral histories of Roberts in the inaugural issue of the Western Wisconsin Weekender.
The Western Wisconsin Weekender was free to the public and available to a generous portion of St. Croix County residents. Great Aunt Gert recounted a different piece of Roberts/Warren history to her readers every week for two full years. The Weekender discontinued operations in February 2009. Aunt Gert was immediately offered the opportunity to continue regaling the public with her memories of yesteryear to the subscribers of the Central St. Croix News. The “I Was Wondering …” column has appeared every other week in that newspaper since 2009.
Hardcore history buffs may disapprove but writing local history as if it had been personally experienced has its advantages. Warm stories spun by a family matriarch–spiced with the use of old slang phrases–can soften the cold facts of history and captivate a reader’s attention. The phrase “Stars and garters I can remember it as if it were yesterday” is incorporated into every “I Was Wondering …” column and adds a little fun to the flavor of the story. In the case of conflicting historical data, Great Aunt Gert may include an account which is different from hers. The reader is not condemned to follow a one-sided version of history.
Nearly 200 “I Was Wondering …” columns have been featured in the first five years. In addition to historical events, equal attention has been given to landmark buildings, organizations, people, and gossip worthy tales. There is hope that these stories may one day be available in bound form for another generation to enjoy.
Roberts Remembered is not limited to the newspaper. Tossing a special history story to the crowds along the parade route, Aunt Gert has made several personal appearances at the annual Roberts Good Neighbor Days Grande Parade. Framed photo displays have been donated and permanently exhibited at the Village of Roberts, Town of Warren, and other buildings frequented by the public. Written contributions have been requested and included in The Hammond/Roberts Community Guide, Hazel Mackin Community Library Cookbook and several editions of The Local Biz monthly advertiser. Roberts Remembered spearheaded a historical exposition at the Warren Sesquicentennial celebration in 2010 which included an exhibit of historical artifacts as well as display panels featuring photos and text of the township’s rich past. Due to our efforts, the Roberts Veterans Park now includes many lasting memorials in honor of forgotten residents who performed military service for their country and the Warren Cemetery has several new headstones that identify graves that have been unmarked for decades.
Although we utilize government records, plat maps, history books, internet sources and personal interviews, a majority of our early documentation of Roberts and Warren history has been obtained through archival newspapers. It has taken a substantial investment in both time and money to pursue this hobby but it was never our intent to make this a profitable venture. History is something that truly belongs to us all and giving everyone the chance to rediscover the Roberts of by-gone days continues to be our goal.
Pete Close and Rand Waughtal
P.O. Box 22
Roberts, WI 54023