Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
November 22, 1995, Page 24
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Good Old Days
Writing ‘Good Old Days’ a Dee-lightful travel in time
By Mick Kuzjak
“Yes, those were the good, old days,” says Dee Zimmerman of The Clark County Press will tell you of the past decades of local history.
Dee should know. After all, she visits them every week, traveling back through the years in a time machine of old photographs and faded newspaper pages. It is there she finds many of the bits and pieces of Clark County’s rich history for her “Good Old Days” column.
Dee enjoys those almost magical trips back in time. That’s not surprising. Those visits to the past often remind her of Mitchell, S.D. where she grew up – a place of farm, family and good neighbors, a place, in many ways, like Clark County.
“I liked growing up there,” the daughter of Earl and Gizella Duncan said, recalling her early childhood years on the family farm.
The Duncan family later moved to Browerville, Minn. After graduating from high school there, Dee went to Minneapolis to work.
Dee visited Clark County for the first time in 1953, coming to Loyal, the hometown of a friend she worked with. There, at a dance, she met a nice, young man named Lloyd Zimmerman. The rest is, well … history.
Dee and Lloyd celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary at the Silver Dome Ballroom west of Neillsville last year. Their three children and seven grandchildren were there, along with many friends. There they danced to – what else – polkas, waltzes and other old-time music that carried them back over all the years of dancing – a favorite pastime of theirs since the night they first met in Loyal.
These days, Dee (her given name is Delores, but she prefers Dee. “It’s less formal,” she will tell you) is the office manager at the Clark County Press and Shopper, a position she’s had since 1989. But to the many people stopping in to place an ad or drip off a meeting notice, it may seem that Dee has been a fixture there as long as they can remember.
Some readers of “Good Old Days” may have the same feeling of longevity. But it has only been since 1992 that she has been compiling the “oldies” page. Dee would remind them.
Actually, Dee got started on the column by way of a default of sorts. She didn’t find it, it found her, she will admit. “People would see me out and about, and say how they would like to see old pictures showing the history of the area,” she said. “We tried to find someone to do it, but no one seemed to have the time, so I offered to do it.”
Dee started with an occasional photo, randomly placed in the paper, along with a caption. But the back page of the paper, more often than not, seemed to lack something of real local interest. So the decision was made to have Dee fill it with bits and pieces of historical photos and information. “That’s how ‘Good Old Days’ got started on the back page,” said Dee. And she has been coming through every week ever since.
Sometimes the idea for the week gets started with an old interesting picture that someone will drop off. “In order to use it, you have to find more information to go along with it,” Dee said. After all, she said, there is an entire page to fill.
That’s when Dee’s travel in time – call it research – begins. Most of the time, she finds her information in a back room – called the “morgue” among newspaper folks – filled with stacks of bound volumes of The Clark County Press going back to 1873.
The bindings of the thick, heavy volumes are often times unraveled and the paper yellow and brittle. “You have to handle it carefully,” Dee said. And she does, using the deliberate and delicate touch of an archeologist unearthing a precious fragment of the past.
For a recent story of a local dentist who invented a firearm, Dee had to look through three years of old newspapers, finding a few lines here, another couple of lines there. An obituary was also a part of the story.
Hard work? Some people may think so, but Dee enjoys browsing through history. “I’ll find quips and other things that I’ll clip together for other stories later on,” she said.
But along with the business of hunting down facts for the story she is working on, Dee allows herself to be sidetracked from time to time. After all, the old advertisements are especially enticing in their quaintness. It’s like window shopping along Hewett Street in Neillsville ay back when, Dee said.
Just a sampling of life in the late 1800’s, according to Dee, include;
Clothing and dry goods were charged at local stores and the bill was paid at the end of the year.
Ladies went to the millinery shops, choosing from an assortment of materials for the milliner to make up their hats.
Fresh wild game and fish were sold at the butcher shops during the seasons.
“You get captured by it,” said Dee of those delightful forces of nostalgia.
Dee Zimmerman has her favorite glimpses of the good old days and, not surprisingly, they harken back to her own past. The recently-published “Mother’s Apron,” (Oct. 4, 1995 issue) was one that immediately comes to mind for her. “It brought back memories of my mom,” Dee Sid. “She always wore an apron.”
Like so many of Dee’s columns, that one struck a chord in many readers, including one woman from Thorp, who after reading the article, called to tell Dee that she, too, had a mother who was never without her apron. “The things that you had written was just as it was just as it was with my mom,” Dee remembered the woman saying. The woman requested some extra copies of the paper. “I want my children to read that,” she said.
Horses are another sentimental topic for Dee. “They remind me of the farm life. Growing up, it was pretty much horses,” she said in wistful tones of one who will likely never outgrow her love for the animals.
Dee’s article on the Shortville community southeast of Neillsville was one that grew into a number of installments – thanks to a community effort of sorts. “As I was writing it, it just broadened out,” she said. And Dee enjoyed every step of the way. “The Shortville story was enjoyable because it was about a close community that shared so much,” she said. “That was evident by those who offered photos and information for the article. There was a bond of friendship there.”
Apprehensive when she first started the column, Dee now thoroughly enjoys everything that goes into it. Although there are weeks, Dee will admit, that long-incubating ideas seem to take forever to hatch. “Sometimes I think, ‘What am I going to do for the next issue,’” she said. Then she takes another look through her collection of photos, or someone may come through the door with an idea. “Something always comes up,” she said.
“It’s interesting,” Dee said of all the work that goes into the “Good Old Days” – from the spark that sets her off on her way to research, to the writing and, finally, the design and layout of the page.
“I enjoy it,” Dee said. “It helps to have lived back in the ‘30’s. That’s a part of our history.
“But those times back in the 1890’s,” Dee said with a laugh, “I have to read about that.”
And in reading, Dee has experienced the magic of imagination. “In my mind, I can picture what the town looked like,” she said. At times, Dee has traced the lives of prominent families of the area. There is a sense of making an acquaintance. “When I go back,” she said, “I get to know these families, almost like I was living back then.”
It’s likely an experience that many of Dee’s readers share as well.
In compiling her “Good Old Days” column, Dee Zimmerman embarks on a weekly journey into the past history of the local community, often in the pages of an old volume of The Clark County Press.
(Editors note: Dee’s regular “Good Old Days” column will, of course, return next week.)
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