MAHASKA COUNTY — Thanks to a generous donation by Vernie Wells, the genealogy library at Nelson Pioneer Farm has been transformed.

Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator and Administrator Margaret Spiegel said the museum building, built in the 1960s, was “built like a bunker.” The library is housed on the concrete second floor of the building.

Nothing much had been done to the library since probably the mid-80s, Spiegel said, and it needed some work.

“Vernie Wells made a donation, designated for the museum building,” she said. “We identified the need as the genealogy library and we did a refresh.”

The ceiling, walls and floor were repainted; harsh industrial lights were replaced with LEDs. The furniture was deep cleaned and moved around. Shelving units were repainted to make everything look cohesive. A reading nook was added, and some space was added for collections.

Mahaska County Historical Society President John Jacobs said he recently visited Wells.

“He pulls out his checkbook,” Jacobs said. “I thought ‘oh he’s going to renew his [historical society] membership.’ And he hands me a check and I looked at it and $5,000, wow! Vernie!”

Wells said he didn’t miss it.

“A man told me ‘the money you give away, you never miss it,’” he said. “I’ve been blessed.”

Joan VandeWeerdhof has been the Nelson genealogy librarian for a decade. Some of the records in the possession of the library include probate books, district court books and family histories, as well as intentions to naturalize.

Spiegel said the library has seen an uptick in use.

“We get a lot of requests from folks out of state for the library and Joan [VandeWeerdhof] does the research for them, but that is an option,” she said. “We’re going to experiment with hours next year to try to see if we can’t tap into the fact that peoples’ schedules are different than what our open hours are.”

VandeWeerdhof said she likes history and she enjoys digging around for information.

“I’m really interested in early American history,” she said. “That’s how I got started out here.”

Jacobs said a lot of people put a lot of work into the library refresh.

“If you can believe it, everything was moved out and painted and moved back and sorted and put back together. As you can tell, that was not a small job,” he said. “I hate to start mentioning names but I want to make sure that they get credit for what’s here. And Vernie, again. Vernie, thank you so much for what you did for us. Appreciate it very much.”

The genealogy library is something the citizens of Mahaska County can be proud of, Jacobs said.

“It looks like a library and it functions like a library,” he said. “Thank you.”

Wells, in addition to supporting past revitalization efforts including those at the Oskaloosa Public Library and the upkeep of Old White Cemetery and supporting the 52577 Scholarship fund, isn’t finished.

“I’ve got one more project I”m trying to do and that is the American Legion. We’re going to put push buttons on the doors for people to go in and out,” he said. “And that cement driveway that goes in there is all broke up and we’re going to pour some new cement there. But because of the wet weather and everything, everything has fallen behind.”

Members of the Oskaloosa Chamber and Development Group, Chamber Diplomats, Nelson Pioneer Farm volunteers, along with Wells, Jacobs, Spiegel and VandeWeerdhof, explored the refreshed library after a ribbon-cutting.

Managing Editor Angie Holland can be reached at and followed on Twitter @OskyAngie.

Managing Editor Angie Holland can be reached at and followed on Twitter @OskyAngie.

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