By Berklie Haag
After years of clutter and outdated building features, the Armstrong House Museum in Rushville, Neb. got a new start thanks to Jerry Wellnitz and Phyllis Krotz. Wellnitz and Krotz were rewarded for their hard work and preserving Sheridan County’s heritage in the museum by being chosen as the 2017 Rushville Fun Days Parade Grand Marshals.
Phyllis Krotz has lived in Sheridan County nearly all of her life. She began working at the museum as a museum volunteer, whose main job, it seemed, was to fix and redo labels. Then, her fascination with the history of Sheridan County escalated when she noticed a woman named Margret Asey. She learned all about Margret’s life, and that hooked her on history and research. After doing many hours of research through newspaper clippings, books, and journals, she has learned about the lives of many of Sheridan County’s residents from the past. This process of finding and reliving the lives of the people who lived in Sheridan County and surrounding areas continues to be one of Phyllis’s favorite things to do at the museum. She also files articles and organizes museum artifacts. During the winter months, she researches and looks through biographies to make sure that they are correctly organized, labeled, and the facts are accurate.
Jerry Wellnitz, a father of two and grandfather of six, has been a Sheridan County resident all of his life. A few years ago, he was asked to help with some renovations to the museum building. This began his volunteer work at the museum, which he has come to enjoy more than he thought he would. One of his first projects was to fix the leaky bathroom. While doing so, he removed panneling around the bathtub. The plan was to rip out the bathtub as it was not needed anymore. Once the panneling was removed, he and Phyllis discovered an antique claw-foot bathtub, that they fixed up and left in the bathroom as part of the museum. Not much maintenance had been done before Jerry arrived. Since then, he has built light-up display cases, replaced lights, fixed ceilings, rebuilt a windmill with the help of his family, fixed up the outbuilings, and covered the bell that sits on top of the museum to protect it from direct sunlight.
Family plays a major role in the museum’s upkeeping and in Jerry and Phyllis’s lives. Children, grandchildren, cousins, siblings, and many others enjoy volunteering their time with Jerry and Phyllis to help keep the museum looking its best.
Both are looking forward to Fun Days and representing the museum as the Grand Marshals. Phyllis said, “I was really surpised about being asked, and I must say that I was really pleased that people noticed the museum. That is what makes me happy.”
Jerry and Phyllis also enjoy visiting with the people who come to browse at the museum. Both like to share Sheridan County’s heritage by providing fun stories that corrolate with various pieces of museum artifacts, answering questions, and giving a warm welcome to visitors. They have noticed that many people from out-of-state like to stop and take in information about Sheridan County and the Native American culture. People from as far as Switzerland have stopped in to check out what the Armstrong House Museum has to offer. “That’s another thing about the people,” said Phyllis. “They almost always have a good story to tell you.”
It isn’t hard to tell that the museum has become a big part in Phyllis and Jerry’s lives. That makes the work they do that much more enjoyable, and the community of Rushville and other surrounding areas appreciate all of their hard work and dedication.
“The museum, it just kind of hooks you,” said Jerry. “It sure did hook me. You notice one thing, and then you will find something that connects to it a few days later. You see something new everyday that you haven’t noticed before, and you are shocked at how much you really didn’t know.”