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Our History, 90 Years

The library celebrates the 90th anniversary of a community library here in New Holstein. On June 8th we will have an official party in conjunction with our Summer Reading Program. This month we’ll be announcing some of those special events. For those interested, here’s the history of the library in our city, assembled by Janet Meili, a New Holstein native who worked as a librarian regionally and locally, and served as a Library Board trustee. (The history can also be found on our website under “About”)

May 22, 1929 was an important day in New Holstein History. It was the day the doors of the public library opened for the first time.

No, not the big air-conditioned building across from City Hall. Nor the generous gift of the Arps Foundation which is now the first Northern building. New Holstein’s first library was in the west room in the Milhaupt building “formerly occupied by the Miss Lueck’s millinery shop,” now the Kleiderhaus. On opening day the library contained 609 volumes — 433 donated, 26 purchased and 150 from the Traveling Library of the State of Wisconsin.

Earlier that year, three civic organizations — the New Holstein Association of Commerce, the Civic Society and the Tuesday Club — formulated plans for the organization of a library. Since it was to be for all citizens of the community, the committee asked the City Council for financial aid — $300 was appropriated. Individual donations of books, furniture and money, plus many hours of volunteer labor, resulted in a public library. It was open on Wednesday and Saturday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.

The library was a “success” from the start. By the end of 1929, 325 people had library cards and 3,658 books had circulated. In September 1930, parents were asked to keep their children from the library during the evening hours because conditions were so crowded. In October 1931, the library moved to larger quarters — the old Vollstedt building, the original Vollstedt butcher shop — on Wisconsin Avenue (east of H&R Block) where it remained for 24 years until the Arps building was constructed. At this time there were 547 registrants and circulation for 1931 totaled 11,756.

During the years the library was located in the little gray building, the ‘librarian’ who checked out the books was a club woman, donating her time (usually Mrs. B.G. Griem or Mrs. Oscar Dumke.) Behind the scenes, the librarian was Else Vollstedt, who from 1933 had been the one to select, order and catalog the new books and who was often the one of the desk (particularly in the 1940s when the “war effort” pulled people away to other volunteer jobs). In 1940 it was decided by the Library Board (H.C. Thiessen, president; Else Vollstedt, secretary; Mrs. Griem and Mrs. Paul Blumberg) to pay the librarians (the ones at the desk) 25 cents per hour. Else never received payment for her hours of behind-the-scene work and general responsibility for the library.

Then disaster struck. The article in the October 21, 1948 New Holstein Reporter read, “This community no longer has a public library, that most valuable institution of 19 years standing having been destroyed by fire last Wednesday evening.” The oil stove which heated the building had malfunctioned. Four hundred volumes out of 2,800 were saved. The library was closed while the building was cleaned and Else tried to salvage as many books as she could.

There was a little insurance – $1,200. About 200 books were safely in the hands of borrowers. Although the library opened again in June 1949 with 800 books, the entire children’s collection — closest to the stove — had been destroyed.

To augment an annual budget of $750 ($400 from the city, the rest in donations from various organizations and individuals) a corporation, the New Holstein Public Library, Inc., was formed which sold $1 nonprofit stock memberships. This raised money for books but did not solve the problem of space.

In stepped the Arps Foundation — officers, B.F. Arps, F.B. Arps and Eleanor Arps Bonk — which offered to construct a public library. The corner of Wisconsin and Washington was chosen. Part of the land was city-owned, the NHPL Corporation was dissolved and the operation of the public library was turned over to the city. In 1955 the new library opened (every afternoon) with Gertrude Lindemuth as librarian. She was succeeded by Pat Hollenbeck. As the collection and use grew, this building also proved to be too small.

Sandy Cooley, then president of the Civic Society which had supported the library from the beginning, headed a Steering Committee of civic and organizational leaders whose original intention was to build an addition to the Arps building. When it became obvious that a larger structure was needed, the committee waged a publicity campaign for a new building and carried on numerous fund raising activities to make a new building possible.

In 1974, the present library was constructed on the site of the “Little School” across from City Hall. Vern Rolbiecki followed Mrs. Hollenbeck as librarian.

Today the New Holstein Public Library contains 32,000 books, 106 magazines, six newspapers, pamphlets, art prints, videotapes, films, microfilms, recordings. audiotapes and computers. Total circulation for 1988 was 63,939. There are more than 3,000 registered card holders from the city of New Holstein, as well as Calumet, Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac counties.

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