of the Peninsula Belgian American Club
History of Belgian Settlement
School in Namur (Club House)
In the News
dans les deux langues!
Photo at King's Palace in Brussels
Keeping Belgian Heritage Alive
(written by Mary Chaudoir)
A new day may be dawning...(Door County Advocate)
History of the Peninsula
The Peninsula Belgian-American Club was started for the first time on
July 6, 1964. Officers were Kenneth DeDecker, President; Harry Swoboda,
Vice President; Wallace Charles, Secretary; and Leonard Lampereur,
Treasurer. After a period of time the group became inactive.
In 1968, several people approached Harry
Chaudoir about re-organizing the club. Officers for this newly formed
club were Harry Chaudoir, President; Austin Allard, Vice President; Laurence Chaudoir, Secretary; and Leonard Lampereur, Treasurer. The club
began their first year with 12 to 20 members with the purpose of
honoring their forefathers, to salute their efforts and recreate that
era in history when good fellowship was prime, to promote social and
charitable functions, and to communicate and assist all incorporated
Belgian Clubs that included Canada and Belgium.
Other people who filled the position of
Secretary after Laurence Chaudoir were Irene Conard, Grace Lemense and
Mary Ann Defnet. After Leonard Lampereur, the position of Secretary and
Treasurer was combined and filled by Elmer DeDecker in 1977.
After Austin Allard passed away, Louis
DeJardin and then James Lampereur filled the position of Vice President.
In 1972 Harry met Dr. Joseph Binnard, a
doctor in Manitowoc and with his help, the first trip to Belgium was
started. At that time they had about 150 members in the club. During
their first trip they ended up in the Flemish sector of Belgium. Of
course, their Walloon friends wanted to know why they were not staying
with them. So, in 1974 with the help of Lucien Leonard of Namur, Belgium
the club went on their second trip to Namur. The Walloon people were
overjoyed to see them and they were all excited about meeting their
relatives for the first time. They had about 170 members on this trip
that was organized by Austin Allard and Harry Chaudoir. Their number
increased to 180 for the 1976 tour.
The Peninsula Belgian-American Club
members went to Belgium in 1972 and 1974. The Belgians started coming to
the U.S. for the first time in 1975 with approximately 200 people,
making it necessary for them to travel on two planes. Mr. Lucien Leonard
was the first President of the Wisconsin-Wallonie Club and he also
organized the trips to Wisconsin with his officers. This tradition of
biennial visits continues until the present day.
Present officers are Harry
Chaudoir, President; James Lampereur, Vice President; and Kim Potier
Davis, Secretary-Treasurer who took over from Elmer DeDecker in
of The Belgian Settlement
(Excerpts from The History of Our
Belgian Settlement in Door, Kewaunee and Brown Counties by Math Tlachac)
Between Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay,
Wisconsin is a
region along the bay which is populated almost exclusively by people of
Belgian origin. It is the largest rural settlement of people of this
nationality in the United States and covers an area 20 miles wide and 50
Four generations of Belgian people have
lived and toiled there since this land was reclaimed from the wilderness
and up to three decades ago there were a few old men and women who
remembered how this region appeared when they and their parents
penetrated into the vast primeval forest to start a new life.
The first Belgian known to penetrate this
region was Father Louis Hennepin, a missionary who was born in Ath in
the province of Hainault, Belgium. He came to America in 1675 and took a
prominent part in exploring this region. As he traveled by canoe on the
waters of Green Bay he stopped at a site where the Village of
Dyckesville now stands. Upon recall to his native country, not a Belgian
set foot in this region for almost 175 years.
In order to better understand what
motivated the Belgians to leave their mother country for the New World,
we must turn back the pages of time to the year, 1853. We are in the
province of Brabant, which is located in the center of Belgium from
which the first emigrants came. It was a crowded and thickly populated
In the early part of 1853, a young and
small farmer by the name of Francois Petiniot from the commune of "Grez-Doiceau"
made a trip to the City of Antwerp to transact business.
