Mrs. Delavan's home is her museum


(Published October. 21, 2006, 12:38 p.m.)

Story by Herb Moering/Contributor

Norene Joppa Nelson lives in her very own museum of Delavan treasures. But she plans to share her collection of antiques with the public in the coming year.

Tucked in the corner of every room of the small 1901 two-story house on the corner of Second and McDowell streets is an array of memorabilia she has collected in more than 30 years as an antique dealer. And much of it is related to Delavan where she grew up.

"This is my house," Nelson said happily. "I live in the museum and I love living here."

Nelson, who started working at age 14 with jobs at the old Schultz Dime Store, McKenzie's Bakery and then the Wisconsin State Bank, left Delavan a year after graduating. She had met Raymond Nelson her first summer out of school when both were in a Methodist Church wedding party. They were married a year later in 1954.

She moved a number of times after her husband, who she called "a Norwegian from Stoughton," acquired his business teaching degree under the GI Bill at the UW-Whitewater in '56. It was during the five years her husband was principal in Cedarburg that she started collecting antiques, while raising a family of two sons and a daughter.

When her husband retired after 10 years as LaCrosse School District business manager in 1990, Nelson said she found herself wanting to return to Delavan. But she remained in LaCrosse even after he husband died in 1996 following a lengthy illness. Finally at her father's request she moved to Delavan in 2001, living at Westshire Farm for seniors until this summer.

"It was like a miracle to get home," Nelson commented.

Nelson, who refers to herself as "Mrs. Delavan," moved into 122 N. Second St. on July 1 and set about bringing her many antiques out of storage. At the same time, a number of local people have given her items, such as the chandelier in her dining room that once decorated the old Delavan Opera House. After being stored many years, Latimer House restaurant owners Bob and Jean Walters donated the historic fixture, which Nelson restored this past summer.

She also has keys to the old Delavan High School, donated by local historian Gordon Yadon. The school is the subject of a book Nelson expects to publish this winter - Delavan High School: Beginning in 1875, the End in 1957 and In Between.

Nelson, who graduated from the high school in 1953, plans to include many pictures. She said it will be similar to a big school annual.

"I have the treasures from the town, especially the school," Nelson added. " I want it (the book) out because it will be exactly 50 years since classes ended at Delavan High School. My baby sister, Betty, was in the last graduating class (in 1957)."

There is also a large cupboard of just Delavan items on display, such as a LaDelavan cigar factory box. She also has a Utiger Office Supply typewriter in a wooden case from 1892.

A large closet contains what Nelson calls a doctor's office. In it is Dr. Jacobson's chair that the collector sat in as a little girl. She also has glasses made for local residents from Dr. Greenburg's office and a couple of others from Littlefield and Son. A rare, early edition paperback book from Briggs Drug Store in Delavan can be found on display and there is clothing from the Bradley Knitting Mill.

Nelson also has a circus history room, a schoolroom with an old desk and memorabilia, dolls and dolly dish collection with a featured tea party, some very old ornaments in the Christmas corner, old advertising signs in one bathroom and a music corner.

The music area is of special significance to Nelson, since much of her life has involved piano and organ playing in Methodist churches during the various school district stops with her late husband. She still enjoys playing the recently restored baby grand piano in her living room that she received as a Mother's Day present many years ago from her husband while they were in Skokie, Ill.

Nelson has her oboe instrument on display along with the music she played in the Delavan High School Band. In fact, she was so talented she earned a music scholarship to Milton College, but chose to major in marriage instead.

At the current time, Nelson said interested people can see her treasured antiques by appointment. She can be contacted at (262) 728-7061. In addition, sometime next spring she plans to have some regular open hours at her museum-home.

Her eventual desire is to offer the extensive collection of antiques to the city of Delavan for display. Nelson has broached that idea with one of the aldermen, Ryan Schroeder, who she said seemed receptive.

Until then, she will continue living happily in her unique museum.

The author, a former editor of The Week, spends summers in Walworth County.





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