Bookmobile Enters Home Stretch of Restoration Journey

Warmer days might feel far away, but members of the Egg Harbor Historical Society (EHHS) are already making plans for summer.

That’s when the restored Door County Bookmobile is set to be back on the road, said EHHS board member John Sawyer, who spearheaded the bookmobile-restoration project alongside fellow board member, Carey Bertschinger. 

“Starting in June, we’re planning to take it to a bunch of community events” like parades and a grand unveiling that’s tentatively scheduled for mid-June, Sawyer said.

To get the bookmobile ready for its debut, workers from Reese’s Auto Body Shop in Sturgeon Bay are putting in a new chassis and engine. Their work is set to be complete by the end of February. After that, restoration efforts will shift to the interior of the bookmobile, which needs its interior shelving and flooring refinished. Sawyer and company are also getting quotes on a mobile-internet system, TVs and computers for inside the truck.

The bookmobile itself isn’t the only part of the project that’s been under construction; another new development is Door County Bookmobile, Inc., the project’s own 501c3 that’s separate from EHHS.

Having a 501c3 means that people will be able to donate to the bookmobile project directly. Though EHHS currently owns the truck, it will officially sign it over to Door County Bookmobile, Inc. at the unveiling this summer, Sawyer said. The goal is for the bookmobile to be fully functional by then, according to Bertschinger.

The new non-profit’s board of directors includes Sawyer, Bertschinger, Sue Woerfel, Eric DeJardine and Drew Richmond, the project’s consultant from TwentySix Professional Coaching. A new contributor to the project is Katy Dahlstrom, an EHHS volunteer who was hired in January as a part-time bookmobile coordinator. Dahlstrom’s pre-retirement career as a teacher was part of what interested her in the position.

“I taught for 25 years,” Dahlstrom said. “This is a way to keep working with kids and books.”

Dahlstrom’s new role will involve organizing the bookmobile’s appearances at local events this summer. After that, she’ll put together book giveaways for 5- to 7-year-olds returning to school in September and early 2025, after the bookmobile returns from its hibernation beginning in November 2024.

The process of restoring the bookmobile involved lots of looking back into Door County’s history. Now, with a public debut in sight, those working on the project can start looking forward to its future, too. 

“We’re excited to keep moving forward,” Sawyer said. 

Katy Dahlstrom. Photo by John Sawyer.

Bringing Back the Bookmobile

The Door County Bookmobile made its first journeys around the peninsula in 1950. That’s when the Wisconsin Free Library Commission developed the Door-Kewaunee Regional Library Demonstration, a two-year experiment aimed at making libraries more accessible in rural areas. The bookmobile was a product of this experiment. 

In 1952, state funding for the bookmobile ended, but Door County residents voted to keep it going with tax dollars. And keep going it did, until it broke down in 1989. 

The truck was later purchased by Egg Harbor historian John Enigl, who used it to store his book collection on his property. It stayed there until the EHHS bought it in 2014. The historical society intended to restore it, but that project remained in limbo until 2021, when Bertschinger joined the board and was tasked with determining if the public was still interested in it. 

The answer she found was a resounding “yes,” so Bertschinger and Sawyer got to work on repairs and a vision. They also helped raise money for the $500,000 project through donations, grants and fundraisers, like the August 2023 event at Sawyer Farms that raised $32,000.

“The community outdid themselves,” Sawyer said. “We got support from Southern Door to Washington Island.” 

Community involvement is one of three pillars guiding work on the bookmobile; the other two are education and history. In addition to driving in parades and distributing books, the bookmobile will give  Door County communities a unique way to learn about their history, Sawyer said.