On Wednesday evening, October 20, 1993, thirty-two people got together at the Eau Claire Public Library to form the Waldemar Ager Association. During that meeting, we approved our by-laws and elected officers. They were: Tim Hirsch – President, Ellie Paulson – Vice-President, Kristine Ager – Secretary, and Tim Pffaf – Treasurer. We agreed to incorporate and apply for tax-free status. We also formed six standing committees, which included a finance/fundraising committee. Connie Lotz and Ellie Paulson agreed to organize our first fund-raising efforts.
During the first meeting, we also considered options for the future of the Ager House. At that time, Luther Hospital owned the house, which stood at the end of Chestnut Street. Luther needed the lot for more parking spaces, so they planned to tear the house down. We initiated a petition to Luther with this message:
“We the undersigned, urge the Administrators and Board of Directors of Luther Hospital to do everything possible to leave the Waldemar Ager house on its present site, to incorporate it into the hospital’s corporate campus plan, and to work with community organizations to find appropriate uses for the building.”
In three weeks, we had collected 217 signatures. Jan Etnier and Rod Johnson were leaders in this effort.
At the first meeting, Larry Wahlstrom, President of the Midwest Scandinavian Institute, suggested that his organization take the house and move it to their property south of Eau Claire on the Chippewa River. Others felt that the house should stay where it was, or, if that were not realistic, it should be as close as possible to its original location.
A month after our first meeting, before our petition could be delivered, Luther contractors had the house removed from its foundation and put up on blocks.
After our petition was delivered to Luther, Doug Trembath, President and CEO of Luther Hospital, sent us a letter on April 11, 1994, telling us that the Luther Board had agreed to give the Ager Association the house and “pay for reasonable relocation expenses” if we met certain conditions. The statement read as follows.
“Your organization must demonstrate the ability to provide future viability for the house (financially and socially.)”
We had to come up with a plan for the use of the building by May 1, 1994, because the hospital needed the house to be gone from their property by June 1. While they waited for our plan, they also “put the house up for bids to see how serious some of the private offers have been.”
We had three weeks to provide them with a satisfactory “Plan for Use” and a piece of ground on which to put the house. We approached the Eau Claire City Council with three proposals for potential sites: (1) Phoenix Park, (2) the parking lot next to the Schlegelmilch House, and (3) a vacant lot owned by the city on Madison Street. The Council examined our “Plan for Use” and decided to give us the Madison Street lot with the condition that if our organization became defunct, the land would go back to the city. One Council member, who voted against the proposal, said, “I don’t have much confidence in the leadership of this organization.”
Luther’s Board accepted our plan. They agreed to move the house and, also, to “finance the cost of the foundation.”
At three o’clock in the morning, on Saturday, May 28, 1994, workers began to load the house onto their trucks. (They used two.) At the same time, utility workers were taking down wires along Whipple Street. By 4:00 a.m., the house began its move north along Whipple. By 6:30 a.m., the house was up on blocks in the south corner of the Madison Street lot, and the utilities were back on line. Ellie Paulson was there, and others, too, but I remember Ellie, especially, because she kept saying, “Why didn’t I bring my camera?”
By the end of June, Market and Johnson had completed the foundation, and the house took the final steps to its present home.
In future newsletters, we’ll review the first efforts toward renovation. --- Tim Hirsch