Just days before being displayed in the Witwen Fourth of July parade the Sauk County Historical Society received a replica of its headquarters building which will be used for promotional purposes.
In 2004, Society President, Paul Wolter submitted blueprints of the Van Orden Mansion, the Society’s headquarters, to the Waupun Correctional Institution. He had learned of their WCI Toy Project and hoped they could recreate, in miniature, the Van Orden Mansion.
The Society heard nothing for two years until a friend of Board member Bill Schuette, who was a guard at the prison, mentioned that the project was, indeed, proceeding. In 2006, Wolter, Schuette, and Peter Shrake visited the prison and were impressed by the scope and detail that the partially finished miniature was evolving into.
Finally, in the spring of 2008, the Society received a call that the project was completed and it could be picked up. Wolter and Schuette went to get the miniature, passing through several levels of security to enter the prison. Once inside, they met the staff responsible for the Toy Project, Amy Reid, Education Director and Jim Wimberger, Building, Maintenance and Construction Instructor.
Over the past four years the mansion was constructed, four inmates have worked on it exclusively putting in countless community service hours.
“The philosophy of the Toy Project is to benefit community nonprofit organizations by donating various wooden toys/items for their organization’s fund raising events, and to promote a more positive and interactive relationship between the community and the institution,” notes a statement on the institution’s web site.“Communities need to understand the abilities of inmates and to recognize that the Department of Corrections is providing work positions that teach skills to inmates, which may be used upon their reintegration into the community. Items can be donated to local nonprofit organizations for fund raising events or can be purchased by anyone visiting the institution. The profit from these sales is returned to the program for supplies, equipment and equipment repair. The project employs around 20 inmates.
“This program has a twofold purpose. First, it has significant rehabilitative goals. Not only does it keep inmates occupied in a productive manner, but it also teaches skills, which provide a means of employment or leisure time activity upon release. Second, it provides a community service, while also providing wooden toys for the underprivileged children in the community.
“Items produced are useful objects such as toys, rocking horses, rocking motorcycles, Noah’s Arks, walking sticks, tables, chairs, etc., and pieces of art. Many of the items are donated and other organizations purchase items to be used in their fund raising events.”
The mansion replica measures three and a half by five feet and consists of six sections. It was constructed from surplus materials, which were donated to the prison. Much of the wood is recycled from pallets, the carpets are remnants, the wallpaper is from sample catalogues, and other details such as fixtures, shingles, and exterior segments of the structure, were all hand-made by the inmates.