Small town girl makes good and holiday contemplation

We heard she had done well “out east”.  Folks said she was a friend of Pearl S. Buck and had lots of other hoidy toidy friends as well.  For someone from a small, rural place like Hollandale, Wisconsin, that would be something to crow about.  But all this was back in the 1940s and 50s so no one here really had any facts.  But it was a fun story and as clueless as I was I had fun telling it, too.

In these parts she was simply Alyce Engelbert Stocklin, the daughter of Nick Engelbert, the guy by Hollandale who built the statues and decorated his yard with them.  She went to school here – little town of about 300 – and like many kids, left for a big city to further her education.

Nick and his wife Katherine had four children.  They all did well, we’re told, which makes sense because the parents really stressed the importance of education.  All four indeed were college-educated.  I think 60, 70 years ago that may not have always been the case for young women but it was for the Engelbert girls as it was for their brothers.

The Engelbert kids have passed away now, but I was fortunate to meet them in 1997 when they came home one last time.  The Kohler Foundation had purchased and restored their childhood home – now known as Grandview – and the occasion was the gifting of the place back to the community.

The four Engelbert children, home for the last time. Alyce Engelbert Stocklin is between her brothers Ed and Ernie.

With the site came a lot of history and some great archives: lots of old pictures, family memorabilia, documentation of Nick’s art, Katherine’s many outstanding gardens, old news stories and information on the site’s restoration.  Recently the Kohler Foundation gave us a new box – more treasures to be discovered.

Like many rural folk I am seldom inside when the weather is decent.  The chill of fall brought wood chores, which is a huge job.  It takes scores of pick-up truck loads to keep us warm, so weeknights and weekends are consumed.  But when winter finally set upon us in earnest with the first major snow, it gave permission to relax and be thoughtful.  I sat down with the newest archive box like a kid at Christmas.

After an hour or so of sorting through old pictures, I got to a three-ring binder that seemed kind of musty and forgotten.  As I paged through quickly, the 1950 clipping of women planning a fashion show and tea did not grab me at first.  It is an ugly old photocopy.  But I had just done some reading on Pearl S. Buck so I stopped to check it out after I saw “Welcome House” in the headline.

And there was Alyce Engelbert Stocklin from little Hollandale, leaning over to look at something being held by Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein, who hosted the get together.  To her left was Mrs. James A. Michener.   I thought, “Oh my – the stories were true – big time true”.

So with apologies for name dropping, all this is fun and, if you’re from a little place often confused with the Dutch, it is certainly something to be proud of.  Who cares if it was in the last century?

Of course, the real story is what she did, not whom she did it with.  Another clipping in the musty folder showed a picture of Alyce holding an orphan.  The headline is: “Break Down Racial Barriers” and the caption reads, “Mrs. Walter Stocklin and an unadoptable”.

Some of the things in the article were a little disturbing but worth sharing. Those were different times.

It read: “Welcome House was founded in 1949 by Pearl S. Buck, author of “The Good Earth” and other books, who has lived in the Orient for many years.  Miss Buck and several of her Bucks County, Pa., neighbors, including Stocklins, began the project to give “unwanted” children of part American, part Oriental blood a chance for opportunity equal to that of other American children.

“While adoption has become an accepted part of American social life, these “half caste” children have remained a problem because they are unwanted in many American homes because of prejudice against color differences and “slanted” eyes.  As a result, according to Mrs. Stocklin, many children of exceptional intelligence must be sent to institutions……..”

I thought of my brother-in-law Allen, who was “detained” in a “relocation camp” during WWII.  Allen was as American as I am, but of Japanese heritage.

And I wondered what values were instilled in young Alyce by family and her little country school that made her such a supporter of these children.   Courage is certainly right up there.

My daughter and one of my sons graduated recently.  They too, are Hollandale kids, although the school is now Pecatonica and their father is not the artist Nick Engelbert was.  As a jaded, older parent it seems that sometimes values can lie somewhere between Facebook and the Food Court – but maybe not.   I think those same principles that Alyce championed continue to be instilled by our teachers and families.  The kids still get it and maybe more so.  We aren’t the same America; we’re a better America.

It’s hard to stop thinking about this, but that’s OK, it’s the holiday season and some contemplation is good for me.

I stopped by a snowed-in Grandview this morning, waded through the drifts and sat on the porch for a while.  It is vacant and cold but still Alyce’s home.

And I thought about my daughter.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Wisconsin Rural Partners, Hollandale, Wisconsin

Happy holidays everyone………

14 Responses to Small town girl makes good and holiday contemplation

  1. What a great and inspiring story! I had not heard or thought about Nick Engelbert’s children, but hearing about the values he and his wife instilled in his daughter (and her siblings) make Grandview even more appealing as a rural culture site. Thank you for sharing the story – and your own reflections on it.

