Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thank You, Marty...

This Thanksgiving Weekend seems an appropriate time for me to give thanks for having known and worked with a very special person, Martin C. Perkins, Curator of Research at Old World Wisconsin. Marty passed away unexpectedly on November 3, 2012. There are many people that weave in and out of our day-to-day experience leaving perhaps a thread in the fabric that is our life.  If we are lucky, we will encounter a few people who weave significant and lasting patterns in this same fabric.  For those of us who are fortunate enough to have known Marty Perkins, we have encountered such a person.  The woven pattern likely resembles that of timbers, fieldstone and cream city brick indicative of his passion for rural Wisconsin architecture.
I am not sure Marty would have ever considered himself in the roll of a weaver, so at best, this is an imperfect tribute.  He filled rolls of Historian, Restoration Worker, Researcher, Trusted Co-worker, Mentor, Student, Athlete, Boss, Optimist, and Teacher ….most importantly…Husband, Father and Friend.  Over the course of the past couple weeks, I have been unable to properly describe this multi-faceted man.  This post was started many times only to be deleted.  Nothing seemed appropriate, and I have been unable to finish it at loss for words and eyes clouded with tears.  While I was sitting at Old World on November 8th, the day of Marty’s funeral, I put pen to paper but was completely unable to write anything save for a few thoughts.  My thoughts drifted to the looms in the Schulz and Rankinen houses at Old World Wisconsin, the museum where he spent his entire career.  Marty’s impact on all of us is like the sturdy linen fabric and rag rugs often woven by rural immigrant farmers along with the complex  intricacies of the woven over-shot throws created by professional weavers.  He taught us all the importance of attention to detail, relevance, complex research and integrity.  This intricate pattern is held together with the strongest of thread that is spun from the fibers of gentleness, humor, patience, practicality and ever present kindness.
Marty, you taught so many of us that a simple log structure often opens a door to a story filled with ethnic importance,  social relevance and overwhelming beauty.  You taught us to listen to each structure as it tells its story and lets us touch the very people who built it.  When the structure’s voice became too faint to hear, you encouraged us to ask questions. Your answers always sent us back to the structure to hear more of its tales.  My love, as well as that of many others, for historic rural architecture was instilled by you.  You hired me in April of 1993 and started me down a path I could have never imagined.  As a new historic interpreter in 1993, I marveled at the sparkle in your eyes and pure passion in your voice as you spoke of the new exhibit at Old World Wisconsin, Thomas General Store.  Your voice while relaying the information regarding the acquisition, research and restoration of the field stone structure was like that of a boy receiving a new baseball glove for Christmas.  How could one not be inspired?  That was almost 20 years ago. This summer I saw that same sparkle when I worked one of our 1860s baseball games at the museum.  The game was won by the Eagle Diamonds, the team you so diligently coached.  In spite of the unusually intense summer heat, your enthusiasm did not wane.  Again, you were an inspiration.
I had the opportunity to sit down with you one Sunday morning in mid-September before any other interpreter arrived for the day.  We discussed the recent day trip Karl and I had taken through the U.P. up to Ontonagon.  We were looking for Finnish log structures, but unexpectedly encountered the intriguing Irish Hollow Cemetery.  You took the time to give me advice on our potential next steps if we were serious in furthering our interest in the cemetery and log structures we saw. Much of the advice was in the same vein as the training I received from you almost 20 years ago.  Unfortunately, next summer I will be unable to share with you our adventures when we return to some of these places.  Fortunately, these words of wisdom ring loudly in your voice.  
Our Director at Old World Wisconsin, Dan Freas, perhaps had the best words…and I paraphrase…“We all strive to leave a lasting legacy, and Marty has a left a legacy that will live on to inspire many at Old World Wisconsin”.  The great attendance at your funeral is a testament to the impact you had on many, many people from all walks of life.  Marty, your presence will be missed, but not forgotten, by Old World Wisconsin, the City of Mukwonago, the State of Wisconsin and the family you so greatly loved.  Personally, as I drive past old homes and commercial buildings with fascination, I will continue to think you each day as I have for almost twenty years.  
…and Marty, on a lighter note, Karl and I will continue to play one of our favorite games as we drive Wisconsin’s roads.  The game is simple.  When we encounter a small town, the question always is: Railroad Town, Mill Town or Crossroads Village? The quest for the answer often leads off our desired course and having missed a turn or two, but we always encounter a fascinating story…
Marty (Lower Right Corner) coaching
the Eagle Diamonds in July of 2009

For those of you interesting in further reading...
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
From (a site dedicated to cordwood structures) reprinted an article written in 1990 for Wisconsin Architect in November/December 1990: