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Saying Goodbye

posted Aug 15, 2018, 6:51 AM by James Nennemann
By Lona Lewis

Fremont County is an area with a rich historical heritage and has been blessed with residents who recognized that the records of the pioneers had to be preserved—this mission was undertaken in the 1960s by the founders of the Fremont County Historical Society (FCHS).  The men and women who formed the society came from all walks of life, each bringing their own unique perspective and set of skills to the task.  Through years of hard work the volunteers created a museum on the east side of Sidney’s town square to be replaced in 2014 by a new building housing a world-class museum and genealogy center. The society maintains a collection of over 3,000 items donated by hundreds of area families.

One of the society’s founders and sustaining members has been Evelyn Birkby. Among her many contributions has been the View from the Attic, a biweekly reflection of the people and events that shaped southwest Iowa. It has remained virtually unchanged for almost four decades. Evelyn’s love of history combined with a keen sense of how storytelling could bring to life the tales of early settlement has paid many dividends to Fremont County and Iowa. Beginning in the late 1980s, Evelyn was the sole writer. She drew source material from the society’s extensive collection of manuscripts, newspapers, letters and books.  In the early years View from the Attic was published weekly and sent to county newspapers.

The View from the Attic was put on hold in the 1990s but revived in 2005 when Lona Lewis teamed up with Evelyn to start publication again, but with an important difference. The articles would remain dedicated to chronicling area history but would begin relying on the unique perspective of other writers.  The call went out and volunteers stepped forward:  From Randolph, Sherry Perkins became a regular contributor. Many of her articles were delightful firsthand accounts of her childhood during the mid 20thcentury. Other included Jerry Birkby, who shared his stories of Knox; Daisy Macolm added more stories from Randolph; Harry Wilkins contributed articles about Tabor and surrounding areas; and Emily Bengtson reminisced about growing up in Riverton. Sandra Bengston, current president of the society and our genealogy expert also wrote articles and provided ideas for others.       
The reach of the Attic was broadened by each one being sent to state websites such as GenWeb, the Iowa Historical Society, and the Iowa Cultural Affairs agency. Today each Attic is sent to the newspapers and seven other websites.  We regularly receive emails from individuals throughout the country who were touched by one of the stories.

There comes a time when things do come to an end and it is time for the Attic to sign off.  Evelyn, who is 99 this year, is the last of the original founders and agrees that this should be the last article. But recognizing the importance of the stories, the society is publishing an illustrated book of collected articles. It will soon go to print and be available through the FCHS website and the Museum.  As for Evelyn, we thank her for her dedication, hard work and unfailing leadership in preserving our history.