  2. Jan Loiselle says:

    Thank you for the story and the reminder of how much each one of us is capable of doing. I was particularly struck by the words and phrases from the article — things we would never say today. And, yet…unspoken prejudice remains. There is still work to be done. I LOVE the fact that all of this great effort had roots in Hollandale. I am a Plum City, WI girl and know how the lessons and values I learned from that small town continue to serve me today. I’m thinking it is a good idea to go and sit somewhere in the cold and consider…Thank you!

  3. Beverly Rolfsmeyer says:

    This article was beautifully written. It is also interesting that my brother, Richard Rolfsmeyer, now lives in Hollandale, WI, and I, his sister, live not far from Bucks County, PA, where Alyce Engelbert lived. I have in fact been to the Pearl S. Buck home, and also saw where James Michener lived, while going to where my horse was boarded.

  4. Nancy Hendrickson says:

    Thanks, Rick, for once again capturing the essence of the Grandview heritage. I, too, prize the foundations that my four sons received in our small, rural community. Grandview’s continued impact on the community through the Pecatonica Foundation, the volunteers who serve, and the children who learn – is a shining example among many in Southwestern Wisconsin. We have so much to value and preserve here. During this holdiay season, I especially welcome your reminder to appreciate it – I could use a little Grandview porch time myself.

  5. Lisa Stone says:

    Ricky, thanks for sharing this facet of the Engelbert family. Although the site is called Nick Engelbert’s Grandview, it was the shared effort of Nick and Katherine. Unlike some other builders of art environments, whose families did not appreciate their unusual and very publically visible efforts, the Engelbert kids loved Nick and Katherine’s garden–it expresses so much about their shared lives and values, from history to fantasy, and yes–education (one of the monkeys in the “Family Tree is reading a book, and Engelbert made a small male figure reading a book in Neptune’s Fountain as well). And thanks for being a passionate advocate for rural life, and for putting the rural experience into perspective!

  6. Michael L McCann MD says:

    I and my 5 siblings would travel summer Sundays from Barneveld to Aunt Katie and Uncle Nick’s farm, and enjoy a traditional Swiss potluck with all his extended family. We played and climbed on his statues, and remember some of the happiest days of our lives there. Always with a big smile, both Nick and Katie and all four children are remembered with great affection. How fortunate we were to have known this much loved family.

  7. Bonnie Severson says:

    wonderful story – thanks for sharing – i was at the Hollandale gathering in 1997 – and at the 2007 celebration as well – my mother was the youngest of the 4 Nick and Katherine Engelbert children – so thanks for sharing more of my aunt’s history – i too heard the stories.
    blessed to be part of this family.
    Bonnie Severson

  8. Tim Worachek says:

    I am interested in contacting the Pecatonica Foundation, and want to be involved in the restorations of the concrete sculptures at the Engelbert’s Grandview. I have many years experience restoring statues, some of which were made of concrete.

    Thanks,

    Tim Worachek

  9. Anne Dixon says:

    Hi there–I’m a granddaughter of a former Hollandale resident, and my mom was a little younger than Alyce Stocklin while growing up there. We live in CO now and are wondering 2 things: are there any plans for renewed publishing of Alyce’s book? And, does Alyce have any relatives left in the Aurora, CO area? My mom and I would love to connect. I’d also like to posit that Alyce’s book could make a great film!

    Thanks for any response!

    Anne Dixon (granddaughter of Grace and Matthew Hirscher, daughter of Elizabeth Hirscher)

    • rickyrolfsmeyer says:

      Hello Anne:
      Thanks so much for the email. I never know if anyone reads this stuff so it is good to know that at least you do! We were asked not too long ago about re-printing the book My Stroke; My Blessing. To my knowledge, there are no plans to reprint. Do you have a copy?

      I will contact Engelbert family for your second question. I think there is at least one family member in Colorado but I need to check. I think it might be Bonnie Severson. She’d be Alyce’s niece, I think.

      We found that old news clip of Alyce and famous folks almost by accident. We were lucky in that the folks at the Kohler Fnd. send us duplicates of many of the family items that were donated to them for their archives.

      BTW – my home email address is rickyr@mhtc.net

      Rick Rolfsmeyer

      • Anne Dixon says:

        Thanks Rick! Look forward to hearing if there is any word from Bonnie. My mom has a copy of the book. I see there are some used copies for sale on Amazon for around $85. It’s a really great book, though, and I hope it might get printed again in the future. Cheers! Anne

    • rickyrolfsmeyer says:

      Anne: Bonnie Severson, Nick’s grandaughter, lives at PO Box 422, Grand Lake CO. I am unsure where Nick’s daughter-in-law Martha Engelbert lives but her email address is marengelbert@yahoo.com.

      Ricky R

      • Anne Dixon says:

        Wow, thank you Ricky! I will talk to my mom, Liz Hirscher, about this and we’ll try to get in touch. Cheers!

        Anne

  10. Jeannine Wing says:

    I grew up in Hollandale and graduated HS with Elizabeth Hirscher (mother of Anne). I hope that I am able to visit Grandview sometime this summer.

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