One community member, inspired by the ongoing rush of activism for social justice, hopes to commemorate individuals overlooked in the landscape of Beaver Dam.
Jerrold Lunde has proposed to the mayor and the Common Council that the city pursue renaming streets and paths to symbolically acknowledge the role of women, indigenous people and people of color in Beaver Dam history. He has also proposed renaming the municipal building, 205 S. Lincoln Ave., after Mary Spellman, who was the first woman to serve as mayor in Wisconsin, a role she held from 1934 to 1938.
Lunde reached out to the Dodge County Historical Society and learned that there are apparently no streets in the city directly named after someone who is not a white man or the relative of one. Some possibilities he is suggesting for a street renaming include Chief Much-Kaw of the Ho-Chunk people, who visited the spring at what is now Swan City Park and extolled its virtues; the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who spoke in Beaver Dam in 1856; the speed skating champion Maddy Horn; and Nancy Zieman of the namesake Nancy’s Notions.
“Words matter, and I see them as part of the death by a thousand cuts of racial and social inequities that continue to pervade our country,” Lunde said.
He said the events after the death of George Floyd released a call to action within him, and he decided to reach out to city hall — currently called the municipal building — after doing some research and seeing what other cities have done.
Kurt Sampson, the curator of the Dodge County Historical Society, said most of the streets with a last name, beyond the generic small town street names, are derived from early white settlers in the area. There are some streets named after native tribes, some of which weren’t even from the area.
“Unfortunately, quite frankly, there aren’t any people of color that the streets are named after in Beaver Dam,” he said.
Sampson said some other historical figures that could work for a street name include Red Wolf of the Kickapoo tribe who lived in Dodge County and Delia Akeley, a famous explorer who was born in Beaver Dam.
Any name changes are in the formative stages for now. City Attorney Maryann Schacht said she will receive recommendations from council members to categorize them for future discussion. She said a building name change could be done with a council resolution. Changing a street name would involve more public input to consider the impact on residents.
A street name change would likely occur on a stretch where residents would not be impacted for the purposes of mail, ID and voting.
Other recent renamings in the city include streets named after Ryan Cantafio and Jacob Gassen and a drive named after Kirk Straseskie. Marine Sgt. Kirk Straseskie, 23, Beaver Dam, died in Iraq on May 19, 2003; Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Cantafio, 22, Beaver Dam, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq’s Babil Province, south of Baghdad on Nov. 25, 2004, and U.S. Army Pfc. Jacob Gassen, 21, Beaver Dam, who died in Afghanistan on Nov. 29, 2010.
Lunde said that his family has deep roots in the community and said that his father could be a good candidate for a street sign after his service in city government, philanthropy and role in the city’s development.
“But neither he nor my mother would want that,” Lunde said. “Instead, I am following their footsteps in taking actions to lift, in any manner I can, the lives of others to equal footing with the life I have been provided.”