On Sunday, December 5, 2004, the Fairwater Historical Society presented its third "Old-Fashioned School Christmas Program." The first such program was produced in December, 2002, and everyone involved was astonished at the miracle that community can create. The spirit continues. This is part of a report of that 2002 adventure.
I wasn't at the backroom
meeting where I got elected to play Santa Claus for the Fairwater Historical Society's Christmas Open House in 2002. I was at the meeting where I agreed – reluctantly - to play a grumpy old man in a skit called "The Good Old Days." My wife was not sure I'd have to do any acting; she thought the director might have been type-casting.
The Fairwater Historical Society's board of directors decided a few years ago that they wanted to stage a re-enactment of "an old-fashioned school Christmas program." The school program at Christmas had been a tradition in Fairwater for much of the 20th Century. All the way back in 1925, according to the Brandon Times, one Florian Laper was participating in that year's program. Laper, now of Ripon, is still an active member of the Fairwater Historical Society.
Throughout its existence, the school program in Fairwater was a community event, not simply a school activity. The school children were up on stage, yes, and the hard-working teachers who prepared them were angels, no doubt; yet the program brought together the larger community at Christmas - parents and grandparents, cigar-smoking uncles, cookie-making aunts, friends, neighbors, countrymen. For a moment, for an hour, the rest of life was suspended, the weight of the world was lifted: all the world was a stage where the community's children played their parts and the community shook with shared joy and laughter.
The Fairwater Historical Society was a relatively new organization in the community, incorporated in 1999. Its members seemed invigorated and on a mission. Part of the mission was to restore the old school as a museum; the 1910 portion of the building had fallen into disrepair since the school closed in the early 1980s. The old part of the school was a gift to the Historical Society from the Fairwater Lions, who had bought the empty school when no one else would.
And part of the Fairwater Historical Society's mission - which some members may not have been fully conscious of - was to help foster a sense of community in Fairwater, a pride of place in one very small village in rural Wisconsin. Focus on the old school rallied wide interest and enthusiasm. The Fairwater Historical Society joined with other community groups in 2001 and 2002 to sponsor a Heritage Days celebration; these events called back former residents from as far as New York and New Jersey, Texas, South Dakota. The old school had a new roof put on it, a new heating system was installed, the rooms were filling up and were beginning to look the way a museum should look. The Society had an oral history project - interviews had by then been completed with more than 25 old-timers. The Society would be considering a Valentine's Open House for 2003, to feature a collection of Valentines from the 1930s and 1940s.
To be continued....