Kenosha Women Weren’t Wallflowers

Office of the Green Ridge Cemetery in Kenosha

Office of the Green Ridge Cemetery in Kenosha. The tent was set up to be a wind free waiting room for the history walk tours.

I want to thank my blog readers.  Because of you I’m learning more about the area in which I live.  Yes the feed the blog need has me going out to learn about my community.  Thank you for giving me the gentle push out the door and opening my world.

One of our historic cemeteries here in Kenosha city is the Green Ridge Cemetery.  It is the oldest one holding graves of two and a memorial for one Revolutionary Soldiers. Every October there is a history walk in the cemetery given by the Kenosha History Center.  It’s different from the other cemetery history walks in that the guide doesn’t tell you the history but instead takes you designated graves where reenactors portray the person and tell you their life story.

I’ve wanted to do this tour (which changes what historical figures it highlights  each year) for years.  It seems something always got in the way.  Last year I got there about 2pm and all the tickets were given out. Yes 350 tickets for the free tours were GONE!  There were crowds waiting for their tour time.

History Walk At Green Ridge Cemetery - Great Women of Kenosha

This year I made sure we got there EARLY!  We got tickets and were in the first tour.  It was the first fall day with a nip in the air.  Mike was freezing.  Still we enjoyed it very much as the sun was out and the colors (though dull this year compared to previous years) were out.

History Walk At Green Ridge Cemetery - Great Women of Kenosha

Naomi Waisman-Zabler portraying Dr. Helen Harbert

Our first stop was Dr. Helen Harbert (1859-1930) portrayed by Naomi Waisman-Zabler.  Helen was born Hanson and immigrated to the US from Denmark.  She went to medical school and was one of the first licensed female doctors.  She lost her first husband and her children in a tragic house fire while she was at her practice.  Needing a new start she moved to Kenosha and started the first woman doctor’s practice here.  She met and married Hans Harbert.  During her life here in Kenosha she was a highly respected member of the community.  She served on the Kenosha County Medical Association, active with the Grad Army of the Republic Women’s Relief Corps taking care of Army Vets free of charge, active in the Danish Lodge, was a major Red Cross organizer in the county, and during WWI she actively promoted Liberty Bonds to support the troops.  However she became ill.  Her diagnosis was terminal and she knew how slow the death was with her aliment.  She’d tended patients with the same affliction (I don’t remember what it was but a type of cancer) and knew how they wasted away painfully.  After receiving confirmation of her diagnosis while in the Kenosha Hospital for testing she jumped out the window killing herself to avoid the wasting away.   She died at the age of 71.

History Walk At Green Ridge Cemetery - Great Women of Kenosha

Kathy Cole portraying Gertrude Alford

Next was Kathy Cole who was portraying Gertrude Alford (1881-1964) at Mrs. Alford’s grave. Gertrude and her husband Walter moved to Kenosha from Detroit Michigan.  They became highly respected in Kenosha for their philanthropic generosity.  They sadly lost their only son when his car was hit by a train during a scavenger hunt.  He and his date were killed.  After that Gertrude turned her philanthropic tenancies toward helping young men and women.  After finding out about the Girls Scouts she founded one of the first troops in the nation here in Kenosha Wisconsin.  It is still active today and its original charter bears the signatures of Gertrude and Juliette Gordon Lowe (founder of the movement).  To support the new troop and the Boy Scouts Gertrude donated a large parcel of land for the scouts use.  Today it is Woodhaven Program Center and is still the hub of scouting  for the area today.  Gertrude was known for her love of golf.  She played well into her senior years and always had clubs in her car in case she could squeeze a few holes in between her appointments.

