Olga Dana Green: Sanctuary in a Bustling Landscape

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Every August, sailboats drift peacefully in Eagle Harbor. They quickly capture one’s attention to the west. But if one looks north or south, flocks of sightseers aimlessly crisscross asphalt like bewildered sheep, oblivious to the impatient cars careening along Water Street. With such distractions, it’s easy to miss the patch of green space on the east side of the highway, right across from the Ephraim Yacht Club. Yet it’s there, the Olga Dana Green. It’s been there for all to enjoy since 1973.

Almost fifty years ago, Kewaunee native Olga Bertha Haney Dana gifted her quarter-acre front yard and summer cottage (later sold) to the Ephraim Historical Foundation (EHF). November is a fine time to pull on plaid flannels, park near the intersection of Spruce and Water/Hwy 42, and sit a spell under the lofty cedars that shade the green. As Robert Frost wrote in 1915:

My sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark day of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be …
From “My November Guest”

Dana gave the “park-like property” to the EHF, motivated by what was said at the Annual Meeting on July 21, 1973. She even amended her will so that the Foundation had first option to buy her Ephraim cottage. Its appraised value was $26,800. The following year, on October 11, 1974, Olga Dana passed away in La Jolla, CA.

What idea so moved Olga Dana? And just who was she?

Kewaunee Girl
Olga and her sister Ruth were daughters of John and Laura Haney, prominent Kewaunee citizens. Laura’s father served as a state senator and John, a farm boy, became a self-made businessman. He started by selling farm implements. In time, John Haney branched out and helped create the Kewaunee Manufacturing Company, a panel company, held leadership roles at various banks, and was savvy enough to be on the ground floor of selling a revolutionary product – the horseless carriage. John and Laura Haney were generous with their wealth, including supporting local parks. Their philanthropy was not lost on their daughter, Olga.

Olga Dana was born in Kewaunee on September 1 (or 11), 1891. She attended the UW-Madison (Gamma Phi Beta sorority) and later the Art Institute of Chicago. She traveled with her family to places like Cuba and California. In 1917, she married Dana B. Dishmaker, who grew up just around the corner in a house as impressive as hers. Dishmaker was a twin. He graduated from Northwestern University and was practicing medicine in Kewaunee. When the U.S. joined the Allies during the Great War, Dishmaker enlisted with the medical corps.

The description of the couple’s wedding, at high noon on October 20th at the family home, reads like a script from Downton Abbey, Wisconsin style. The article describes the groom, Lieutenant Dishmaker, as a “good-natured, sturdy lad liked by all of his pals.” He had found his bliss with Olga, “a capable, fine, wholesome, sweet American girl.” The wedding altar was “banked on either side with bouquets of yellow chrysanthemums, and over the back of them hung a large American flag.” Flower girls and bridesmaids, dressed in pink “walked up to the altar while the orchestra rendered Mendelsohn’s wedding march.” Olga wore a gown of “white Georgette satin embroidered with seed pearls.“ She carried a “shower bouquet” of white roses and lilies-of-the-valley.

Twenty-five years later during WWII, Olga’s husband Dr. Dana died suddenly of a heart attack. Two of their sons were serving in the military and the third was attending Lake Forest Academy in Illinois. Described as “an intensely magnetic personality loved by everyone in the community” the good doctor had at some point changed his last name from Dishmaker to Dana, as did Olga.

Dr. Dana’s passing likely left a gaping hole in Olga’s life. Their three sons were essentially grown men, beginning to make their own way in the world. Olga reimagined her life for the next thirty-one years as a single woman, a widow, with opportunity to influence her corner of the world through meaningful philanthropy. Upon her death in 1974, the Door County Advocate described Olga Dana as “a patroness of the arts and humanities.” In addition to her gift of property to the Foundation, her obituary (click and scroll to page 7 of Door County Advocate) listed the Peninsula Music Festival, the Los Angeles Epilepsy Society, and the Door County Library as memorials. Two of her sons preceded her in death.

The Idea
On July 26, 1972, board member Oscar Boldt (1924-2020) wrote a letter to EHF president John Zimdars. Boldt summarized thoughts he had expressed earlier. He wrote, “While none of this [letter] is in final form, it might better express the idea than my rather rambling remarks at the Board meeting.” Boldt no doubt was familiar with a study of Ephraim land use prepared by Dr. William Tishler (UW-Madison) and the Door County Planning Commission. The study generated much local discussion.

For his part, Boldt was concerned that Ephraim “maintain the village atmosphere” in light of increasing development pressure. Preserving buildings like the Pioneer Schoolhouse and the Anderson Store were important, “not only as historical reminders but because they are so situated as to influence other developments around them.” Boldt’s four-page letter called for strategic and orderly preservation.

References to Boldt’s letter began to routinely appear in EHF Board minutes. It prompted measurable actions in the organization’s strategic planning. EHF Board and Committee minutes record tangible initiatives that often include complex negotiations and legalities. Minutes allude to several ideas that didn’t work out or took a different turn, too. Remember, all of this was done before the digital age.
See a copy of EHF minutes here: EHF Board Minutes March 22, 1975

Ephraim: A Village of Values
By the 1974 Annual Meeting, held in the Pioneer Schoolhouse, the Foundation had embarked on a marketing campaign to secure preservation funds for the long haul. The slogan? Ephraim: A Village of Values. Artist Charles Peterson, who had become a year-round resident of Ephraim just a few years before in 1971, contributed sketches for a glossy, silver brochure. Sparse, inky-blue drawings evoked authentic simplicity. Paper stock felt solid, implying a financially secure organization with a sure future. To see the brochure, click here 1974 Brochure Side 1 and here: 1974 Brochure Side 2

Marguerite Schumann of Sturgeon Bay crafted the text. She had been the Director of Publicity and Publications at Lawrence College. Sub-headings informed readers of Ephraim’s natural beauty and heritage (spiritual, cultural, and historical, described separately). These separate sections culminated with a final section titled “The Ephraim Idea.” The Ephraim Idea listed Foundation values, for example, “A healthy but minimal business development, with an awareness that current constructive enterprises should prosper.” A chummy tone requesting contributions closed the soft pitch.

In today’s sound-bite society, five panels of 10-pt, single spaced text probably wouldn’t catch even three seconds of attention. Word choice regarding gender and indigenous people sounds outdated, too. But who can argue with lines like:

A preservation effort to safeguard a classic village such as Ephraim is not simply the action of a gallant band of traditionalists fighting against change: it is a carefully-reasoned opposition with a positive focus. It aims to maintain cultural and spiritual qualities that are becoming all too uncommon today, but are still found in Ephraim.

For those who care deeply about Ephraim’s future, and for those simply curious about how the Ephraim Historical Foundation has evolved, the brochure is fascinating. A half-century later, we benefit from the fruits of the 1974 campaign. The Olga Dana Green is one of them.

– by Kathleen Harris, EHF Educator

2 thoughts on “Olga Dana Green: Sanctuary in a Bustling Landscape”

  1. Well done. Now I have a much better understanding of the woman who made this wonderful donation. Jim Reeve

  2. I remember Olga Dana very well. She was a lovely person, as is evidenced by her love and care for the Village Of Ephraim. She had forthright and sturdy ideas, and was all kind to everyone, even all of us who were children.

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