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Holly Johnson: Remembering Anita Ulwelling

In 1946 Gertrude Skinner wrote a tribute about her dear friend Lillian Belle Hormel after her passing.  The piece painted a portrait of a beloved woman who served her family, her friends, her home and her community throughout her lifetime.  The tribute allows us know Lillian a little better.

Anita Ulwelling. Photo provided

Today I pay tribute to another woman who left a portion of her spirit with the Hormel Historic Home when she died on Jan. 7, 2021. Anita Ulwelling, “Nita,” was a staff person, a volunteer, and a friend who served with boundless passion and energy, and we are sad that she is gone.  We are sad for her family and friends who lost the kind of person who would, without a doubt, bring organization, creativity, and memories to every special gathering.  We are sad because there is a void in our execution team, and it is actually overwhelming to think of doing some events without her.

I only knew Anita for the 8+ years I have worked at the Hormel Historic Home, but her legacy with the HHH began many years before me.  Upon retirement from the banking industry, Anita invested herself in pursuits that allowed her to share her creative and energetic spirit, and the HHH has benefited greatly from her dedication to its mission.  I don’t know if Anita chose us because she loved history, but I know she loved this house and endeavored to keep it pleasant and inviting to others.  Everywhere I look in the facility I see Anita.  From the cupboards in the kitchen to the linens in the storage bins, to the beautifully polished silver, she enhanced the fabric of the entire organization.

Short in stature she was big in personality.  Thousands of tour guests enjoyed being led through the historic home by Anita.  She knew every detail of the house, but being a little nervous, she would still carry her tattered note cards filled with Hormel family facts that she actually knew by heart.  Each time I changed an exhibit or we moved something, she noticed and would let me know that I needed to tell her first so she wasn’t surprised when giving a tour.  Maybe I forgot to do that a time or two…

Anita was an example of pure hospitality.  In every event we planned, there was an aspect we knew she would champion.  Whether decorating the front of the house or managing kitchen operations, she used her creativity and passion to help us execute successful events.  And she was often in costume!

She loved planning menus and executing meals, but was shy when offered praise for her delicious hot dishes, popovers, and desserts.  When asked if we would sell soup at A Handmade Christmas, we said “sure, Anita will make it.”  And then she’d say, “I will also make chicken salad sandwiches to sell.” Most recently she helped us manage a family-friendly holiday event.  Between each family’s visit to Santa she made it her responsibility to sanitize all the surfaces to ensure a safe environment for all.

Anita was especially fond of Christmas and shared items from her personal collection in a variety of places in the Home throughout the years.  One year her collection of cardinals filled the historic kitchen and the ivory Christmas silhouettes in the dining room are from her as well, as are the woodland creature ornaments on display in the Event Center this year.   If there was a bare spot, she added just the right element to make it complete.  No matter the holiday, Anita embraced it and celebrated with simple joy and enthusiasm.

Outside of the HHH, Anita loved traveling and would share her journeys and experiences with our team.  Anita took us to Branson, to South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Australia. She loved learning about different places and often brought back ideas that could be applied to some aspect of the HHH.  And she loved Polka music.  When I finally booked a polka band for a summer concert for her, she innocently said “we’ll need a dance floor”.  So Luke made a plywood dance floor for the garden.  Anita knew what we needed.

I could continue, but I hope you get the picture.  She will be missed, but her spirit remains.  Card parties and events will still be planned, and we will do our best to honor Anita’s legacy at the Hormel Historic Home.  May she rest in peace.