In one of many community efforts, Portage County leaders, residents and members of Crossfit gathered at Heritage Park in Plover last fall to help erect a trench that would give visitors a sense of what Portage County soldiers went through in the trenches of World War I. (Portage County Gazette photo)
In one of many community efforts, Portage County leaders, residents and members of Crossfit gathered at Heritage Park in Plover last fall to help erect a trench that would give visitors a sense of what Portage County soldiers went through in the trenches of World War I. (Portage County Gazette photo)

Portage County Historical Society is gearing up for the anniversary of the United States’ entrance into World War I in a couple of weeks.

It’s been years of research, study, programming and events that will peak with the April 6 showing of “Over There” and a special, brief showing April 7 of the Heritage Park buildings, which include exhibits in six different arenas in which Portage County played a role in the war.

The anniversary also cements the commitment county residents, organizations and businesses have to the area’s history.

“Truly this project has been a ‘Stone Soup’ project with so many helping to make this project be the truly amazing community event,” said Sue Koehl, one of the original organizers.

The World War I exhibits will officially open Memorial Day weekend at the park and will remain open each weekend through Labor Day from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

The April 6 program includes two shows at Sentry’s Theater@1800, 1800 North Point Drive, Stevens Point. The matinee is at 1 p.m. titled “Voices of Portage County,” and “Over There” historical documentary presented in a readers’ theater show performed by area high school students. The second show will be at 7 p.m. featuring community members’ reading theater and will cover “Over There” and “Over Here.”

There is no cost to attend, however, organizers ask that those interested get tickets, which are available at Portage County Library, the Stevens Point Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mission Coffee House in Plover and the Stevens Point YMCA.

Sentry Theater has agreed to videotape the show. A documentary produced by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) will also be available for use by schools and community groups after the April 6 show.

Two years ago, members of the Portage County Historical Society began putting together a series of programs to try to tell the story of Portage County’s experience during World War I, including publishing books focusing on the county’s own “hometown heroes.”

Throughout the process and information gathering, several area companies, schools, organizations and individuals have offered their hands to bring the April 6 anniversary to fruition, including UWSP departments and professors whose help included the documentary, story boards, mannequins and exhibits; Pacelli Catholic School students who helped with transcription; Sentry donations; YMCA staff and teens; Portage County Emergency Management; JusticeWorks; Best Excavating, which donated sand, assembly and transportation of trench bags; Crossfit and its members; Hartman Photography, county residents and leaders who built the trench; and individual residents Bev Clayton, Dr. Jay Rusek, Paul Koehl, Duane Greuel and Staci Galloway to name a few.

“None of this would have been possible without the help of many dozens of people and businesses,” said Tim Siebert, Historical Society member and WWI project organizer.

“It would be difficult to name everyone without missing someone and the important help that they gave to the project,” he said. “I would, however, like to extend our deep felt thanks to all those who helped bring about this remembrance of our role in the Great War.”

The museum exhibit will provide a comprehensive look at Portage County’s role in the war. Along with the buildings, there is a makeshift trench that allows visitors to experience what it may have been like serving in the trenches during the war.