When we first met in the fall of 1987 I was fresh out of graduate school. Another grad and I were hired to oversee the construction of a new building for the Rogers Historical Museum (RHM). Amid the whirlwind of talking with contractors, developing exhibits, and storing collections you called about a dress that your aunt Flora Galusha wished to donate. And what a dress! A beautiful linen damask traveling gown that belonged to your great-grandmother, Mary “Mollie” Van Winkle Steele.
With you and Flora and the dress came a sizable family delegation, descendants of the Van Winkles and Steeles, early settlers of Benton and Washington Counties. Could you tell that I was a bit overwhelmed? If you did, you didn’t let on. You were gracious and patient in introducing me to everyone and sharing the family’s history. How Peter Van Winkle was the area’s first lumber baron, supplying materials to the builders of Northwest Arkansas. And how his daughter Mollie shook her hairbrush at the Union soldiers who broke into their home.
You visited often over the years, driving up from Dallas with husband Val in your Texas-sized RV. You shared family photos, histories, and artifacts with the RHM and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History and you worked with Steve and the folks at Hobbs State Park Conservation Area as they created the Historic Van Winkle Trail out at Peter’s old home site and lumbering operation near War Eagle. How lucky we all were to have such a knowledgeable and generous family researcher, one who was dedicated to helping preserve our rich history.
We were together again on one of my last days at the RHM, as I finished an exhibit installation. I had arranged to borrow the Van Winkle Bible, so you and daughter Pam drove up to deliver it. I will forever remember the moment when, after handing you the loan paperwork, you told me that there was a problem. Panic turned to stunned amazement as you told me the Bible wasn’t a loan but a gift. I could tell by your sly smile that you enjoyed having a little fun with me.
I moved on to the Shiloh Museum but we still kept up, emailing Van Winkle questions and sharing what was going on in our lives. We visited a few more times, and you had talked about another trip this spring, but…
You’re gone now, but you’re not. You’re still here, with me. I’ll think of you as I look up from my desk and see your book about the Van Winkles sitting on the research library’s shelves. (Thanks for making it bright turquoise!) I’ll remember you when I’m on the museum’s grounds, having lunch near to your great-grandfather Captain Jack’s general store. You’ll be in my thoughts when I come across family photos that you’ve shared. I know their faces as well as I know your own.
I imagine that when you’re not keeping a watchful eye on your family you’ll be reminiscing with those who have gone before—Peter and Tempy, Mollie and Captain Jack, Guy and Lutie, Jeanne and Ray, Flora and Val and Tracy… If you ever peek beyond the pearly gates and see me, send a kind thought, will ya?
Thanks for everything, Marilyn.
Marie Demeroukas is the Shiloh Museum’s photo archivisit/research librarian.