The Ephraim Historical Foundation (EHF) was notified that its nomination of Helen Sohns and Warren Davis as historic “Changemakers” has been accepted by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Sohns and Davis were strong advocates for preserving and sharing the history of Ephraim. Their efforts led to saving the village’s Pioneer Schoolhouse and establishing the EHF in 1949.
Changemakers is one of three nomination categories in the Wisconsin Historical Society’s 175 Campaign (https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/175#changemakers). The campaign celebrates the Society’s 175th year of collecting and sharing history. Inspiring, true stories of influential people will be posted throughout the year. Look for the nomination EHF’s Facebook and Instagram pages, and also on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Facebook page. Please click “like” and share the post with your own Facebook and Instagram friends.
In spring, 1949, Ephraim schoolteacher Helen Hoeppner Sohns urgently phoned summer resident Warren Davis. The village board had voted to dispose of Ephraim’s one-room schoolhouse. Built in 1880 for $658, with a 1900 addition that increased capacity from sixty to eighty children, it was deemed obsolete. A new school building had opened.
Helen taught at the “Pioneer” Schoolhouse from 1936-1945. She knew one-room schools were becoming rare. If this one was lost, a central place in village history would be gone forever. What she didn’t know was that saving the schoolhouse would lead to saving other irreplaceable structures. It would initiate local legislation that has helped protect Ephraim from haphazard development.
Warren Davis also understood the value of preserving the past. He immediately went to work, securing enough pledges to make the $2,800 purchase within a week. Everyone soon realized that other properties evoking the spirit of Ephraim would come on the market. They needed a mechanism for local historic preservation, and so the Ephraim Historical Foundation formed on July 19, 1949.
Leave it to a teacher to get the ball rolling through steadfast determination and collaboration! Leave it to an entrepreneur and sailor to chart the course to success!
Submitted by EHF Educator Kathleen Harris