Warczak’s life revolves around preserving records

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The Warczak-Patterson History Room was officially dedicated at the Bloomington Public Library on Aug. 28, 2016. It was made possible by a donation from the George Redman Estate, as Redman was a longtime village employee. It was named for two historians from the village of Bloomington: Jim Warczak, a longtime Bloomington High School teacher, former village librarian and avid historian; and the late Robert Patterson, who was a prominent businessman, collector and historian. Warczak and Marge Patterson (Robert’s wife) are pictured cutting the ribbon held by Joan Senn (far left), library board president, and Kathy Atkins (far right) Bloomington Public LIbrary director. (Photo by Sue Kuenster)

By Rachel Mergen

“I never dreamed I would get what I have now. I thought many items would remain in boxes forever,” Jim Warczak, Bloomington historian, shared about his current project, the Warczak-Patterson History Room. The history room is in no way the first contribution Jim has made to the local community throughout his own history. His resume includes school teacher, librarian, adviser and historian for the area.

Jim was born and raised in Wauzeka and attended the Onstine one-room schoolhouse for the first seven years of his education. After its closure in 1955, he found himself attending Wauzeka High School until graduating in 1960. In high school, teacher Catherine Eberle, also known by students as “Ma Eberle,” was a true inspiration to him. She was Wauzeka’s English and forensics teacher and librarian. At that point in Jim’s life, he enjoyed following the Milwaukee Braves and hoped to become a forest ranger, but later realized such a career choice was unrealistic.

To continue his education, Jim attended the Wisconsin State College and Institute of Technology at Platteville, now the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. There he studied English, with a minor in history.

When speaking of college, Jim said, “My senior year was a hectic one, as I was editor of The Exponent, the college newspaper, for a semester. Frank Pross, one of my best English instructors and also my adviser, suggested I join the newspaper staff earlier in my college years. I did, but he also reminded me from time to time that journalistic writing was not the same as formal English.”

With his degree in hand, Jim said, “I decided to become an English instructor as I knew getting a job would be easier if I were willing to advise a school paper or a yearbook, coach forensics, help with plays, etc.” He noted, at the time, there was a teacher shortage. He also student taught at Gays Mills High School (which folded into the North Crawford School District) for nine weeks during his senior year of college.

“There was some divine providence at work as the Wauzeka School District wondered if I would come to work there,” Jim said about his original job search. “I worked at Wauzeka for three years, and they wanted me to do school publicity. So, I supplied the Boscobel Dial, Courier Press, and WPRE radio.”

At the time, he did not use any regular cameras, simply a Polaroid instant camera. Later in life, he would “wear out several cameras and shoot miles of black and white film.”

One of his prize possessions from his time at Wauzeka is a letter from Norb Aschom, news director at WPRE, written on May 16, 1967. The letter complimented Wauzeka School District’s “wonderful job” with news and public relations. The letter included, “Wauzeka has been outstanding, and rather unusual in this respect, as usually we have to call and call again and keep working to get school news. Mr. Warczak has made our job that much easier, and he is to be commended for his efforts.”

In August 1967, Jim arrived in Bloomington after Jerry Johnson, who taught him in high school, requested that he come for an interview with the Bloomington school’s administrator. He was hired and worked at the school until 1996, when River Ridge was created.

His job at Bloomington included teaching both journalism and English courses. Journalism was previously taught by former Bloomington Records editor Glenn Frederick.

In addition, part of his job was being adviser for the yearbook. He took this position in 1968 and continued until the final yearbook in 1996, in which he added a special eight-page history section.

“The first years of the yearbook were a learning experience for me as I learned much about the designing process. I felt the yearbook should also be a history resource,” he stated. “The name changed from The Booster to The Bluejay and became a summer book, so that everything could be covered during the year, including graduation. When I first came to Bloomington, I asked what the small room with the red light was for—a dark room where film could be developed and pictures made. I took a night class at West Grant and learned the darkroom procedures.

“I got my first 35mm single lens reflex camera from Montgomery Ward. Film was bought in 100-foot rolls, and reusable canisters were used for rolls of different lengths for the camera. I enjoyed publicizing the school and students, and I kept scrapbooks for many years of articles and pictures which appeared in the newspapers. I also enjoyed [photographing] many of the sports events and extra-curricular activities and seeing the students make the school proud.”