Upon reaching his destination Petiniot
was thirsty and sought an inn. Stopping in, he ordered a glass of beer
to quench his thirst. While sitting at a table sipping his beer he spied
a pamphlet on another table nearby.
While reading the pamphlet, he became
extremely interested in what it said. It told of the fertile land in
America which stretched for hundreds of miles with no one living on it;
all of this land was awaiting the settlement of the white man. When
Petiniot read that this land could be purchased from the American
government for $1.25 an acre, his interest was aroused to a high pitch.
To own land to cultivate it, plant it and reap the harvest for himself
was the most coveted hope of most every European peasant for centuries.
To get a share of this rich land in America became the dominant hope of
most rural Europeans who heard about it. Then he folded the pamphlet and
tucked it into his pocket.
Petiniot headed for home filled with a
burning desire to eventually own some of the cheap land in America. In
the New World he could obtain a hundred times as much land for the price
of his few hektar in Belgium.
Soon Petiniot spread the word amongst his
neighbors in the commune of "Grez-Doiceau" and it became the subject
of discussion. Within a few days some were talking about the
advisability of emigrating to America. All one could hear in the commune
of "Grez-Doiceau" was talk of America, the cheap land, the
opportunity of the New World and freedom which it offered to newcomers.
Nine of Petiniot's neighbors emigrated to
America, leaving their home land where human roots went down deep into
the land of their forefathers. These nine farmers sold their homes and
land and with the proceeds took a chance on fortune's gifts in
On May 18, 1853, the vessel
sails were hoisted and the creaking ship slowly moved out of the harbor,
making its way into the North Sea. As it did so, men, women and children
stood on deck watching the receding shore line, some with heavy hearts
at the thought of leaving the home of their birth. By
leaving their homeland they became the predecessors of more than 15,000
Belgians who came the following 10 years.
Erected 1993 in Namur, Wisconsin
Dedicated July 9, 1994
"Wisconsin's and the nation's largest Belgian American settlement is
located in portions of Brown, Kewaunee and Door counties adjacent to the
waters of Green Bay. Walloon-speaking Belgians settled the region in the
1850s and still constitute a high proportion of the population. A variety
of elements attests to the Belgian American presence: place names
(Brussels, Namur, Rosiere, Luxemburg), a local French patois, common
surnames, unique foods (booyah, trippe, jutt), the Kermiss harvest
festival, and especially architecture. Many of the original wooden
structures of the Belgian Americans were destroyed in a firestorm that
swept across southern Door County in October 1871. A few stone houses made
of local dolomite survived. More common are 1880s red brick houses,
distinguished by modest size and gable-end, bull's-eye windows. Some
houses have detached summer kitchens with bake ovens appended to the rear.
And the Belgians, many of them devout Catholics, also erected small
roadside votive chapels like those in their homeland."
(Club House) in Namur, Wisconsin
During the summer of 1889, the trustees of
the school district in the Town of Union, Door County, Wisconsin applied for a
teacher. They had just completed a new one-room building and
proposed having the Sisters live at the rectory as there was no
resident priest; the place was at this time a mission of Rosiere.
Sister Claire was
appointed for this school and as she needed a Door County Certificate
she went to Sturgeon Bay in September and wrote the examinations at
the County Superintendent's office. This certificate is dated
September 14, 1889.
Sister Claire was
accompanied by Sister Pius and they stayed for two days at the Hahn
Hotel, the proprietor and his family being friends of the Sisters.
They returned to Green Bay by boat as there was no railroad at this
time. Some time later one of the church trustees called at the
convent to inform the Sisters that the house was now ready....
Sisters Pauline and
Claire were accompanied by Miss Elise, a former French housekeeper who
at the time was making her home at the convent and who would teach
French in the parochial school. This was a room which had been built
adjoining the sacristy of the church.
On their arrival the
Sisters found the following furniture: 2 home-made tables, 3
beds, 6 chairs, 1 box stove, 1 cooking stove, 1 wash basin and a few
dishes including a coffee pot. The pillows and mattress of one
bed were made of cat-tails which had been made of the ripened spike of
a marsh plant. There was scarcely anything for bed clothes.
The second floor was
one room with a rough board partition about four feet high extending
across the middle of the room to the stairway making it resemble the
stalls in a stable.
A few days later,
October 2, the two schools began. The teacher's contract for
eight months was signed by Sister Claire and the District officers on
October 19, 1889.
The school room had new
slate blackboards and during the next few weeks, new furniture was
bought, including desks, physiology and reading charts, maps, and a
box of mathematical blocks. Toward the end of the spring term
the school board decided to continue the school for another month.
They paid the teacher thirty dollars per month.
Many of the school
children, not only the beginners but first and second grade pupils
could neither speak nor understand English. Their former teacher
spoke Belgian to them in school when he found it difficult for them to
The beginners in the
parochial school had as much difficulty in learning French. When
Miss Elise tried to teach syllables from their French primer, they
would look at her and repeat; and when she said "Regardez votre
livre" ("Look at your book"), they repeated that also.
Some weeks later Rev.
Charles Vanier was appointed to take charge of this parish. At
first he resided at Rosiere but later had a sleeping room at Evrards'
the next house and had his meals at the Sisters. He also
attended the missions at St. Francis, Brussels and St. John Baptist
and St. Joseph at Little Sturgeon.
During March 1890 there
was an epidemic of flu and Miss Elise became sick and died without the
last sacraments while Rev. Vanier was at Little Sturgeon....Her
remains rest in the cemetery near St. Marie ad Nives under a cross
marked Sister Elizabeth. Sister
Pauline then taught in the Parochial school.
The next summer Sister
Claire went to the Teachers' examination at Forestville to write on
the subjects for a second-grade certificate. This certificate is
dated August 12, 1891.
Sister Pauline taught
in the parochial school and Sister Elizabeth (not Miss Elise) was the
housekeeper. During the summer of 1891 it was voted to hire an
assistant teacher for four months in the winter. As there was no
Sister who could be spared, a lay teacher was hired. The fall
term began September 15, 1891 and the contract was signed October 11.
Arrangements were made with the church trustees to have the assistant
teacher use the parochial class room for the primary grades.
During Lent of 1892
Stations of the Cross took place Friday after school. A fire was
made at noon in the box stove which heated the church. Some wood
on the floor near by caught on fire but this was not discovered for
some time and had then gained such headway that the frame building
both church and school soon burned to the ground. The vestments,
candlesticks and sacred vessels were saved but it was with difficulty
that the rectory where the Sisters lived was saved.
For the rest of the
winter term the two teachers for the district taught in the same room.
Sister Pauline had classes for the parochial children on the second
floor of the rectory and church services were held in the public
Friday afternoon a
clothes basket with the necessary articles was brought to the school.
Sister Claire with the help of a few pupils put up a temporary altar
covering the rough boards with sheets before putting on the altar
cloths, candles, etc. and this continued for the remainder of the
As the teacher had the
sweeping of the school and the yard and roads were often very muddy it
was no easy task to have the room in order for Monday morning.
The pastor and trustees
at once made plans for a new church which was blessed by Bishop
In August 1893 it was
decided to give up the District School but there was some difficulty
in finding a teacher so the same Sisters returned and Sister Claire
signed a contract on Sept. 4, 1893, to teach for three months.
School began the next day. About this time Rev. C. Vanier was
transferred and in November Very Rev. B. Pennings and Brother
Servatius arrived from Holland.
Sister Claire returned
to Bay Settlement with Mr. P. Jennings, Dec. 4, 1893, but the other
Sisters remained. Sister Pauline stayed there until 1895 when
she went to Ahnapee and Sister Angela went to Delwiche.
The farmers in the
parish had no funds for a new school but eventually they contributed
sacks of grain according to their means. These were sold and the
proceeds used to build a new school and convent in 1894. As might be
expected it was constructed along the lines of a simple farmhouse,
although a slight touch of distinction is found in the front door with
its curved panels and transom. The doors are very narrow as
though to make amends for this bit of extravagance.
Four rooms on the first
floor were used as a school room, a living room, a dining room and a
kitchen. The second floor was one large room used as a dormitory
for both Sisters and those children who lived such distances away they
could not return home for the night. Approximately two dozen
children were enrolled.
The school was
discontinued in 1925. For many years it was vacant and falling
into disrepair but in 1956 the Bishop gave it to the Belgian-American
Club. George Baudhuin gave $4,000 to pay the cost of moving it a
short distance to its present location and a few basic repairs.
The Club uses it as its headquarters. The interior has not been
altered in any way except to provide modern cooking and other
facilities. Eventually it may become a museum of Belgian history
and culture. When the building was moved, Ralph Baudhuin
contributed a supply of paint, and ten years later the previously
white school was painted yellow, Belgium's national color.
DOOR COUNTY ADVOCATE
Tuesday, August 27, 2002
recent trip to Belgium, Door County residents celebrated their
heritage with their European cousins at Bellevue Museum, which
focuses on cultural exchanges between Walloon Belgians and their
American relations. Participating in a state dinner at the museum
are, from left, Kim Potier Davis, Secretary-Treasurer, Peninsula
Belgian-American Club; Jacqueline Jacqmot, secretary, Wallonie-Wisconsin;
Baron Herman Vanden Berghe, president, King Baudouin Foundation,
which manages the museum; Harry Chaudoir Jr., president, PBAC, who
was knighted for his work to preserve the Walloon culture, Luc
Tayart de Borms, finance administrator, KBF; Jacques Jacqmot,
DOOR COUNTY ADVOCATE
by Mary Chaudoir
(Special to the Advocate)
Friday, August 16, 2002
by Ruth Ott
Advocate Staff Reporter
New day may be dawning for
Longtime member elated to turn over
office to another generation
Sturgeon Bay, WI,
December 27, 2000......It was a
relatively simple changing of the guard for the Belgian-American Club of
Door County, but a meaningful and symbolic one for the older generation
member who passed the torch.
Elmer DeDecker, 75, turned over the position of club
secretary-treasurer to a young Belgian-American woman, Kim Davis, 42, in
October. The change gives DeDecker new hope for the future of the club,
and along with it hope that the areas Belgian traditions will live on
with the younger generation.
DeDecker had held
the office for the past 23 years. He has been a member of the club since
it began in 1960. His concern is that, as the membership of the club
ages, its Belgian traditions, Walloon language and cultural history may
all be lost. Davis, a Sturgeon
Bay resident, had been working on her family's genealogy when she met
DeDecker. Davis said DeDecker persuaded her to join the club and
accompany him and other members on a recent, biannual trip to the home
Davis' research motivated
her to accept the invitation. While in Belgium,
Davis met some of her distant relatives, including a cousin who she had
contacted over the internet. She returned in
September with renewed interest in her Belgian heritage and accepted the
position of secretary-treasurer of the local Belgian-American Club the
next month. Davis, who also
works with the Door County Historical Society said she loved the trip to
Belgium, but she also sees the club as having the potential to do other
things - one of which is to preserve the life histories of the people. "The members
of the club have so many interesting stories," she said. "I
just wish I could get some of them on tape before they are lost." Still, the trips
to Belgium - and alternating-year visits from Belgians to America -
comprise an important part of the club's activities, Davis said. Organized as
an informal cultural exchange program, the Americans go to Belgium one
year, and the next year the Belgians come to visit the Americans. According to
DeDecker and his wife, Florence, the exchanges make for some interesting
vacations. The trips were
started in 1972 by Dr. Joseph Barnard, a physician of Belgian descent
who had a practice in Manitowoc. He organized the first trip when he
discovered a community of Belgians in Door County who spoke his native
dialect of Walloon. Walloon is spoken
in the southern part of Belgium near the French border, and Flemish is
spoken in the northern part of that country, Elmer said. "Walloon
sounds a lot like French," he added. Elmer and Florence DeDecker
both speak Walloon, which they learned from their parents. It helped
them communicate when they traveled to Belgium that first time 28 years
ago, along with 112 other people. Florence told of a
memorable experience she had on that first excursion. On that first
trip, everyone stayed at a large vacation home with housekeeping units.
