When it came time for the newly organized Thayer County Historical Society to locate a building suitable for a museum in 1969, there were two criteria the group was looking for — it had to be a brick building and have at least two floors.
Belvidere School District 34 became a possibility in 1969 because they had consolidated with Hebron School District 7 earlier in the year. The school had graduated their final class in 1958, and the top floor was boarded up at that time. Grade school continued to be held on the second floor until its last day in May of 1969.
After the consolidation took place, the Hebron School wanted nothing to do with the three-story brick building and gave it to the Belvidere Village Board.
A story written by co-curator Virginia Priefert told in detail how the Thayer County Museum came to be located in Belvidere that was published in the Belvidere Breeze Alumni Special in 2012-2013.
There was a wide variety of opinions among members of the society as to whether the museum should be located in the former school building, and finally, it came down to two small details, the doors on the east side of the building needed replacing, and a curator was needed.
What the group called two miracles happened the same day. William (Bill) Reinke of Byron managed to find the right size aluminum framed glass doors at the Mannschrek Lumber Yard in Hubbell and Virginia’s husband, Burdette (Stub) Priefert, Thayer County Historical Society president, helped install them very early one morning. It was that project that spurred a renewed enthusiasm after museum proponents became discouraged.
Reinke’s theory was the museum project should go on, so he installed the glass doors for encouragement, and that was all it took.
Priefert was there observing the installation and she encountered Jan Williams Carr, who was living with her parents just east of the school, while her husband served in Korea.
Priefert asked if Carr would like to serve as curator.
Carr said she didn’t have much else to do, so she agreed. She is current curator, Jackie Williamson’s sister.
She moved to Omaha later that year, and she and Priefert recruited Williamson to work with Priefert as a co-curator, as a volunteer.
Eventually, the position was paid a small salary. Many volunteers helped in those early years, and many names are listed in the record books.
Priefert’s and Williamson’s husbands, Stub and Kent, were the most willing and dedicated volunteers through these first 50 years, Williamson said.
Williamson informed the county on museum updates through a weekly column in the The Deshler Rustler and Hebron Journal-Register. In her columns, she noted donations of money and artifacts. It sparked readers’ interest.
“The Belvidere Village Board has always been supportive of having the Thayer County Museum in Belvidere,” Williamson said.
Jim Hudson, Vi Bruning and Kent Williamson were members of the village board as the museum prepared to open, and after the grand opening in 1970, it was announced the first year would be rent free, compliments of the Belvidere community.
Much support was received from the very beginning from folks all over the county, according to the record books. The Society has had many presidents and those present at the re-dedication ceremony June 14 will be recognized, as well as other dignitaries who will be present.
Additional details to the museum’s growth can’t ignore that Harold Struve, of The Deshler Rustler made a $100,000 donation to the Society in the 1990’s and challenged them to raise matching funds to build an annex that would give each town a space to tell its story.
The annex includes a library Williamson has grown over the years, so people can research their ancestors who lived in the county.
Names of those who contributed to the annex are on the brick sidewalk in front of the building. The annex was dedicated in 2005.
Struve did not live to see the finished building, but his wife, Lois, helped to see it through to completion and dedicated a beautiful brick mural in his memory, that displayed all the towns.
The mural is located just inside the entrance to the annex.
Prior to the annex, several other buildings were added.
By 1981, the museum needed a bigger building to house large artifacts, such as farm machinery buggies, vehicles and farm machinery.
“The Thayer County Commissioners have always been very supportive of the museum, and helped the society with the costs of this building,” Williamson said.
In the fall of 1988, Paul Krueger donated Country School District No. 45 to the museum. A 1967 vintage Caboose 25632 was acquired in 1989.
A few years ago, Verlin Welch of Hubbell donated the large mill wheel, which is now located on the museum grounds.
A generous donation from the John Murrell Estate made it possible to dedicate a new “Big Red Barn” for agricultural displays at the Fall Festival in 2011.
The Society was pleased Stub and Virginia Priefert were able to cut the ribbon for this new addition.
Annette Laber was Williamson’s co-curator for several years after Priefert was no longer able. Her husband, Henry, is the barn superintendent and Kathy Beavers is now helping Williamson with the displays.
Since that time, a lean-to has been added to the west side of the barn, a former Civilian Conservation Corp building has been relocated just north of the old Ag Building, which is now called the Business Building, and the Hubbell Methodist Church was moved to the museum grounds.
After the restoration of the church is completed, the two beautiful, historical stained glass windows will be re-installed.
A blacksmith shop is also in the works just north of the church. It is being built of stone from a big stone barn given to the society several years ago which was located just north of Davenport, and one wall had caved in.
The project is historic because the large cement blocks were made on the farm where the barn was located, as well as other buildings in Davenport.
For obvious reasons, the Thayer County Museum is now called the Thayer County Museum Complex, a place where Thayer County history comes alive.
The grand opening of the Thayer County Museum June 14, 1970, opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the Playhouse Chorus, directed by Dorothy Anderson and accompanied by Patricia Stewart, followed by an old-fashioned melodrama in one act by the Thayer County Playhouse.
The cast of the play included Kris Kulba, Susan Wulfekoetter, Bethine McLaughlin, Hilmar Krueger, Melvin Sanders, Bill Coady, Arlys Dill and Barb Ortman.
It was directed by Janet Cotter, with Sharon Branting assisting.
The Veterans of Thayer County raised the flag as the Chester High School Band played the Star Spangled Banner.
Bob Thomas of Hebron was the master of ceremonies at the grand opening, and the invocation was given by Rev. Kovac of Deshler.
Virginia Priefert, who was president of the Society, cut the ribbon. Carr hosted tours and Williamson took care of publicity.
This 50th year, the ceremony will open with a flag raising at 1 p.m. A brief program will begin at 2 p.m. All in attendance are invited to tour the complex and enjoy refreshments.
Linda Hudson, present chairman of the village board, will welcome everyone to Belvidere at the re-dedication.
The Quilt Auction is scheduled for 4 p.m. Interested persons may bid on the quilts up until that time.
Social distancing and face masks will be part of the scene. There will be some seating available, but guests may bring their own chairs.