Visiting the Badger State

Written by: Lynn Young, President General
May 17, 2016

I traveled to Milwaukee, WI early on Thursday, April 28 for the 120th Wisconsin State Conference, Claudette Finke, State Regent.  Claudette’s theme is “With a voice of singing declare ye this, and let it be heard, Alleluia!”  a quote from Composer Martin Shaw, based on Isaiah 48:20.

Julie Stuhlmacher, Past Vice President General and Conference Chair and Cindy Schwersinski, Public Relations & Media Committee Vice Chair of Social Media and State Recording Secretary, greeted me at the airport and drove me to the Pabst Mansion to join the Wisconsin Daughters in a day long tour of Milwaukee. Also at the Mansion was the other conference guest, Recording Secretary General Barbara H. Carpenter.  Julie, Barbara and I became good friends while serving as State Regents and it was such fun to have time together again.

Captain Frederick Pabst, Milwaukee’s famed beer baron, began construction of a new mansion for his family in 1890. The 20,000 square foot Mansion featured remarkable woodwork and priceless art. After the Pabst descendants sold the house in 1908, it became the archbishop’s residence and the center of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee for more than 60 years. When it was sold in 1975, it was spared demolition after a 3 year crusade and went on to become an award-winning house museum. The mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

We drove a short distance downtown to The Watts Tea Shop, Milwaukee’s most historic tearoom, with roots back to 1870.  We enjoyed finger sandwiches, scones and the dessert for which they are best known, Sunshine Cake, a stunning triple-layer sponge cake filled with French custard and topped with a boiled frosting.  The menu offered many teas and Claudette, Barbara, Julie and I each tried something different.  My Almond Cookie Tea smelled as delicious as it tasted.

Our next stop was to the Milwaukee Art Museum featuring the design of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Highlights of the building are the magnificent cathedral-like space of Windhover Hall, with a vaulted 90-foot-high glass ceiling; the Burke Brise Soleil, a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that unfolds and folds twice daily; and the Reiman Bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge that connects the museum to the city.  Our docent led us through the current exhibit, Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School, where we were most impressed by the majestic paintings of the unspoiled landscape of the first half of the nineteenth century. Barbara and I enjoyed the view of Lake Michigan from the lobby.

After a quick change at the hotel, we returned downtown to the historic Wisconsin Club for the State Officers Club Dinner, over which Julie presided as President.  Located in the former Mitchell Mansion, the home was completed in the late 1800’s and features  elaborate hand carved mahogany woodwork, stained glass, plaster and inlaid tile. The dinner was held in the majestic Grand Ballroom. Following dinner and the delicious 125th Anniversary cake donated by Claudette and her husband, Bill, it was an honor to present President General Project certificates to the chapters which supported the project with 100% of their members contributing.  My keynote speech was on the Guardian Trust Campaign to establish a permanent endowment for the future capital needs of our historic headquarters. 

Julie serves as state chair of the President General’s Project and of the Guardian Trust Campaign.  Under her leadership, they raised a great deal in creative ways, such as publishing a 125th anniversary cookbook and hosting a wine tasting. Julie and Claudette presented very generous checks from the Wisconsin Society.

The first business session convened Friday morning with more than 100 delegates.  Claudette opened the meeting with the historic gavel given by an organizing member of the Jean Nicolet Chapter which is celebrating its 110th anniversary. Each of the reports of the State Officers and State Chairs were posted on their state members’ website, a wonderful way for those not attending the conference to learn about the achievements. Each State Officer is assigned several chapters to which they serve as mentors.  Bylaws were amended, nominations were made for the State Officers and Chapter Regents reported.  Some of the impressive chapter activities included:

  • Adoption of a classroom at KDS DAR School
  • Meals were served to homeless veterans on the DAR Day of Service
  • A book club was created
  • One chapter has set a goal of 125 pints of blood for the Red Cross
  • A chapter which nearly disbanded now has 43 members

The Wisconsin Society has 1500 members in 35 chapters and owns a historic property, the Fort Winnebago Surgeons Quarters, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Fort Winnebago was constructed in 1828 as part of an effort to maintain peace between white settlers and the region's Native American tribes following the Winnebago War of 1827. It was important due to its location at the portage of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, the major route from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River until the mid-nineteenth century.  The Surgeon’s Quarters are the last remaining building of the military installation and two Revolutionary soldiers are buried there.  The Wisconsin Daughters host a special event here every Memorial Day. Claudette’s project is to raise funds for the operating expenses of the Surgeons Quarters.

At the Membership Awards Luncheon, recognition was given for Outstanding Service for Veterans, Outstanding VIS Volunteer, 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration and Outstanding Women’s Issues Presentation.  The winner of the Women’s Issues Essay was Sandra L. Hendrickson Brandon, a new member, whose compelling story, “Never Give Up”, described her journey as she was diagnosed with breast cancer just as she began the application process for DAR.  She researched genealogy while undergoing chemo and said the stories of the hardships endured by her ancestors inspired her.  Sandra’s very personal journey inspired us all. 

The afternoon Business session included reports of State Committees.  It was most impressive to learn the Wisconsin Daughters recorded over 38,000 hours of community service in 2015. 

As Conference Chair, Julie had asked for donations for the new Fisher House and the Daughters generously provided over $1,000 worth of items for the food pantry. The Wisconsin Society has a strong history of supporting our military.  While serving as State Regent, Julie began a program to send miniature Christmas trees and handmade tree skirts and goodies to deployed troops. Now a 501(c)3 organization, Trees from Home sent over 19,000  tiny decorated trees in 2015 to remind our troops that they are appreciated .

It was a pleasure to welcome the Founders Club and Heritage Club members to tea and thank them for their support of the National Society.

The Banquet featured a traditional Friday night fish dinner with a fish buffet, potato pancakes, and slaw. The Banquet speaker, Attorney General Rebecca Kleefish, was detained at an earlier engagement and while waiting for her to arrive, Julie recognized the women who were long standing members, then opened the microphone for members to ask me questions.  Julie started it off with “Texans have a reputation for big hair.  Why is that?”  I responded “That’s easy – we have a saying that the higher the hair, the closer to Heaven.”

Rebecca shared the very compelling story of her journey from her career in the media to the Attorney General.  Days prior to the primary election, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery immediately afterward.  She said that the story of her Revolutionary ancestor and his perseverance helped sustain her through surgery and chemo.  After her remarks, Cindy Schwerinski surprised her by introducing her mother and other close friends in the audience, then revealed that a team had worked for some time on her DAR application.  It was indeed a pleasure to announce that her application had been verified and to welcome her to the DAR.  Rebecca’s grandmother was an active DAR member and she was so touched to receive the gift of membership.

Departing very early the next morning for the Minnesota Conference, I regret having to miss the Memorial Service and Youth Awards Luncheon.  It was my first visit to Wisconsin and I hope to return someday to enjoy the cool summer weather, unlike that of my home state of Texas.

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