Holland windmill turns 50May 7, 2020
By BILL POWELL
HOLLAND — Holland’s iconic windmill at the entrance to the town’s park turns 50 on Sunday.
Town historian Lee Bilderback says planning for a windmill that would become a source of pride for Holland and Cass Township began in the 1960s.
Holland Hi-Lites, a publication of the Holland Jaycees that was the town’s monthly newspaper in the 1960s and early ’70s, reported a kickoff dinner in late 1966, with Holland Kiwanis Club President Arthur Stillwell explaining that the windmill project would be started by the Jaycees and Kiwanis as a community project.
Employees of the old Holland Planing Mill laid the brick base that is the masonry ground floor of the 50-foot-tall windmill. Stillwell, the Holland High School band director at the time, worked summers at the planing mill. He and a handful of other town carpenters who worked for the mill at one time or another built the windmill’s wooden upper portion, complete with wraparound walkway and turret where vanes can be propelled by an electric motor.
Stillwell passed away in 1985, but those other carpenters — now in their 80s and 90s — are still here to thank for their handiwork. In fact, they recently received plaques recognizing their work. The men recall spending Saturdays together volunteering their labor to build the upper portion of the windmill that was dedicated on May 10, 1970.
They include Alvin Seufert, 92, whose activity this spring has included time on a ladder to clean gutters and trim a tree, according to his wife of almost 70 years, Louella Seufert.
And there’s Mel Schroeder, 94, a veteran who says the years he spent climbing around doing carpentry on projects like the windmill kept him in shape then, and might help explain why he’s still here now.
“I’m glad I got to help a little,” he says of his time building Holland’s windmill.
The project’s other carpenters, Allan Wibbeler, 81, and Gary Gentry, 80, share those sentiments.
The ancestors of the Hoosiers who named their American hometown Holland came from northern Germany, according to Bilderback. Many of those travelers could not afford the passage to America without financial assistance. To underwrite their trip, the men of villages such as Ladbergen, Lengerich and Venne crossed the Dutch border and worked for the wealthier farmers of the Netherlands, commonly referred to as Holland.
Bilderback says the yearly trip became known as “Holland Going.”
“Those early settlers held a sense of gratitude to the Netherlands, and this windmill symbolizes that connection,” Bilderback says. “I am told many of the men and women supporting the cause for construction of the windmill heard their grandparents and great-grandparents tell of their ‘ancestors’ having to work in Holland, the Netherlands to raise money to make the trip to America.
“Those stories stuck in their minds, and later became a force in getting the project started and off the ground.”
Stillwell, who went on to teach music, English, journalism and photography for 12 years at Southridge High School, is credited with the design for the windmill.
The North Carolina-born Stillwell grew up in Tennessee, and was said to have played music with the likes of Country Music Hall of Famer Grandpa Jones and another “Hee Haw” alum, David “Stringbean” Akeman. Stillwell was also an artist, says his widow, Joan Stillwell.
Before the windmill project got off the ground, Joan Stillwell remembers her husband and their high-school-age son, the late Michael Stillwell, putting the family’s small camper in tow for a fact-finding trip to Holland, Michigan, which was a community already celebrating its Dutch heritage with tulips, windmills and tourism.
She says her husband returned, drew up plans and made a model of the windmill he liked best.
Wibbeler recalls working from blueprints as he built the windmill’s turret on the ground. Olinger Construction Company was working on State Road 161 at the time, and a crane operator for the Huntingburg company, Lee Wright, got the OK to lift the turret into place for the town one Saturday, Wibbeler says.
“I rode the crane up on top of it and Gary (Gentry) and Alvin Seufert were on the inside to fasten it down,” Wibbeler says.
The finished product remains a sense of pride. It serves as a display museum during annual festivals, and boasts a new roof, walkway, exterior stairs and flower window boxes.
Bilderback says the windmill has always been the place to go when out-of-town relatives visit.
“I don’t know how many photos I have standing with family members at the Holland windmill,” he says. “Now, it is nice to see summer visitors come to Holland and, while enjoying ice cream from Windmill Chill, take a leisurely walk over to the windmill.”
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