While still teaching his courses and being the yearbook adviser, he was the school librarian after the retirement of Marian Felder and the resignation of a different librarian who only stayed in the district for a year. To become a librarian, he attended school once again in 1976 for a minor in library science.

In 1996, Kay Schmit, Bloomington Public Library director, departed from her post. Jim recognized that the position would be hard to fill, due to the low number of hours available, so he decided to take the role, first learning from Kay for a few months. Jim became the official librarian in 1997.

Jim mentioned, “I didn’t want the library to end, and the public library had been in existence since 1908. A public library is always interesting as you get to know many people, and they become good friends. I felt it was a way I could give back to the community. I held the library director position for about 15 years.”

To work as a librarian, Jim was required to work on a master’s degree. During the summers, he would take night classes in educational media with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He worked at the Southwest Wisconsin Library System headquarters in Fennimore to fulfill one of the master’s program requirements.

Throughout his time in Bloomington, Jim also participated in many different organizations. He was on the Blake’s Prairie Fair Board for 36 years, 15 of which he was treasurer. He still participates in the West Grant Lions Club, which he has been a member for 45 years and treasurer for 28, the Milwaukee Road Historical Association, the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, the Railroad Museum in McGregor, Iowa, the Wisconsin State Historical Society, the Grant County Historical Society, and the Lower Wisconsin River Genealogical and Historical Research Center, Inc. in Wauzeka.

“A smaller community needs as many people as possible to be involved in activities,” Jim said. “We need to care about others and to keep the community going.”

Jim’s interest in history has expanded much over the years. Originally, he started out with a high interest in Kickapoo Valley and Northern Railroad history. From 1892 to 1939, the railroad ran from Wauzeka to LaFarge.

Jim recollected, “It was gone three years before I was born, but our home property bordered the Kickapoo River, and on the other side was the very noticeable roadbed, which I walked on one winter day, and I also noticed how crooked the river was.”

This personal history is part of what brought about the Warczak-Patterson History room in Bloomington. Jim told about the start of the history room.

“I’m realistic enough to realize that there are some people who have no interest at all in history. But if you can collect local history, that attracts more attention. For a number of years, in the public library, I was collecting historical articles and pictures, but they had to be stored in boxes—no room for displays. We were given the huge collection that Bob Patterson had. People needed to have a place to sit down and look at what was available.”

Jim told about the start of the history room. Jim showed his great amount of appreciation toward the late Patterson, a local businessman and historian, and his family for the donation of his collection; Rick Udelhofen, Bloomington mayor, for his historical postcards; and trophies and materials from the Bloomington School District that were once housed by the Bloomington-Glen Haven American Legion Post, along with other local historical donations.

All of these items can be viewed and appreciated within the history room that features items important to Bloomington and its surrounding region. The room also features locals who are well-known in rodeos and circus performances; information about four historical buildings still existing in Bloomington: the American Legion Building, Taft’s Mill, the Rock School, and the Ballantine Mansion; and the Bloomington Record newspapers on microfilm.

Additionally, there are locomotive models representing the four railroads that once served Grant County as well as historical paintings.

Jim is immensely grateful for the space George Redman donated for the history room and for the efforts Library Board President Joan Senn and her husband Tim made in the planning process.

“People enjoy going through the binders of materials and saying, ‘Do you remember this event or this person?’ Old memories start coming back,” Jim noted. “I’m always fascinated with new donations and when I learn something new. I realize there is plenty I don’t know.”

People often say, “History repeats itself.”

“To some degree, that is true, but some changes do happen,” Jim reflected. “Everyone needs to have a foundation in what our country is about and why it was formed. Certainly, we need to know what is in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and in the Amendments. Why did our ancestors come to this country? Also, are we making some of the same mistakes again in political decisions?”

This is precisely how Jim views the importance of understanding history.

“I talked to many older people, and, like me, they wish they had asked questions of their grandparents and older relatives. Older generations need to talk about their experiences to the younger folks. I think most people have had interesting things happen in their past. If people aren’t aware of the historical significance of different locations and buildings, the places get destroyed and lost forever.”

Jim concluded: “The history room seems to have become my home away from home, and I’m happy here.”

To request a tour of the Warczak-Patterson History Room, stop by the Bloomington Public Library or call (608) 994-2531. Advanced notice is appreciated.

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