By Linda Scherer
When Bernadette (Bernie) Libor was playing cards in the Vollmer Room at Winsted City Hall during a senior get-together last fall, she noticed there weren’t any pictures hanging on the walls.
Then she remembered she had the perfect picture for the new community room at home, she just had to find it.
It wouldn’t be an easy task because it meant looking through several boxes of antique glass negatives which had been given to her and her late-husband, Lawrence, more than 40 years ago, by their neighbor Rufo (Rutherford) Vollmer.
Although the Libors hadn’t known it at the time, Rufo was one of three sons of Felton Vollmer, who had been Winsted’s first mayor and a community leader before and after the city was incorporated in 1887. That was why the community room was named after him.
By the time the Libors had moved next door to the Vollmers in 1956, Rufo, and his wife, May, were approaching their 80s, didn’t appear to have much money, and not many visitors. They didn’t have any children, according to Bernie.
“He (Rufo) kept to himself. He didn’t do a lot of talking,” Bernie said. “He was a quiet person. His wife would come and visit with me, though.”
When the Vollmer stove would go out during the night because the fuel oil would gel, Lawrence was the one who Rufo would call. And, when the couple needed errands run, Libors’ two older children, Larry and Cathy, offered assistance to the couple.
When May died, Rufo lived in his home alone for several years with the help of his wife’s sister, who would come to clean his house, and help him, according to Bernie.
But eventually, the time came when he knew he had to make plans to move in to St. Mary’s nursing home, about 1965, and he began to clean his house and give away his possessions.
He gave Cathy, the Libors’ oldest daughter, a rocking chair for always running errands for him.
She still has it and calls it her “Vollmer rocker,” according to Bernie.
After Rufo’s home was sold, he still had several things he wasn’t able to get rid of, so Lawrence offered to let him store his things in the Libors’ garage.
Rufo told Lawrence that he could “throw it away or keep it,” Bernie said.
So Lawrence piled Rufo’s belongings, which included, among other things, 15 boxes of antique glass negatives, on a shelf in the garage.
“He (Lawrence) wouldn’t get rid of anything,” Bernie said.
“He would say he might be able to use it again sometime.”
Rufo remained at St. Mary’s until he died at age 98. Lawrence went to visit him there several times, but Bernie never talked to him again, and the glass negatives were forgotten on the shelf in the garage for many years.
It was when the Winsted Centennial committee began looking for photos for a book they were putting together on Winsted history, that Bernie remembered the negatives and offered them to Rosanne Hertel, who was one of the committee members.
When the Winsted Centennial Book was completed in 1987, several of Rufo’s glass negatives had been reproduced, providing many historical pictures of Winsted, back to the late 1880s and early 1900s.
Again, for several years after Winsted’s centennial, the negatives were put away, this time with more care, because Bernie was aware of their value and had now learned about Rufo’s family history.
When the new city hall was completed in 2008, Bernie offered the glass negatives to the City of Winsted. Several of Rufo’s glass negatives were used to reproduce photos that now hang in the lobby of the new city hall.
Of the 15 boxes of glass negatives, with about a dozen negatives to a box, the most recognizable are the ones of historical buildings like the Winsted Roller Mill, the historic city hall, the old schoolhouse, and the old Citizens State Bank building.
Other negatives were of early street scenes, parades, and old-time threshing scenes.
Bernie guessed that some of the scenes may be of Europe because of the ornate buildings and the size of the ships.
And, there are several negatives of people which haven’t been reproduced yet.
Even when holding the negatives up to the light, it is difficult to decipher the people in the photos, but Bernie thought she recognized Felton Vollmer and brought two of the negatives to the Herald Journal to be enlarged and printed so she could get a better look.
Her time wasn’t wasted. Both photos were of Felton Vollmer. One with his wife and children was clear, and unscratched.
The second negative was reproduced which Bernie thinks may be Felton with his mother, brother, and sister.
The photos have been offered to the city and Bernie hopes they will be matted, framed, and hung in the Vollmer Room.
She had also thought she recognized a glass negative of Rufo Vollmer in a classroom when he was teaching. When the negative was enlarged, she confirmed it.
“He (Rufo) was a banker and a teacher, but I don’t know in what order,” she said. “He also worked at the creamery, in the lab, but I don’t know for how long.”
Bernie would like to see all of the negatives printed so the pictures can be enlarged to see if they are something that the City of Winsted might be interested in keeping. Otherwise, Bernie will probably offer them to the McLeod County Historical Society.
Rufo’s collection of license plates and his tools, which had been kept by the Libors for some time, have already been donated to the McLeod County Historical Society.
Bernie has kept several books given to Lawrence as gifts by Rufo, and his Panama and derby hats.
She found it interesting that the initials inside the hats were CRV, and is wondering if Rufo was really his first name or just one he chose to use.
Who is Felton Vollmer?
Felton Vollmer became the first mayor of Winsted in 1887, and served for 19 consecutive years. He also served as mayor for an additional three years, from 1913-15.
He held various local offices including town supervisor for three terms, justice of the peace for four years, and served on the school board for 25 years.
He married his wife, Hattie Cosby, Nov. 28, 1871, in Northfield. They had five children, Rufo (Rutherford), Ada (Mrs. Ponsford), Roy, Robert, and Meda, an older daughter, who died Feb. 13, 1878.
Hattie died Dec. 19, 1915, and Felton died 20 years later. They are both buried in the Winsted Cemetery.
Libor family history
Bernie has lived in Winsted her entire life. She is the daughter of Frank and Dora (Sherman) Stifter, and grew up about a mile north of Sherman station.
She met her husband, Lawrence, originally from Delano, while he was working in Winsted.
He was employed by Pure Milk for 45 years, where he retired as a superintendent in the cheese plant.
The couple have four children: Larry, Cathy, Barb, and Jim; seven grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.
Lawrence died in December 1999.