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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In search of Ginger Beaumont

Ginger Beaumont is now the answer to my favorite Walworth County sports trivia question: Who was the first batter in the first World Series, and what connection does he have to Walworth County?

Until now, my favorite Walworth County sports trivia question was: who designed George Williams Golf Course, and in what other sport did he gain his fame (answer at the end).

My search for Ginger Beaumont began in 1994 in Honey Creek. At the time, writer Linda Godfrey and I were doing a series on crossroads towns in Walworth County.

We'd pick a community and hit the streets knocking on doors and asking people about what went on there. After an initial hesitation, we always left with a treasure trove of fascinating stories.

The day we visited Honey Creek, which sits balanced on the border of Walworth and Racine counties along Highway D, we met life-long resident and unofficial town historian Wendell Earle.

He has since passed away, but if there was anything a person needed to know about Honey Creek, Earle knew it.

During our conversation, he pointed to a home across the main street from his farmhouse and said, "You know who lived there, don't you?"

It was Ginger Beaumont, and Earle went on to tell us about Beaumont's exploits in baseball, as well as his close ties to the small community.

He owned a large farm west of town, Center Field Farms, and sang in the church choir of the Honey Creek First Baptist Church.

In the years since then, I remained curious about one of Walworth County's most famous, but at the same time little-known personalities. Earlier this year, in a newsroom conversation with Chris Schultz, a Janesville Gazette reporter who works out of our office, the conversation turned to baseball.

I showed him a few of the clippings I had collected on Beaumont, and Schultz, who wrote this week's cover story, became curious as well.

After dozens of phone calls leading to one dead end after another, Schultz finally contacted Frank Steele and the door to all we needed to know about Beaumont swung wide open.

It turns out I had met Steele several times over the years, never knowing that he knew everything I wanted to know about Ginger Beaumont.

Steele owns the coffee shop in Rochester, and I'd often stop for a hot cup on one of my family's regular trips to Racine, where my wife's family lives.

Little did I know that in the Rochester Cemetery, where several of my wife's relatives are buried, is the grave of Ginger Beaumont himself. Or that a block away from the coffee shop is the home that Beaumont was born in. Or that I've passed by Beaumont's Center Field Farm, just west of the Alpine Valley entrance hundreds of times.

Recently Schultz and I hit the road to re-trace the stomping grounds of Ginger Beaumont.

We had a long visit and a cup of coffee with Steele, who told us about a celebration they had in Rochester in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of the first World Series.

We made a side trip to visit Jim Bonner, Beaumont's second cousin. Bonner remembers playing ball as a boy with Beaumont at family reunions.

Bonner also told us where to find the Beaumont house in Center Field farms.

Although Schultz had the plat map, which showed the general location, we weren't sure exactly which house we were looking for.

When we did find it, the house turned out to be that of Don Kreft, Walworth County assistant highway superintendent, who lives there with his wife. Kreft said he owns all of the old Beaumont farm, which his father bought in 1959.

Most people in Walworth County have never heard of Beaumont, but for those who keep his history, he remains alive, vibrant and still an important part of their communities.

(Sports Trivia answer: Dr. James Naismith, credited with inventing basketball)


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