History Walk At Green Ridge Cemetery - Great Women of Kenosha

Julie Burton portraying Jane Pfenning Henkel (my apologies to Ms. Burton she was a WONDERFUL and expressive reenactor! However all my shots seemed to catch her in unflattering expressions. My apologies Ms. Burton)

The next woman on the tour  was Jane Pfenning Henkel (1914-2008) portrayed by Julie Burton.  Jane is the first native Kenoshian on the tour.  Her father was Mayor.  Her story intertwines with Gertrude Alford’s above.  You see Jane was the first girl Alford’s son had asked to the the scavenger hunt.  Jane excited to be asked by the posh Alford said YES!  Only there was one problem he wasn’t the first to ask her and she’d already said yes to another young man.  When her mother found out she made Jane tell Alford no she couldn’t go and stick to her word in accepting the first boy’s invitation.  If she’d gone with Alford she’d been in the car that struck by the train killing Alford, his date, and two more of their friends.  Jane lived a long happy life thanks to Mom’s intervention and making Jane hold to her word.

History Walk At Green Ridge Cemetery - Great Women of Kenosha

Jean Preston portraying Lauretta A. Dibble

We then moved on to the grave of Lauretta A. Dibble (1893-1952) portrayed by Jean Preston.  This was the second native Kenoshian.  She was born and died here but lived most of her life outside of Kenosha.  Lauretta was a missionary for the Congregational Church.  She spent years of her life teaching at a girls school in Africa.  She sent letters and journals home to her church here in Kenosha detailing her life in Africa.  The church here paid her salary and expenses to be at the school there.  She fell in love the people and culture learning many of the native crafts and cuisines   She sent back artwork and crafts to her church to show the beautiful work and to sell to raise money to support the school.  Unfortunately Lauretta developed cancer and had to come back to the United States for treatment.  She received letters regularly from the girls she taught and had taught.  These letters were dear to her and kept her spirits up while she was dying.  Lauretta died in 1952 here in Kenosha at her family home.

History Walk At Green Ridge Cemetery - Great Women of Kenosha

Viki Du Mez portraying the colorful Harriet H. Yule

The final stop was at the memorial for Harriet H. Yule (1861-1932) portrayed by Viki Du Mez. This was the most colorful character of those portrayed.  She was the great aunt of Orson Welles (yes he was born here in Kenosha).  Her family was very prominent featuring the owner of the first Kenosha newspaper, mayors, attorneys, and owning Bain Wagon Works. However her family wasn’t free from controversy nor was her life.  Her sister (Orson’s grandmother) may have been a polygamist.  It seems her first husband wandered off never to return so sis married again.  That was shocking to the community.  She and her new husband tried to gain acceptance back into society by throwing lavish parties, of which Harriet and her husband George were very fond.  But seems the rest of Kenosha didn’t like the free wheeling done there nor the cover charge to gain entry.  Then Harriett herself became vice-president in the family business with her husband.  This was Bain Wagon Works.  It was not seemly for a young married woman of her stature to engage in business much less go down to the wagon works and sit in an office working.  She even *gasp* conducted business negations with other men not of the community!  She had a head for financial matters and George had a head for transportation design together they built a nationwide business in noted wagons.  However George died and their son took over the business.  Harriet retired and followed her inclinations, which was to enjoy life.  It was well known that she and her cronies like to party and would often go out in her chauffeured car to various bars around the area.  She would be seen coming home in evening garb when others were starting their day. Finally tiring of being the social pariah in a small mid-west town she decided to follow her niece and great nephew to Hollywood.  On moving day when the movers came to pack up her things they found her in a state of undress in her own bedroom enjoying a chilled mixed drink to start her day.  It is said none of the muscular young men that had come to move her accepted her invitation to join her in a drink!

History Walk At Green Ridge Cemetery - Great Women of Kenosha

A tour heading off to the next reenactor.

I was left wanting more stories from more women of the past.  Sadly this year’s historic walk had come to a close.  I made some pictures of unique monuments and vowed to come back before next year just to photograph the other unique ones I saw in the distance.  Oh and I also vowed that next year we’d get there early again to be sure to meet more people from Kenosha’s past.

As always there are more photos of the day over at my Flickr account.  You can get there by clicking any image in the article (not the title image) then look around.  Also if you’d like to see an image larger, any image including the title image, then click on it! Until next time!

2 thoughts on “Kenosha Women Weren’t Wallflowers

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