On subsequent visits, they have stayed with friends and relatives,
trimming the cost of the trip, Elmer said. On Elmer's first
visit, he was most surprised by the way the houses were built.
Florence said she
was surprised to see that all the highways were lighted. Elmer mentioned
the Belgian pies. "They are a lot bigger over there," he
said, holding out his hands to display their size, like a man measuring
a fish. A photo in the
couple's album showed a celebration dinner. The pies are indeed larger
than those found around Door County. The first trip was
so successful, the group went on a second one the following year.
Elmer said that
after the second trip to Belgium, the Americans told their newfound
relatives: "We came here twice; now it's your turn to come and
Over the course of
the years, the Americans took the Belgians to see the sights:
Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Niagara
take them to Canada next time," Elmer said. What did the
Belgians think of America when they first visited?
couldn't believe we had such wide-open spaces," said Elmer.
heavily populated," he added. "In town, their houses touch
each other. Even in the country, everything is close together. You could
fit 3-1/2 Belgiums into Wisconsin. It's a tiny country."
Elmer went to get
a map of Belgium and pointed to a tiny country bordered by Germany,
France, the Netherlands and the North Sea. This proximity to
other European countries has made it convenient for the American
visitors to take side trips, too. The couple flipped
through pages of their photo albums, relating memories of 14 trips to
Belgium and subsequent side trips to France, Italy, Germany, Austria,
Holland and Switzerland. We learn different
ways of cooking on our trips," said Florence. "And every home
in Belgium has a wine cellar. They have beautiful grapes to make wine.
And, oh, the gardens! What beautiful flowers!"
Of the many trips
to Belgium, one stands out from the rest. On the trip in 1986, Elmer
received a very unusual honor. The nations' monarch - then King
Beaudoin - knighted the Door County native. The distinction
was in appreciation for Elmer's efforts, as an officer of the
Belgian-American Club, in "furthering close ties between Belgium
and the United States."
Elmer has the
pictures, the medal, the certificate - written in Belgian - and the
memories to prove it. As husband and
wife mention names of people and towns, it's hard to tell if they're
talking about Belgium or Door County: Brussels, Namur, Luxemburg,
Rosiere; Chaudoir, Jeanquart, Neuville, Pichette. The names of settlers
and settlements in both Door County and Europe tell of Belgians who came
to America generations ago, yet who wanted to remember their homeland.
generations become more forgetful of their Belgian heritage, Elmer
worries that the old traditions - like "kermiss" parties - and
the Belgian-American Club itself are "going to come to an
He flips through
his membership cards, which shows more than half of the members have
passed away. Not too many young
people are interested in their Belgian heritage, or speak Walloon
anymore, said Elmer - not even his own children.
If anyone would be interested in Belgian heritage,
you could expect it to be the children of someone who was knighted by
the king of Belgium. But Elmer said that none of his three children has
ever gone to Belgium or takes much of an interest in the subject - which
explains why Elmer was so glad to welcome Davis to the club and to pass
the torch on to the newest, youngest member.
"I wish more young people would joint he
club," Davis said. "if more people knew about it, it would
make a difference."
Davis hopes to make more people aware of the club,
and one way may be by putting together a Web page. Then, information can
be posted to a wider audience and Belgians and Americans can communicate
even more freely than before.
Over the Internet, Belgians may find Brussels,
Belgium, just as close as Brussels, Wisconsin.
With the new ideas that Davis will bring to the club,
it may pick up enough speed to carry it well into the 21st century. And
that would make Elmer DeDecker very happy.