Lodi Historical Society Jolivette House Addition Opens

by Free Speech on September 25, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI

(Editor’s note: this article originally appeared on madison.com on September 17, 2009. You may view the original article here.)

LODI – One of the newer artifacts on display at the Lodi Valley Historical Society’s museum isn’t very old at all – a copy of the 2005 check written to the society for $507,323 from the estate of Raymond Brown.

The late Lodi native made national news and spurred a wrenching community debate four years ago when he left the money to the society with a controversial stipulation. The group would get the windfall only if the eight people serving on its board at the time resigned and never again held governing roles in the organization.

After initially refusing to resign, all eight board members relented, pushed out in part by a lawsuit filed by community members who felt the money was too good to pass up. With wounds still healing, residents will come together Saturday to celebrate a $220,000 addition to the Jolivette Memorial House – the first major use of Brown’s bequest.

The historic home on Lodi’s Main Street has long served as the historical society’s headquarters and museum. The addition gives the group expanded display areas, a modern kitchen, accessible bathrooms and enough space to hold monthly society meetings on site.

“I feel this was part of the original intent of the money,” said Mary Ann Johnson, the current secretary and treasurer.

Brown left no instructions or clues to why he was so displeased, but friends think he wanted a more aggressive approach to preserving Lodi’s history and promoting the society. Membership surged after his death, to 161 in 2006. It has now fallen to a more typical 60, said Darlene Brisky, the current president.

The new board members – none was a plaintiff in the 2005 lawsuit – say they’ve tried hard to ease hurt feelings. A photo display honors the eight former board members. One has died, but “several are still members and come to meetings and encourage us,” said board member Dennis Stocks.

“They were all such hard workers,” adds another board member, Sherry Slezak.

Aside from paving a parking lot, the society has no immediate plans to spend more of the money, Brisky said. Part of the addition was funded with a loan, so more than $400,000 of the bequest remains in investments.

“I’m glad we have the money, but I’m not sure I would have wanted to go through what we did to get it,” said board member Dudley Mehltretter.

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