Fundraising for History on the Move project will help return this icon to the road
Seventy-three years after it first took to the road – and 34 since it last broke down – the original Door County Bookmobile is making a comeback.
That’s thanks, in part, to Carey Bertschinger and John Sawyer, Egg Harbor Historical Society (EHHS) board members who are spearheading the efforts to restore it.
“It’s about preserving a part of Door County history, but just as important, it’s about getting books in children’s hands,” Bertschinger said.
The bookmobile began its journey in 1950, when the Wisconsin Free Library Commission developed the Door-Kewaunee Regional Library Demonstration, a two-year experiment that aimed to make libraries more accessible in rural areas.
The Bookmobile was part of this experiment, but it lived well past its intended two years. It was state funded until 1952, at which point Door County residents voted to keep funding it with tax dollars.
It toured the peninsula until it broke down in 1989 and was later purchased by John Enigl, a historian who used the truck for storing his book collection on his Egg Harbor property. And that’s where it stayed until 2014, when the EHHS purchased it with the intention to restore it.
The historical society’s first step was to ascertain whether the truck could be fixed (it could), and whether the cost of doing so would be reasonable (it would). That’s where restoration efforts remained until 2021, when Bertschinger joined the board and asked about its plans to move forward with the project. Because no plans were set in stone, the board tasked Bertschinger with asking around to see whether the public was still interested in the project.
“Much to my surprise, so many people were 100% behind the idea of restoring the Bookmobile,” Bertschinger said.
So she teamed up with Sawyer, a fellow board member and childhood friend, and they got to work.
In its early planning stages, the Bookmobile restoration project was solely an EHHS endeavor, but the more work Bertschinger and Sawyer put into it, the more they realized it would take much more than just the two of them to get it back on the road.
“By the end of last year, I was already realizing this is really much bigger than just the Egg Harbor Historical Society,” Bertschinger said.
They started to call in reinforcements, and now they’re working with Heritage Alliance of Door County, an organization that facilitates collaboration among local historical societies. Drew Richmond of TwentySix Professional Coaching is their consultant for the project.
“They have the passion and energy and connections, and I handle the logistics,” Richmond said. That includes planning for fundraising and nailing down the vision for the project.
Between donations and grants, about $47,000 of EHHS’s $500,000 goal has been raised for the Bookmobile. That $500,000 price tag will cover the renovation, storage, gas, books and driver payment, Bertschinger said. The latter two may not be expense issues, however, because EHHS hopes to partner with the Door County Library System for books, and the driver may be a volunteer rather than an employee – but those details are still being worked out.
The Future of the Bookmobile
When the Bookmobile is restored, it’ll look just like it did when it first took to the road in 1950, right down to the vintage paint job.
The interior is nearly ready; it just needs new flooring and additional lighting. More work is needed under the hood, however, and on the truck’s exterior: The original windshield needs to be put back in; the new chassis and engine need to be installed; and the steel body needs to be restored.
Though the Bookmobile will look the same, its function in the community will be a bit different. Bertschinger, Sawyer and Richmond have three “pillars” that support their planning for the Bookmobile’s future:
• Education: Its target demographic will be children ages 5-7 who live in or near Door County. In addition to stocking books independently or through the Door County Library System, the EHHS intends for the Bookmobile to distribute books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a nonprofit program that sends free books to children ages 0-5 every month.
• History: The EHHS intends for historical societies to use the Bookmobile to teach patrons about their own unique histories.
• Community involvement: In addition to partnering with the Door County Library System and local historical societies, the EHHS wants the Bookmobile to partner with other local organizations such as the YMCA, which has a summer program that provides kids with free lunches. The Bookmobile could attend programs such as these to extend its reach.
“In order for this project to really take off, it needs to go beyond the Egg Harbor Historical Society and a couple of really passionate volunteers,” Richmond said. “We need a community-led initiative.”
Want to Help?
• Attend a fundraising event. Play bingo monthly on the third Thursday, June-October, at the Kress Pavilion, 7845 Church St. in Egg Harbor. Doors open at 6 pm, and bingo starts at 7 pm.
On Aug. 19, 2-8 pm, EHHS will host an event featuring live music, food and a silent auction at Sawyer Farm, 7590 Sunny Point Road in Egg Harbor.
• Donate to the project at bookmobiledoorcounty.org.
• Volunteer. Whether you’re an educator, historian or potential driver, EHHS can use your help. Email [email protected].
• Talk about the project with friends and family.
“Word of mouth is invaluable,” said Carey Bertschinger, Egg Harbor Historical Society board member. “As I seek donations, I often find out that people aren’t aware that the Egg Harbor Historical Society is moving forward with this.”
VIDEO: The Bookmobile
Why did the bookmobile mean so much to Door County? Watch our video featuring interviews with locals whose horizons expanded when the bookmobile came to town.