Micro Stream Radio - Preservation Oaks

EP012 Kansas Onaga Historical Society - Debbie Berges

February 28, 2022

In this episode, we had the good fortune to meet Debbie Berges, Dale Renfro, and Linda Roggenkamp who are leaders of the Onaga Historical Society located in Onaga, Kansas.

They were so kind to share their time to help educate listeners and myself about Onaga, the Historical Society and its museums, and the current list of most pressing needs and priorities.

Happy 47th Birthday on February 3rd to the Onaga Historical Society.  The Society has been active since 1975 thanks to the good people of Onaga!

When you visit Onaga, the Historical Society and Museums, you should plan to spend the day, because it’ll take upwards of 2-3 hours to experience the history on display! 

If you’re visiting from outside the area, you might want to plan to spend a week to see all the sites and various area Societies since there are five in Pottawattamie County.

Now on to the Historical Society priorities:

  • The First priority is a new building
  • Proper preservation of historic artifacts.
  • Internet access. They don’t have Internet access!
  • Merchant account. They don’t take credit cards!
  • Phone system!

The historical society has a wide range and volume of programs and events throughout the year. Some of them are:

  • Veterans Day reception at the historical society.
  • Hosting cemetery tours and a review of the history of the people buried there.
  • The Society provides education for the community and school children with several events a year.
  • The Society hosts an annual membership and community meeting to describe progress being made and next steps.
  • They work with the Onaga Library on the Summer Reading program and crafts for the children.
  • The society helps to facilitate the annual Heritage days event in October for the community. At this event, there are octogenarian plus brothers who play bluegrass music all day long.

During the episode, Debbie, Dale, and Linda gave credit where credit is due by thanking and complimenting the vast array of good people who volunteer. Again, I’m not going to name everyone, since you’ll get the information as you listen to the episode, but just a few are:

  • High school student, who for the past 4 years each summer photographs the artifacts so they can be catalogued properly.
  • The veteran who donated his military uniform from the war on terror who purchased the case to display the uniforms in.
  • The young man who donates the yard work for the society.
  • A local man who owns a sawmill and is creating boards from the trees removed from the property in order to clear space for the new building. He is making a recognition board and other things from the wood for use by the Society.
  • There is something for anyone to do.

Anyone know what a Wigwag is?  You’ll learn this in this episode.

We learn a bit about the Historical Society’s railroad museum. They have track laid, a boxcar that hauled automobiles. On the inside of that museum there are railroad exhibits and artifacts. Call for a tour today! 

We learn how expensive it was for the historical society to properly preserve a pioneer log cabin. A sump pump had to be installed to keep the water out of this historical property because it may cause damage. So glad that cabin has been saved!  The cabin was inhabited until the 1940’s. It was discovered as it was encased in a house they were tearing down.

We learn about a rare 1861 Baker & Grover sewing machine that most likely arrived in Kansas by covered wagon. The historical society restored it to working order and to preserve it for future Onagans.

We learn about an intact egg from the 1940s that was found in the attic of the chicken coop!  It is on display.

We learned about the octagonal 1921 pavilion at the Onaga fairgrounds!  It was completely restored in the early 2000’s and is still used today during the fair and for other community events as well!  Still serving the community!  The building was recognized in 2021 for being 100 years old! 

We learn what exhibits are displayed in the two Society Museum buildings. So much Onaga history.

The historical society created many oral histories of Vietnam era veterans. They are being preserved at the historical society.

Oh, my there’s a coffin with a window in it and is believed to have been used in some of the ceremonies for the Odd Fellows! 

Dale let us know WHY the Western Railroad was interested in starting the town of Onaga! 

We learn about the funding and grants the Society has used to make consistent improvements for the community. The Society only takes donations for the work they do helping people with Genealogy research and for admission to tour the museums and buildings on the grounds. Membership is just $5.00 per year!  You can get a lifetime membership for $100! 

There is a book created by the Society called “The History of Onaga AND…”. It was created in 1982 and is on sale at the Historical Society. Get one when you visit! 

And finally, Debbie read a statement from the previous President which perfectly describes the benefits of becoming a member of the Society, volunteering, visiting, and donating!  

  1. If you’re a listener in the area the society serves, OR if you’re a listener researching ancestors from the O-nay-ga Kansas area and you’re not already a member, please consider joining and supporting the society!
  2. The contact information for the Society is:
    1. Onaga Historical Society | Facebook
    2. onagahistory@gmail.com
    3. Mail: Onaga Historical Society, P.O. Box 61; Onaga, KS 66521
    4. Closed from October through April. Open by appointment by contacting onagahistory@gmail.com or calling 785-889-7104, 785-844-0202 or 785-889-4546. Leave a message if necessary and we will get back to you.
    5. Donate using PayPal or write a check to P.O. Box 61, Onaga, KS. 66521.

I hope this episode helps the audience understand how valuable the society is within the community and what kinds of excellent services they offer their members and the public.

The Onaga Historical Society is truly one of our Nation’s Preservation Oaks!


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