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De Pere event to celebrate history in Wilson Park

Gettysburg Address plaque
The park is currently home to two swing sets, about three dozen trees, and the two memorials – one is a weeping crabapple tree planted in honor of St. Norbert College student Jessica Martin, who died suddenly in 2004, and a century-old concrete-and-bronze Gettysburg Address plaque. Kris Leonhardt photo

By Maddie Martin

Contributing Writer

DEPERE — On Oct. 8, the De Pere Historical Society will celebrate the 160th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address at historic Wilson Park.

The event will highlight the history of the park, possible plans for the future, as well as lesser-known history regarding De Pere’s involvement in the Civil War.

“We wanted to highlight the history of this particular park” says Joe Nicks, West De Pere resident and long-time advocate for the improvement of Wilson Park.

The park, which was transformed from a school in the 1920s, is the home of a near 108-year-old plaque displaying the Gettysburg Address, Nicks explained.

The plaque was donated by former De Pere School Board Member and U.S. Representative James Hughes Jr. in 1916.

Nicks explained that although De Pere was very small at the time, there were over 90 soldiers from the city involved in the Civil War.

Included among these soldiers, was a military unit called the “De Pere Rifles.”

“They were in a lot of big battles, and they had a good reputation for bravery in the Civil War,” Nicks  said. “We don’t have anything in the city to honor that, so we’re going to do that [at the event].”

Nicks said that the event recognizes both De Pere’s involvement in the war and the history of the park, which may build interest in park improvements.

A passive-design concept was recently approved by the De Pere Park Commissioners, which includes a gravel walkway throughout the park, as well as resting knolls, a garden and hammock stands.

“[We want to get] a little bit of enthusiasm about a sad old park and turning it into something that would be useful,” Nicks stated.

The event will include an overview of the history of Wilson Park given by McKim Boyd, president of the Depere Historical Society.

Jim Hughes, grandson of James Hughes Jr., will also take some time to talk about his grandfather and his place in De Pere’s history.

The West Depere High School forensics team will do a reading of the Gettysburg Address, followed by the names of the De Pere residents who served in the Civil War.

The event will take place at Wilson Park in De Pere on Oct. 8 at 2 p.m.

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