November 11, 2011

Menasha's heritage is rich in culture, architecture, and service to both the community and country.  Remembering those that served our county today on Veterans Day is a Menasha tradition not just in the ceremonies that happen but also in the structures dedicated to our veterans that serve to remind us every day of their service to our country that makes it the place it is today.  Menasha is fortunate to have three symbols of our veterans service to their country; the Memorial Building, the Isle of Valor, and the monument in front our our public library.

A history of the Memorial Building was included in this month's edition of the Menasha Historical Society Newsletter.
The Memorial Building was built and dedicated in 1928 to the soldiers and sailers who gave their lives in the service of their country.  It was the first community building in the area meant to be used by organizations and/or the city for various types of activities.

At the time, swimming was allowed in the river at the end of Park Street.  There was a raft at the shore line and another a few yards out.  There were dressing rooms and showers in the east side of the building for the swimmers to use.  Old-timers remember when they could go there just for the showers.

As one entered the building, there was a soda fountain to the left.  When there was something going on in the building someone was always available to serve a cold drink or some ice cream.

The small room to the Northwest was a fully equipped kitchen which could be uses for making and serving lunches by the people who rented the upstairs for parties, etc.

Over the years things changed.  Swimming was no longer allowed, so the East side of the building became a game room with ping pong tables and other facilities.  The veterans played cards there on certain days.

Of course, the upstairs was the biggest attraction.  In the early thirties, teen dances were held there three nights a week.  Records were played downstairs ans some way piped upstairs.  Disc jockeys as we know them, has not yet come into being.  Dancers were charged five cents to dance all evening, and their hands were stamped so that they could go up and down and in and out.  The doors to the balconies on the north side were open in good weather so dancers could go outside to cool off.  Or they could go down the steps, across the bridges, and onto the little island.  That was a romantic spot on those moonlit nights!  The non-dancers were usually were the ones who made the use of that option.

The park department was always in charge of the building.  Atone time tennis players could get permits for court use there as the Park and Recreation Department had its offices in the building.  Much later the Health Department had its offices in the East wing.

Besides dancing, the upstairs has been used for many thing over the years – golf lessons, square dancing, aerobics, and other kinds of classes, lectures, music programs, meetings, and assorted get-togethers. It could be rented for a nominal fee by anyone who has a legitimate use for it.  Many wedding are held in Smith Park and the bridal couple rent part of the lower level for the the bride and her attendants to dress there.

Today the Recreation Department uses the building for it many activities and there is a day-care program during the school term.  The East wing is used to house the Menasha Historical Society Resource Center and mini-museum providing Menasha residents and visiting guests with information and memories of our historic past.

The city fathers were ahead of their time in providing a building such as this for the use of the citizens of Menasha.  However, it has not been without its opponents as there was a time when its usefulness was questioned but it appears to have been a good investment after all.
The symbol of the Memorial Building, Isle of Valor, and Veterans Monument serve as important reminders of our thanks to those who have served.  This tradition of gratitude has continues today, just as it has for generations of Menasha residents.