Celebrate the City’s Sesquicentennial Throughout 2023
A lot can happen in 150 years. And, a lot has in the Fox Cities. But the collective of the area starts with its separate parts: the several cities and communities that make it up.
The city has been an incorporated community since March 13, 1873. This year, marking its sesquicentennial, is proving that it’s the people who make up the community—their heart and commitment to bettering the city—that creates the celebration. And such dedication began right from the start.
“In one word it’s inspiring,” Mayor Jane B. Lang says. “There are so many stories. These people contributed in such a positive way and left such a positive legacy for us to learn from and continue.
“I just love that we have example after example of people who are giving back so much to the community. I also love the whole aspect of Neenah being a center for creativity and innovation because we really are.”
Mayor Lang, a lifelong resident of Neenah and the Executive Director of the historical society for 10 years prior to her election, has a unique view of the city’s history.
“It has grown dramatically. Sometimes things ebb and flow, but I think our downtown has been vibrant and full of activity, and really a hub and center of activity from the earliest days,” she says.
“One of the things that I really wanted to work hard on at the historical society is making sure that we’re recognizing our Native American history. We are not the first people of European descent, we’re not the first people here. The people who had lived here for centuries and centuries before that were also making this their home and contributing to this area in a positive way.”
The City of Neenah is doing so by remembering the past, and incorporating a Native American presence currently. Signs and audio components honoring Native Americans at the lakeshore are in place. Lang remembers how their Annual Inter-Tribal Pow Wow came about:
“Alan Caldwell and his wife happened to come to a historical society presentation that was on Native American History,” she says. “He was responsible for writing Act 31, which requires that you teach Native American history in all public schools in the state. He was very, very active and well-known throughout the state.”
It’s also not entirely new for the City of Neenah to have a progressive view on its small part of the world.
“We have so many wonderful multinational companies that have started here. And that doesn’t just happen!” Mayor Lang exclaims. “We’ve always been an open and friendly and business-friendly community. We embrace new ideas and welcome innovation and change. That creates an environment for people where they make a difference in so many ways. So many amazing products have come out of this community.
“Kimberly Clark, of course; Neenah Foundry and the Aylward family; Plexus. It’s interesting, the Bergstrom family has had such an impact on this community for so many generations. That’s not a new thing for them. I love that. We’re so fortunate to have a multigenerational commitment to the city of Neenah.”
The city has also been on the front lines of many progressive notions, including the right for women to vote.
“Neenah had such an early history of people fighting for women’s right to vote, and the really progressive thought about how men and women should be working together for the betterment of the community. It dates back to the 1800s.
Marigen Carpenter—the first woman mayor of the city of Neenah, and the longest serving mayor in the city—was elected the year I graduated from high school. I never ever had in my mind that a woman can’t be the mayor. It never occurred to me because she did.
“Brilliant people from this community have contributed to the world in a positive way.”
Celebrate Throughout 2023!
June 10: History Bike Tour
June 22: Art after Dark
Celebrate 150 years of Neenah, home of the Bergstrom Mahler museum! Take in the stunning art in their galleries while you enjoy music, refreshments and fun on beautiful Lake Winnebago. (Galleries and shops will be open late.)
“What’s really great is connecting with people who are really creative,” Mayor Lang says. “Barrel 41 Brewing Company and Lion’s Tail Brewing Co. are brewing 150th brews. There’s going to be a competition where they’ll both be at Bergstrom Mahler where you can vote for your favorite one… They’re researching what was being brewed in the past and trying to create something that would have been a part of something like this back then. It is so fun!”
July 1: Community Fest Float & Fireworks
The CommunityFest Float will be created by the 150th committee and volunteers to celebrate the city’s birthday—the float will be making its debut in the Memorial Day parade and will also be in this year’s Labor Day parade. The design for the float was created by Neenah High School students. The fireworks show for July 4 will be enhanced to add to this year of celebration honoring the 150th Anniversary.
August 23: Community Party in the Street
The community party in the street on August 23 is an opportunity to partner with our friends at Future Neenah who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. The Future Neenah end-of-the summer event featuring Boogie and the Yo-os, will also allow Neenah’s 150th committee to have the chance to officially hand the reins over to the City of Menasha as they begin to organize for their community’s Sesquicentennial in 2024.
September: Annual Native American Inter-Tribal Pow Wow
For specifics and updated information about upcoming events, visit www.ci.neenah.wi.us/150-year-celebration
Putting the Fun in Neenah
Happy 40th Anniversary, Future Neenah!
If you’ve experienced a holiday celebration, parade, fun run or any other community event, it’s likely you’ve experienced what Future Neenah is best known for.
The nonprofit, incorporated on April 27, 1983, admittedly has an end goal.
“The end goal in all Future Neenah’s projects, programs and events is to contribute to the quality of life in the Greater Neenah Area by promoting cultural and economic vitality,” Brent Bowman, Executive Director, says. “Future Neenah’s services and programs fall into three main categories: Economic Development, Community Partnerships, Community Events.”
Bowman explains that the original objective was downtown revitalization, but in the early 1990s began including the Greater Neenah community.
“Still today we support the central city as the administrative arm for the Downtown Neenah Business Improvement District. We’re putting the fun in Neenah!”
Examples include “Our Very Neenah Christmas,” the Future Neenah Farmers Market, “Relaunch the Rocket,” “Neenah Riverwalk Shattuck Park” and “Navigate Neenah-Menasha Little Lake Trestle Loop.”
“We exist to provide support for the community and are supported by the community (you!),” Bowman says. “We bring the community together to celebrate—celebrate music, celebrate art, celebrate local business, celebrate food and celebrate the seasons,” Bowman says. “As an organization, it is Future Neenah’s goal to make Neenah a wonderful place to shop, dine, play, live and work. Future Neenah strives to make Neenah a place that’s unequaled, unforgettable, and unequaled whether you’re here as a guest to one of our many community events, here to do business, or a resident who is here daily.”
Stay tuned for Menasha’s Celebration(s) in 2024
“Menasha has a rich history serving as the foundation for who we currently are and the direction we are going. We want to celebrate where we came from, who we are and where we are headed for the next 150 years!” Mayor Donald Merkes says. “This (will be) a major milestone for the City.
“We’re looking at events that involve the entire community and partner with entities that are active in Menasha. Look for opportunities to learn about Menasha’s history but also to envision the Menasha of the future. We plan to highlight the businesses, people and groups that make Menasha what it is today and will help mold the future of the community.”
“We share so much history,” Lang adds. “It seems like two very separate communities but not in my mind: ‘Two Cities, One Community.’”